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Twisted by Design

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“I don’t believe in fairy tales.” A sarcastic voice beside her spoke into her ear making Sakura jump.

“Excuse me?” Sakura slipped her thumb in between the pages of her book to hold her place so she could glare at the asshole beside her on the train.

“Why are you reading that?” The man ignored her previous question and continued with his rude questions.

“Who are you?” Sakura continued to glare at the redhead. If he wasn’t going to answer her questions, she sure as hell wasn’t going to answer his.

“No one.” He cocked his head to the side, his amber eyes piercing in their intensity.

“Last week you were reading Voltaire, now you’re reading this garbage. Why?” The obnoxious man waved a surprisingly graceful hand at the trashy soap romance her best friend Ino had given her, demanding she read it so they could discuss it the next time they hung out.

Sakura couldn’t believe this guy. Who the hell did he think he was talking to her so, so, so invasive…

“I fail to see how it is any of your business, and are you stalking me? How do you know what I was reading last week?” Sakura demanded.

She had heard all about those crazy people on the trains, who stalked women and followed them for weeks obsessing about them before killing them when they ultimately never lived up to the stalkers expectations or fantasies.

She would admit, he certainly didn’t look like a stalker, or a murderer in his button up dress shirt and designer suit. Even if his red hair had a sort of refined wonderment to it, he looked...poised, organized...deafeningly precise.

“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” The redhead quoted Voltaire making Sakura’s mouth twitch.

“I do not revere this book in the slightest, I am reading it for a friend.” She replied before she could squash her curiosity.

“Friendship is the marriage of the soul, and this marriage is liable to divorce.” The stranger quoted Voltaire again.

“Is there a point you are trying to make?” Sakura asked a bit more sharply than she had intended.

“No, an observation.” The redhead looked up and out the window behind Sakura. “Your stop is next.”

“What? How do you…” Sakura looked out the window, then turned her head back to demand how he knew such a thing if he hadn’t been stalking her, only to find that he had vanished.

“What the hell?” A cold grue ran down her spine and settled in the place her Anthropology teacher had told them that their tails had been once before man had deemed fit to evolve into something greater.

With another quick look around at the other passengers she gathered her things and stepped off the train at the next stop with four other people. Looking up and down the platform while biting her lips she saw no sign of the redhead. Relaxing visibly, she took a deep breath, only to realize, she had left the stupid trashy novel Ino had lent her on the train.

Sakura groaned, she didn’t have time nor money to go buy Ino another copy. Damn that asshole for distracting her...if she ever saw him again, it would be too soon!

The next day Sakura set her bags down in the empty seat beside her, sighing openly without shame, it had been a horribly long day and she was riding the train home almost three hours later than she normally did.

At least the chances of seeing that red headed jerk were slim, if he had been stalking her and had memorized her rather predictable routine, he would be sadly disappointed tonight.

“You’re late today, did something happen at the university?”

Sakura’s head whipped around to the redhead in the seat next to her so fast that her head spun.

“How the, what the…” She sputtered. “You are stalking me!”

“No, I just notice things.” He reached out and tugged a lock of her pastel pink hair loose from her messy bun that she had thrown her hair into before leaving her last class for the night and their ‘group’ session.

“Don’t touch me weirdo.” Sakura slapped his hand away from her hair, only he hadn’t let go of the lock of hair.

“Ow.” She growled at him making him smirk again in that annoying fashion he had displayed to her the previous evening

“Your hair is a very unusual color. Is it naturally pink, or do you dye it?” He asked her in the same rude and intrusive voice he had used on her yesterday.

“It’s natural you asshole, now go away, I don’t want to talk to you...stalker!” Sakura turned in her seat, turning her back to the man.

“Are you sure?” His hand came into view as he reached around her waving something so close to her face that she had to lean back to see what it was.

Sakura gasped as another hand closed around her upper arm. She had leaned so far back in her seat she had leaned into the stranger...the stranger that was clearly stalking her. Looking back at him over her shoulder her green eyes met clear amber, she paused, at this angle she was close enough to see the light gold flecks of his irises, it was really rather pretty and she wondered if...what the hell was she thinking.

Snapping back to her senses she leapt to her feet and started backing away from the man who was watching her with the slow lazy predatory gaze one might find on a tiger...or a wolf as they tracked their prey.

“You don’t want it back?” The redhead waved the book back and forth in front of her face, the book she had forgotten on the train last night.

“Thief!” Sakura snatched the book from his fingers.

“Everyone goes astray, but the least imprudent are they who repent the soonest.” The red head was quoting Voltaire again.

Did he get a cookie every time he quoted him or something? Sakura rolled her eyes.

“I’m not going to thank you or apologize for calling you a thief.” She spit out, grabbing her things and making ready to get off at the next stop.

“What are you doing? Your stop isn’t for two more stops?” The redhead, who still hadn’t introduced himself to her, cocked his head to the side as if wondering why she was trying to escape him sooner than she had to.

“I’m meeting a friend tonight, not that it’s any of your business.” Sakura watched the platform come into view and walked toward the door.

To her horror, the redhead followed her.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She looked at him with real fear in her eyes, was this it...was this how she died?

“This is my stop tonight. I’m going to see a friend as well.” He smirked that smug little smirk of his that made her want to haul off and punch him in the throat.

“Oh.” She replied dumbly, not knowing what else to say.

The train stopped and they got off together much to Sakura's displeasure.

“Well, bye.” She could have smacked herself in the forehead, and she would have if she had a free hand to do so. Damn her mother for raising her to have manners.

She turned on her heel and started walking down the platform to the stairs. It was late at night and the platforms were fairly empty. Looking back and forth Sakura chewed her bottom lip, she hated riding the train this late at night, not that Ino lived in a bad part of town, but you never knew. Crime could happen anywhere.

Speaking of which, she could still hear the gentle tapping of the redhead’s dress shoes on the cement behind her and wondered how long he was going to follow her. So wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn’t noticed the group of three standing in the mouth of the alleyway she was about to walk past, until one of the men stepped out in front of her.

“Hey baby, where do you think you’re going? How about you come here and say hi to my friends, I bet they’d love to get to know you better.” The man grabbed her and dragged her into the dark alley.

Sakura screamed and kicked out but strong hands covered her mouth and began to tear at her clothes. Tears welled up in her eyes, which she scrunched up shut and grit her teeth, hoping it would just be over soon.

A grunt, then a thud, “What the fuck?” A shout and another thud. The hands that bound her released her and she fell to the ground.

Scrambling to her feet she watched as the redhead, who had harassed her on the train for two days in a row, body slammed the third and last man who had assaulted her up against the brick wall of the alley, headbutted him and then jabbed him in the kidney hard with a tight fist, dropping him to the ground.

“Who, who are you?” Sakura whispered as the redhead walked over to her quickly and drew the two halves of her shirt up and around her chest to cover her.

“Akasuna no Sasori, come on, let’s get you out of here.” Sasori put his arm around her and started to pull her from the alley.

Looking back over her shoulder, she saw one of the men raise his hand, something glinted in the moonlight. “Waa?”

Sasori pushed Sakura out of the mouth of the alley, spun, caught the knife and threw it back at the man on the ground. A soft wheezing sound followed Sasori out of the mouth of the alley and then was heard no more. Sasori shrugged his jacket from his shoulders and draped it over Sakura to hide some of the damage the three men had caused.

“It’s going to be alright, come, let’s get you to your friends house.” Strong arms pulled her close.

Sasori swung his arm over her shoulder to help keep her steady she realized as shock settled in and she began to shake.

“Where to now?” His voice was gentle,

“Um, left.” Sakura pointed to a large house at the end of the block down the side street.

“You’re going to be fine.” He assured her as he walked her up the porch steps to Ino’s house and knocked on the door for her.

Ino opened the door and gasped at the battered and bruised sight of her friend. “Sakura! Oh my gosh, what happened!” Ino reached out and pulled her best friend into her home and shut the door.

“Wait, Sasori!” Sakura pushed the front door back open and looked out into the street. He was gone. No one was there. The suit coat around her shoulders, the only evidence that she had to prove his existence.

“Where the…” Sakura muttered as Ino pulled her back inside and shut the door behind her.

Chapter Text

“So you gonna tell me what happened Forehead or are we still waiting for some knight in shining armour to burst through my front door on his stead to sweep you away to his castle in the sky?” Ino plunked the tub of ice cream down on the coffee table in front of her friend and threw her a spoon.

“Um well some guys attacked me, pulled me into an alley and were gonna…” Sakura ran her hands through her hair. “This guy, Sasori he...Ino it was like a movie he saved me, beat the crap out of them...I’m pretty sure one of them is dead.” She was shaking again.

“No kidding.” Ino scooped out a big scoop of ice cream and hummed her appreciation, placing a hand on her friend’s arm in reassurance that she wasn’t alone. “Maybe we should call Sasuke’s dad.”

Sakura shook her head.

“Yeah you know it’s weird um… he was kinda stalking me I think. I mean, he was on the train with me the last two days quoting Voltaire.” Sakura frowned at the tub of ice cream. She sounded crazy when she said it out loud. Maybe she had been too sensitive, he did save her after all.

“Voltaire? That french guy?” Ino stuck another spoonful of icy bliss between her lips and watched her friend.

“Yeah.” Sakura laughed. “That French guy.”

Both girls giggled, neither of them noticing the piercing amber eyes looking in on them through the first floor window.

“Mind if I crash here tonight, I don’t want to go back out there alone in the dark, not yet.” Sakura pulled the pieces of her ruined shirt off and pulled the sweatshirt Ino had lent her on over her head.

“Sure thing Forehead, get some sleep.” Ino hugged her friend. “Maybe in the morning you can tell me a little more about this mystery man of yours.”

“Nothing to tell, I don’t really know much about him.” Sakura waved her friend away and pulled out the roll bed from the couch in Ino’s living room.

“Sure sure.” Ino rolled her eyes. “See you in the morning!”

“Night Pig.” Sakura smoothed the covers of the roll out bed before dropping down onto it and closing her eyes.

Ino stood at the bottom of her stairs and looked back at her friend. She’d call Sasuke in the morning, maybe Sakura would talk to him, they had always been close, maybe even closer than she was with Sakura.

Amber eyes watched the pink haired girl for a few more moments before disappearing into the night.

Sakura woke to the blasted sun shining annoyingly bright into her eyes and whispered voices in her head.

“How is she, I can’t believe she got attacked on her way over to see you last night.”

“Shut up teme, she’ll wake up. You whisper as loudly as you yell.”

“I do not!”

“Ugh. Yes you do. Naruto, Sasuke, what the hell are you guys doing here...what time is it?” Sakura groaned and sat up on Ino’s pull out couch bed and rubbed her eyes.

“Oi!” Naruto bounced down on the bed beside her. “Ino said you got like, attacked or something last night, what the hell happened? Are you okay Sakura Chan?” Naruto’s voice rang through her head like a steam engine, right before it combusted.

“Shhhh.” Sakura held her finger to her lips and blew air through them to quiet the obnoxious blonde. Her head was beginning to hurt and it wasn’t only from his glaringly orange shirt.

“Hey, you okay?” A quieter, more normal voice asked her from her other side.

“Yeah guys, I’m okay. Look it wasn’t a big deal okay. I don’t really want to talk about it.” Sakura threw her feet over the side of the bed couch and grabbed for her jeans that she had laid over one of the recliners the night before, and pulled them up.

“Hey, Sakura Chan, who’s is this?” Naruto had moved over and pulled Sasori’s suit coat from the same chair her jeans had been on and thumbed the material. “This is really nice, looks expensive.”

“It is.” Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the suit coat and looked back at Sakura. “My uncle Madara favors that designer, where did you get it and who does it belong to?”

“Sasori, he is the one who...helped me last night, he was on the train with me, got off at the same stop.” Sakura buttoned her pants and rose to her feet stretching her arms high above her head.

“Put it down Naruto. If it is that expensive I want to give it back to him in good condition.” Sakura frowned. She just realized she knew nothing of the man other than he rode the same train as her...or had the last two days at least. Why would a man who could afford a designer suit ride the fucking train.

Sasuke watched his friend. She had come to the same conclusion he had.

“Sakura, do you...know who this Sasori is?” Sasuke asked, glancing over at the suit coat again.

“No, he just rode the train with me and...look it’s no big deal okay.” She had a feeling she would be seeing Sasori again soon, whether she wanted to or not.

Ino watched her friend, she could still see the lines of stress that marred the corners of her mouth, there was more to Sakura’s story than she was telling them. Ino licked her lips tentatively. “Wanna have lunch with me today Sakura? I get out of work around 1pm, still early enough to grab something to eat before your last class at 3pm right?”

“Actually Ino, I don’t think I’ll be going to class today.” Sakura had turned from her friends and had started packing her things into her book bag, so she didn’t notice the three way look exchange behind her back. Sakura never missed class...never.

“Why don’t you come back to the house with us Sakura, Naruto and I were going to study and eat and stuff. My mom would love to see you, she hasn’t seen you in a while you’ve been so busy with classes. Itachi and Shisui are home and I think my Uncle Madara is going to drop by for dinner.” Sasuke offered. He knew how much she loved his family, it was her family too.

Sakura nodded slowly, then smiled. “Yeah, that actually sounds like a really good idea, thanks Sasuke.” It would be nice to see the Uchiha, it had been over a month since she had been home for dinner.

“Yeah! We can all hang out just like we used to in high school!” Naruto fist pumped the air with his signature goofy grin on his stupid face making Sakura laugh.

“Yeah, let’s go. Thanks Ino, I’ll see you later, maybe this weekend we can hang out again okay?” Sakura hugged her friend.

“Sure thing Sakura. Be safe girl.” Ino smacked Naruto on the back and winked a flirty wink at Sasuke as she closed her front door behind them.

“Mom! We’re home!” Sasuke called out as he kicked his shoes off of his feet not caring where they fell.

“Sasuke.” Sasuke’s older brother Itachi stuck his head out of the kitchen in greeting, then scolded him as he saw his shoes go flying. “Put your shoes in their cubby Sasuke.” Itachi’s head withdrew back into the kitchen.

“Whatever.” Sasuke kicked one of his shoes toward the cubby rack but didn’t bend over to put them away.

Sakura sighed. Some things never changed. Whether they were twelve or twenty three. She scooped Sasuke’s shoes up and placed them neatly into one of the cubbys that lined the entrance way, her own in the next cubby over, and Naruto’s discarded sandals in the last cubby of the row.

“Sakura dear!” Mikoto, Sasuke and Itachi’s mother smiled at Sakura as she entered the kitchen. “It’s been too long dear, far too long. You need to come home more so I can feed you.”

Mikoto waved a mixing spoon at Sakura. “I’m making cookies, I’ll be sure to make extra for you to take home with you. I swear you’re far too thin my girl, are you eating at all?”

Mikoto gave her eldest a look and he slipped out of the room to do her silent bidding.

“I’m eating Ka San.” Sakura smiled kindly at the woman who was like a second mother to her and had been since the age of twelve when her own parents had died in an armed robbery.

“Even so, come by more often dear. Go put your things in your room then come back to the kitchen. I’ll whip you guys up a snack while you study. Did you eat breakfast?” Mikoto had a look that Sakura suspected all mothers had. That look that said, ‘I know, don’t even try to lie to me kid’, and she was giving it to Sakura now.

“Um, well you see.” Sakura stammered.

“Breakfast it is then, go, go, put your things away then hurry back, it will only take a moment to whip up an egg or two.” Mikoto shooed all three of them out of the kitchen.

“Can I get cheese on mine Ka San!” Naruto called over his shoulder as Sasuke pushed him down the hall toward their rooms.

Naruto had been orphaned before Sakura had at the age of ten. Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki had been engaged and were to be married but fell prey to the crime of the times and were shot and killed in a bank robbery.

Crime had always been present in Konoha, but in the last ten years it had blown out of control. At least, out of control of the Konoha police department, that was always undermanned, understaffed and overworked. They did what they could, but it was never enough.

Fugaku Uchiha, Sasuke and Itachi’s father was the Police Chief, he had taken full responsibility of both Sakura and Naruto after their parents had been killed, and had adopted them into the family at Mikoto’s insistence. Ever since, Sasuke, Sakura and Naruto had been practically inseparable.

Naruto and Sasuke both attended Konoha University but Sakura, as of two years ago, had been accepted into Konoha’s medical program, and had been taking accelerated courses leaving her with one year to graduate and to do her internship for research and development.

Naruto ran past Sakura to his room and shut the door. Sakura laughed, yeah, it was just like old times. Pushing the door open to her own room she smiled, it looked just the way she had left it, slightly more dusty, but the same. It was nice to know some things never changed.

“Hey.” Sasuke leaned his shoulder against her door frame, his hands in his pockets, and looked at her in his usual...what aren’t you telling me look.

“I don’t want to talk about my attack, Sasuke. It ended okay, Sasori, whoever he is really saved my butt.” She laid the suit coat over the back of her old desk chair and fingered the lapel.

“Did they, uh, touch you, you know...in a bad way?” Sasuke cleared his throat and looked past her out the window into the woods that surrounded the Uchiha main house.

“They roughed me up a little, tore my clothes but, no. Thanks to Sasori...I’m okay.” She swallowed hard. It could have ended so much worse, she didn’t want to think about it, she just wanted him to stop talking about it.

Sasuke nodded but didn’t say anything else. Pushing off the door frame he stepped closer to her taking her chin in his hand and smoothed the hair from her face. Sakura looked up into his dark eyes wondering what he was doing when she felt a small twinge on her cheek where his finger was pressed into her skin.

“Roughed you up a bit?” His voice was quiet as he withdrew his finger and held it up in front of her face so that she could see the smear of blood. She hadn’t known she had been cut...she hadn’t looked in any of Ino’s mirrors, she couldn’t.

Sakura swallowed again and looked down at her hands. Sasuke’s fingers lifted her head up by her chin again. “Sakura, you need to tell my dad what happened, or at least mom. Someone needs to know. Think of Ino. It happened right around the corner of her house.”

Sasuke pulled his hand away once more and ducked his head, so he could look into her eyes. “Promise me.”

“Okay. I’ll tell mom.” Sakura took a deep breath, letting it out slowly through her nose. “For Ino.”

Sasuke nodded, satisfied. “See you in the kitchen. I’m going to grab Naruto before he can get too sidetracked, the idiot.”

Sakura closed the door to her room and brushed the hair back from her eyes. Sasuke was right. Telling Ino was fine but...she needed to tell someone who might actually be able to do something about it...for Ino’s sake.

Naruto and Sasuke were already seated at the table when Sakura returned to the kitchen. She had changed out of Ino’s sweatshirt into one of her old tee shirts from high school.

“Good morning Sakura dear.” Madara, Sasuke’s Uncle, greeted her warmly as she sat down at the family dining table beside him for breakfast.

“Good morning Madara. When did you get here?” Sakura leaned over in her seat to give him a half body hug.

“Just a moment ago dear, Obito is unpacking the limo and will be here shortly. I am sure he will be delighted to see you again.” Madara’s voice was deep and as smooth as she had remembered it to be. Sakura had always liked his voice, it suited the man beside her well.

Even though Sakura had grown up in the Uchiha main house for most of her life Madara had rarely been home. When she had seen his picture in one of the family portraits that lined the main family room and asked who he was, Fugaku's mouth had tightened and he had simply told her it was his brother, who was...away on business.

As her, Naruto and Sasuke had gotten older, they had come to understand that Madara’s business was really...organized crime, and not something that was readily talked about over dinner or at family gatherings. So, like the rest of the family that wasn’t involved in Madara’s ‘business’, she never asked, never noticed and pretended nothing ever happened.

Sakura hadn’t been home in over a month, but it seemed odd even to her that Madara was moving his ‘things’ into his old house that had been empty for the last ten years. House, was a bit of an understatement however, as Madara’s house was twice as large as the Uchiha main house that most of the family lived in, in the traditional Japanese style, and more like a mansion.

She had only been in there once, as a child on a dare. Her, Naruto and Sasuke had been playing truth or dare, and of course Sakura wouldn’t be out done by her boys, so she had chosen dare. Sasuke and Naruto had put their heads together trying hard to come up with the perfect dare. She had expected something like, ‘eat a worm’, or ‘jump out of that tall tree’, but no, they had chosen for her to pick the lock to Madara’s mansion, and stay in his house for an hour alone in the dark, in the middle of the night.

She had done it of course...and that’s how she had first met Madara Uchiha. Flat on her back, screaming bloody murder, because he had come home in the middle of the night unexpectedly and found her roaming his mansion in the dark...and had subdued her. Her screams had woken the entire estate. Naruto, her and Sasuke had gotten grounded for a month without T.V, video games, or having any friends over whatsoever.

Madara had been impressed with Sakura though, claiming she had picked the lock to his mansion more skillfully than he had at her age, and had taken her under his wing so to say. He had left the next morning of course but every now and then a new book on espionage, spy tactics or chemical warfare would show up at the Uchiha main house addressed to her with no return address… but they all knew it was from him.

Fugaku and Mikoto had worried about Madara’s unhealthy interest in the young girl but nothing had ever come of it. Sakura had grown up and gone to college, moved out and hadn’t heard from Madara again...aside from the random present here and there that would show up on her apartment door step.

“How are your classes Sakura? Mikoto tells me you are taking the accelerated medical courses. I would expect nothing less from you.” Madara continued their conversation, pouring Sakura a glass of pineapple juice instead of orange juice like everyone else at the table.

Mikoto knew Sakura didn’t care for orange juice and had sent Itachi out to fetch Pineapple juice for Sakura’s breakfast. How Madara had known this...no one knew but everyone noticed. Sasuke threw a quick glance at his brother, whose eyes were narrowed at their Uncle...yes Itachi had noticed as well.

If Sakura had been surprised at Madara’s gesture, she didn’t show it. With uncanny poise she picked her glass up as though Madara poured her pineapple juice every morning and drank deeply before replying.

“Yes Madara, I am currently enrolled in the accelerated courses and will be looking for a place to do my internship soon, within the next month or two.” Sakura reached for the plate of eggs Mikoto had set in front of the her, sliding it closer to her seat.

Madara nodded, pleased at her reactions, or rather the lack of her reactions to his familiarity to her habits as he passed her the butter fried mushrooms that she favored over the peanut oil fried mushrooms that were closer to his hand.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at his Uncle. What the fucking hell…

“Excellent my dear, and your apartment?” Madara cut himself a small piece of fish from the family platter and transferred it to his plate.

“What of it?” Sakura asked bluntly, but not quite rudely, as Obito entered the dining room from the opposite door and took his seat across from Sakura with a polite nod which she returned with a smile, that he lacked.

“It must be difficult, living on your own, dangerous even, a pretty girl such as yourself. I’m surprised you haven’t been approached by some wayward hoodlum or molester.” Madara chuckled.

Sakura’s glass of pineapple juice slipped from her hand, poise forgotten , lost among his words, and hit the table with a loud crack stopping all conversation in the room and making Madara’s eyes narrow dangerously.

“Tell me.” He commanded in a voice as dark as it was deep.

Chapter Text

“This is not a conversation I want to have here.” Sakura wiped the pineapple juice up with the cloth Itachi had thrown to her from the other end of the table, eyes emotionless and closed off, much like the features of the rest of his face as he watched her with those dark fathomless eyes.

“Sakura.” Madara laid his hand over her arm. It was warm. It felt like suffocation.

“Please Madara. I’ll...talk to Mikoto about it. I already promised Sasuke I would speak to Ka San.” Sakura lifted her eyes from her lap to meet Madara’s dead on before rising from her seat and leaving the room, her plate untouched.

‘Brave girl’, he said to himself as he watched her leave the room. ‘Strong’, he continued to look at the door Sakura had walked through, even though she was no longer there.

“I’ll take this to her in her room Ka San.” Sasuke reached out and took Sakura’s plate, leaving the room just as quietly as Sakura had a moment ago.

Naruto looked around the room, his eyes cast downward at his plate. Sakura had told them that it wasn’t that bad, that nothing had happened and that they didn’t need to worry about her. She had lied. Clearly, it had either affected her more than she was willing to admit, or there was more to the story than she was telling them.

Madara gave Obito an eye, the man nodded in silent understanding, rose from the table and left the room. No one asked where he was going...that was the rule.

“Eat, eat.” Mikoto smiled, as she looked around the table clapping her hands, pushing for normalcy.

...and as though a button had been pushed, time resumed.

“Could you please pass the fish?” Naruto asked Itachi, who reached out for the fish platter and handed it to Naruto without a word.

Sasuke nudged the door to Sakura’s bedroom open and set her plate on the edge of her desk, her chopsticks on the side.

“Eat if you can.” He pet her once on the head, his fingers trailing through her hair in a brotherly way before leaving her room, closing the door behind him.

Cold teal eyes followed his Uncle’s figure as he walked back and forth, the heel of his dress shoe clicking a steady tattoo atop the raw, hardened clay floor. A colorful display of varying hues ran like water and oil toward the drain in the middle of the room. Those liquids too light to collect or too little in volume to accumulate splashed like swept rain against the walls.

Gaara had taken time to admire the artistic value of the display many times before, however, now was not one of those times. His ears heard what his eyes could plainly see. The drip, drip, drip of dark blood, nearly black in the bright light, as it fell from the man’s fingers before him. A steady beat, like the beating of a heart. A deafening scream drew Gaara’s eyes to the face of the man, grotesque, bulbous and bleeding.

He had no care, nor clue what the man had originally looked like before he had fallen prey to the whims of his Uncle Sasori, but he barely looked human now. A shell of what once was. Gaara could see it, that dull despair. His Uncle had broken him.

Of course there had never been any question as to the outcome. No one could last long against his Uncle. There simply wasn’t anyone strong enough, well, perhaps one.... Society had grown lax, one generation to the next raising the privileged for the vain. Shells of what should be, of what could be...of what will never be ...ever...again. A cruel smile full of wicked pleasure broke out across the normally stoic bland face of the dark bloodred head.

His Uncle, had picked up his scalpel. Gaara leaned forward in eager anticipation. This was his favorite part. There was always so much blood.

“Graduated Konoha Medical University in 1998, top of your class. I hired you into my Research and Development Department right out of med school, did I not Mr. Hamayoshi?” Sasori’s bored drawl filled the emptiness of the seemingly hollow room.

“Ye yes, Mr. Akasuna Sa Sama.” Mr. Hamayoshi gasped for breath that wouldn’t come, through the pain in his lungs and the burning in his throat.

“Yes.” Sasori twirled the scalpel through his fingers, his tone light as though he were in a board meeting, not a rarely used basement room of his business headquarters just inside of Konoha’s main Medical District.

Sasori fixed his narrowed eyes on Mr. Hamayoshi’s. “Twenty two years Mr. Hamayoshi, that’s how long you have been enjoying my generosity. Twenty two years.”

“Mr. Akasuna Sa Sama, please I, you don’t understand I…” Mr. Hamayoshi screamed as Sasori sliced through the cartilage of his ear severing it from his body.

Gaara frowned. That wasn’t enough blood.

“Do not interrupt me Mr. Hamayoshi. Do you understand?” Sasori raised and arched his left eyebrow at the man impatiently.

Mr. Hamayoshi nodded his head in a jerky compliance as blood pooled under his severed ear.

“Very good. As I was saying Mr. Hamayoshi. You’ve enjoyed my generosity for Twenty two years now, so you can imagine my most sincere disappointment when I was informed of your...betrayal.” Sasori hissed the last word from between nearly closed, pressed lips.

“Such a disgusting thing, betrayal. Wouldn’t you agree Mr. Hamayoshi?” Sasori looked down at the man with bored indifference.

Contrary to what most of his family thought, he didn’t enjoy doing these things. There was no art to it, he derived absolutely no pleasure from it. It was crass, it was brutal...it was his nephew Gaara’s favorite part of the job. Sasori’s preferences were more...refined.

It was however, part of the job.

“Selling secrets to our competition...will not be tolerated. Uchiha Industries, has no doubt already benefited from your weakness.”

Sasori paused to lift his hand and push back the sleeve of his suit coat. He would need to hurry if he was to catch the train. With a flick of his wrist that brought his nephew to his side, he looked back to the table.

“It is my understanding that you did this to put your child through college and the two children of your sister's through college as well. Is that correct Mr. Hamayoshi?” Sasori demanded, even though he already knew the answer, he wanted Mr. Hamayoshi to be in no doubt what his betrayal had cost him...had cost those he had hoped to help.

Mr. Hamayoshi was beyond speech, his jerking motions indicated he had gone into shock.

“Weak.” Sasori wrinkled his nose at the disgusting smell. Putrid. They were all putrid in his eyes. “They will suffer now Mr. Hamayoshi, your daughter, your wife, your sister and her brats...all because you stole from me. Me, Akasuna no Sasori. They are all dead now...because...of...you.”

Mr. Hamayoshi roared and scrambled from the table only to be knocked back down by Gaara’s swift fist. Sasori took one measured step back, turning to the C-cart beside the table that held Gaara’s…’tools’, and picked up a plain manila folder.

“Do not play with him for too long. He is a family man Gaara, he will be missed. Kill him swiftly, then his family.” Sasori paused for momentary contemplation. “Start with...his wife, then his daughter. You may kill his sister and her children in whichever order you wish. I must go, I have a train to catch. Call me when it is completed. Do not take more than the night.”

Sasori bowed to Mr. Hamayoshi in mock respect. “Goodbye, Mr. Hamayoshi.”

Sasori’s dress shoes clicked steadily across the clay of the floor toward the elevator. Nimble fingers punched the code into the lock pad and the door opened. Sasori ‘tsked’, he had almost forgotten. Shifting the manila folder to his other hand, he twirled the scalpel once more.

“Gaara.” He called to his nephew who looked up from Mr. Hamayoshi’s now broken rib cage, blood splattered liberally across his flawless countenance. “My scalpel.”

Sasori flicked the scalpel through the closing doors of the elevator, watched as Gaara plucked it from the air and slammed it down, in one fluid, beautifully graceful, motion into the jugular of the now, former Mr. Hamayoshi.

Chapter Text

“Naruto stop tapping your foot please.” Sakura asked her friend for the tenth time since they had first sat down to study together that afternoon.

“Sorry Sakura Chan.” Naruto mumbled as he jotted down another mathematical equation.

Sakura looked at her phone, it was almost four thirty pm, she would be getting out of her last class about now. She should have gone to class, she felt guilty. Sasori, he might be on the train, he would be expecting her to return his suit coat to him. Sakura looked toward the hallway, where her room was, where his suit coat was hung over the back of her desk chair. Maybe she should…

“Are you alright Sakura?” Itachi called softly from the couch where he had been reading while her, Naruto and Sasuke studied on the floor of the living room.

“Yes, of course Itachi.” Sakura murmured looking back down at her textbook.

Itachi’s worried eyes lingered on her for another moment before he too turned back to his book.

Sasori straightened his suit coat and patted down his pants as he waited on the usual platform that would ensure he ran into Sakura at this time of the day. The train came to a slowing halt before the platform and Sasori stepped onto the train, looking left and right. He frowned. She wasn’t in her usual seat. The train wasn’t crowded, there was no reason for her not to be in the third car, the eleventh seat down...unless, she hadn’t gone to her usual classes today.

Had the attack on her person caused her that much distress? “Hmm.”

Perhaps it wasn’t last night’s attack, but the memories of her past that the attack had brought to the surface for her. Sasori stepped off the train at the next stop and pulled his phone from his suit coat’s inner pocket.

“Meet me at the corner of 3rd and Conner. Don’t keep me waiting.” Sasori hung up the phone, tapping the thick manila folder against his leg in his impatience.

Sakura’s phone pinged. “Oh!”

“What is it, Sakura?” Naruto leaned over to look at her phone.

“It’s Ino, she said that the internships are posted. She’s taking a picture of them and sending them to me now.” Sakura hummed as she waited for Ino to send the picture to her.

“I thought Ino had to work today?” Sasuke leaned over to look at her phone with Naruto.

“She got off at one, she has a night class tonight.” Sakura mumbled as she played with her phone.

“Hum.” Sakura looked at the new photo of the internships posted. “There aren’t very many.”

Itachi looked up from his book. “Do you have to do it this year Sakura, can’t you do it next year?”

“I could, but I wanted to graduate this year. I took the accelerated classes so that I wouldn’t have to go for another year. My scholarship has an expiration date...” Sakura bit her bottom lips with her front teeth as she continued to frown at her phone.

What if she didn’t get an internship this year. Three, only three companies were offering internships? Last year there were twelve. Sakura bit her bottom lip, why so few this year? It was free labor, most companies used it as a means to try out potential candidates at no expense to their payroll. The student got work experience in their chosen field, it was a win-win situation. Three. It didn’t make sense.

Sakura looked back down at her phone to text Ino back. She wanted to make sure there wasn’t a second posting or that Ino hadn’t flipped the paper over and looked on the back or something.

‘That’s it’, Ino sent her a picture of the entire board and the back of the original posting.

“Damn it.” Sakura dragged her fingers through her hair in frustration.

“May I assist you with something Uncle?” Itachi looked up from his book in polite inquiry at his Uncle who was standing in the doorway to the living room, his eyes on Sakura.

“If there are no internships available in your field of study, I might be able to assist you, Sakura. As you know, Uchiha Industries owns several pharmaceutical and medical research companies, charities and manufacturing companies.” Madara stepped into the room and walked over to Sakura.

“Oh, uh, well, wouldn’t that be a bit unfair? I mean it would be seen as nepotism wouldn’t it?” Sakura had always been rather wary of Sasuke’s Uncle, not only because of the nature of his work, but he had always made her feel vulnerable, or perhaps exposed. It was his eyes she realized as she looked up at him, they were...invasive. Flashes of red entered her mind, amber eyes, just as piercing in nature, just as...invasive.

Madara laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. Sakura shivered.

Madara’s lips curled at the corners and Sasuke’s eyes narrowed as he stood up to confront his Uncle. Sakura shot her hand out and up, holding Sasuke back. When he looked down at her, she shook her head and stood up beside him.

“Thank you Madara, but I am not comfortable with your offer. I don’t want charity. I will find my own internship.” She didn’t wish to sound ungrateful or rude so she added. “It was very thoughtful of you to offer, but you already do too much for me.”

“Are you afraid of me Sakura, of my...work?” Madara stepped closer to the girl, his height making it so she had to tilt her head back to keep eye contact with him, or drop her head and bow down to him.

Anger flashed in her green eyes briefly at his tactics to intimidate her, she tilted her head back to meet his challenge, to let him know that she knew what he was doing, and didn’t care for it. “Should I be Madara?”

A deep chuckle sounded from the doorway but both Madara and Sakura ignored it, neither turning from the challenge each had verbally posed to the other.

“No. Others however, should take caution.” Madara’s eyes slid left to Sasuke, then back to Sakura. “...but not you, my dear.”

Sakura nodded once then stepped back and sat down in front of her textbook, pulling Sasuke with her. The tension in the room dissipated and everyone took a small breath.

“If you change your mind...you know where to find me.” Madara walked out of the living room followed closely by a very amused Obito.

Sakura picked her textbook up, ignoring the looks of Naruto and Sasuke. “Let it go.” She mumbled. She had other things to worry about, more important things than Sasuke’s dangerous crime lord Uncle.

Sasori’s limo pulled up to the curb in front of him at 3rd and Conner, Sasori stepped into the limo and shut the door behind him.

“Where to, Uncle?” The blonde driver asked, their eyes meeting in the rear view.

“The estate.” Sasori instructed his niece.

With a snap of her head Temari pulled the limo out into the evening’s rush hour traffic and headed south, toward her Uncle’s estate, as Sasori reviewed the information in his manila folder. Ino Yamanaka, best friend of Sakura Haruno since elementary school, he began to memorize each sentence and committed each photo to memory. Name, address, phone number, favorite restaurants, music stores, work, school and romantic interests...Sasori was nothing if not thorough when it came to something he found captivating, and he found Sakura Haruno...very captivating.

“Dinner was wonderful as usual Ka San.” Sakura smiled at Mikoto, full of food and ready to get back to her apartment.

“Thank you dear. I’ve packed a large care package for you in the refrigerator, make sure to take it with you when you go. I know you probably wish to get going, you have your early classes tomorrow. Itachi, drive Sakura home won’t you dear?” Mikoto asked her oldest who nodded.

“That won’t be necessary Mikoto. I will drive Sakura home, there is something I wish to discuss with her.” Madara interjected.

“Oh, well if it isn’t any trouble then. Thank you Madara.” Mikoto looked to her husband who shook his head at his wife telling her not to get involved.

Sasuke and Naruto shared a look but were silenced with a stern preventative look from Itachi.

“When would you like to leave my dear?” Madara tipped the last of his drink into his mouth and swallowed, setting the glass down with a light thump.

“As soon as dinner is over, if that’s okay with you?” Sakura looked around the table, eyes setting on each individual face, no one had any objections...per usual when Madara was involved. Sakura sighed, she had never fully understood that part of her family. Was Madara really that dangerous…

“Excellent. Gather your things. I will meet you in the drive at my house.” Madara rose from the table with a nod to his family and left the dining room followed closely by Obito.

“Fugaku.” Mikoto began as soon as Madara and Sakura had left the room.

“There is nothing I can do about it Mikoto, you know that.” Fugaku ignored the stares of his eldest and youngest sons.

“...but Dad.” Sasuke began.

“What do you want me to do? Go against Madara? Who do you think really runs the Konoha Police Sasuke? For once in your life, use your head!” Fugaku threw his napkin down and stormed out of the room. He didn’t like Madara’s interest in Sakura any more than the rest of them, but like them...there was nothing he could do about it.

“Don’t worry Sasuke. Shisui, Izuna and I will watch Sakura.” Itachi assured his little brother who nodded.

“Madara’s interest in Sakura though…” Naruto frowned. “It isn’t anything new, I mean, he’s been sending her weird books for years and monitoring her schooling from afar. Do you think...I mean, he’s planning something right?”

“He’s never made a move toward her before now, never given us any reason to worry that his interest in Sakura was anymore than a whimsy.” Mikoto wrung her hands in her lap. She was clearly trying to convince herself of her own words.

“Until now.” Naruto looked at Sasuke.

“Sakura has turned into a very beautiful woman while Uncle was away.” Itachi said quietly.

“She’s just a girl, she’s only…” Mikoto trailed off.

“Twenty three and living on her own, mother. She’s also about to graduate at the top of her class with triple honors. Uncle would love to have her work for him, in any one of his many companies. She’s practically an Uchiha, he trusts her. He’s already invested in her.” Itachi rose from his seat. “If you’ll excuse me.”

“There were three Madara, all dead. One had a knife in his forehead, the other two were...poisoned.” Obito reported as they waited by the limo for Sakura.

“Poisoned...and?” Madara asked.

“It was close to the Yamanaka girl’s house. I’m waiting for word from our friend in the morgue.” Obito nodded his head to where Sakura had just exited the main house with her backpack and something draped over her arm. “Is she carrying a man’s coat?”

“Let me know what you find and yes, it is…” Madara nodded to Obito who took the driver’s seat.

Madara opened the door to the limo for Sakura.” Making a new fashion statement?” He asked her gesturing to the suit coat in her arms.

“No, it belongs to the man who, um helped me the other night.” Sakura climbed into the limo.

Madara sat down beside Sakura in the open space of the limo, eyeing the jacket. “A man helped you? A friend of yours?”

“Not a friend really. I had just met him recently on the train ride home from class. He said his name was...Sasori, Akasuna no Sasori.” Sakura pursed her lips remembering Sasori’s name. “He likes to quote Voltaire.” She smiled at Madara, her smile dropping from her face. His mouth was tight and his eyes were cold.

“Madara?” Sakura asked hesitantly.

“Akasuna no Sasori was riding the train was he?” Madara relaxed his face with a bit of effort and smiled a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, nor match the tone of his voice.

“Yes?” Sakura replied, wondering just who the hell Sasori was and how the hell Madara knew him...and why did he very clearly not like the man…

“What did he say to you, surely you must have talked about more than Voltaire?” Madara leaned forward in inquiry, bringing his leg in contact with Sakura’s.

“He was kinda weird.” She didn’t think it in her own best interest to tell Madara of all people she thought Sasori was stalking her, much less Sasori’s. She might not know Sasori well, but she knew enough about Madara to know he would take action against the man for following her. Sasori did save her that night...she owed him.

“How so my dear?” Madara was doing a better job at calming his voice and posture, taking on a more bored and disinterested demeanor...it reminded her of Sasori, again.

“I’m not sure how to describe it, I just got this feeling around him, about him. Like he was more than he appeared to be, like he might be...dangerous.” She admitted.

“You have good instincts. He is dangerous. He is also Uchiha’s number one competitor in the medical and pharmaceutical market. Not to mention manufacturing, trade and other...colorful goods.” Madara told her, watching as her eyes grew wide and her lips parted in surprise.

Madara’s eyes settled on her lips before meeting her eyes again.

“Ah.” Sakura knew the coat was far too expensive for someone who rode the train, for someone like her.

“You don’t seem very surprised my dear, or at least not nearly as surprised as I would expect you to be.” Madara continued to watch her eyes.

“This is an expensive coat Madara, Sasuke tells me it is a designer that you yourself favor, and I know you have expensive tastes.” She shrugged.

Madara laughed a deep masculine laugh that was very pleasing to the ears. “So I do.”

They rode in silence for a time before Madara spoke again. “I would like to think that your keen observation skills are due to the numerous books and other functional gifts I have sent you over the years but I think it is due more to your natural intelligence.”

Sakura smiled at his praise. Praise from a man like Madara, meant something.

“I understand and respect that you do not wish to accept an internship with one of my companies, Sakura, but it isn’t charity. You are clever, you are at the top of your class, I want you for your merits I assure you.” He patted her on the shoulder in a friendly manner, then let his hand slide down her arm and cover her hand.

Sakura looked down at their joined hands...was he...Madara began to speak again and her attention was pulled away from his touch, his thumb rolling gently over her knuckles.

“Think about it my dear. It wouldn’t be the usual unpaid internship either. I pay my interns, and I pay them handsomely. You have a rather large amount of student loan debt to pay off. It would be in your best interest to reconsider my offer. It wouldn’t be charity, I would work you to exhaustion every day my dear.” He pushed the car door open and stepped out, offering her his hand.

Sakura hadn’t realized they had stopped, that she was already home. “Thank you Madara.” She took his hand and he walked her to her door, his arm around her waist.

“There is a reason I sent you all those gifts over the years, Sakura, you must know that. I saw so much potential in you that night. It would be a shame if it had gone to waste.” Madara looked her over from head to foot outside the door to her apartment. “I see that you were well worth my effort. Goodnight dear, see you again soon.”

Sakura watched Madara get back into his limo after she had unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside. Only when she shut her door and locked it, did Obito drive away.

“Akasuna.” Obito bit out as soon as he pulled away from the curb of Sakura’s apartment.

“It seems I’m not the only one who noticed Sakura’s talents. I expected this, Sasori is known to take interest in the best Konoha medicine has to offer. It’s been a long time since someone as talented and clever as Sakura has walked through the doors of Konoha Medical University though.” Madara said as he looked out the window. The lights of the street whipped by as they drove through downtown Konoha’s business district.

“You think he’s been watching her? If he has, then he already knows of her connections to us.” Obito turned his head at the next red light and looked back at Madara, a slightly worried expression on his normally blank face.

“Of course he’s been watching her. Those three men...I bet they were his, a set up...so he could ‘Save’ her.” Madara chuckled again.

His adversary was a cunning man. He had already picked up the core of Sakura’s personality. She was loyal...one of the reasons he, Madara, had also picked her. A curl of Madara’s lips told Obito the conversation was over. Madara was deep in thought, no doubt plotting his next step.

“I want a man on her. I want reports every hour, even if it’s just a one word text. Understand?” Madara continued to look out the window.

“I’ll get a man over there tonight.” Obito replied.

“Subtle, someone that blends in Obito. She’s observant. As I thought, she’s a quick study, all those books I sent her on tracking, military strategy and shoji have paid off. She met Akasuna twice, Obito, talked to him briefly and one of the two times under duress...yet she knew...she knows he’s dangerous.” Madara smoothed out the front of his suit coat. “Akasuna is not a man to give away his intentions. She’s good Obito, we need her to choose us, we need her for our organization.”

“The family will not be pleased.” Obito wasn’t telling Madara anything he didn’t already know...they both knew.

“Fugaku is weak. The family knows not to stand in between me and my desires.” Madara said, plucking a long strand of pink hair from the back of the cushioned seat where Sakura had been sitting.

“What of Itachi and Shisui...or Izuna for that matter. Itachi knows more than he says...you groomed him, like Sakura...yet, he refused you, us.” Obito reminded the man.

“Yes...Itachi will be dealt with. Shisui is neutral, and reasonable. Izuna...has been gone for a very long time and has only recently returned, I am not worried about my younger brother. Besides, Sakura is more receptive to me than she realises.” Madara brought the silky hair to his nose and inhaled. “She is already accustomed to my touch and she isn’t even aware of it.”

Obito glanced at the man in the rear view. Madara always got what he wanted, and he could tell he wanted Sakura...badly. The only person to ever say no to Madara, was Itachi…

Itachi, whom Madara had groomed to take over the business from the young age of five. The boy had been a genius, he had been perfect...and he had defied Madara at every step along the way. Madara was confident, he was intelligent and ruthless but he had one great flaw. He had always, always underestimated Itachi. Obito sighed internally, that would be his downfall.

Chapter Text

Sasori stood in the open expanse of his master bedroom, his hands behind his back, fingers laced as his eyes darted back and forth among the multi screened panel in front of him. His spy network, as he called it. Thousands of video and audio feed from around the world at his fingertips.

Sasori pressed his entire palm, flat, fingers spread out on the panel before him and waited for the green light to flash. “Haruno Sakura.” Sasori said in a monotone, clear and precise manner.

Sakura’s apartment came into view. She was sitting in her living room reading a textbook and sipping tea. His aerial view gave him a visual of the entire living room. He saw his coat draped over the back of a lunch bar chair and smiled. Part of him, something of his was in her apartment, her safe haven, her home.

Six months ago, before she had moved in but after he had personally approved her lease application he had done a bit of remodeling to the apartment for her. Video and audio bugs had only been the beginning of the remodel. New floors, carpet and the breakfast bar had been others. A large antique lion footed bathtub, the other. For her of course, but also for his viewing pleasure.

His tongue flickered out and wet his upper lip as he watched her lean over her text book. She tended to do that when she was reading something of great interest to her he had noticed. Her hair fell from behind her ear and covered the side of her face. “So beautiful.” He murmured as he watched her.

It had become his routine in these last few months to watch her every evening. She didn’t have a very active social life, something he had been pleased to learn. She spent most of her evenings at home, studying. Once in a while a friend or two would come over or she would visit Ino. Her life was calm, organized...normal.

It helped relax him to watch her, it removed the stress of running multi billions of real and figmental monies from around the world, through real and figmental companies. She was simple, she was an enigma, she was going to be his weather she willed it for herself or not...she just didn’t know it yet.

He, of course, knew of her association with the Uchiha. That had been a surprise to be sure but nothing he couldn’t overcome. She wasn’t a blood relative of thiers, it wouldn’t tarnish his own ancient bloodline to...possess her.

Sasori placed his hand back on the screen and closed the panels, turned with a face of stone to his nephew who had come into the room as silently as a mouse.

“Report.” He commanded.

“Madara Uchiha drove her home personally, Sasori Sama. It is as you expected. He is making his move.” Kankuro bowed low, his arms formally at his sides...waiting.

“What of Itachi?” Sasori inquired.

“As far as we know, he harbours no interest in taking over Madara’s enterprise.” Kankuro reported.

“I see. Go. Assist your brother with his executions. Make sure he doesn’t get too carried away with the women. Check back in via phone before you retire. I do not want any more interruptions for the evening. Tell the guards at the gate.” Sasori turned his back to his nephew and placed his palm back on the flat panel.

Sakura’s apartment came back up on the screen. Kankuro dared a quick glance at the monitors and wished the object of his Uncle’s affections a silent good luck before leaving. She was in her bedroom now, changing into the pajamas he had gifted her without her knowledge a month ago. She had thought them a gift from Madara, and had been confused. Madara had never sent her such an impractical gift before.

Sasori had chuckled to himself when he had seen her open his gift. She had sat for hours staring at it in confusion, had written out a list of people it could have been from other than Madara, and had come to the very logical conclusion that it could only have been Madara who had sent them.

Methodical...but incorrect.

He pulled the list from his pocket, the list he had stolen while she had been out one day, and looked down at it now. ‘Unknown’, she had circled the last word on the list and then had crossed it out in frustration.

“So clever.” He smirked, folded the paper and tucked it back into his breast pocket, patting it down affectionately, his darkened amber eyes returning to the screens in front of him.

Sasori had gifted her other things as well. Some practical, some dangerous. She now had a complete set of Suna Poisons and Reference books on her shelf from him, a table top lab kit and several rare herbals from his own collection. If Madara Uchiha could mold her from the shadows, so could he.

Originally he had wanted her only for her intellectual talents, but as she grew he began to see her as something other than a tool, a doll to use and then tossed away...he had begun to see her as a woman. A very stubborn, driven and ambitious woman who wanted to carve her own place in life with her own strength. He admired that.

She didn’t work for the Uchiha, not even in the summer when her friends had worked for the family, in one of their businesses for the summer. She had gotten a paper, had looked through the want ads and had walked to each business with her references and her credentials in her hand asking for an interview. She had moxy, she reminded him of...himself.

So, when she had marched into his coin laundromat, a front for his darker business dealings, and demanded to see the manager, he had been impressed. That’s how he had found out of her connections to the Uchiha, what her course of study was for University after she graduated from high school would be, and when he had started to watch her and send her gifts of his own.

He had never shown himself to her, careful to always stand in the shadow, or to watch her from the camera in the basement as he went over the needed paperwork for his many shadow companies. She had come back each summer to work for his laundromat. He had promoted her to a manager to test her, to see if she could hire and fire people successfully.

She had exceeded even his high expectations then, as she did now.

Kankuro walked down the hall, past the kitchen and out the side door to his Uncle’s estate. He hated working with Gaara. His brother always took it too far, made it more bloody than it had to be and took too much pleasure from his victims, be it sexual or torturous..usually a combination of the two.

Kankuro sighed, waved to his sister who had just returned from running messages for the evening and left to find his younger brother, flicking his phone open as he started his car.

Dark eyes passed over the same line that they had for the last several minutes. Itachi sat back in his desk chair and closed his book. He was at a bit of a stand still in his mind. Madara clearly had carnal desires for Sakura, but Sakura wasn’t a fool. She was one of the very few women Itachi admired for her intelligence alone...regardless that he too, like many men he had noticed, also found her attractive.

Madara was no more of a fool than Itachi was though, and Itachi knew that. It was possible Madara wanted Sakura to work for him for all the reasons he had told her earlier that day, very probable in fact. In truth, it wasn’t a bad opportunity for Sakura either. Madara would give her a fair wage. Sakura would get the experience she needed and Madara had several businesses close to her apartment that she could take her pick from, legal, by the book businesses.

His mother was worried, but Itachi thought that was more due to the difference in age and relationship experience. Not that his Uncle had many long term relationships but...he was definitely more experienced in that area than Sakura was. Itachi stared at the closed book on his desk. Did his Uncle have a legitimate attraction to Sakura, one that had no hidden agenda, no alternative motives?

It seemed like Sakura didn’t wish to take Madara up on his generous offer though, if her speech that afternoon was any indication. Itachi smiled in the privacy of his own room remembering the girl’s words. She was a spit fire that one. She could handle Madara just fine at face value...Itachi rose from his chair and walked down to the kitchen for a glass of water, but only a fool would take anything Madara said at face value.

He wasn’t sure what his Uncle’s true intentions were in regard to Sakura. He needed more information. Itachi had promised to keep an eye on things, and he would.

Kankuro pushed the door open to the typical middle class home of the former Mr. Hamayoshi.

“Gaara?” Kankuro called out for his brother, his feet squelching into the carpet as he stepped into the house. “Ugh.”

A muffled cry, barely audible floated down the stairs from above. “Disgusting.” Kankuro mumbled as he began to climb the stairs calling out his brother’s name every few steps in caution.

He had failed to alert his brother of his presence once and it had almost cost him his life. Gaara, in the throes of...loving, one of his victims had lashed out mid pump and stabbed him in the gut. Luckily Temari had been with him, or he would have been dead.

“Gaara?” Kankuro passed by the first doorway, his eyes averted from the mutilated body on the bed, moving down the hall to the next room where he could hear his brother grunting while he smothering erratic cries and whimpers from his last victim.

Gaara had the girl up against the wall, her legs bent at an impossible angle as he thrust up hard into her from behind. “Get out.” Gaara hissed, not bothering to turn away from his toy.

“Come on Gaara, just end it, I’m tired and I want to go home.” Kankuro entered the room and sat down on the bed.

“She’s the last one right?” He knew she was. Gaara always took his time with the last one to prolong the experience as much as possible.

“Almost done.” Gaara was pushing harder now, his movements erratic, sweat glistened on his neck over the strain of his muscles as he bucked into the girl, her head pressed up against the wall with one of Gaara’s fists in her hair, the other bending her waist to fit his needs.

With a final jerk and a small guttural cry in the back of his throat, Gaara’s whole body relaxed. Kankuro got off of the bed and walked quickly down the stairs, he didn’t need to watch what he knew was coming next. It made his stomach turn to even think about it.

Gaara pulled his cock from the girl and tucked it back into his pants, grabbed her by the arm and turned her around to face him. With a gentleness that fooled no one he stroked her hair from her face and bent to kiss her. “Say it.” He whispered, picking her up and laying her on her bed gently.

“Tell me you love me.” He smoothed the clothes down over her bruised and battered body.

The girl shook her head, tears falling from her eyes.

“Say it.” Gaara hissed into her neck as he ran his hands over her breasts and down her sides.

“Say you love me.” He hissed again. “I know you love me!” He growled.

“I...I love you.” The girl whispered, turning her head away from him sobbing silently.

“I know you do.” He stabbed her, in the heart, waited..his breath held tight in his chest as he watched the light fade from her eyes. “I love you too.”

Kankuro was leaning up against the side of his car when Gaara walked out of the house toward him fast.

“Let’s go.” Gaara got into the passenger seat, careful to put on his seat belt. Kankuro shifted gears and they left just as the smoke began drift from the open windows of Mr. Hamayoshi’s modest house. Kankuro didn’t even try to avert his gaze from his brother’s face. If he did, Gaara would pounce on him, he knew from experience.

His brother was sick, heartless and sick, but he wasn’t the stupid mindless tool many in Suna thought he was, he was actually a genius, like their Uncle. A sick, morbid fucking genius. Suna had been happy to see him leave though. To Gaara, there wasn’t friend or foe...there was only Sasori and violence.

Gaara idolized their Uncle, he wanted to be just like him. Sasori had told them in his younger days that he had been a lot like Gaara. Gaara had been pleased, but Kankuro wasn't so sure that was true. Sasori had always had a certain refinement that Gaara lacked and Gaara had an uncontrollable demonic nature, that Sasori seemed to be able to control in himself, or at least keep in check around others.

Kankuro and Temari had discussed it often. It was like living with Death and the Devil, you never knew if when you woke up, if that day was going to be the last day of your life.

Gaara pulled his phone from his pocket and texted his Uncle. ‘Done’.

Sasori picked his phone up off of his nightstand. His nephew had finished the job just as he had told him too. Gaara was a good boy, he had never failed him...unlike Temari, unlike Kankuro. He trusted Gaara to get the job done. ‘Good.’ He replied setting his phone back on the nightstand, his eyes going back to the monitor at the end of his bed.

Sakura was asleep, curled up in her bed against her body pillow, eyes closed, hair spread out around her. Sasori could hear her soft breathing and sighed. She was perfect. He adored perfection. Sasori closed his eyes and relaxed his limbs, falling asleep to the rhythmic sound of Sakura’s soft inhales and exhales.

Sakura had woken up late, having hit her alarm clock too many times...breaking it. She had fallen back asleep only to wake up in a panic as her back up alarm clock rang loudly from her phone. Rolling out of bed and rolling into the first clothes she could find in her hurried state she had grabbed her backpack, ran out of her door, locked it, ran down the steps only to run straight into Obito, who had been waiting by the limo parked in front of her apartment.

“Obito, oh my gosh you scared the shit out of me. What, uh what are you doing here?” Sakura stammered, looking past him into the darken glass of the limo for any sign of Madara.

“Madara asked me to drive you to the University today. I will also pick you up from campus when your classes are over to drive you home.” Obito inclined his head to her, hiding his smirk at the sight of her tangled hair and her shirt that was buttoned up lopsided.

“Well...what the hell, okay, I’m running late. I might not have gotten to the station in time anyway. Thanks Obito!” Sakura climbed into the limo when Obito opened the door for her to find a small bag with a bagel in it.

“Is this for me?” Sakura asked, surprised.

“The coffee is in the holder.” Obito smiled at her delighted scream.

“Madara doesn’t want me talking to Sasori again does he Obito?” Sakura chewed on her bagel as she considered the possibilities for Obito’s presence. They had been driving for a while before she had decided to confront him.

“He wants you to be safe.” Obito replied, his face blank, he had seen her contemplating her situation in the mirror and wondered how long it would be before she confronted him.

“Who is Sasori Obito?” Sakura picked up her coffee and closed her eyes as she sipped...her eyes opened slightly...it was made just the way she liked it.

“I believe Madara told you already.” Obito knew very well Madara had told her...what he had wanted her to know.

Sakura sat for a moment, watching the cars, buildings and people streak by as Obito drove her to school.

“Sasori is like Madara then.” She mumbled, almost to herself.

Obito didn’t reply, he had heard her...she was too clever for her own good, it was going to get her into trouble..unless she chose to work with Madara, where he could protect her.

“Maybe not completely like Madara though.” She muttered to herself again.

Obito couldn’t remain silent anymore. “No Sakura, that’s where you’re wrong. Sasori is just like Madara, in business and in ruthlessness.” He caught her eye in the mirror.

“What is it that Madara does Obito, I know we aren’t supposed to talk about it but is it drugs, people, arms dealing? What?” Sakura asked boldly.

“A complicated question Sakura, I hardly know where to begin. I advise you to ask Madara when you see him again. He is of course better placed to answer your questions about him, than I am.” Obito pulled up to the Lab building and Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. She hadn’t told him her first class was in the lab.

“A complicated man hum. Thanks for the ride Obito. See you later.” Sakura got out of the limo and threw her backpack over her shoulder.

Before she had walked too far away Obito rolled the driver’s side window down. “I’ll be outside of the Berman Building when you get out of class Sakura. Madara wants me to drive you home. Do not take the train.” He called out to her.

Sakura hunched her shoulders forward and ignored him. “We’ll see about that.” She muttered under her breath as she pulled the door open to her lab building.

‘Headstrong’, Obito shook his head as he rolled his window up and pulled out his phone to let Madara know Sakura was at university, safe and sound.

“I have to say Madara, she really is very impressive.” Hashirama handed Madara the folder back that his friend had given him before their coffee had arrived.

Madara’s phone dinged. “Yes she is.” Madara smiled at Obito’s text.

“She is also too proud to accept an internship at one of my legitimate companies. She wants to find one of her own merit, admirable but difficult.” Madara drummed his fingers on the wood grain of the restaurant table.

“Her classes are due to end at the end of the month giving her two months to find an internship. If she doesn’t find one in the allotted time, she will lose her scholarship. It is a partial scholarship and she doesn’t have the means to support herself for another year should she lose it.” Madara laid the groundwork for his friend’s suggestion and offer.

“An internship you say.” Hashirama pursed his lips in thought. “I could offer her an internship, and in her field of study too.”

“I could even pay her a small salary. She is worth it from her file alone, but are you sure you don’t want to wait, see if she changes her mind?” Hashirama could tell that his friend was more invested in the girl than he was letting on but didn’t press him for information. Madara would tell him if he wanted him to know, like always.

Hashirama Senju and his family owned and ran Konoha Hospital, the most prestigious hospital in the Land of Fire, as well as a few other businesses around Konoha and Suna. For centuries the Uchiha and the Senju had been business rivals until Madara and Hashirama had ended the feud together through their childhood friendship. Hashirama had never handled the darker aspects of the family business, not like his father had, not like his brother did now...nor like Madara did for the Uchiha.

They, like most of their families had an unspoken agreement, to not speak of it. Madara had said without saying...he wanted Sakura ignorant of Senju secrets and of their connection to one another. Few knew of their childhood friendship or why their family feud with one another had stopped. They knew, their brothers knew and perhaps one or two others on each side knew...but that was it.

“Sakura is a stubborn woman, it has served her well, but it will not allow her to change her mind. I am sure she will accept an internship at your hospital, it is her dream to become a surgeon, then to go into research and development.” Madara told Hashirama. “After her internship with you, I will offer her a job at one of my companies, whichever one she wants.”

Hashirama nodded.

“Do you have any suggestions on how I should approach her? I wouldn’t want to come off as creepy.” Hashirama laughed loudly without embarrassment.

“Yes, there is a function coming up, you know the one for the city. I am going to ask her to come with me, as well as a few other members of my family. I will introduce you, it will be your opportunity to offer her the internship. Speaking of creeps, Akasuna has shown an interest in her. I would much rather have her work for you, than him, if she will not take me up on my offer.” Madara shared a look of loathing with his friend.

“Akasuna...I see.” Hashirama’s tone was grave. “What interest does the man have in the girl?”

“Purely business as far as I can tell. You know what the man deals in though Hashirama. I don’t want Sakura involved with that. That is not the kind of life she should have.” Madara signaled for the waitress with a lazy hand.

“Yes, yes. I quite agree. Consider it done! I won’t take no for an answer my friend!” Hashirama smiled at the waitress as she approached the table.

“Thank you Hashi.” Madara said so quietly, that only Hashirama had heard him.

Chapter Text

Sakura looked out the second window of the Bermer Building stairwell and chewed her nail. She could see Obito standing by the limo, his hands in his suit pockets, leaning against the door. His eyes were on the front door of the building, waiting for her.

Sakura had seen the other Uchiha at the end of the hallway, had ducked low and walked out with a few other students hiding herself from view. Hidden among them and avoiding their curious looks, she ducked into the stairwell when she was sure the man at the other end of the hall was looking the other way, to her classroom...Madara had put a tail on her...why?

“I’m not going to make it easy for you.” She muttered, slinging her back pack over her shoulder, walking down the stairs to the back of the building, out across the common lawn to the side street that wound around the otherside of the campus. It would take her longer, but she would still make her train and she wouldn’t have to deal with Obito.

Not that she didn’t like Obito, but she wasn’t going to let Madara control her life either. What the hell was his problem putting a tail on her like that. She had forgotten what it was like to have him around all the time. He had been gone for ten years, it was an easy thing to forget. However, it all came screaming back to her now.

Sakura didn’t think Madara was a bad person. He was a good person that did bad things for the right reasons. He protected his family by any means necessary, even murder. The whole family knew it...that’s why there was that common agreement. Don’t ask…

Even when Madara wasn’t there, the ghost of his presence was. Even if he had been out of Konoha for the last ten years, that didn’t mean his influence had gone with him, not completely.

Sakura walked down the street to the train station, her thoughts on her sleeve.

She had been sixteen and out with her friends, a friend of a friend had gotten a bit too handsy with her, had hit her across the face to make her comply... the next day, he was found dead in the creek behind the high school. No leads, no witnesses, a professional execution shot through the head.

Guilt had consumed her, only Itachi could bring her out of her shell. ‘It is not your fault’, he had told her. ‘Bad things happen to bad people’, he had said.

‘Was it Madara?’, She had asked him. ‘It is hard to say exactly who it was’, Itachi had held her in his arms, rocking her back and forth.

‘Who else?’, she had persisted. ‘There are more bad people in this world than Madara Uchiha, Sakura love’, Itachi had kissed the top of her head.

Two weeks later, a letter had come, no return address with a contract for a local MA studio. ‘Someone’, had paid for a year’s worth of MA lessons in advance. Sakura hadn’t gone though, she had been angry at his assumption...she knew it had been from Madara. Itachi hadn’t been so sure.

“Hey.” Someone spoke behind her ear, Sakura turned in her seat, eyes wide. She was on the train...when had she…

”Sasori.” Sakura eyed him warily, she hadn’t been paying attention, lost in her thoughts and had walked to the train, sat down in her usual spot all on auto pilot.

“Oh! Your coat, I’m sorry, I forgot it this morning at my apartment. I meant to bring it with me to give it back to you, if I saw you today but I was running late this morning and completely forgot. I hate it when I do things like that.” She babbled, a little surprised to see him, a little flustered at her forgetfulness and more than a little put out by her previous line of thought.

“One great use of words, is to hide our own thoughts.” Sasori smirked at the look of exasperation in Sakura’s eyes as she turned a bit more to face him fully.

“Back to that are we?” Sakura couldn’t help but smile a half smile at him. She couldn’t look at him as a stalker anymore, some nameless creep on the train. Not after he had saved her, nor after what Madara had told her about the man. He made her both wary and comfortable at the same time. She fidgeted in her seat...an odd combination.

“Did we ever leave it?” Sasori asked her innocently, but she wasn’t fooled. She could see the arrogance behind his eyes. Was he both, the man she saw before her and the...man Madara claimed him to be?

Never one to simply trust another’s judgement or opinion, she decided to find out for herself.

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” Sakura played with the strap of her bag looking up at him through her pink fringe that fell over her eyes. Not sure how he would react...now that she knew more about him.

“I did, I told you my name.” Sasori reached his fingers out to her slowly and brushed the fringe out of her eyes. “So green.”

Sakura flushed in embarrassment, but she didn’t flinch, much to his continued amusement.

“You know what I mean.” She muttered.

Sasori sighed and sat back in his seat, shoved his hands into his pockets and looked out the window of the opposite side of the train.

“Do I.” Sasori paused as he considered her words...someone had told her about him.

“If I had told you what I did for a living you would have stopped speaking to me, you would have been even more suspicious of me than you already were, are.” He raised both of his eyebrows at her, daring her to deny the truth he saw in her eyes.

He was right of course, but that didn’t make it okay in her eyes. “You still should have told me.”

“Can you blame me for seeing a pretty girl and just wanting to be, a guy?” He asked her seriously.

Sakura cocked her head to the side and considered his words. She hadn’t even considered that he might have been attracted to her. She held his gaze but couldn’t find anything in his eyes except for the truth. She nodded her head. “Okay.”

Sasori couldn’t hold the smile back, his mouth had moved before he could suppress it.

“So, you think I’m pretty?” She blushed, biting her bottom lips between her front teeth.

“I do.” Sasori licked his bottom lip , his hand reaching out slowly to finger the lock of hair that had fallen over her shoulder.

“Um, so you ah…” Sakura stuttered.

Sasori waited for her to complete her thought, he could only imagine what she was thinking. He could see both confusion and apprehension on her face, but also curiosity and...interest. He held his breath. He had to maintain control and awareness, he had come too far with her to make a mistake now. Emotions were a dangerous thing.

“My apartment isn’t far from the station. If you have time, I’d like to give you your coat back. I feel bad for keeping it so long after you...helped me that night.” She said quickly before she could think of the plethora of consequences for her actions.

“Are you sure that is wise Sakura? I wouldn’t wish to put you in an awkward situation with Madara Uchiha.” Sasori said carefully, clearly, with as much sincerity as he could muster.

“You know…” It was a statement, a flat statement said out of the side of her mouth…”Of course you know. He knew about you as well. I told him you were the one to help me, before I knew who you were.”

“...and now Sakura, that you know who I am and what I do for a living?” Sasori held his breath once more, suppressing the urge to smile more successfully this time as her eyes flashed and narrowed.

“I know very little of what Madara does for a living, but I could guess. As for you, tell me in your own words, what is it you do for a living...Sasori?” Sakura asked him with only the slightest hitch in her voice.

Sasori was pleased. She was every bit as brave as he had thought she was.

“I am a businessman who does business with both good law abiding citizens and with those less inclined to obey the law. Not all of my business is legal, but not all of it is illegal.” Sasori watched the pulse jump in her neck as he spoke.

“I do however, keep my legal businesses far away from my illegal ones. In fact, all of my businesses in Konoha are very legal, I assure you Sakura.” He smiled then, a mildly disarmingly charming smile.

“You’re very honest.” Sakura didn’t understand why he was being so honest with her. Madara wasn’t even this direct with her and she had known him...albeit not well, but almost all of her life.

“I have nothing to hide if I wish to pursue you.” Sasori said simply, reading her thoughts so clearly displayed on her face.

“You...wish to pursue me?” Sakura blushed, she hadn’t been expecting that. To tell her he thought her pretty was one thing, but to openly pursue her...she was no one, she was just a college student with nothing to offer someone like Sasori.

“Of course. You would be an excellent addition to my ranks.” Sasori let surprise seep into his voice and was pleased to see the look of confusion and slight disappointment on her face.

“Oh, for… I thought.” She stammered. Of course, she sagged in her seat...

“I want to offer you an internship in my research and development facility for MedCore Financial, my parent company in Konoha.” He told her.

“You...stalked me to offer me an internship?” She asked him incredulously.

“I like to know who I am hiring, I don’t like to waste my time with the lies people tell you in interviews. Anyone can pretend to be perfect for fifteen minutes at a time. I received your file from the Dean, you were highly recommended. I only take interns by recommendation.” Sasori drove the nail home.

So he hadn’t really been stalking her and the Dean told him about me...so he wasn’t a creep. Sakura’s face brightened.

“Really?” She couldn’t hide the flush of raw hope and excitement that she felt, it showed clearly in her eyes and in her voice.

“Really.” Sasori took her hand in his and stroked her fingers. Sakura didn’t even seem to notice that he was touching her again in her excitement.

Sakura bit her lip backtracking in her head. “If the Dean gave you my file and you aren’t some weirdo stalker, why did you...help me that night in the alley?” She asked him quietly.

There were still a few things about this man that didn’t quite add up in her head, call it a feeling or a hunch but she felt...there was more to his words than he was allowing her to see.

Sasori didn’t respond right away. “I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t think. I just...moved.” He said with such complete sincerity, she couldn’t speak.

Sasori smirked to himself. He was a little disappointed at how easily she had accepted him, but it played into how very innocent she was still, so he allowed it. Her innocence was..refreshing in a way he had never thought possible, before her, like so many others he had seen innocence...as a weakness.

Of course...he was also very good at this game they were playing...and as intelligent and clever as she was, he had many more years of experience on his side than she did.

“Your stop is next.” Sasori nodded toward the window.

“Oh!” Sakura grabbed her bag and flung it over her shoulder. “Will you be able to get another train home?”

She’s too thoughtful, his fingers twitched at his side as he stood to join her.

“I’ll call my driver. There is no need to take the train now that you have accepted my internship. Unless you wish to continue discussing Voltaire.” His eyes held a humorous sparkle that made Sakura laugh.

It was a beautiful sound. Sasori wanted to hear it again.

“I haven’t accepted the internship yet. I thanked you for your offer.” Sakura pointed out to him as they got off the train together.

“You’ll accept it. There are only three companies offering internships this year.” ...because he had made sure she would need to come to him for her internship.

“How do you…” She began suspiciously.

“The Dean.” Sasori shrugged, amused at her suspicion. Innocent...but not a fool enough to blindly follow...

“Oh.” Sakura looked down to where her feet hit the pavement as she walked. “I’m right here…” Her words died in her throat as they approached her apartment building.

Sasori had already seen the man the moment they had turned the corner onto her street, he had expected it.

“What the hell does he think he’s doing…” Sakura almost growled stomping the rest of the way and up to Obito, who was leaning against the driver’s side limo door, his hands in his pockets, watching her and Sasori approach.

Sasori watched Sakura, amused at her sudden change in mood.

“Sakura. I told you I would drive you home.” Obito stood and took his hands out of his pockets. His voice calm as he looked Sasori over with great interest. Obito had seen the man before, but this was an..unusual setting in which to see him again.

“I don’t need a keeper, Obito.” She growled.

“I’m not a keeper, I’m a driver.” Obito nodded to Sasori who nodded politely back, only mildly surprised at the Uchiha’s greeting.

“Whatever, tell Madara I do not want his driver to drive me to and from school anymore. Thank you for driving me this morning Obito, but no more. I apologize, but I promised Sasori I would return his coat to him. If you’ll excuse us.” Sakura took Sasori by the hand and pulled him after her, up the stairs and to the door of her apartment while Obito watched from the curb, pulling his phone from his pocket.

“Sorry about that Sasori.” Sakura shut her door behind them and pulled his coat from her chair to hand to him.

“I understand. My reputation is...often misunderstood. I would expect nothing less from a man like Madara Uchiha, but tell me Sakura, what is your relationship with the man, if I might ask? Clearly he cares enough about you to send his own driver to see you home.” Sasori cocked his head at her, waiting.

“It’s not really a relationship. We are associated of course through the family but...I’m not involved with his more clandestine affairs..” She grimaced.

“He left when we were kids, he was gone for ten years but he’s back now and well, no one knows why.” She didn’t know how to explain Madara to Sasori. She didn’t think she should either. She wasn’t an Uchiha, but she did consider them family, even Madara. Madara had told her that Sasori was the competition…

Sakura gasped at her mistake, her eyes darting up to see Sasori look at her with something like...triumph in his eyes. She had said too much...did he know how close she was to the Uchiha family? Shit.

Sasori was pleased. She wasn’t giving him any information he didn’t already know, and clearly she had just realized her mistake. No, he was pleased because she had offered it so freely...she was beginning to trust him, if only subconsciously.

It was because he had taken great pains to show her she could trust him. She was loyal, he had seen that in her right away...and he wanted her loyalty, he would do whatever it took to gain it. Loyalty was very important to Sasori. Everyone seemed to betray him. Everyone except Gaara.

“It’s none of my business.” He said to ease her mind. He wouldn’t push her.

“Think about my offer.” Sasori pulled a card from the suit pocket he was wearing and handed it to her.

He didn’t want to leave, he wanted to take her back to his estate but he knew that he had to do this right. It was all about timing with Sakura and it was time for him to leave. He could see the wheels turning in her head, if he stayed, she would continue to question him...there were still things he needed to set into motion before he would allow her to question him more freely.

She wasn’t bound to him yet, her loyalty hadn’t been secured. She felt her debt to him was slowly being repaid for his efforts that night, he could see it in her eyes. Once her debt was repaid however, she would feel they stood on equal ground. That isn’t what he wanted, not yet.

“Call me when you reach a decision on the internship.” Sasori inclined his head to her, his eyes never leaving hers. He turned and walked out her door, closing it behind him.

Sasori met Obito’s eyes as he walked down the stairs, pulling his phone from his pocket to call Temari to pick him up. He stood purposefully on the sidewalk where he knew Sakura was looking from the window of her apartment, in her direct line of sight.

“Pick me up at Sakura’s apartment.” Sasori spoke into his phone, his eyes still on Obito.

“You didn’t give your driver an address.” Obito observed with narrowed eyes.

“Opps.” Sasori smirked at the man.

Obito glanced up at the window of Sakura’s apartment where he knew she was watching them and waved. Sakura waved back at Obito, but her eyes were on Sasori.

“How long have you been watching her?” Obito’s voice was low, his lips barely moving. Sakura could read lips, Madara had sent her several books on the subject in her youth, the same books he had sent Itachi.

“Long enough to know she is well worth my effort.” Sasori replied, his voice as low as Obito’s, his back to Sakura’s window. He had noticed the man had controlled the movement of his lips...Sakura...knew how to read lips. Sasori smirked. “Yes, well worth my effort.”

Temari pulled up to the curb, her gun in her lap as she observed the other limo, the driver and the pink haired woman in the window of her apartment.

Sasori turned his back to Obito, and waved to Sakura, who smiled and waved back.

Temari had a gun trained on the Uchiha, Sasori had no doubt. She had paid, nearly with her life...the last time she had failed him.

Obito waited until Sasori’s limo had rounded the corner and was far enough away for his liking, waved to Sakura once more, then got into the car and he too, drove away, watching Sakura’s dwindling form in his rearview.

Obito’s phone rang.

“She’s home. He just left. Temari, It looks like he brought a few more people than we thought with him from Suna this time. No, I don’t know if Gaara is with him, but probably. She was pissed. Good luck.” Obito hung up the phone.

Madara set his phone down on his desk, stood and looked out of the 47th floor of Uchiha Industries’s main headquarters in downtown Konoha’s business district. So, the man had been watching her longer than he had realized. That was going to be a problem, it meant Sasori of The Red Sand was interested in more than just her mind...that...couldn’t be allowed.

Sakura had ditched her tail, skipped out on Obito, rode the train home and had invited Sasori into her apartment. If Madara wasn’t so pissed off, he would have laughed. Sakura had clearly read all of the books he had sent her over the years...and had learned from them. The girl was perfect. Madara turned as the door to his office opened.

“Izuna, you’re back. Tell me, how was your trip to Suna?” Madara joined his brother at the wet bar and poured himself a drink, then one for Izuna. “Come, sit, tell me of your travels.”

Izuna carried his drink to the sitting arrangement on the other side of the office and sank down into the leather chair. Taking a healthy swallow from his crystal tumbler he leveled a dark eye onto his brother. “It isn’t good Madara. Our informants tell us Sasori is more than ready to make his move against Uchiha Industries in Oto. We need to make a decision, and fast.”

Madara nodded, he had thought it would come to this. “I see, so...all of the rumours are true, he really is as heartless as they say.”

“Heartless and more. Hamayoshi was found...dismembered and...ugh” Izuna shuddered at the memory, the man hadn’t even looked human by the time they had retrieved...most of his body.. “That boy, that man, Gaara, he’s a monster and his Uncle, Sasori, it’s like he isn’t even human, the things he let’s Gaara do are just....” There were no words.

“Hamayoshi’s family...Izuna, did Gaara…” Madara asked, not entirely sure he wanted to hear the answer, his face a mask of stone and indifference.

“Yeah.” Izuna exhaled noisily. “The same, like the others. The women...abused and cut up after he…”

“Sasori just left Sakura’s apartment. Obito said she ditched her tail and slipped out of campus right under his nose at the university and rode the train home. Sasori met her on the train, apparently...he’s been interested in her for quite some time now.” Madara watched as the whites of his younger brother’s eyes grew around his pupils.

Izuna swallowed the bile that threatened to ruin his brother’s expensive chairs...not Sakura...anyone but her...Izuna straightened in his chair, forcing his mind to focus on what was important, the images of the abused and bloodied women flashing through his head. That monster Gaara, he would die before he let that man anywhere near Sakura...

“What do you need me to do Madara?” A simple question.

“I don’t know yet. We need to keep her safe though. This is no longer about the internship, there is something more to his interest in her, something I can’t see right now. I’ve already spoken to Hashirama.” Madara saw his brother’s lips curl.

“Don’t give me that look. He’s going to offer her a paid internship, at Konoha Hospital at the charity this Friday. With luck, we won’t need to worry about Sasori as far as Sakura is concerned and we can focus on Oto.”

Izuna nodded, then drained his glass. “A good plan. Hashirama will keep an eye on her if she is under his care when we can not, and if she takes an internship with Hashirama, she won’t need to take Sasori up on his offer. ...but what about Tobirama, you know Sakura will pique his interest. He’s rarely in his brother’s hospital, but he does visit him from time to time.”

“Hashirama knows I don’t want Sakura involved with anything illegal, he will keep an eye on her...as you said.” Madara was confident.

Izuna rose and stretched. “Fine. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Madara nodded to his brother, the door to his office clicking shut behind him. He swirled the alcohol in his tumbler, setting the unfinished drink down on the table and pulled his phone from his pocket.

“Itachi, I need you to go to Oto. A legal business. Yes. After the charity event. Sasori is trying to take Uchiha Industries in Oto. I know you will.” Madara hung up his phone and dialed another number.

“Shisui, Sakura needs a car. Put it on the company account, plate and insure it for her. Yes. No, you can tell her it’s from me, she’ll know. For her own safety. Yes I know about Oto. Did she?” Madara laughed. “Get whatever color you think she’ll like, get it to her by morning. I don’t want her riding the train anymore. Also, I’m going to need you back on the force. I’ve been away too long and given Fugaku too much leniency, he’s bumbled up my police force. It’s time we took steps to correct that.”

Madara set his phone on his knee and looked across the room at a family photo, the only family photo in any of his offices. His eyes immediately focused on the little shock of pink hair in the far corner, standing in between Sasuke and Naruto, her arms around her boys.

Maybe it was time to get out of the game, to go straight and legal but...it was easier said than done. He simply had too many enemies, and too many of them were too close to home for him to quit right now. He had been in this line of work for too long, his hands were too bloody, too deep into the heart of the criminal underworld to simply just leave, marry and settle down into the blissful happy life that most ignorant bastards took for granted.

Madara picked up his tumbler, drained it and fell back into the soft leather of his chair. He had never wanted this life. He didn’t like the things he had to do to protect those he loved...but he would do it, because he did love them...and now that their father was gone...there was no one else. Izuna, try as he might, just didn’t have the steel in his heart to lead the clan, he wasn’t ruthless when he needed to be and he thought with his heart, his anger and fear. Men like that didn’t last long in his line of work.

No, Madara couldn’t retire, not yet. There were old strings that needed to be tied up and new strings that were starting to unravel...a never ending game that he was sick of playing. With a heavy sigh he moved to the wet bar and refilled his tumbler.

“Damn you Itachi and your fucking morals.” He couldn’t really blame the kid, man, he corrected himself. Would he have chosen this life...if his father had given him a choice? No, he didn’t blame Itachi, but he no longer trusted him like he once had. Their objectives were not the same, their ways and means...opposed.

“For the greater good.” Madara let the phrase slide from his lips as he brought the crystal to his mouth.

He remembered Itachi’s eyes as he had said those words to him over three years ago in the land of Snow. Madara had called Itachi there to help him with his newest...legitimate, enterprise. Madara had tried one last time to persuade Itachi to take over the family business, but of course Itachi had declined...again. Madara wasn’t used to being denied.

A mirthless chuckle filled the deafening silence of the room. The grandfather clock in the corner chimed the hours. Each thrum left a bitter taste in Madara’s mouth. Time, was not on his side.

“For the greater good.” Madara repeated Itachi’s words to himself. “I don’t even know what is good anymore, this life...this world...depresses me.”

Chapter Text

Sakura crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the car in front of her, the ridiculous over sized red bow hanging off the side...like a cancer.

“I don’t want it.” She glared at the Mid sized Black sedan as though it had wronged her in some terrible fashion.

“Not your color? They didn’t have red.” Shisui grinned down at her, his arm around her shoulder.

“It’s from Madara isn’t it?” Sakura narrowed her eyes against the sun as she looked up at Shisui, daring him to deny what she knew was a fact.

“I won’t even try to deny it, yeah it’s from him, but it’s not just for you. We’ll all feel better knowing you have a vehicle.” Shisui gave her a one armed shoulder hug. “Just take it okay, it’s gassed up and ready to go. Insurance is in the glove box.”

“Shisui.” Sakura growled.

Shisui dangled the keys out in front of her. The little Uchiha fan key charm winking at her in the sunlight. Sakura sighed. It would be nice to have her own car, she could wake up later and stay at the university later if she wanted to. She wouldn’t have to rely on the train schedule anymore.

Shisui could tell he was winning her over the longer she stood there biting her lips between her teeth. He dangled and jingled the keys in front of her face one more time and nudged her with his other elbow around the back, making them both twist at the waist. Sakura giggled.

“Fine, but this doesn’t mean I have accepted his internship.” She grabbed the keys from Shisui’s hands and hit the unlock on the key fob to check out her new car.

“Oh it smells nice.” Sakura took a deep breath of her new car, but it wasn’t the usual new car smell, it smelled like…

“Jasmine.” Shisui pulled the little silk pouch of dried flowers out from underneath the driver’s seat to show her with a grin. “There’s one under the passenger seat too.”

Sakura laughed. “Is there anyone in the family that doesn’t know everything about me?”

“Eh, one of the perks of being the only girl for the last generation.” Shisui shrugged as he watched her open the glove box and then open the trunk as she inspected every inch of her new car.

“Where’s the camera...and the audio bug Shisui?” She asked as she ran her palms along the frame of the trunk, then pulled the lining from the bottom to look for bugs.

Shisui laughed. “There aren’t any. Madara told me to put them in the console, but I forgot.” He winked at her.

“Oh, thank you Shisui.” Sakura hugged him , then started to put her car back together.

“No problem flower, I knew you’d tear the whole thing apart looking for it. I remember when you were thirteen and Itachi and I picked you up to take you to the beach.” He laughed.

Sakura flushed red. She remembered too. Itachi had just bought his new car at the age of seventeen, had earned it with his own money working summer jobs and had asked Shisui and Sakura if they wanted to go to the beach. They had gotten to the beach only to be intercepted by a distant Uchiha cousin, told that they were to return home, that Madara didn’t want Sakura at the beach with Itachi and Shisui.

Sakura had been disappointed but she had accepted it as just one of those things...until she had heard Itachi and Shisui speaking to one another in Shisui’s room later that night. They were speculating on where Madara had hidden the bug to spy on him and how they would remove it without Madara finding out.

With all the self righteous indignation that a thirteen year old girl could have, she burst into Shisui’s room, grabbed his car keys off of his desk and had marched out into the drive to find and remove the bug herself.

She had found it of course, three hours later, in the seam of the back seat cushions. In her agitated state, she had yelled into the bug, “Itachi bought this with his money not yours Madara, you had no right to do this you creep. I’m stepping on your bug! Coward!”

Itachi had tried to stop her, eyes wide with horror and more than a little respect for her efforts on his behalf but he wasn’t quick enough. Her tiny foot and heel had slammed down onto the bug, it had shattered in an instant. A yelp had been heard from the back porch and the Uchiha cousin responsible for monitoring the bug flushed out into the open where Sakura had proceeded to yell at him...in Madara's absence.

Two days later, a new book had appeared, ‘Anger Management’, Sakura had thrown the book out of her bedroom window with a disgruntled huff. The next morning, it was gone. She had never known who had picked up the book, or where it had gone but she never saw it again and no one had spoken of what had happened that day, until now.

“He’ll know you didn’t bug it Shisui, will you get into trouble?” She didn’t want her new car bugged but she didn’t want Shisui to get into trouble either.

“There’s a GPS on it, but no video and no audio. He will be satisfied with that, I hope.” Shisui rubbed his chin thoughtfully hoping that his own words were true for both of their sake.

Sakura nodded. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Mikoto wants you to come over after class for dinner tonight. She knows you have the car now so she knows you will get home earlier than normal...don’t be late.” He patted her on the head and walked to his own car that he had parked off to the side while waiting for her new car to be delivered.

“Yeah okay, see you tonight.” Sakura waved at Shisui as he drove away.

With one last look at her car and a quick smile she skipped back into her apartment to get ready for her noon class. Wednesday was an easy day, she only had one class on Wednesdays.

“You’re back from Suna.” Fugaku nodded to Izuna as he entered the kitchen and sat down next to him at the table.

“Yeah, made a pit stop on the way home. Gaara came to Konoha with his Uncle.” Izuna poured himself a cup of coffee from the cafe on the table and cupped it between his hands, sipping lightly.

“Ah, there had been rumors.” Fugaku eyed the younger man out of the corner of his eye.

“They’re all true, but you know what they say...don’t ask, if you don’t want to know.” Izuna eyed his uncle from the corner of his own eye.

‘Coward’, Izuna scoffed silently as he continued to sip on his coffee. Sasori and his...family had been in Konoha for the last year and off and on before that for the last ten years after Madara had left. Fugaku and his rumours...the man was clueless.

Fugaku nodded. It wasn’t any of his business…

“I heard at the station Sakura was attacked. Why didn’t you tell me?” Izuna set his cup down and stared at Fugaku with a hard eye.

“You’ve already been to the station? I assumed Madara would have told you. I assumed he knew the moment it happened.” Fugaku said through clenched teeth.

“You assume too much Fugaku. Your incompetence is putting the family in danger. Madara left you the police force and you’ve not kept up your end of the bargain. You didn’t want to be a runner in the family business so my brother took pity on you. He realizes his mistake, had for quite some time but matters...over your head prevented him from returning, to save your ass yet again.” Izuna set his empty coffee cup down as Mikoto and Itachi walked into the kitchen.

“Things are about to change in Konoha Fugaku. It’s time for you to decide, what part you’ll be playing now that Madara and I have returned.” Izuna kissed Mikoto on the cheek and nodded to Itachi on his way out of the kitchen. He was tired and he had yet to get any sleep from the night before.

Itachi sat down at the table across from his Father. “I leave for Oto after the charity dinner this Friday. I’m not sure how long I will be gone.”

Mikoto turned from the stove where she had been cracking eggs into the frying pan. “For Madara?” She asked and Itachi nodded.

“Very well.” Her voice was resigned. She knew Itachi didn’t do anything illegal, she knew he had refused to join that part of Madara’s business but it still worried her every time her eldest son left Konoha. He was an Uchiha and Madara’s nephew...he had been born with a target on his back, like the rest of them.

“Don’t worry mother. I'll be fine. I’m going to Oto to review the company's financial records. There seems to be a rather large discrepancy in the research funding that doesn’t add up to the numbers that were recorded a month prior to Madara’s departure.” Itachi assured his mother that he would be safe.

“Enough.” Fugaku barked out at his son. “We do not need nor do we want to know where Madara has been for the last ten years Itachi.”

“Don’t we?” Sasuke entered the kitchen followed by Naruto. “I for one would like to know where the danger could be coming from before it stabs me in the face.”

Mikoto slammed her hand down on the counter and turned to give her youngest a measured look. “Your father said enough.”

“Sorry mother.” Sasuke bowed his head to his mother, but looked at his brother as soon as she turned back to the stove.

Itachi shook his head, they would talk later.

Naruto watched the undercurrents at the table through hooded eyes as he poured himself some orange juice. Something had happened, what was it...why was Itachi going to Oto, where was Madara for the last ten years because Naruto doubted very much he had been in Oto this whole time. Izuna...they had seen him walking down the hall and out the side door of the main house as he and Sasuke had walked to the kitchen.

He thought he had heard that Izuna had been in Suna for the last ten years...why did he return, and at the same time Madara had returned. Something was happening, something big and he didn’t know what it was...he didn’t fault Sasuke for being angry.

They had done their own research into this ‘Sasori’, who had saved Sakura because no one would answer their questions about the man, not even Itachi. There hadn’t been a lot of information online about him. Only that he owned almost as many companies as the Uchiha did and that he was the Uchiha’s number one competitor for...almost everything. Nothing added up in Naruto’s mind…why would a man like Sasori be on a train, like Sasuke had said, and why would he risk his neck for Sakura, a stranger and of no notable importance to him?

“Good, I didn’t miss breakfast.” Shisui rubbed his hands together and sat down next to Itachi.

“Good morning Shisui. Did Sakura get her car okay?” Mikoto added two more eggs to the frying pan.

“Sakura got a new car?” Sasuke choked on his juice. “I want a car too.”

“Madara bought it for her so she didn’t have to ride the train anymore. Get a job cuz and buy your own car.” Shisui shared a look with Itachi, ignoring Sasuke’s next question as to how that was fair.

“Sakura said she would be over tonight for dinner.” Shisui grabbed a piece of toast from the stack Mikoto had just set on the table and chewed noisily.

“Oh wonderful, with a car she can come over more for dinner.” Mikoto was pleased.

“I’ll be rejoining the police force, Madara’s orders.” Shisui told Fugaku as he rose from his seat. “I’ll be in after breakfast to give you time to make the needed adjustments to the line up.”

Fugaku clenched his hands into fists, nodded curtly and stomped out of the kitchen.

“Good.” Itachi said, pushing back from the table to help his mother carry the eggs and other food platters into the dining area for the family.

“Good?” Sasuke asked his brother who nodded.

“Madara is taking control of the police back. It’s a good thing Sasuke. What happened to Sakura, won’t be happening anymore once word gets around that Madara is watching Konoha again, that he’s back. So far, only the family and a few...associates know our Uncle has returned.” Itachi set the eggs down in front of his brother.

“He was gone for a long time.” Mikoto poured herself a cup of coffee. “I almost didn’t think he was coming back.”

They had never spoken of Madara so freely before. Warranted they weren’t speaking directly about his less than pristine dealings but…

“He’s tired mother. Men tend to circle back home when they are most vulnerable.” Itachi closed his mouth with a snap realizing he had said too much.

“Yeah well, I’m starving. Enough talk, let’s eat.” Shisui clapped Itachi on the shoulder and gave him a reassuring look. Itachi relaxed visibly and gave Shisui a slight smile.

Naruto shoved a whole egg into his mouth to keep himself quiet. He would find out when the time came, he had learned not to pry into Madara or Itachi’s business.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Not another one!” Sakura pulled her phone from the front pocket of her back pack at the next red light and punched in Madara’s phone number.

“Good afternoon Sakura, are you calling to thank me for my generosity?” Madara’s deep voice purred over the line and into Sakura’s ear making her curse.

That deep masculine laugh of his caught her off guard and she stuttered. “Ma Madara.”

“Yes dear?” He was practically gloating and she knew it. She would show him...

Heat rushed to her face as she focused on her words. “I know you set another tail on me. I can see him in the rear view. You should train your men better Madara. He’s an amateur. Expect a call in the next few minutes telling you that he’s soooo sorry but he seems to have lost that beautiful pink haired girl you sent him to tail.” Sakura cooed into the phone in mock concern that mimicked Madara’s arrogance and floored it when the light turned green, then whipped around the next corner, ignoring the blaring horns and shouts from the angry drivers she had just cut off.

Calculating the odds and counting the lights she felt confident she could lose her tail. She didn’t recognize him as one of the Konoha Uchiha, which meant he had been one of the Uchiha to follow Madara around the world for the last ten years of his travels...which meant, he was no longer familiar with the layout of downtown Konoha that had been rebuilt after a freak tornado three years ago...but Sakura was.

Sakura floored it down a side street, appreciating the power and maneuverability of her new vehicle, it was a little powerhouse, but light and agile for all its power. She would have to thank Madara after she rubbed his tail in his face. Both figuratively and literally.

Cutting a hard left she jumped the shallow median on the service drive, waved and winked at her tail as she passed him on the other side and flew through the largest parking garage in Konoha to the roof and backed into the private parking space of some big wig for the hospital that always seemed to be vacant when she volunteered on Wednesdays before class...which she had skipped out on today.

She turned her car off and ducked under the dash...and waited. Three minutes later she heard a car drive by at an abnormally slow pace. A grin that she couldn’t tamp down split across her face, it was her tail she just knew it...she waited. The car slowed to a stop, she heard a disgruntled sigh, then angry footsteps of...dress shoes?

Sakura frowned, her tail wouldn’t be wearing dress shoes. A shadow fell over her as she looked up to find a man she didn’t recognize as an Uchiha looking down at her as she peered out from under the dash of her car.

Sakura blushed and climbed up into her driver’s seat and rolled down her window. “You’re not an Uchiha.” She told the man in an accusatory voice.

“Thank kami for that. Who the hell are you and why are you in my parking spot girl?” The man glared at her.

“I’m, Sakura, uh, Sakura Haruno. You never use this parking spot on Wednesdays at this time. What are you doing here?” She asked before she could stop herself.

Sakura heard a faint click, one that she recognized from watching Itachi clean his guns many, many times in the living room of the main house, and froze.

“Ah, so you are familiar with guns are you? You accused me of being an Uchiha. I’ll ask you one more time and only one more time Sakura Haruno, what the hell are you doing in my parking spot and how do you, a girl I have never met, know what my schedule is?” The man lifted the gun he had concealed at his side in his suit coat up to level at her face.

Sakura wasn’t like most women.

She didn’t scream, she didn’t cry...she narrowed her eyes and glared into the barrel of the gun.

“Who the fuck do you think you are to point a gun at me over a fucking parking spot!” Sakura pulled on the handle of her car door and shoved it open, pushing the man, and his gun away from her car as she got out and stepped up to him, jabbing him in the chest with her fingers.

“I told you my name, now tell me yours you fucking asshole!” Sakura demanded, her hands on her hips, her green eyes livid that someone would have the arrogance to pull a gun on someone just for parking in their parking spot.

With only the slightest hitch in his movements the man uncocked his pistol and secured it within the lining of it holster under his coat and inclined his head to Sakura as though he had never pulled a gun on her, as if she hadn’t just pushed him back with her car door and cussed him out while poking him in the chest.

“Forgive me Miss Haruno. My name is Tobirama. Tobirama Senju.” Tobirama bowed, never breaking eye contact with the pink haired hellion who continued to glare at him, unimpressed.

Chapter Text

“Senju, why does that sound familiar…” Sakura lowered her hand and cupped her chin thinking hard.

“My family owns this hospital. My brother Hashirama is one of the directors along with our cousin Tsunade, perhaps that’s why my name sounds familiar?” Tobirama looked the girl over in front of him. Pink hair, strange, her fearless attitude and boldness, both admirable and foolish. He liked her.

“Oh! I’ve heard of Tsunade Senju of course!” Sakura bit her lip, damn she should learn how to control her temper, she may have just ruined her whole career before she had even graduated. The Senju had their hands in everything medical...she groaned.

“I take it by your groan you are employed here? Or perhaps in the medical field yourself?” Tobirama continued to watch Sakura. She looked far too young to be a doctor, an intern perhaps?

“No, I volunteer here.” Sakura took a step back. “Usually today, but I didn’t this morning, I got um sidetracked.” Sakura looked over her shoulder, turning her body so that she could keep Tobirama in her peripheral as she scanned the parking garage for any sign of her tail.

Tobirama noticed the shift in her weight and how she didn’t completely look away from him, interesting. “Who are you hiding from Miss Haruno?”

“How did you… no one Mr. Senju.” Sakura bowed politely. “Allow me to remove my vehicle from your parking spot. I apologize, it seems I have delayed you long enough.”

It was clear to Tobirama she was avoiding his question.

Sakura slipped back into her car and started the engine. Tobirama watched as she moved her car from his spot and stuck her head out of her window to apologize again.

Tobirama waved her apology away. “You volunteer here, are you a med student?” He asked her.

“Yes, at Konoha Medical University.” Sakura replied with a glance to the left, where the cars came up the ramp from the level below.

Tobirama narrowed his eyes, someone was looking for her, someone she was hiding from.

“What year are you currently attending?” Tobirama continued his interrogation as she began to fidget impatiently in her seat, it was clear she wanted to leave.

“I um, am in the accelerated courses so I would normally have two more years but I’m in my last year.” She leaned forward to look around Tobirama’s large frame.

“So you need an internship.” Tobirama stated, nodding his head and pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to her. “Call the number on this card. As I said my family owns and operates this hospital. Tell them I gave you this card and advised you to inquire about an internship at the hospital.”

“What? I just, but I um, yelled at you and poked you in the chest.” Sakura’s mouth dropped open.

“A feat few have ever walked away from Miss Haruno.” Tobirama’s lips twitched and he inclined his head to her.

“You’re eager to leave, I’ve detained you long enough.” He used the same words she had spoken to him. Awareness passed over her features and she grimaced.

“Thank you Mr. Senju.” Sakura shifted her car into drive but before she could leave Tobirama made a split decision and stepped forward placing his hand on her door.

“Are you in trouble? You accused me of being an Uchiha, are they bothering you? Do you need...help?” What the hell was he doing, he didn’t care if she was being hunted or not, he could have smacked himself in the forehead, this was something his fair brained idiot brother would do.

Sakura smiled sweetly. “I can handle the Uchiha. Thank you Senju San.” Sakura drove away, down the ramp, her hand waving goodbye out her driver’s side window.

Tobirama got back into his car, parked and stood looking down the ramp where Sakura had disappeared. He shook his head, there were other things he needed to do today than to let his mind wander to pink haired foul mouthed hellions, no matter how pretty and bold they were. Madara Uchiha was back in town and Sasori of the Red Sand’s pet demon had been busy killing people again. He needed to speak with his brother.

Sakura’s phone rang as she pulled into the campus drive and parked in the community parking outside of the general lab building.

“Madara, so nice to hear from you again. Don’t be too hard on the man, it wasn’t his fault he was gone for the last ten years following you who knows where to keep up with the new construction back home.” Sakura teased.

“He was one of my best drivers.” Madara’s voice was flat, cold.

Sakura froze, her steps faltering, had she gone too far… “Madara, I…”

“A joke dear.” Madara chuckled into the phone sending a shiver down her spine as she resumed her steps.

“That wasn’t funny.” She hissed.

“Nor was it when Shisui disobeyed my orders to bug your car. I will acquiesce on the video feed but I require audio Sakura, for your safety dear.” Madara never compromised.

Sakura knew she wouldn’t be the one in trouble if she refused, he would punish Shisui, which is why he had worded it the way he had.

“Fine.” She gave in. “Later though, I’m about to walk into lab.”

“I will have Setsu make the needed adjustments to your car while you are in lab dear.” Madara informed her.

Sakura sighed...loudly.

“Sakura.” Madara’s voice came through the phone as she walked into her lab and set her back pack down on her stool.

“Don’t do that again.” He hung up the phone without saying goodbye or waiting for a response. He had expected her compliance...he had it. She shivered again, but for far less pleasurable reasons.

Three hours later Sakura walked out of the lab building to her car and noticed a large box on the passenger seat. Looking around the parking lot she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Slowly she opened her car door and stood beside her car looking in. She wasn’t sure if it was Madara returning home or if it was the attack or Sasori but she had been more aware lately, more sensitive and observant than ever before.

She both thanked and scorned Madara for ruining her ignorance with those blasted books over the years. Besides, she took her seat in her car and closed the door with hesitation, she had seen enough horror movies to know not to open strange boxes.

Sakura’s phone rang. She sighed, her eyes still on the box.

“Hello?” Sakura pushed her phone against her shoulder and started her car.

“You may open the box Sakura, it’s from me.” Madara’s voice came through the phone in a humorous tone. She could imagine him sitting somewhere holding a drink smiling in entertainment at her antics.

“Of course it is.” Sakura huffed , making Madara laugh into the phone. “I’ve always loved the sound of your laugh Madara.” She said without thinking.

Madara chuckled into the phone, her face went red...at least there weren’t any cameras in her car. Sakura looked around and felt under her dash just in case.

“I gave you my word, only audio.” Madara said with a hurt, mock, tone.

“How do you know what I’m doing.” Sakura asked suspiciously, looking around some more, leaning into the back seat.

“I can hear you moving around like a pig looking for truffles.” Madara said dryly.

“Hmph.” Sakura flopped back into her seat and put her car into drive.

“Aren’t you going to open my present Sakura?” Madara asked her playfully.

“Ugh.” Sakura shifted her car back into park and looked over at the box.

“You know now that you’re back in Konoha you don’t have to leave me presents in weird places. You can, oh I don’t know...hand them to me?” Sakura said sarcastically into the phone as she lifted the top of the box and peered inside.

“I’m a busy man Sakura, I wanted you to have it in case it needed to be altered before Friday.” Madara listened, there was no reply. He heard the quick intake of Sakura’s breath and smiled out his office window, looking toward Konoha University from the 47th floor of Uchiha Industries.

“Do you like it my dear?” He asked her softly.

“Madara...it’s beautiful.” Sakura whispered, her fingers gliding over the delicate stitch work of the dress. “It looks expensive.” She frowned.

“Go home, try it on, send me a picture of you in it. If the fit needs to be adjusted, give it to Izuna, he will make sure it gets done in time for the charity event Friday.” Madara smiled at his reflection in the window.

“You’ve been gone for a long time Madara, perhaps you’ve not been told. I’m a natural klutz. This is too nice for me.” Sakura looked at the dress and bit her bottom lip. “What charity event?”

“I have been gone a long time, an unfortunate requirement in my line of work, however, I’m home now...to stay and would be honored if you would join me along with a few other members of our family to the annual Konoha Hospital Charity fundraiser, this Friday.” He waited…

“As uh...oh, will Mikoto be there?” Sakura asked.

“Yes, Fugaku, Mikoto, Itachi and Shisui will be attending, along with you and I.” He waited once more for her to accept his offer.

“Okay.” Sakura traced the sheer silk trim of the waist on the dress. “I hope I don’t trip on this thing.” She mumbled.

“I would never let you fall, Sakura.” Madara assured her before hanging up his phone.

“Right.” Sakura placed the lid on the box and clicked her car into drive again. “The Konoha Hospital Annual Charity event? Oh shit.” Sakura groaned, then stuffed her knuckles in her mouth to keep herself from saying anything else out loud now that Madara could hear her.

Damn.

Sakura kicked the passenger door shut after pulling the box from the seat and marched her way up to her apartment door, hands full. Fumbling only slightly with her key, she kicked her door open and set the box on her lunch counter, her backpack on her chair and took the three steps to her couch to fall face first into the couch pillows.

“Urrrghhhhhh.” She groaned out loud not caring if her neighbors heard her and jumped to conclusions. She laughed at the thought, she had never had anyone over to her apartment the whole time she had lived there that would even...she stopped thinking, she didn’t want to even think about that…

She had dated, once. It had ended in failure...if you could count three dates and then the guy never calling you again, then moving to a different city. It had been the strangest thing...Sakura rolled over onto her back and glared at the ceiling. Clearly blaming it for all of her troubles.

Sakura’s phone rang. She groaned again, pulling herself up off of her couch and unzipped the front pouch of her backpack.

“What?” She nearly growled into her phone thinking it was Madara again, calling to annoy her.

“You’re in a bad mood.” Sasuke’s bored indifferent voice came through the phone to her.

“Oh, hey Sasuke, sorry. I thought you were Madara.” She sat down on one of the stools at her lunch bar and pulled her back pack toward herself.

“Madara? Why would you think I was Madara?” Sasuke asked her suspiciously.

Sakura rolled her eyes. “He bought me a car today, then put an audio bug in it while I was in lab, then had one of his lackeys put a dress in it.” She flipped open her chem book and thumbed to the page she had left off at.

“A dress?” He asked.

“For the Konoha Hospital Charity Event Friday.” She told him as she pulled her notebook out of her bag and began jotting down notes.

“Oh, mom said something about that. You’re going?” Sasuke asked.

“Yeah.” Sakura closed her book. “I’ll see you in a little bit okay? I’ll be over for dinner, I just want to take a bath first and try the dress on to make sure it fits.”

“Sure, later.” Sasuke hung up and Sakura threw her phone on the couch, grabbed the box and headed for her bedroom.

Moving across the room to her closet she pulled a padded hanger from her rack and pulled the dress from the box. It was even more delicate and beautiful spread out on her bed. Sakura bit her lip as she inspected the dress. What had he been thinking about getting her something clearly so...out of her league. This was far too expensive for her, she didn’t even know how to stand much less walk in a dress like this.

The silk was too fine, the stitches invisible. It was a simple design, delicate straps of seed pearls for the shoulders, while creamy folds of tapered silk cupped the breasts. The skirt was high, just under the triangular folds overlaying the cupped silk, gathered at the waist to flow like water down to the floor. It wasn’t a tight dress, but the fine silk made every curve, every movement of the wearer stand out with such detail...Sakura worried she wouldn’t be able to fill it properly.

This is the kind of dress a woman with a figure wore. Sakura didn’t have a figure. No breasts, no ass, no hip to sway enticingly...this was going to be a disaster…

With a moan of displeasure she stripped and turned the taps to her tub. Sakura sat on the lip of her tub, her hands moving through the rising steamy water, glancing over her shoulder at the dress on her bed. It wasn’t a date, she knew that but…

Sakura added some of the lavender oil Madara had sent her last year to her bath then stepped into the tub, lowering herself a little at a time until her skin was acclimated to the heat of the water. With a sigh she leaned back into the tub, her hair floating in pink wisps around her face and breasts. She closed her eyes, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, it wasn’t a date...and Mikoto would be there, it was just another family function…

Gaara stood behind his Uncle in his bedroom. Sasori’s eyes were fixed on the screen in front of him. Gaara watched with his Uncle as Sakura moved across the room and fell face first onto her couch and groaned. Her phone rang. They watched as she got up off the couch and answered it.

“What?”

Sasori snorted. Gaara kept watching the monitor.

“Oh, hey Sasuke, sorry. I thought you were Madara.”

Sasori narrowed his eyes at the monitor. Gaara could feel his Uncle’s hatred.

“He bought me a car today, then put an audio bug in it while I was in lab, then had one of his lackeys put a dress in it.”

Sasori snorted again, but Gaara could see that this time, it wasn’t in amusement. He wondered what his Uncle was thinking.

“For the Konoha Hospital Charity Event Friday.”

Sasori scoffed in disgust, but continued to watch the screens.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll see you in a little bit okay? I’ll be over for dinner, I just want to take a bath first and try the dress on to make sure it fits.”

Sasori turned on his heel and walked out of the room. “Gaara, there is something I need to attend to. I will be right back.”

Gaara nodded and continued to watch as Sakura moved across her apartment, laid a dress out onto her bed and walked to her bathroom. Gaara hadn’t seen many dresses but he thought it was a beautiful dress and that it would look even more beautiful on Sakura. The coloring was perfect for her complexion and he thought the cream would make her hair look even more delicately beautiful than it already was.

He watched as she removed her clothes, his breath catching in his chest. Gaara’s tongue shot out and wet his lips as she leaned over her tub naked and turned on the taps, her perfect ass resting on the lip as she watched the water pool and fill her bath.

His Uncle would be back soon, he knew he should look away, he couldn’t risk being caught but...she was so beautiful, not like his victims, they were ugly and useless but Sakura she was...different.

Gaara’s fingers twitched as his sides with the need to touch, to grip, to hold as he watched her lower herself into her bath. Her hair floated on the surface of the water, she was...surreal, her coloring she was…

His head snapped to the side, he ran to the window and calmed his breathing, staring out into the yard of the secluded estate, toward the woods as his Uncle entered the room.

Sasori’s steps slowed as he entered his bedroom again, his eyes darting to the monitor where Sakura was naked in her bath, then flickered to his nephew by the window. “Did you see her naked?”

“No Uncle. I saw it was clear she was readying herself for a bath and looked away. I moved to the window out of respect for you.” Gaara didn’t turn his head, he waited, his voice calm.

Sasori studied his nephew for a moment, then moved to switch the monitors to another channel.

“You may look now.” Sasori watched Gaara turn around, his eyes never looking up at the screens in hopes of seeing what he shouldn’t. Satisfied, Sasori continued. “We will be attending the Konoha Hospital Annual Charity this Friday. I assume you brought your tux with you from Suna?”

“Yes Uncle.” Gaara’s heart tripped in his chest...he would get to see her, in person...in her dress. He had spent months watching the woman with his Uncle, and sometimes, rare times like this time, alone. Gaara could see why his Uncle was so captivated by the woman...he was captivated too.

Gaara wanted to talk to her...perhaps, he could, this Friday.

Chapter Text

Wet strips of hair snaked down Sakura’s back and over her hips to drop little drops of cold water onto her calves as she stood at the end of her bed looking down at the dress, naked. With a quick movement she wrapped her hair up over her head and towel dried it while she walked to the other side of her bed. This sort of dress, she knew from Ino, was one that you didn’t wear undergarment with. Sakura bit her lip, she had never gone out in public without a bra and panties on before.

Slowly she removed the towel from her hair and picked the dress up. Pulling a clip from her nightstand she twisted and pinned her hair up so it wouldn’t drip onto the dress. With one last sigh of futile rebellion she slipped the dress up and over her head.

It felt like air, it felt like...she wasn’t wearing anything at all. Wildly she thought of that emperor...the one who had wanted new clothes...what had his name been?

Sakura walked to her closet and opened the door and stepped in front of the full length mirror on it’s back. “Wow.” She muttered, turning left , then right.

She giggled to herself. “I guess a good seamstress is hard to find.”

The dress fit her perfectly, it cupped her breasts and made them look fuller with the fluffy gauze crunched up from the waist, the flow of the dress, though loose fell around the hip and bone to make her natural assets stand out...to be noticed. She wasn’t sure if she liked that...the seed pearls cast a luminous glow over her shoulders and the trim along the bodice softened the already gentle slope of her collar bone.

It was revealing, without revealing anything at all.

Soft...Sakura realized it made her look soft...and delicate. Turning again in the mirror she looked down to admire how the silk swooshed around her ankles. It really was a beautiful dress. However, it didn’t change the fact that the silk was too thin, the fabric too light and that it still made her feel as though she were not wearing anything at all.

Walking slowly, as not to trip and rip the silk, she retrieved her phone from her lunch counter, propped it up on the lunch bar and took a picture of herself for Madara, as he had requested. Checking it to make sure that the dress really did conceal everything, she typed his number into the phone and hit send.

“I’ve received word that Sasori of the Red Sand made a rather sizable donation to the Hospital this afternoon.” Hashirama told his brother as they sat in his office at the top of Konoha Hospital.

“What could he possibly want from us to do such a thing?” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest. “The man never does anything without a reason.”

“If only we knew what those reasons were. The man is an enigma. He is a known enemy of the Uchiha, but not the Senju.” Hashirama pushed his sleeves up over his forearms and linked his fingers together in thought.

“He never does anything that doesn’t benefit himself in some way, there is a reason, we just need to figure out what it is...why would donating to our hospital benefit him?” Tobirama voiced his question out loud, he didn’t care for Sasori or his monster of a nephew.

“Do you think it might have something to do with Madara returning to Konoha?” Hashirama speculated. “He is Sasori’s number one competitor. They’ve been at one another’s throats for years.”

“Possible, but I doubt it, why meet him in the open, at a relatively public function with so many witnesses. Sasori likes to do his business in private, from the shadows, like a damn puppet master.” Tobirama countered for argument's sake.

“True, but what then..he donated over a million dollars, Tobi, to ensure he and his nephews had a table for the function. Whatever he wants, he wants it bad. You know he hates coming out into the public eye, like you said, he prefers to remain in the shadows. The man is more elusive than even Madara.” Hashirama rose from his seat to pour himself a drink.

“Madara likes the limelight more than you think, he’s just been laying low these last few years, for whatever reason.” Tobirama had his own theories as to why the Uchiha clan head had removed himself from the public eye...but it was speculation, nothing factual.

“Is it true that Sasori is making his move into Oto?” Hashirama asked his younger brother.

“I thought you didn’t want to know current events, you stepped back from that world?” Tobirama leveled Hashirama with a knowing look. “It’s hard to leave that world isn’t it, our world, even if you’re not directly involved, the family name, the intrigue draws you in doesn’t it Hashirama?”

“It worries me Tobi, that is all. I have no desire for blood, for danger, not like you.” Hashirama said harshly.

“I do not desire it, you know that.” Tobirama said flatly, not at all offended by his brother’s accusatory tone. “It was the life you passed up, someone had to take over after father died...to protect the others. Your heart wasn’t in it, I understand. Don’t take my efforts to protect for desire though. I don’t like it any more than you do.”

“The curse of our fathers.” Hashirama took a deep swallow of his drink and poured himself another.

“Curse indeed, to be passed on and on...until we’re all dead suffocating on the vile stench of our own blood and hatred.” Tobirama poured himself a glass and joined his brother in his misery.

“Will it ever end Tobi?” Hashirama looked at his brother with hopeful eyes.

“Hell if I know Hashirama. I thought much of it would have ended with peace between the Senju and the Uchiha, but as I predicted, it only fueled the others to rise to power and take over holdings both the Uchiha and the Senju set aside.” Tobirama drained his glass, then rose to his feet.

“There are things I must attend to.” Tobirama walked to the door then turned back around to face his brother. “I gave a girl your card today, to call you about an interview for an internship. I think you should consider her, she’s smart and has guts.”

Hashirama opened his mouth to protest, to tell Tobirama he had already picked someone for their intern this year, but his brother was gone, the door clicking softly behind him. Damn, Hashirama thought to himself...Tobirama never recommended anyone, he wondered who this girl could be to have impressed his brother so much.

Itachi was in the garage when Sakura pulled her car around to the side of the multi bay structure. Getting out of the car and pulling her backpack and large white box with her she smiled at his approach. Silently he took the white box from her and followed her inside to her room where he set the box on her desk for her.

“Thanks Itachi.” Sakura smiled and set her back pack down on the floor.

“Of course. You’re early, it’s nice so see you again so soon. At least there are some benefits to having Madara buy you needlessly overpriced things.” Itachi’s mouth twitched at her glare.

“You know I didn’t ask him to buy me a car, or anything else.” She waved an annoyed paw at the white box.

Itachi’s eyes followed her gesture. “May I?” He asked, tapping the lid of the box with his finger.

Sakura nodded, turned and started pulling old pajamas to lay out onto her bed for the night. At Itachi’s gasp, she turned around to face him. He was holding the dress up, half way out of the box by the seed pearl straps, his eyes dark and dangerous. He recognized the dress she realized.

“Who, whose was it?” Sakura asked him.

Itachi stood frozen to the spot, his hands barely trembling as he held the dress up, but trembling...something Sakura had never seen before from Itachi. Then, like a switch, he stopped, dropped the dress back into the box and placed the lid on top once more.

“Her name was Izumi. She was...my best friend along with Shisui, we grew up together but...she’s dead now.” Itachi turned to walk out of the room, but Sakura stopped him.

“Tell me Itachi.” Sakura gripped his hand tight, pulling him back into the room and shutting the door behind him, she led him to the bed and sat him down, climbing up beside him.

“Who was Izumi Itachi, how come I don’t remember her?” Sakura asked gently.

“She was an Uchiha from a distant branch family. We met my first year of college. I brought her home to meet the main family, we were...she was beautiful and intelligent. I cared for her greatly then Madara, he...found out about her and...drew her into the family business, used her intelligence and connections in Oto…” Itachi turned his head back to the box.

“She never got to wear that dress. I bought it for her, Madara took it after she died...serving the family, took all of her things from her apartment in Oto...I didn’t know he still had it.” Itachi rose to his feet and Sakura rose with him. He wasn’t telling her everything but she knew he had told her more than he ought to have, more than Madara would have wanted him to tell her…

“I can wear another dress Itachi here, take it, it’s yours.” Sakura tried to give Itachi the box but he held his hands out, keeping the box from his arms.

“No, Izumi can’t wear it, but you can. I bet it will look beautiful on you, you’re the same size as her.” Itachi let his arms fall to his sides. Sakura had never seen him like this before.

“Are you sure?” Sakura hesitated. If she didn’t wear the dress, Madara would demand to know why and if she told him, Itachi would be punished, but…

“Please wear the dress, Sakura.” Itachi opened the door to her room, turned and smiled a little smile at her that didn’t reach his eyes. “Save me a dance, if you will.”

Sakura nodded, turned to look at the white box, when she turned back to the door, Itachi was gone.

“Damn.” Sakura muttered. Was there anyone in the family that Madara’s violence hadn’t touched? Was it Madara’s violence though? Sakura lifted the top of the box and looked at the dress again. It seemed different now, now that she knew the story behind it’s existence. It made her feel better, knowing Itachi and not Madara had picked the dress out. Itachi had picked it out for someone he loved. She would wear it, and dance with him in it, something Izumi never got to do, to make him happy...maybe for a night.

Itachi walked down the hall, through the side door and across the lawn to the guest house he shared with Shisui. Shisui was gone, at the station like he had been all day getting back into the routine of a salary cop. Itachi smiled, he had gotten several text messages throughout the day with complaints from his cousin. ‘They don’t put donuts out anymore’, ‘I don’t get my own car’, and Itachi’s favorite, ‘No one will partner with me because they are all convinced I’m a nut job’. Itachi chuckled quietly as he opened the door to his bedroom and laid down on his bed before dinner. His mind racing back to the past, the present and the future.

Shisui was back on the force, he would leave for Oto after Friday, Sakura had a car now...but Madara and Sasori...he still wasn’t sure what to do about them. It was more and more clear to him that his Uncle had less than wholesome intentions toward Sakura...she was young, not too young but half his Uncle’s age. It was just as clear to Itachi that Sasori of the Red Sand had some interest in Sakura as well, as to what kind...Itachi didn’t know.

Itachi did know that the spy Madara had placed inside Medcore Financial research facility had been brutally murdered by Gaara, Sasori’s nephew and most trusted man. Not only Mr. Hamayoshi himself but his wife and daughter, his sister and her two daughters all...brutally murdered after the monster had toyed with them, tortured them...it sickened Itachi. He hated this world, with it’s disgusting evils, uncontrollable walking monsters.

What could he do though...he could keep Sakura safe...something he had failed to do for Izumi. Sometimes...he almost regretted not taking Madara up on his offer to run the family’s underground in his stead. What could he do from the sidelines except know, and watch...useless. He felt so useless.

‘I don’t want to be like you’, he had told his Uncle. ‘I’m not heartless like you’, he had refused his Uncle’s offer to take up his position as clan head so that his Uncle could drop back from the limelight and retire.

‘Aren’t you Itachi, from where I’m standing, you’re exactly like me’, his Uncle had said. Itachi hadn’t understood the man’s words then, he had thought them words of a bitter man who hadn’t gotten his way, a man used to getting his way denied...but now…

Itachi rolled over in his bed and sunk his head into his pillow. Maybe the one who didn’t understand was Itachi. He still didn’t know what his Uncle had been doing for the past ten years. There were rumours that didn’t add up or make sense. Rumors whose dots still needed to be connected, blank years that still needed to be filled in and names that still needed faces. Itachi was close though, had been getting closer and closer...then his Uncle had returned, unexpectedly, and then Izuna…

He could swear it had something to do with Sakura, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what it was. His Uncle wasn’t a romantic, he would pursue the girl but that couldn’t be the reason for his return, and even if it was...it didn’t explain Izuna’s return. Izuna had been in Suna. Sasori was from Suna but Suna hated the Uchiha and the Uchiha hated Suna...no, Akasuna hated the Uchiha...Suna wasn’t made up of only Akasuna…”That’s it.”

Itachi pulled his phone from his pocket and punched in a number. “It’s Itachi, set a tail on Chiyo and her brother, tonight. Yes, and Baki. I want them followed from sun up to sun down.”

Madara slammed his phone down on his desk in the office of his manse and strode across the room looking out into the surrounding woods. Two of his top scientists had been murdered in their beds in Oto. Strangled, a bloodless murder. That made a total of six in the last year. He was running out of scientists.

Itachi would be there in two days, Madara trusted the boy to get things done, quickly and with little blood shed. Itachi was a pacifist but when the family was in danger, he did what needed to be done...if only he would just….Madara sighed and rubbed his hands over his face...he was getting too old for this shit.

A flash of pink caught Madara’s eye and he smiled. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so old anymore. What was Sakura doing wandering out into the woods alone...Madara rose from his chair to follow her.

There were at least two hours before dinner and Sakura felt restless with the new information Itachi had given her. She needed to move, to run to jump and be alone to think. She needed a romp in the woods to clear her head before seeing everyone at dinner.

Picking her way through the brushline of the woods at the back of the Uchiha property she stepped into the woods. These woods were said to have been here since the founding of Konoha over five centuries ago, it was a magnificent sight. She never got tired of exploring the woods, it had been one of her favorite things to do when she had been younger.

Sakura continued to walk deeper into the woods, the smaller trees disappeared leaving only the thick ageless trunks of the trees tall enough to pierce the canopy for sunlight leaving the forest floor nearly bare with a thick covering of soft leaves and moss. It was fall, the air was slightly chilly and moist but not cold enough for her to see her breath, not yet but soon.

Her feet moved silently along the padded forest floor barely making a sound as the wind blew softly through the tree trunks. There was a river up ahead she knew, the Naka river that flowed through the main downtown of Konoha through the restaurant district and schools to the old Uchiha compound of the warring states era. The compound was much smaller now but the Naka river still ran though it’s woods, along the back.

Few people came out this far, or this deep into the woods. Something Sakura favored for the sake of her escape. Looking up ahead she could smell the water even if she couldn’t see it yet, her pace quickened and a smile broke out across her face. Her favorite rock loomed up ahead, a flat rock that jutted out over the water, a rock that was good for fishing and for sunbathing on during the summer seasons, but useful for solitary contemplation for the fall, like now.

Sakura moved out of the forest line, ran, jumped and climbed on top of her flat rock like she had done so many times before now, laid down and ran her palms across the smooth cold surface. It had been too long since she had come here, to lay on her rock, to just be...not a student, not a Haruno or an adopted Uchiha but to just be...Sakura.

Madara watched Sakura from just inside the woods. She seemed so at peace laying on her rock, he held back, not wishing to disturb her.

She had first come here as a little girl, before her parents had died, with Itachi. She had been eight and he had been twelve. It had been summer and they had sat on the rock together, side by side eating rice balls Mikoto had packed for them. Naruto had been at home with his family and Sasuke had been grounded. Sakura’s parents had asked Itachi to babysit Sakura that day while they went to visit the graves of some old ancestors from long ago two provinces over.

Sakura had been delighted, she loved it when Itachi baby sat her. He was always so kind and soft spoken, he spoke rarely but when he did speak, he spoke of things that intrigued her, things that made her reality that much more meaningful for having heard his quiet words.

Leaning over the side of the rock she thought of that summer and that day, the day she had thought she had fallen in love with Itachi Uchiha. Later, as she had grown older she realized of course she wasn’t really in love with him but admired him.

‘There is an old spirit that dwells in the rivers, an old spirit that watches over travelers and young maidens who venture into its depths.’ Itachi had told her with her sitting in his lap, their feet dangling over the side. He liked to pull her up into his lap after lunch sometimes when they were here, to rest his head over top hers and watch the water dance before them.

“If you give the river spirit an offering, he will watch over you and protect you, even when you leave his banks to venture out into the rest of the world”, Itachi had smiled down at her wide green eyes.

‘Really Ita nii?” Sakura had asked him in her little voice.

‘I’ll show you. What sort of offering do you think a river spirit would favor little flower?’, Itachi leaned over her, hugging her to his chest and kissed the hair over her ears one at a time making her giggle.

‘Spirits like blood of course’, he had read her a book about blood offerings to the spirits last week when he had watched her, a book from his Uncle Madara, who traveled a lot.

‘Yes, that’s right’, Itachi pulled a knife from his pocket and cut his hand, blood welled up without a whimper from its container, spilled effortlessly, beautifully over the pale skin of his palm to fall, like glistening rubies into the sparkling depths of the river below.

‘I can feel him Ita nii’, Sakura had turned her head into Itachi’s chest, scared and worried that the spirit had been displeased. ‘Not enough’, she had mumbled.

‘Then we had better give him more blood’, Itachi smiled down at her, his dark eyes serious but still kind as they enveloped her green ones. She nodded her permission.

Itachi took her little paw in his larger one, made a cut swiftly and skillfully into the meat of her palm, they watched again, as the blood welled up and over the side of her skin to fall like rubies into the water below. ‘Better’, Sakura murmured leaning back once more into Itachi’s chest, no longer afraid...feeling at peace.

‘Yes’, Itachi laid his chin on top of her head. ‘Better’

Sakura rose to her feet and shook her clothes back in order, looked down into the darkening waters, the sun was setting behind her, her whole form was illuminated in an orange and red glow. Madara watched her pull a knife he hadn’t known her to carry, slice into her hand hard and raise it over the waters, her head fell back, her eyes closed.

“Water spirit protect me, as I leave your banks to travel on, see that my path is clear and my mind as sharp as the knife I used to gift you this blood.” Sakura dropped her hand, blood dripping from her fingertips, she opened her eyes and turned...to find Madara, stepping out of the wood line, watching her with dark eyes.

Chapter Text

“Do you often offer up your life’s blood to the auld spirits of an era gone past?” Madara’s voice was low, calculating, but not mocking as she might have expected a man like him to scoff at her notion of offering her blood to a river spirit.

“Not often no, it has been a long time since I have been here, an offering was long overdue, considering.” Sakura cocked her head to the side and watched Madara approach her from the woods, the sun lower and lower in the sky behind him, casting his features into the shadows.

“Long overdue.” Madara stopped his advance at the edge of the flat rock, it’s ends coming up to his chest.

“You’re not the only one who hasn’t been home for awhile Madara.” Sakura said flatly, unsure why he was there, what his intentions were, or if he was alone. Her eyes darted behind him, but she could see nothing from the now dark forest behind him.

“I came alone...as you did.” His voice was low, but his hands were warm and open as he held them out to her to help her down from her rock.

Her hesitancy was minute, noticeable only in the slight hitch of her breathing as she stretched out her hands to his. Careful of her cut on her right palm he pulled her down from her rock into his arms, wrapping them around her completely.

Sakura looked up at the man before her, they had never been this close and she was very aware they were alone, in the dark, and far from the occupied main part of the compound.

“Are you afraid of me Sakura?” Madara asked her, careful to keep his voice low, calm, gentle and safe.

“No, I’m not afraid of you Madara.” Sakura willed herself to stand still, not to tremble from the cold that was creeping up the open ends of her jeans from the forest floor.

“I find it most unusual that you would come here alone to offer your blood to the river spirit, tell me...who taught you to do such a thing?” His deep voice was soothing, hypnotic and she found herself leaning further into his embrace without intending to.

It was always like this, even when she had been younger and he had called to check up on the house...made Mikoto pass her the phone to tell him how she was doing in school, about her friends and if she had liked the last book he had sent her. His voice had always memorized her, soothed her and made her feel calm and safe.

“Hum?” Her eyes were closed, She felt tired as she stood there, his warm arms around her, his solid chest against her chest, supporting her, reassuring her that she was safe.

“It is not a common display in this day, in this age my dear.” Madara leaned over the small girl, his mouth just over her ear. “Who taught you such an old custom, tell me love.” He whispered into her ear making her tremble in his arms.

A deep chuckle, a finger under her chin, he lifted her face to meet his, her eyes dazed, her pupils dilated. Madara smiled. Yes, she had been well worth his efforts over the years. He bent his head, his lips brushing over hers.

“Ita nii.” Her voice was young, of a younger girl than she was, innocent and full of admiration.

Madara paused, his tongue pressed up against the seam of her lips. Had he gone too far? The triggers he had placed in her psyche over the years shouldn’t have reverted time for her, only put her at ease around him, letting him slip in under her guard, making her trust him.

“Itachi taught you to revere the river god?” Madara asked her in his normal voice.

Sakura blinked. Her eyes focused on the man in front of her. “Madara.” She pushed him away, embarrassingly aware of how close he had been to her. “What, what did you say?”

“I asked if it was Itachi who had taught you about the river spirit and who had taught you to sacrifice your blood to him?” Madara took a step toward her. Sakura took a step back from him.

Something had happened between them...she wasn’t sure what, but she knew something was off, she felt...her fingers tingled, her lips quivered. Sakura narrowed her eyes at Madara and brought her fingers to her lips. “Did you...kiss me?”

Madara laughed, a dark sort of deep controlled laugh which neither confirmed her suspicions, nor quelled them.

“Do you want me to kiss you my dear?” He took another step forward toward her, his hand reaching out, his fingers curling gently at the ends.

Sakura watched his fingers move in a slow lazy pattern, felt herself still and looked up into his eyes. She could barely see him now, the sun had set and the moon had yet to fully rise over the trees to guide them.

“I...why would I want that?” She asked unsure of her question, not wanting an answer.

Madara closed the distance between them with a step and a pull of her hand, he brought her hard up against his chest and cooed softly into her ear. “Trust me Sakura. I wouldn’t hurt you, surely you know that by now.”

His hands toyed with the ends of her shirt, at her nod he slipped his palms up the back of her shirt and pressed her body close to his, relishing the feel of her soft skin on his hands.

“Relax dear.” His voice was soft, gentle, cajoling. “Let me touch you love.”

“Madara.” Sakura couldn’t find her voice, her eyes were closed and she leaned into his touch.

“Yes dear, that’s it.” He pushed her back up against the wide trunk of a tree, his hands falling to her waist. He pressed his head against her forehead and caught her eyes with his own.

“You’ve grown up into a very beautiful woman Sakura.” Madara traced her bottom lip with his tongue.

“I don’t…” Sakura began.

“Trust me.” Madara purred into her ear, his hands skimming their way up her sides. “Let me kiss you.” He held her face in his hands and tipped her head back against the tree.

“So beautiful.” He murmured, dropping his mouth to hers.

“Wait.” Sakura squirmed against him, pushing off from the tree behind her. “Madara, what.” She shook her head as if confused.

Madara narrowed his eyes at the girl...so, not completely…

“Ready to head back for dinner?” Madara stepped back from Sakura, his hand behind his back looking at her with clear eyes and a mild flicker of annoyance at the crook of his mouth.

“Uh.” Sakura rubbed her head and blinked several times.” Yeah. Mikoto will be upset if we’re later for dinner.”

“I won’t be joining you for dinner, I have some work to take care of before the Hospital Charity tomorrow but I will see you to the main house first. It’s dark. Watch your step dear.” Madara reached out and took her hand in a friendly manner, guiding her over the rocks and smaller bracken that lined the forest outskirts until they were farther into the dense woods.

“You need to be more careful, Sakura. Who knows what might have happened to you if I hadn’t followed you out here.” Madara commented as they made their way back to the main house through the darkened woods.

“I’m on Uchiha property, what could happen to me here?” Sakura was mildly annoyed he had followed her out into the woods and then had the audacity to scold her for it.

“Danger comes in all forms, but don’t worry my dear. I’ll always be here to protect you.” Madara chuckled deeply.

“I know Madara.” Sakura said absently as she stepped over a fallen log.

Madara smiled, yes, you know...because I will it so.

“I’m glad to hear that.” He said mildly as the lights of the main house and his mansion came into view. “Run along dear. I’ll see you tomorrow for the Charity.”

Sakura smiled and ran the rest of the way to the main house. Madara watched as Itachi opened the backdoor to let her in. The boy had been watching for her...had he seen me follow her into the woods, Madara wondered. Itachi...Madara growled…

Madara waited until the door was closed and he was sure no one would see the light of his phone before he pulled it out and brought up the picture of Sakura in the dress he’d given her. He had plans for tomorrow night, plans that didn’t involve her wearing that dress for very long. With an aggravated sigh, he closed his phone and shoved it back into his pocket. He needed a drink.

“What were you doing out in the woods with Madara Sakura?” Itachi walked behind Sakura to her room and shut the door once they were both inside.

“Hum? Oh I went to the river to uh...ask the river spirit for protection. He followed me, I didn’t expect him out there.” Sakura blushed. They hadn’t spoken of the river spirit since they had been kids.

Itachi’s mouth closed, he had been about to warn her, not to go anywhere with Madara alone but her comment had caught him off guard.

“The River spirit? You did?” He sat down on her bed and looked at her fondly. He remembered their time together when they had been kids and had hoped she had too. As they had grown older they had spent less time together. He had gone to college and she had turned to his younger brother Sasuke and Naruto more than him.

“Uh yeah, you might not remember but when we were younger um…” She blushed again and sat down on the bed next to him avoiding his eyes in embarrassment.

“I remember, but I didn't know you did.” Silence grew between them.

“Why do you want the river spirit to protect you?” Itachi asked her curiously.

“I don’t know, I just feel like...something is happening around me, something I can't see but...it’s like an energy, a pulse, like a heartbeat.” She leaned her shoulder against Itachi’s and nudged him playful. “Silly I know.”

“Not silly.” Itachi said quietly. “It’s good to be careful, you are reckless sometimes, you act before you think out of emotion, you make me worry about you.” Itachi gave her a stern look that made her laugh.

“You don’t need to worry about me Itachi.” She smiled at her friend. It was nice to talk to him like this again.

“I leave for Oto early Saturday morning. Shisui will be here though, he rejoined the police force as of today. You know his number right?” Itachi knew she did but wanted to check it off his mental list just to be sure.

“Um hum, I know it.” Sakura tapped her head soundly.

“If you need anything, call Shisui okay? Not Madara, do you hear me Sakura?” Itachi took her hands in his so she would see how serious he was.

“Shisui, call Shisui, not Madara if you need anything.” Itachi said softly, gently.

Sakura leaned into him and nodded. Itachi watched her eyes…”Sakura are you okay?” He put his hand to her forehead.

“Sakura blinked. “I’m fine.” She shook her head. “You just sounded like Madara, there for a minute, it was the tone I think.” She got up off the bed and stretched.

“We should go to the dining room for dinner, I bet your mom made something awesome.” Sakura pulled Itachi up off of her bed by the hands.

“Yeah.” Itachi said but stood rooted to the spot, his eyes passing over Sakura carefully. He pursed his lips in thought, thinking hard, a slight flush to his face...no, Madara wouldn’t stoop that low…

“Hey, you guys coming, Mom wants to know what’s taking you guys so long. We’ve been waiting, Dad’s pissed.” Sasuke stuck his head in through Sakura’s bedroom door , looking for Itachi to Sakura with a raised bow and a frown.

“Coming Sasuke.” Itachi let go of Sakura’s hands and walked out the door in front of her.

“Hey so, were you guys making out?” Sasuke asked Sakura as they walked down the hall to the kitchen.

“What?! No!” Sakura squeaked and punched Sasuke in the arm making him laugh.

Sakura laughed at Sasuke as he pretended to cry but the laughter died in her throat as soon as they entered the dining room. Everyone except for Madara sat at the table, looking at them.

“I’m sorry I’m late Ka San.” Sakura slid into the last seat at the end beside Izuna.

“Dinner is at six pm Sakura, you know that.” Fugaku began, but was interrupted by Izuna who turned to Sakura with a smile.

“It’s so nice to see you again my niece. I hear you have been offered an internship with Sasori of the Red Sand at MedCore Financial. I advise you to decline the offer as politely and as respectfully as possible.” Izuna placed a hand on Sakura’s arm when she began to protest. “We will speak more of this later, come back to the manse with me, after dinner.”

Sakura nodded respectfully to Izuna. He wasn’t really her Uncle, like Madara wasn’t really her Uncle either. Not because she was adopted into the family but because they were never there. She didn’t know Madara well, but she knew Izuna even less. He had seemed more approachable when they were kids but even Sasuke and Naruto gave the man a rather wide berth.

To have him speak to her directly, without a greeting was a bit unnerving. To have him ask her to accompany him back to the manse that he shared with Madara, was unexpected. The last time she had been in the manse, she had been twelve, flat on her back with her arm wrenched off to the side by Madara Uchiha who had thought she was an intruder...or an assassin.

“I’m afraid that will be impossible. You see Izuna, Sakura already has a prior engagement after dinner, with me. I apologize. Perhaps another time.” Itachi inclined his head gracefully to Izuna who narrowed his eyes at Itachi.

“Of course Itachi, perhaps Saturday, after you’ve left for Oto. I wouldn’t want to take your time away from Sakura...before you leave.” Izuna’s voice was hollow and held no hint of polite decorum , no matter what words he chose to speak.

The message was clear.

“Again, my apologies Izuna, but while I am gone, Sakura will be staying with Shisui, in the guest house. Her schedule for the next few weeks is rather hectic, we thought it best for her to be home, where mother can cook for her and see that she eats.” Itachi chuckled softly as though to himself. “She studies so hard, she would starve if not for us...protecting her best interests.”

Sakura opened her mouth to say that this was the first she had heard about staying with Shisui but a hard foot came down over hers under the table and she snapped her mouth shut, narrowing her eyes at Shisui, who looked at the wall innocently.

“Is that so, well, even more convenient for me then, since she will be closer to home.” Izuna replied, nothing daunted by Itachi’s clear warning.

“Yes, it’s good to have family that you can trust.” Itachi gave Shisui a practiced eye as Shisui nodded at Itachi’s implied command.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean Itachi?” Izuna lost his cool, done playing the word game.

“Nothing Izuna, simply that Sakura is well protected, from anyone who may wish to harm her, or use her in some disagreeable manner.” Itachi looked up to meet Izuna’s angry eyes. “If you or your brother have no ill intentions toward her, I have no ill intentions toward you.”

It was as though the entire room held its breath, waiting for one of them to make their move, violent or verbal, no one moved.

Izuna held Itachi’s gaze for another moment, then burst out laughing, his eyes watering and the tension in the room broke.

“I can see why he was so disappointed now.” Izuna wiped his eyes. “It’s a shame really, you’d make a good clan head Itachi.”

Izuna looked at Sakura who sat beside him, then back at Itachi. “Perhaps you should reconsider, if your feelings toward Sakura are so strong.”

“Perhaps I will, but not for the reasons you presume to think.” Itachi looked to his mother to serve the meal.

Mikoto nodded her head with a jerking motion. Her son...had never ordered her to serve before...what the hell was going on…

Naruto looked from Sakura to Izuna. Izuna, whose eyes were still on Itachi. Itachi, whose eyes were on Sakura. Itachi had told his mother with a look to serve the food, like the head of the house, by passing Fugaku who hadn’t even flinched at the insult. Madara wasn’t present and yet, Izuna was...the brothers were rarely apart when home. What was Madara doing that Izuna couldn’t or wouldn’t be a part of?

Sasuke shifted in the seat beside Naruto. Naruto tried to catch his eye, but Sasuke was staring at Shisui, who was watching Izuna watch Itachi, his brown eyes flickering every few seconds to Sakura...who refused to raise her head from her hands...what the hell was happening?

Sasori ran his hand over the monitor. Sakura had left and hadn’t come back home yet. He swiped left to change the camera angle, no, she wasn’t there, her car was gone as well. He sighed. He didn’t like it when she didn’t come home, it made him...lonely. He liked watching her before he went to bed, listening to her breathing…

With a sigh he placed his hand back on the panel and brought up the regular security camera for his estate. Temari was in her room, Kankuro was in his wing of the house...and Gaara was...Sasori scanned the floors one by one. Where was his nephew…

Ah, Sasori flicked the screens until he found the camera on the roof. Gaara was sitting on the edge of the roof, his feet over the side, head back...looking up into the cool night sky, watching the stars. Sasori watched his nephew for a moment before shutting down the monitors and retiring to his bed.

Gaara had always been an odd sort, even as a child. The boy never spoke much, and when he did it was either something terribly profound , or extremely disturbing. People ran from his presence, they didn’t understand him, didn’t know how to deal with his...unusual tastes. If not properly mentally stimulated as a child Gaara would lash out. His tantrums were usually violent, bloody and vulgar in nature.

Having his mother die in childbirth and through the warped electrical currents in his brain, Gaara had developed an unhealthy interest in women at a very young age. Sasori had hired a babysitter for the boy, only to find her dead, disemboweled and naked after returning home from a business trip.

When asked why he had done what he had, Gaara had shrugged, pointed to the stars outside of his window and had replied quietly, “Mother told me to.”

It had been difficult for Sasori to find a babysitter for the boy after that incident...so he had started bringing the boy with him during his...dealings and had found him most useful. Most useful indeed. The boy was a natural born killer and loyal, only to Sasori. The perfect puppet.

Gaara relaxed his grip on the side of the roof when the camera turned and the buzzing had stopped. He knew his Uncle would be looking for him once he realized he wasn’t in his room. He didn’t mind, it was expected. Sakura was at the Uchiha compound tonight, his Uncle was restless. Gaara understood that feeling, he too had grown accustomed to her being home, in her apartment, where if he had wanted to, he could watch her sleep from the camera in his phone.

His Uncle had told him to make some minor adjustments a month ago to Sakura’s apartment, to check on the cameras and to reposition the bedroom camera after Sakura had moved her furniture. Gaara had done everything his Uncle had asked...and more. Gaara had installed two cameras of his own. One over her bed and another in her bathroom facing the tub..

He had linked the cameras to his phone via broadband, a private network that he had set up a week prior to his Uncle’s orders. Gaara could see her clearly while she slept or when she took a bath. Sometimes, he would place the phone beside him in his bed and watch her, pretend that she was there beside him, sleeping with him. It was times like that, those precious moments, that he felt...happy, that he wasn’t alone...that he didn’t need mother anymore, if he had Sakura.

Chapter Text

Sasori dressed himself with care, poisons hidden in the cuffs of his shirt, a sedative under the nail of his pinky finger, sealed in place with gum arabic. He didn’t think it would be needed, but it never hurt to be prepared. He was walking into the lion’s den, it had been a long time since he had made a public appearance. Of course Gaara would be there with him to watch his back, and Kankuro...though the boy wouldn’t be of much use, it never hurt to travel with more than one servant, for appearances sake.

Sakura...he would have to be on his guard around so many enemies. He hoped his sudden change in personality wouldn’t upset her. It couldn’t be helped though. She knew what kind of man he was, the Uchiha had told her, she was smart...she would understand, but would it push her away…

It was a risk he was willing to take. Sakura wasn’t one to hide her feelings well. He needed to observe her interactions with the Uchiha and others, to gauge her, to plan his next move. She hadn’t told him much, she had been careful to not give too much away, and video cameras couldn’t capture much if nothing happened. If she was closer to Madara, he needed to know. If she despised the man, he needed to know. There was only so much one could learn about the woman by watching her alone in her apartment and listening to her one sided phone calls.

The man Obito hadn’t seemed surprised to see him when he had walked Sakura home from the train to get his coat. He wondered how much Sakura had told them about him...and how much they had learned on their own. Tonight was important, for many reasons, and essential to achieving his long term goals as far as Sakura was concerned.

Sasori looked up from where he stood in front of his dresser to watch Gaara slip into his room, already dressed, ready to depart. The boy’s hair was as messy and unkempt as usual, but his dress was immaculate, almost as immaculate as his own. The boy cleaned u well...except for the cold look in his eye. Some things, you simply couldn’t dress down, or dress up.

“I will only be a moment Gaara. Wait for me by the door, get Kankuro, make sure he is ready as well.” Sasori turned back to the mirror over his dresser and ran a brush through his own wayward locks as his nephew slipped back out of his room to get his brother.

Itachi adjusted his vest as he walked down the stairs of the guesthouse. Sakura was standing by the full length window in the sitting room, looking out toward the garden. His steps slowed as he took the last few to stand in the foyer looking at her in the dress he had bought for Izumi. She looked stunning.

For so long, he had envisioned Izumi in the dress, but seeing Sakura in it before him, the soft light coming off of the garden fountain sending prisms of light over her skin that made her glow...he couldn’t seem to remember what Izumi had looked like, there was only Sakura. Itachi swallowed and stepped into the sitting room.

“Good evening Sakura.” Itachi walked up to her, standing beside her, and looked out into the garden beyond the window.

“Itachi.” Sakura smiled, her head tilting back to look up at him.

Her hair framed her face on one side, swept up into a stylish knot on the other and pinned to the crown of her head, curled and falling down the back and over one shoulder, the seed pearls of her left strap glinting through the pastel waves.

“I went to my apartment this morning and packed a few things. Thank you for letting me use your room while you’re gone. You should have told me you wanted me to stay at the compound while you were gone.” She wasn’t upset, but she wished he would have at least discussed his plan with her ahead of time.

“I apologize, it was...a rash decision, but a sound one I think. I do not know what Madara is up to, or Sasori for that matter. Their interest in you may be purely innocent and pertaining only to an internship, however in our line of work...you can never be too sure.” Itachi took a small breath and linked his fingers behind his back to prevent him from reaching out to her.

“Our line of work. So...an accountant and sometimes security detail officer no more then hum?” Sakura bumped him gently with her hip.

Itachi looked down at her, studying her face, then smiled...they were alone…”You’ve always known the line I walked in the family was a fine one.”

Sakura nodded. “I have.”

“It bothers you.” Itachi frowned. He would do what he had to, to keep her safe, to keep his family alive, but it would be a heavy burden, he was in no doubt. He had never wanted this life.

“In this life we are either Kings or pawns, emperors or fools.” Sakura quoted.

“You Itachi, are a king, an emperor who protects. If you want me to stay here while you are gone...I don’t mind.” She took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently, turned back to the window and looked out at the garden.

Itachi watched her a moment longer, his eyes traveling the slope of her cheek, down her neck and...he coughed, refocusing on her now slightly flushed face, his own cheeks tinted a faint pink. “I’ll do my best.”

Shisui stood in the doorway of his room down the hall and watched his cousin and the pinkette, a small grin hidden beneath the worry for the storm he knew was to come after last night’s display of power from Itachi. He only hoped they would all make it out of this alive.

Madara was waiting for them in front of the main house, Obito leaning against the driver’s side door as usual. Sakura stepped out of the house on Itachi’s arm, followed by Shisui, Fugaku and Mikoto.

“You look divine, my dear.” Madara opened the door for Sakura with a nod to Itachi who let the man have his moment.

“Thank you Madara.” Sakura’s voice was polite but stiff. Madara straightened, his eyes darting between Sakura and Itachi, he smirked in understanding. So, the boy had told her the origins of the dress...of course he had.

“I knew you were the same size as Izumi.” A cheap shot as far as Sakura was concerned, she opened her mouth to snipe back at him, in Itachi’s defense, but Madara closed the door with a snap.

“Enjoy your petty victory Uncle.” Itachi leveled his Uncle with a bland look of pure indifference and opened the door opposite of the one his Uncle had opened for Sakura. Fugaku and his mother followed.

“I’ll ride up front with Obito.” Izuna muttered and walked around to the other side of the limo and climbed inside leaving Madara to open the door he had just shut to sit down beside Sakura.

Obito caught Izuna’s eye and rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. Izuna grinned but didn’t say a word as Obito pulled out of the drive.

“Did that girl call you? The one I told you about, for the internship?” Tobirama adjusted his tie before pulling his dark blue vest on and buttoning it down the front.

“Hum? Oh yes, left a voicemail, I haven’t checked it yet. Busy you know.” Hashirama adjusted his bow tie, pulled it loose then tried to re-tie it unsuccessfully.

“How do you know it was her if you haven’t checked the voicemail?” Tobirama asked his brother, taking his bow tie from him and tying it loosely around his own neck, then handing it back to his brother.

“It was the only number I didn’t recognize.” Hashirama slipped the bow tie around his neck and pulled his red vest over his dress shirt to button it up like his brother’s.

Tobirama grunted, slipping his arms into his dark grey suit coat, rolling his shoulders to adjust the fit.

“This girl you want me to take on as an intern, how did you meet her, you’re hardly ever at the hospital.” Hashirama pulled his own black coat on and buttoned it, turning to his brother.

“She was in my parking space hiding from someone, an Uchiha I think. I pulled a gun on her, she poked me in the chest and we exchanged words.” Tobirama’s ears were turning pink and Hashirama began to giggle.

“You pulled a gun on her?” Hashirama asked his brother, stepping forward to peer at his pink ears and hunched shoulders.

“I did.” Tobirama glared at his brother and straightened his shoulders.

“You let her poke you in the chest?” Hashirama continued to tease his brother.

“If you’re quite finished, Hashirama, we have guests to attend to.” Tobirama walked past his brother and out the door.

“Is she cute Tobi?” Hashirama skipped after his brother.

“Yes.” Tobirama admitted as he punched the down button of the elevator in their penthouse suite.

“Oh...you like her!” Hashirama grinned from ear to ear.

“She’s quick and she’s got guts.” Tobirama defended himself. “She is also in the last year of her accelerated courses at Konoha University medical.”

Hashirama frowned as he stepped into the elevator with his brother. “Hum.”

The elevators opened to the third floor where the charity was being held, caterers flew around them as the brothers made their way across the vast hall to the podium where the rest of the board members were standing about chatting, arguing or just looking off into nothing already bored with the event before it had even started.

“Where’s Tsuna?” Tobirama demanded of a short brown haired woman who was walking by.

“She’s here.” Shizune pointed to the bar where a buxom blonde was sitting, a drink already in her hand and an annoyed look on her face.

“She’s drinking already?” Tobirama grimaced.

“A fine idea!” Hashirama slapped his brother hard on the back making him jerk forward with a scowl.

“After the introductions and speeches.” Tobirama grabbed his brother by the collar and pulled him back.

“...but Tobiii.” Hashirama began to whine.

“Damn it man, act your age, we have guests arriving soon.” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest and looked around the room for his security detail. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Tobirama left his brother in the capable hands of Shizune with instructions not to let him drink until he had fulfilled his host duties for the evening. Tobirama counted his men as he moved about the room, one was missing...this was a high profile event and there were more than just the usual politicians and city officials attending tonight. The Uchiha would be there, the Akasuna and many other nameless threats he didn’t want to think about but had to be prepared for...was prepared for.

An hour later most of the guests had arrived, waiters and waitresses wove their way in and out of the crowds, their trays held skillfully over their heads, their eyes flickering across the crowd constantly looking for the raised hand or glass indicating a silent request.

Gaara stood behind his Uncle, he didn’t like these functions, they rarely attended them. He knew they were there for one person and one person alone, but he had yet to find her in the crowd. Cool teal eyes scanned the room, committing each face to memory and placement among the masses, but there was no hint of pink, nor sparkle of Spring green to be found. Where was she…

Kankuro stood a little off to the side beside their Uncle, his hands in his pockets. Kankuro was the type of man who you could throw a rug on him or a designer suit like the one he wore now, and he would look the same. His coat hung on him lopsided and bunched up, he looked ill at ease and uncomfortable.

“I’m going to the bar.” Kankuro mumbled, nearly knocking a waiter over in his haste to disappear.

Sasori paid him no mind, focused as he was on his surroundings, looking for Sakura, the Uchiha or the Senju.

“Ah.” His Uncle breathed out, making Gaara turn his head.

Sasori had barely stopped himself from saying her name out loud and taking an involuntary step toward her. She was surrounded by men, tall men, on either side. Sasori recognized Itachi Uchiha on her right and his Uncle Madara on her left, across from Madara was the similarly recognizable Hashirama Senju and...where was the...ah yes, his brother Tobirama was walking toward the small group with a look of such...annoyance on his face that not only Sasori had noticed but several people in their immediate vicinity.

Gaara only had eyes for Sakura. His eye moved from the top of her head , sweeping down her body to the floor and her feet. ‘Exquisite’, his brain hummed and his fingers twitched at his side. He had been correct, the dress looked beautiful on her, each fall of the silk molded and hugged her curves in the most tantalizing display of elegance, it made him want to run his hands up and down her body to see if her skin was as soft as the silk that thinly covered her form.

When she moved, the dress breathed, each raise of her hand to bring her champagne flute to her perfect lips made the silk sway around her hips, each turn of her body, the thin layers of the dress flowed outward to settle back around her like a lover against her skin. Gaara couldn’t look away.

Sasori saw Sakura stiffen at Tobirama’s approach, saw Madara place his palm at the small of her back, fingers curled in against the bare skin of the low back on her dress. If Itachi had noticed and Sasori was sure he had, he didn’t show any signs of it, his eyes trained on the approaching Senju.

Sakura saw Tobirama making his way toward her and Itachi as she stood beside Madara, speaking to his friend Hashirama, a small nervous shiver passing over her skin making her shiver.

Itachi wondered at her reaction, as far as he knew, Sakura and Tobirama had never met. He and Shisui had made a point to shield her from the family’s extended ties to the Senju as much as possible over the years.

Madara had also seen the slight change in their companion and had placed a reassuring palm at the small of her back, rubbing little circles with his fingers against her flawless skin as he watched the younger Senju approach. Personally he had no qualms with Tobirama, it was Izuna, who despised the man from their clashes over the years when the two families had been open and hostile enemies.

Briefly, Madara scanned the nearby crowd for his brother, but Izuna was nowhere to be found.

Turning his attention back to Tobirama he wondered at the annoyed expression, the man hadn’t even said a word to him yet and he was already annoyed…

“Miss Haruno.” Tobirama inclined his head to Sakura, a small twitch at the corners of his mouth. “I admit little surprises me, but I had not expected to see you here tonight. It seems you are more than what you appear, not only now, but when we had first met in the parking garage.”

“Parking garage?” Itachi asked.

“I used the hospital parking garage to lose the tail Madara had put on me the other day. I parked and ducked into Mr. Senju’s parking spot.” Sakura waved a hand at Tobirama who was still watching her suspiciously.

“You put a tail on her Madara?” Hashirama laughed at his friend. “...and she ditched him?”

Madara had already introduced Sakura to his friend when they had arrived and now he understood the look of surprise on her face, that he hadn’t understood earlier...she hadn’t known Tobirama was Hashirama’s brother.

Sakura snorted. “It was easy. Too easy. I told him to pick someone better next time.”

Hashirama laughed, giving Madara an approving look. The two friends shared a silent understanding when Tobirama spoke again.

“That’s why you mentioned the Uchiha during our encounter.” Tobirama understood now. “I knew you were hiding from someone.”

“I wasn’t hiding, I just don’t like being followed for now reason.” Sakura turned to glare openly at Madara.

“What is your connection to the Uchiha?” Tobirama demanded. He felt like she had tricked him, played him for a fool. He didn’t like feeling that way. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

“I did tell you who I was.” Sakura said hotly. “You’re the one who pulled a gun on me over a damn parking space.” She growled, stomping her foot on the floor without a sound.

“You pulled a gun on Sakura?” The voice was low and threatening.

Sakura had thought it would have been Madara, but it was Itachi who stepped forward to challenge the white haired Senju.

“She knew my schedule, she was watching both the entrance and the exit as we talked and never let me out of her peripheral...she was suspicious...and mouthy.” Tobirama raised his head an inch.

“Well of course I was, I wanted to make sure my tail hadn’t found me and you were being an asshole.” Sakura put her hands on her hips, her champagne flute tilting dangerously, about to spill over her hand as she glared up at Tobirama who glared down at her.

“You never told me you knew Madara.” Sakura pointed out.

“Why would I tell you such a thing when I didn’t even know who you were?” Tobirama said coolly.

“Exactly...ass.” Sakura countered with a look of triumph, her lip curled.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this Sakura?” Madara looked at the ruffled girl beside him.

“Why would I tell you, so you could lock me up and tell me it was to protect me?” Sakura turned her glare onto Madara. “I had just lost your annoying tail. I wasn’t about to tell you strange men were pulling guns on me in parking garages.”

“Strange?” Tobirama muttered.

“Tobi! Is this the girl you told me about?” Hashirama grinned widely, looking from Sakura to his brother with ill concealed glee.

“Yes, she is, however I was unaware of her...connections at the time.” Tobirama continued to look at Sakura suspiciously.

“Sakura was adopted into our family Senju San and has no connections to our shadow companies and I would like it to stay that way.” Itachi said politely, but the steel in his voice was clear. Itachi had given Tobirama a warning.

Madara looked at his nephew. Was Itachi…

Tobirama nodded slightly, his eyes never leaving Sakura’s as they continued to glare at one another. He understood, she wasn’t involved in their less than legal...dealings...still...

“I don’t like you.” Sakura growled at Tobirama.

“I don’t like you either.” Tobirama folded his arms over his chest and glared right back at her.

Chapter Text

“Looks like the Ice Prince has met our little flower before.” Shisui commented to Izuna out of the side of his mouth as they stood at the bar watching the verbal spar between Tobirama and Sakura.

“Indeed it does, and I don’t think our Spring flower is very impressed with the Winter ass.” Izuna snickered.

“Um hum. We aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed either.” Shisui nodded to the two redheads in the far corner.

“I had heard they were going to be here. Akasuna donated a million dollars to the hospital Madara told me, to ensure he and his monster got a seat at the function.” Izuna brought his tumbler to his lips and sipped as he watched the redheads with Shisui.

Shisui whistled. “Akasuna stalked Sakura on the train for two days and then offered her an internship, I hear he helped her out with some thugs in an alley as well.”

Izuna nodded. ”Yeah, his own. Lab came back, his signature poison, he wasn’t even trying to hide that it was him. He wanted us to know.”

“Why would he want that, surely he knew of her connection to us.” Shisui shook his head, it didn’t make any sense to him.

“I don’t know, no one knows the way he thinks, but his interest in our girl is clear enough.” Izuna, like Shisui, had noticed that Sasori hadn’t been able to take his eyes off of Sakura since his arrival, nor his nephew.

“Does she know?” Shisui asked Izuna. “That Sasori staged that attack and then killed his own men?”

Izuna shrugged. “I doubt it, why worry her needlessly, she won’t take the internship with him, not with Hashirama offering her one.”

Shisui nodded, Izuna was probably right.

Gaara’s eyes passed back and forth between Sakura and his Uncle. His Uncle was plotting something, he could tell, his fingers kept twitching as if pulling at invisible strings, willing the object of his desire to move as he wished from across the room, only, she wasn’t.

Gaara watched as Sakura glared at the taller white haired Senju, turned and all but stomped off toward the bar to where Izuna Uchiha and Shisui Uchiha sat watching her with amusement.

‘They’re close’, he saw Shisui stand up and tweak her nose, but Izuna remained sitting, merely inclining his head to her…’One of them was closer to her than the other’, Gaara amended.

“Akasuna.” Madara Uchiha stood casually in front of his Uncle, drawing Gaara’s attention away from Sakura at the bar. Gaara hadn’t even sensed the man’s approach. He narrowed his eyes at the man.

“Uchiha.” Sasori acknowledged the man before him, with a lazy drawl.

“I regret to inform you that Sakura will not be accepting your internship, she has been offered an internship with the Senju, at Konoha Hospital and will be working for me once she graduates. I understand your interest in her, she is quite remarkable.” Madara turned then, to look at the bar where Sakura’s mood seemed to lighten under the playful efforts of Shisui.

“She is, but I doubt I want her for the same reasons as you do Uchiha.” Sasori flicked a figmental piece of lint from his sleeve and looked up to meet Madara’s dark eyes with his cold amber. “Or perhaps I do?”

Madara’s eyes flashed dangerously at the other man's insinuation. “I know you set her attack up to play into her weaknesses Akasuna and soon, she will too.”

“Is that so? I suppose I’ll just have to arrange something else then, to ensure I stay within her good graces. Mind you, saving a woman from foul play does tend to stick in one's mind, her mind, no matter how many years have gone by. Wouldn’t you agree?” Sasori looked past Madara to where Sakura was laughing at something Shisui had said to her.

“Years?” Madara’s mouth barely moved as Sakura’s eyes fell on them, a small smile curving her lips as she stood and started to walk over to them.

“Do you really think I approached her on that train on a whim, come now, you should know better than that.” Sasori smirked as Madara’s eyes narrowed at him, only now noticing how tight lipped Sasori had been since Sakura’s attention had fallen on them. ‘He knows she can read lips’, Madara had never liked Sasori, and this observation only furthered his dislike for the man.

“I have been planning that encounter...for years Uchiha, much like you I assume.” Sasori smirked.

Sasori’s voice dropped as Sakura approached, his eyes catching the way the silk moved over her body as she walked, shifting like water over sand, sparkling as it caught the light and shimmered as she breathed. “I have so much more to offer her than a simple internship, Uchiha. What could you possibly have to offer her that is more alluring than the trust and hope I have already tempted her with?”

“Sasori.” Sakura smiled at her new friend, her eyes briefly passing over Gaara who nodded politely to her.

“Sakura, so nice to see you again.” Sasori smiled slowly over her hand, his lips brushing over her fingers a little longer than socially acceptable.

“Enough.” Madara gripped Sakura’s arm, spun her and pulled her away with his other hand pressed firmly into her back.

“Madara, what are you doing?” Sakura looked back over her shoulder at Sasori who smiled at her, his eyes flashing at her abrupt departure.

Gaara clenched his jaw and his fists stepping forward with the full intent to bleed the arrogant man dry, but was stopped by his Uncle.

“Not yet Gaara, let the Uchiha dig his own grave. Things are going exactly to plan.” Sasori’s eyes narrowed to near slits as Madara’s hand dropped down, lower down Sakura’s back and pulled her into his side, looking over his shoulder at Sasori and Gaara.

Gaara growled deep in his throat, steely eyes following the Uchiha’s every movement. “He claims possession over something that isn’t his Uncle.”

Sasori’s eyes flickered to his nephew with mild surprise at the anger in his tone. “What he thinks is his, but isn’t. I doubt she denied my offer, he is presumptuous and it will be his downfall. Sakura is stronger than he gives her credit for. I’ve set the board, let’s see what she does next.”

“He doesn’t know her like we do...like you do Uncle.” Gaara cast his eyes downward in a form of submission for his mistake.

Sasori nodded his acknowledgement to his nephew’s efforts. “He does not, an advantage for us for it can only work in our favor moving forward.”

Gaara nodded, he understood. Sasori was letting Sakura come to him, of her own free will. It would be her decision thus making her loyalty...real. His Uncle was clever, too clever.

“Madara seems quite attached to Miss Haruno, doesn’t he brother.” Tobirama watched Madara lead Sakura from the two Suna criminals, taking note of his possessive air concerning the girl.

“She’s his niece.” Hashirama tipped his glass back, looking at his brother with interest.

“His niece.” Tobirama said quietly. “His niece that he hasn’t seen in over ten years, who was raised by his sister and brother in law.” Tobirama commented.

“Well yes, I suppose.” Hashirama said reluctantly.

“Didn’t Mikoto and Fugaku adopt two kids a while back?” Tobirama tapped his fingers against his pant leg as his eyes fell back onto Sakura. “Pink hair.”

“Yes, the Uzumaki boy and, oh I see what you mean Tobi.” Hashirama watched Sakura with his brother.

“Tobi, before, you didn’t know who she was, not really, you said it yourself.” Hashirama’s serious tone brought his younger brother’s attention back to himself. “You aren’t planning to uh, I mean , now that you know she’s practically an Uchiha, you don’t...find her interesting anymore do you?”

Tobirama knew what his brother meant. Tobirama had never hidden the fact he had been and still was opposed to the peace between the Uchiha and the Senju. Hashirama would assume now that Tobirama knew of Sakura’s associations, he would no longer hold any interest for the woman. Only, Tobirama didn’t consider Sakura to be an Uchiha, but he wasn’t going to tell Hashirama that.

“What do you imply, Hashirama?” Tobirama looked past his brother to where Izuna was glaring at him from the bar. Some things didn’t change, peace or not. He still hated Izuna as much as Izuna clearly, still hated him.

“Nothing, never mind.” Hashirama mumbled as one of the hospital board members approached them.

Tobirama continued to watch Sakura and Madara, ignoring the conversation beside him. He held no interest for the board or the hospital, that was his brother’s domain, as their families underground dealings were his.

He could see the conversation between Madara and his ‘niece’ was heating up. Sakura’s cheeks were flushed with anger and the agitation in Madara’s clenched jaw was clearly outlined. Interesting, Tobirama thought...perhaps they weren’t as close and as amiable as Madara wished to portray.

Sakura pulled her arm from Madara’s grasp, turned on her heel and walked swiftly away from the man. “Insufferable.” She muttered taking notice of an exit behind a tall potted plant in the corner of the room. She needed some air…

Tobirama followed the slight figure of his fascination to the corner of the room, cast a quick look to the bar where Izuna had turned to speak to someone and darted to the side and along the wall to follow the woman out the door.

Night had fallen, the chill in the air did little to cool Sakura’s anger however. That man, she fumed silently to herself, her hands on the rail of the small balcony she had found tucked away to the side of the stairwell, for smokers no doubt.

With a sigh Sakura closed her eyes and tilted her head back, taking in deep breaths through her nose and letting them out through her mouth. Slowly, her anger left her, she opened her eyes.

“Is there something I can help you with?” She didn’t bother to turn her head, she knew he was there.

Tobirama looked out over the night’s sky to the lights of Konoha, they weren't very high up, but high enough to have a decent view of the surrounding city. He thought over his words carefully, his hands dropping to the rail beside hers.

“I didn’t know who you were. I am glad we met under...normal circumstances. It has allowed me to see you for you and not as an Uchiha.” He told her.

“You mean as an enemy.” She amended for him...normal circumstances? Sakura snorted.

“We are no longer at war with the Uchiha.” Tobirama turned to her, taking in how her hair was coming undone and falling across her face.

“Not anymore, not openly at least. Do you think I’m blind, that I can’t see the hatred in Izuna’s eyes when he looks at you, at all Senju, or the hatred in your own eyes when looking at Madara?” She bit out, sick of being kept in the dark, not realizing until tonight, how much in the dark she had been kept.

“You’re angry.” Tobirama observed.

“I am.” Sakura said simply.

Silence passed over them, a slight breeze chilled her arms and Sakura shivered.

“It’s cold, allow me to escort you back into the building.” Tobirama held his arm out to her in polite invitation, something he had never done before, for anyone, but they were alone, and there was no one there to see him. To judge him, but her.

“Thank you, but...I am not quite ready to go back into that charade.” Sakura hummed, rubbing her palms against the goose flesh of her arms.

“Charade.” Tobirama shrugged his coat off and dropped it over Sakura’s shoulders, looking back out over the city to avoid her eyes.

Sakura looked up at the man beside her, surprise written all over her features. “Thank you.” She ducked her head in appreciation for his gesture.

Tobirama nodded stiffly. “You are not used to our world are you.” A statement, an observation.

“I was never introduced to it formally, but no I am not used to it, nor do I ever wish to be.” She said honestly.

“...and yet, you fit into it so well.” Tobirama observed.

“Do I.” Not a question.

“You do.” Tobirama stood beside her in his vest and shirt, his hands on the rail, remembering their first interaction, she had reacted to the situation like a natural.

“Sometimes…” His voice trailed off as he considered his next move. “We do not know where we are, until we’re there, and can find no other place that we would rather be, when faced with the truth of the situation.”

Sakura looked up at Tobirama, curious as to what would make him say such a thing to her, realizing how she had misjudged him, if not just a bit.

“I didn’t know you were like Madara.” She said a bit bitterly.

“You mean a criminal?” Tobirama asked her without offense.

“It’s not my place to judge you.” She said quickly.

“Yet you do. It’s human nature, I judged you when we first met...incorrectly and then again meeting you here.” He didn’t elaborate, there was no need.

Sakura snorted. “I’m not a naive child but no, I’m not part of your world.”

“You are Sakura, if you will it or not. Madara has taken acception to you, Sasori of the red Sand is clearly interested in you and you consider an internship at my brother’s hospital, we are all connected to one another...for what little pleasure it brings me, less than you I can say for certain...we are, all connected Sakura.” Tobirama turned to her and offered her his arm once again.

With a nod, Sakura took his arm and allowed him to lead her back into the stairwell.

“Perhaps you’re right Tobirama.” Sakura pulled his coat from her shoulders, handing it back to him with a nod and a smile.

“A word of warning.” Tobirama’s eyes met Sakura’s. “You are far too honest to carry the veil Madara wishes for you to take up. Please consider my brother’s internship, I didn’t know Madara had asked my brother to give it to you when I offered it, it would be beneficial for all of us.”

“All of us? Yourself included?” Sakura didn’t wait for an answer before walking away from the man, she hadn’t known Madara had asked his friend to ‘help’ her.

Tobirama stood for a moment, and watched her walk through the metal doors and back into the event hall, following her a moment later.

Gaara watched the white haired Senju from the next stair up. Not good, his mind whirled around his thoughts, not good...he growled low in his throat.

It seems Sakura and Tobirama are getting along a bit better.” Shisui commented to his cousin.

“Hn.” Itachi watched Sakura walk across the room toward Madara, Tobirama slipping into the hall after her, walking slowly. Sakura’s fists were clenched, her eyes bright. Never a good sign…

Madara saw Sakura’s approach, she looked like she was ready for war. He sighed internally, excusing himself from the conversation he was sharing with Hashirama and one of the many hospital board members. This didn’t look like a conversation he wished to have out in the open.

Sakura caught up to Madara by the elevators. “When were you planning on telling me that your friend Hashirama was going to offer me an internship?” She demanded grabbing his arm.

Madara pulled his arm from her grasp, taking her hand in his. “I was going to let him offer it to you this evening my dear, after dinner, but it seems my efforts on your behalf were unwarranted as you seemed to have already charmed Tobirama into speaking for you, a feat I had not thought possible.”

“There was no charm involved, his offer to give me his brother’s card and his recommendation surprised me, we hadn’t met on...good terms.” Sakura defended herself wondering why she felt the need to do so. Something was off about this conversation...off about many things Madara told her.

“If you walked away from Tobirama after his gun had been drawn, it is considered good terms. As little as you may know about my business dealings, you know less about his. I advise you to stay away from the man.” Madara said smoothly, not at all bothered by the hostility in her eyes.

“I told you, I didn’t want charity. I want to earn what I have. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, in my schooling, in my life. I’m not going to let you take that away from me, and I will decide who I talk to and keep company with, not you.” Sakura stood tall for her short stature and looked the man in the eye.

“Hashirama is a friend, an internship with him is an invaluable opportunity. Don’t throw it away just because you found out I had asked him for the favor.” Madara was losing his patience. He had never catered to anyone like he was catering to Sakura before and he felt she was being a little more than ungrateful at the moment.

“If Tobirama hadn’t told me about the internship, if I hadn’t found out you...it doesn’t matter. I might have taken it but not now, not now that I know you...damn it Madara. Ever since you returned my life has been...so confusing.” Sakura took a deep breath, in her mind the answer was simple. Madara was causing these issues, she would distance herself from him.

“I’m going to take Sasori up on his offer. Thank you for...interfering in my life, but I don’t want your help anymore. I find that I much prefer to ride the train as well.” Sakura turned on her heel and began to walk away from him.

Madara’s hand shot out and grabbed her, dragging her back to him. He had had enough of her attitude. “There is more going on here than your little mind can comprehend woman.” Madara spoke into her ear, his voice low and even.

“Do you think that Akasuna just happened to find you on the train, that he just happened to be there at the time and place of your attack? He set it up girl, to make you think he is a decent person, to draw you in, to control you like a little puppet and you fell for it. You’re in over your head, you don’t want my protection fine, but you will not take up that internship girl, do you hear me? You will smile, you will bow your head and you will walk back in that room and accept Hashirama’s internship that I so humbly requested for you. This isn’t a game Sakura, and you are playing with fire.” Madara pulled her head back by fisting his hand in her hair and kissed her hard.

“You don’t want my generosity, or attention but you have it. You will obey me, woman so help me or you will regret it.” He growled and pushed her up against the wall.

“Get the fuck off of me you fucking prick.” Sakura pushed against him trying to break the hold he had on her hair.

“Naive little girl, what do you think I’ve been sending you books for all these years? I’ve been grooming you, training you from a distance to take over for me, Itachi denied me, my brother doesn’t want the position even less than I did and Sasuke is a joke. You are the only one who showed even the slightest bit of potential...ungrateful, misguided, insolent shrew…” He pressed his body up against hers, pinning her to the wall.

“It’s time you knew your place and what your responsibilities are.” His hand slid down the length of her body, hitching the silk up with his fingers, pushing the fabric up to her waist he gripped the back of her knee and drew her now bare leg up, hooking his arm under it as he felt along the back of her thigh.

“You belong to me.” Madara growled into her neck as tears started to fall from her eyes.

“Let her go.”

Madara turned, his fingers digging into the flesh of Sakura’s inner thigh, to see Itachi standing at the mouth of the door that led back into the hall.

Madara chuckled low in his throat, of course...Itachi would have noticed her absence and had come looking for her.

“...and if I refuse?” Madara bent his head to Sakura’s and kissed her, his eyes never leaving those of his nephew.

“If you refuse, I will kill you.” Itachi said evenly. “Then take your place as clan head, or...you can let her go, I let you walk away and I take your place as clan head of the Uchiha...and all that the title entails. You wanted to retire Uncle. I’m offering you exactly what you wanted. Let Sakura go, now”

A small smile curved Madara’s lips and he turned his head to meet his nephew’s steely gaze. It looked like he was going to get what he wanted from at least one person this evening…

Shisui and Izuna ran into the hall, stopped and stared at the scene before them.

Slowly, Madara let Sakura’s leg drop back down, the silk of her dress falling to cover her again. With a quick look at the girl, Madara turned fully to face his nephew and bowed in mock respect, walked past Shisui and his brother, back into the hall.

Itachi took the three steps to reach Sakura and she fell into his arms. “Ita.” She murmured against his chest and his arms engulfed her.

“You’re going to be fine, come, let’s get you some water.” Itachi looked down into her eyes, unclipped the hair that had come undone and finger combed it for her.

“Maybe something a bit stronger than water?” She tried to smile.

“I know just the thing.” Shisui looked from Sakura to Itachi, the worry clear in his eyes.

“It was only a matter of time you know, we all knew this would happen, but at least the family is in good hands.” Izuna patted Itachi on the back and looked down at Sakura. “You’re in good hands Sakura.”

Sakura looked up at Itachi, her eyes steady, the tears gone. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Sakura took the glass of whiskey with a raised brow from Shisui, who was for once, not smiling.

“Kick it back, flower, and I’ll get you something less potent, but trust me, you need that right now.” Shisui grimaced, his eyes traveling over the crowd looking for Madara, who was nowhere in sight.

Sakura looked at Itachi who nodded. With only a few more moments of hesitation, she took a deep breath and threw the whole tumbler back, swallowed, then started coughing.

“Holy shit, I didn’t think she could do it.” Izuna was impressed.

Sakura wheezed a bit but she was smiling, and Itachi let the breath go that he had been holding. She would be okay.

“Itachi, you didn’t need to do that for me.” Sakura felt horrible, she had pushed him into making a decision that would change his whole life, it wasn’t her fault, she knew that but if Madara hadn’t...and if she had….

“I didn’t do it for you. I did it for the family. I tried to avoid it but I can’t. I made the decision to take over the family before tonight, Sakura. Madara merely gave me the opportunity to tell him before I had originally planned to, that is all.” Itachi assured her that this wasn’t her fault, that he had planned on telling Madara already that he would take his place, like Madara had always wanted him to.

“It could have been worse.” Shisui smiled at Sakura. “Itachi could have killed him.”

“You’re a great help Shisui.” Izuna said dryly.

“Are you still going to Oto?” Sakura asked him curiously.

Itachi nodded. “I would like to see what is going on with our foothold there, before my new title is announced.” He looked at both Izuna and Shisui who nodded.

“With you gone um…” Sakura began.

“You may stay at your apartment but I would like Shisui to stay with you, if you do not mind too much. I won’t however, put a tail on you.” His mouth twitched.

“I love sleeping on couches.” Shisui grinned at Sakura who rolled her eyes.

“Thank you Itachi.” Sakura smiled. She hadn’t wanted to stay in the compound, even less with Itachi gone and after what had happened in the hallway with Madara…

“I will have the audio bug removed from your car, but I would like the GPS to remain. Please keep the car, it was Madara’s idea but the family is paying for it, it was not a gift from Madara, but from the family.” Itachi stroked her hand with his fingers.

Sakura nodded. She didn’t really want to go back to riding the train, having a car had been a convenience she hadn’t realized she had wanted.

“...and my internship with Sasori?” Sakura bit her bottom lip between her teeth, he had already warned her against taking an internship with the man before he had decided to take over the family from Madara. She couldn’t see him suddenly changing his mind.

Itachi’s eyes roamed the room and found Sasori, his nephew and a man he didn’t recognize speaking quietly in the far corner of the hall.

“Please reconsider the Senju’s offer. I will not make you take the internship at the hospital Sakura, but Madara was right, Sasori is a dangerous man, and we do not know what his true intentions are. They could be innocent, I would prefer not to take the risk with your safety.” Itachi said carefully. If he ordered her to take the Senju’s offer, she would decline it just to be contrary, she had to come to the decision on her own.

Sakura frowned. “Is Sasori...really that dangerous?”

“We’re all dangerous.” Itachi said quietly. The sooner she realized it the better and it was time she realized just how dangerous their world was, since their world seemed to have taken an unprecedented interest in her.

“He staged the attack you know. Those were his men, Sakura, he put them up to attack you so he could save you, then, he killed them.” Izuna said forcefully.

“How do you know, where is your proof?” She demanded.

“Proof?” Izuna wasn’t used to being questioned anymore than his brother was. “It was his poisons in their bodies, the autopsy proves it.”

“Anyone could have done that though.” It wasn’t black and white to her, as it was to them.

Sasori had been honest with her when he didn’t have to be and setting up an attack to save her...didn’t seem like something he would do...at least not to her. It seemed pointless and risky to her, two things she had come to learn through her own experience, that Sasori was not.

Sakura shook her head. “I think you’re wrong. There has to be another explanation for it.”

“Another explanation?” Izuna was stunned into silence.

“Sakura is not used to this sort of thing Izuna, she has never been a part of our less savory dealings, she doesn’t know the man’s history.” Itachi spoke quietly.

“Then tell me.” Sakura put her hands on her hips and looked at each face, faces she had seen since she was a little girl. “Tell me so I know what I am getting into, so I know what I’m dealing with.”

“They are soulless murderers.” Izuna said quietly. They were surrounded by people, this really wasn’t the best place for this discussion, but it was clear she wasn’t going to let it go either.

“Gaara, his nephew, the redhead that is never far from his side, he does horrible things...to women and then kills them, brutally Sakura, they call him the devil of Suna, a monster, his own people are terrified of him.” Izuna’s eyes were as hard as steel. He could see the remains of the Hamayoshi women in his mind’s eye, it made him nauseous.

Sakura followed his eyes to where Sasori and who had to be his nephew stood across the room. Teal eyes rose to meet hers. He didn’t look like a monster to her. Her eyes moved over to Sasori’s aristocratic form and watched as he talked to another man. He didn’t look like the criminal underworld boss that even he had admitted to her that he was either.

“What else?” Sakura asked, her eyes back on her cousins.

“You know they are Uchiha holdings number one competitor?” Izuna asked and she nodded. “They cut us off at every corner.”

“That sounds more like free enterprise to me.” Sakura said tonelessly.

“Is it free enterprise to storm someone's office building and kill every worker, even the janitor?” Izuna rose from his seat and said hotly. “Wake up Sakura, he is a monster, he murders the innocent and calls it a merger.” Izuna bowed correctly and walked away from her. He had to leave, or he would cause a scene.

“Is that how it is?” Sakura turned back to Itachi. “Is that why no one will talk about it, why there are two sides to the family, legal and illegal Itachi?”

“It isn’t that simple Sakura.” Itachi let go of her hand, picked up one of the two champagne glasses the bar keep had set in front of them, and handed one to her.

“That’s one side of the story, I am sure the Uchiha have done things that others would consider horrid too. Are the Uchiha any better than the Akasuna, just because it’s us and not them? I’ve seen the looks, heard the whispers. Growing up Naruto and I heard the talk, what people said and we saw how they clamped up once they realized we were associated with you.” Sakura looked Itachi in the eyes, waited, watched him, he looked tired and he had only just assumed the role.

“I have been trying to legitimize the Uchiha’s businesses for years, some just...can’t be maintained under legal structures, but that doesn’t make them criminal, only illegal in the fullest sense of the law.” Itachi explained.

“Like, tax evasion or policies?” She asked.

“More like illegal weaponized drugs.” Shisui mumbled under his breath.

“Oh.” Sakura said, taking a sip from her flute, her head fuzzy from the whiskey and no food to help stabilize it.

“No Shisui, I am referring to the medicines we make for those who can not afford them.” Itachi gave his cousin a disapproving eye. “Illegal doesn’t always mean terrible Sakura, though...there are some terrible things I have been forced to do in the name of good.”

“Have you...killed anyone, Itachi?” She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to answer her or not.

“I have, we all have. Not everything is so simple as you are trying to make it sound, Sakura.” He said quietly.

“Oh.” She took another drink.

“Killing is second nature in our line of work, but believe it or not flower, we’re the good guys out there.” Shisui grimaced and downed his shot that he had been holding.

“Are we?” She asked.

Itachi smiled. She had said ‘We’. “Yes Sakura, we are. There is a thin line between right and wrong in our world. That is why I gave Madara the option to let you go. He has lived that life for far too long and his line is blurred. Try not to hold it against him.”

Sakura choked on her champagne. “You want me to forgive him?” She was a little disturbed by Itachi’s plea, disturbed with the fact that she had already started to forgive him for his actions. She had seen the hurt and the...desperation in his eyes...he hadn’t been himself, she kept saying it over and over in her head...she had already, started to forgive him.

“Yes.” Itachi said looking across the room where his Uncle had just reentered the hall. “Forgive him, he deserves your forgiveness for everything he has done for you, whether you know it or not. Madara had a moment of weakness, can you really blame him?” Itachi tried to smile but failed miserably.

“I’m not even going to try to understand those words.” Sakura mumbled, finishing her drink and setting the empty flute on the bar.

She would understand, Itachi didn’t blame her for being angry, he was angry with how his Uncle had behaved...but he understood it.

Itachi worried about Sakura though, why his Uncle had ever thought she could take over for him, he would never know...her heart was in it even less than Izuna’s, or his own. She didn’t know the pressures, that trauma that you had to tamp down less it surface and destroy you. He didn’t want her to know, it was something he both wished he hadn’t ever known, and something he wished he knew more about at the same time.

Sakura would forgive Madara in time, it was just in her nature. Itachi only hoped she wouldn’t do something rash in the meantime.

Akasuna had come to Madara, six years ago, offering an alliance, but Madara had denied him, rudely ruining all chances of a second offer or a compromise. Sasori was a proud man and the slight had dug deep. Three months after that, Akasuna had started going after all of the Uchiha families' enterprises overseas...and then after the alliance with the Senju, had shown up almost overnight in Konoha.

Sasori was not to be taken lightly...Itachi knew that. Briefly, he wondered what the man thought of him...it didn’t matter. Itachi would strive for peace, perhaps...he could reach out to the Akasuna this time…

Perhaps allowing Sakura to take the internship that Sasori offered, could be the start of peace between the Uchiha and the Akasuna. Itachi didn’t like the idea but...he doubted Sakura would take an internship connected to Madara even if she forgave him.

“Madness is tricky, and Madara has been part of two worlds for too long. I’ve told you before Sakura, my Uncle is not a bad man, I don’t agree with how he treated you but...I can understand his compulsion to...desire you.” Itachi wouldn’t meet her eye but Shisui snickers, making Itachi cough gently into his hand.

“Desire me, you mean control me?” Sakura countered.

“For a man like Madara, Sakura, desire is control.” Itachi met her eyes with a smirk that was gone as soon as it had come making her blush.

“If you’ll excuse me for a moment.” Shisui winked at Sakura and walked to the side of the room where the head caterer had just appeared.

“It seems dinner will be served soon. Shall we sit?” Itachi asked her as Shisui came walking up beside them.

“I asked that we sit at a less crowded table.” Shisui winked at Sakura.

“Thank you Shisui.” Sakura was touched by his thoughtfulness. She wasn’t ready to see Madara just yet.

“If you’ll follow me Sir?” A waitress stepped up to Shisui’s side and bowed low.

Sakura walked behind Shisui and in front of Itachi following the server to the far end of the room where more and more tables were being set up. Severs, dressed like the one they were following walked around the room gathering faces and names, directing them to their assigned tables. Sakura watched as Mikoto and Fugaku were led to the opposite end of the room where her, Shisui and Itachi were going and smiled.

Madara would be at the head table, reserved for the more important people of the hospital, most likely next to his friend Hashirama. Sakura spared a glance to the middle of the room toward the front and there he was, his dark eyes watching her walk with Itachi across the room. She turned away to see that Tobirama was likewise watching her, but unlike Madara he nodded to her, acknowledging her glance. Sakura smiled and inclined her head to him. She had enjoyed their conversation earlier.

“Itachi.” She began but snapped her mouth shut as she ran into a hard back. Shisui had stopped abruptly, looking over his shoulder, not at Sakura but at Itachi, his eyes darkened. Sakura peered around Shisui’s back and saw two very familiar redheads sitting at the table their waitress had led them to.

She looked at Itachi, who nodded to Shisui. Shisui shrugged and pulled a chair out for Sakura, beside Sasori. Itachi opened his mouth to say something but closed it as another couple joined their table. Sakura sat down next to Sasori on one side, and Itachi on the other.

“This is...unexpected. Madara let you out of his cross hairs did he?” Sasori drawled with a slight smirk at her.

“I assure you it wasn’t for lack of effort.” Sakura rubbed her upper arm that was still a little red from Madara dragging her up against the wall earlier.

Sasori’s eyes took in the red of her skin and the tender hand motion as she rubbed her skin as though she were in discomfort. Sasori narrowed his eyes at Itachi.

“Did something happen?” Sasori’s tone had changed, he sounded more like the Sasori Sakura was used to, no more of that bored pretentious drawl.

“An altercation derived from a misunderstanding.” Itachi inclined his head to Sasori whose eye twitched.

“An altercation?” Gaara asked in a monotone voice from beside his Uncle.

“It’s nothing.” Sakura didn’t want to talk about it here, with Sasori, her eyes darted to the couple to her right, then down to her lap.

“Forgive me my dear, I have yet to introduce you to my nephew, we were...prevented from such social formalities earlier.” Sasori smiled a politically correct smile that instantly annoyed her.

Sakura narrowed her eyes at the redhead, then looked to the darker red head and smiled a real smile. “It is nice to meet you. I’m Sakura Haruno. I met your Uncle on a train, then later found out he was stalking me to offer me an internship, but it’s okay because he ended up saving me from some hoodlums who may or may not have been staged for his benefit.”

Shisui laughed out loud not taking the time nor the effort to hide his delight in her phrasing.

Gaara blinked. “It is nice to meet you Sakura. I am Gaara, Gaara Sabaku from Suna.”

“For my benefit?” Sasori raised a red eyebrow at her. “How would you being attacked and my almost getting stabbed be for my benefit?”

Sakura watched his eyes, they didn’t waver once, twitch or cast glances aside up or down, he wasn’t hiding anything from her, that she could tell.

“A rumor, nothing more.” Sakura picked up her champagne glass and drank deeply.

Itachi watched Sakura’s interaction with Sasori, he hadn’t realized they were so laid back with one another. While Sasori was keeping his ‘public face’ on, he could tell the man was relaxed around Sakura, and she was relaxed around him, even when fishing for the information she had thrown out at him without notice.

The man had replied admirably, but not quite truthfully as far as Itachi was concerned. A professional liar, that’s what Sasori was, however, it seemed...Sakura believed him. Not good, Itachi sighed internally, but not the worst situation. He could work with this. He would have to.

Soon their dinner was served. A simple fish course and desert, salad then light soup. Drinks came and went, Sakura took little care or notice of those around her lost as she was in her own thoughts. She knew Sasori was watching her just as closely as Itachi was, for different reasons she was sure. She hadn’t realized how much she had drank until she rose to use the facilities after their last course had been set before them.

Slowly, she rose to her feet, a mild look of concentration on her face as she pushed her chair back in and smiled warmly at Itachi’s raised eyebrow.

“I’m fine.” She told him when he rose to escort her. “Sit, please, I’m fine.”

Itachi sat back down and ignored Shisui’s laughter from the other seat and watched as Sakura walked carefully to the otherside of the hall and out the door.

Sakura rinsed her hands of the foamy soap and leaned against the porcelain counter, the coolness of the basin felt good on her flushed skin and she closed her eyes momentarily. Perhaps she would step outside for a bit of fresh air before going back to the table. With a small smile and a wave to her reflection in the mirror, she left the ladie’s room and walked to the now familiar starwell and out onto the small smoker’s balcony.

The cool air felt refreshing on her skin, drawing her awareness back to the surface and cutting through her alcoholic haze. The door creaked behind her, making her turn.

“I apologize, I hadn’t realized someone else was out here. Forgive me.” Gaara, Sasori’s nephew ducked his head and turned to leave her to her thoughts but she called out to him, stopping him with her voice.

“You don’t have to leave, I just came out for a bit of fresh air.” Sakura nodded to the city lights in front of her. “...and to look at the city.”

“Beautiful.” Gaara’s voice was deep and low, calming to her ears.

“Yes, beautiful.” Sakura said as she looked out over the rail, but Gaara wasn’t looking at the city lights. Gaara was looking at Sakura, and the way her hair floated over her shoulders and rose around her face.

Chapter Text

Sasori had seen the brown haired Uchiha advancing on the waitstaff, had nodded at the caterer who had glanced his way. He had gone to great lengths for this evening, setting his pawns in place, greasing a few minor palms...was child’s play. With an internal smirk he saw the Uchiha’s eyes widen with the realization their waitress was leading them to his table, watched as Sakura ran into his back as a silent question was thrown over his shoulder to the Uchiha hier. A nod, that’s all it took to throw his whole plan into motion, and he hadn’t even been the one to give the signal.

‘Too easy’, his eyes followed Sakura as she sat down beside him.

Sakura’s little word play had amused him, apparently tonight was a night of revelation for her, and she wasn’t handling it as well as she had hoped. He could see the lines of worry, around her eyes and the tension in her mouth. Her hand was steady but light as it continually brought the glass to her lips. He watched in amusement as she drank, and continued to drink throughout the meal. She seemed not to realize...she had already drank three glasses on top of the shot Shisui had given her at the bar.

Yes, he had seen that as well. No matter who he was talking to, he knew where she was and who she was talking to.

Something had happened, he had seen her walk back into the hall escorted between the two Uchiha that now shared his table with him and his nephew. Her gate had been clipped, as though she were angry, her eyes had been quick as she had searched the hall for...someone unsavory. Madara...so the man had made his play and as Sasori had expected, it had failed.

So very interesting and yet, so very predictable...he had almost expected more from the Uchiha.

Sasori could tell that even though her thoughts still plagued her, she was relaxing in his presence, he was pleased to see that the two Uchiha beside her were open to a more or less normal conversation. They were all aware of the reality of their situation, there was no need for blind hostilities as far as Sasori was concerned, besides, it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonize the Uchiha in front of Sakura.

Dinner was served and they ate in relative silence, a sort of peace had settled over the table as Sasori continued to watch the Uchiha watch Sakura, his nephew calm and placid on his left.

Eventually Sakura rose to use the facilities and left the table, the Uchiha had offered to escort her, but Sasori knew she would refuse...did they not understand her at all? He had expected more from Itachi, it seemed he had over estimated the man...hum.

“I hear that Uchiha Industries has moved into Oto.” Sasori opened up a light conversation in Sakura’s absence with Itachi who nodded.

“By my own reports it seems our companies are not...getting along. That is unfortunate. It seems the problems of our past still haunt our futures.” Sasori shook his head in a mock sadness, his eyes glinting at Itachi’s bored expression.

“Problems, is that what you call six dead scientists and a gutted secretary who had no notion of the organization and was just at the wrong place at the wrong time?” Shisui set his fork down and gave the redhead a hard look.

“Collateral damage.” Sasori waved his hand in the air dismissing the interruption. “I gave no order for such a thing, if that’s what you're insinuating with that look of yours.”

Sasori paused to take a sip of his drink , then leveled cool eyes on Itachi. “Did you give the order to burn down my warehouses?”

Itachi cocked his head to the side. “I was unaware your warehouses were burned down, Akasuna San, may I ask when that happened?”

“An hour ago” Sasori said calmly, ignoring the choking noises from the other two occupants at the other end of the table.

“I know of no orders that may have been given to our contacts in Oto, we are experiencing problems of our own.” Itachi lowered his voice, looking from one redhead to the other.

“Yes, I had heard your scientists were dropping like flies.” Sasori smirked, giving Shisui a nod.

“It seems we have a common enemy.” Itachi sat back in his seat, his eyes passing over the table to the door Sakura had left the hall through.

“Or one of us is lying, but let’s assume, for courtesy's sake, that neither of us is lying…” Sasori waved his hand at his nephew who rose from his seat and left the hall under the careful eyes of Shisui. “I am sending a man to Oto soon, to look into my warehouses...I was also sending him to look into the scientists that were killed in your holding.”

Itachi stiffened. Sasori didn’t have to tell him this, it would have been assumed, he and Madara had already spoken of it, had expected him to do such a thing and had prepared for it but to hear it said by Sasori himself ...so openly…

“Why tell me this?” Itachi asked, careful to keep his tone relatively light.

“There is no room for more than one partnership in Oto. Wouldn’t you agree?” Sasori swirled the liquid around in his tumbler, giving Itachi time to consider his words.

“I agree, Akasuna San.” Itachi leaned forward in his chair and picked up his own drink. “Let us hear your proposal.”

Careful not to draw attention to himself by moving too quickly, Gaara made his way out of the hall to the ladies facilities. With his back against the wall, as though he were waiting for someone, he listened intently but heard no noise...she was no longer in the restroom. With a subtle glance up and down the corridor he turned and walked casually toward the stairwell. Her face had been flushed with alcohol, her thoughts an uneasy dinner companion, he had felt her distress from across the table...she would wish to compose herself before returning, she had gone to get some air.

He could have been quiet, he could have watched her through the small window, but he knew she would know, even if she was a bit intoxicated, he had seen her...in her apartment, head turning to the slightest noise, the most obscure change in pressure...he didn’t bother to mask the creak of the door as he pushed it open to join her on the small balcony.

“I apologize, I hadn’t realized someone else was out here. Forgive me.” Gaara turned, knowing she would invite him back out into the open space with her, she was just that kind of a person.

“You don’t have to leave, I just came out for a bit of fresh air.” Sakura nodded to the city lights in front of her. “...and to look at the city.”

“Beautiful.” Gaara murmured as he looked at her, finally, in person so close he could smell the lavender of her bath oils on her skin.

“Yes, beautiful.” Sakura said as she looked out over the rail unaware of the intensity of Gaara’s stare.

With little effort Gaara fixed a bland and indifferent expression on his face with every intention of drawing her into conversation as he and his Uncle had discussed, but standing there, so close to her, with her smell in the air and her beauty so...he could barely breathe much less speak.

He swallowed and said the first thing that came to his muddled mind.

“I like to look at the stars at night, they bring me peace.” He averted his eyes shyly as her gaze fell upon him.

Sakura smiled, he was blushing. Would a monster blush, she thought to herself as she took in the man beside her. He looked like Sasori, the red hair, the calm stillness of his posture, but a killer, a murderer? She just couldn’t fathom it. She sighed heavily and slumped over onto the rail.

“Sometimes, it’s easier to look at the stars, than it is to look at those around you. The stars, they shine and help you forget.” She looked up past the lights of the city to find the stars that even the night lights of Konoha couldn’t dull.

“To forget?” Gaara frowned. “What is it you wish to forget?”

Sakura laughed ruefully. “I don’t even know.”

Gaara nodded, he thought he understood. It was a lot to take in. Sasori had explained it to him in between pointless social conversations they were both forced to endure with their attendance to this pointless function. Tonight, she got to see into their world, a glimpse, a touch...her reality was growing, Sasori had told him. It was his job to make sure it continued to grow, that she continued to...realize what kind of world she was living in and what kind of world her association with the Uchiha drew her into.

“My mother died giving birth to me.” Gaara said in his calm monotone voice.

Her eyes left the stars to focus on the dark redhead beside her.

“My Uncle took me in.” Gaara’s deep voice washed over her, calming her nerves.

“There were many who didn’t understand me, who think I am...a monster.” Gaara looked at her seriously. “My Uncle never did though, he took me in, fed to my strengths. He believes in me.”

Sakura watched his eyes waver as he said those last words and her heart went out to him.

“His methods aren’t always gentle and sometimes...they are odd.” Gaara turned toward her and cocked his head to the side. “He believes in you, like he believes in me. He told me so.”

“Oh.” Sakura didn’t know what to say. This was a very unusual conversation. They stood in silence for so long that when Gaara moved again, it startled her.

“Do you need more time to gather your thoughts?” Gaara asked her quietly.

“I...yes, maybe a little.” She bit her bottom lip between her teeth.

She was worried still, Gaara supposed this was normal.

“Don’t worry.” He told her.

Sakura laughed. “Worry, I’m not sure if it is worry or fear that I feel, but I know I feel something. If that makes any sense.”

Gaara liked hearing her laugh like this, in person instead of through a video, a monitor.

“Better to feel something and not know what it is, than to feel nothing at all.” Gaara tipped his head back and looked up at the stars. “Until recently...the only time I felt anything, was when I killed.”

“Killed?” Sakura stiffen, the calming effect his voice had on her diminished with a pop.

Gaara turned his cool eyes back to hers and a cold shiver ran down her back. His eyes followed the movement of her skin and he licked his lips.

“That’s what I do. I kill for him.” Gaara’s deep voice clouded her mind.

“For Sasori?” Sakura wanted clarification.

Gaara nodded. His eyes focused on her face, his posture straight and unyielding.

“Who does he tell you to kill Gaara?” She asked him, speaking to him with a rare familiarity that pleased him.

“His enemies.” Gaara said easily.

Sakura closed her eyes, she didn’t want to hear anymore. Gaara’s voice came to her slow and steady, deep and calming.

“You’re safe with us Sakura. We would never hurt you.”

“Safe.” She murmured, her heart thumping in her chest.

“Safe.” Gaara took a silent step forward, his hand rising from his side.

She felt his touch, light, feather like against her cheek.

“Safe.” Gaara said again, much more gently, quieter than before.

She leaned into his hand and he sucked in a quick breath...no one had ever let him touch them before. He had always taken, nothing had ever been given to him.

“Thank you.” He dropped his hand from her cheek and took a polite step back. When she opened her eyes, he was gone.

“Thank you?” Sakura swallowed, what an odd thing to say.

Sasori watched his nephew enter the hall from a different door than he had left and wondered where he had gone, what had taken him so long...he had only wanted the boy to check on Sakura. A quick nod however told him everything he needed to know. She was okay, she would return shortly. Sasori sighed, good, he had been worried by the almost frantic look in her eye throughout dinner.

Itachi excused himself from the table as Sasori’s nephew returned. Sakura had been gone for quite some time and he had begun to worry about her.

Madara saw his nephew leave the hall and followed him out the side door. Hashirama grimaced but Tobirama glared, he knew the Uchiha were up to no good as usual and he wondered briefly if it had anything to do with Sakura. He wondered why he even cared.

“Itachi.” Madara called out to his nephew who was walking briskly toward the ladies room at the end of the corridor.

“Yes Uncle?” Itachi turned mid step.

“Where is Sakura?” Madara asked, looking past his nephew to the ladies room.

“I am checking on her now, she left for the facilities a while ago and should have returned to the table by now.” Itachi walked the rest of the way to the ladies restroom and tapped on the door calling Sakura’s name lightly.

Madara rolled his eyes, she wouldn’t hear that. He walked up to the door and pounded on it much harder than Itachi had and pushed it open and called Sakura’s name loudly. “Sakura?”

“There doesn’t appear to be anyone in there.” Madara stepped back from the door.

“I’ll check the stairs.” Itachi nodded to Madara and started walking toward the stairwell.

“Itachi.” Madara drew his nephew to the side. “I’ll not apologize, but it was a mistake.”

Itachi nodded and walked past his Uncle without a word. He needed to find Sakura, he and Madara could talk about what had happened earlier, later. Itachi stepped into the stairwell and looked around but Sakura was nowhere to be seen. With a small frown he ducked back out of the stairwell to see if she had returned to the table in his absence.

Sakura continued to lean against the railing on the small smoker’s balcony, she was starting to get really cold, she knew she should go back inside before she froze but even after taking her calming breaths and speaking with Gaara she really didn’t feel like going back inside.

She tilted her head back up to the sky and looked at the stars. Not much of anything anyone said, added up...expect for what Sasori had told her...and Gaara. They were the only ones who hadn’t...tried to protect her from the truth, or told her what to do or not to do.

She remembered how honest Sasori had been with her on the train when she had invited him back to her apartment for his coat.

“I am a businessman who does business with both good law abiding citizens and with those less inclined to obey the law. Not all of my business is legal, but not all of it is illegal.”

Wasn't that what Itachi had told her that the Uchiha did, only in different words? As far as Sakura could see Sasori and his nephew weren’t any different than the Uchiha.

“I have been trying to legitimize the Uchiha’s businesses for years, some just...can’t be maintained under legal structures, but that doesn’t make them criminal, only illegal in the fullest sense of the law.”

That’s what Itachi had said, he had also told her they made medicines for the poor and helped people outside of the law. A blurred line he had called it. She didn’t know what to think. Who was right and who was wrong. They all seemed to be a little of both to her, even the Senju. Not that she knew much about the Senju’s less than legal activities, having been shielded from it most of her life.

Tobirama had pulled a gun on her but also offered her an internship at his brother’s hospital that their family ran, a hospital that helped people, that was known for their generosity. She, like others in her field, had heard the stories about how no one who went to Konoha Hospital was turned away, that the Senju helped anyone who came to them for care. It was one of the things that had inspired her to become a surgeon, not just a doctor.

That and Madara. Sakura had come home with a binder from career day at school with a list and brief descriptions of all the professions that were popular and in demand at the time. Surgeon was one of the top ones, both in demand and the hardest to obtain. She had wanted to become one immediately after reading the summary. She had wanted to save lives, to help people, to be...special.

For a long time after her parents had died, she had felt alone. Many of her friends had stopped talking to her, because they didn’t understand her grief, or because they didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. Ino, Naruto and Sasuke were the only ones who stood beside her, the only ones who still...loved her.

Sasuke had fallen out of a tree while they were in the park. Itachi had been gone then, away with Shisui doing some training of some sort. Mikoto was supposed to be watching them, but her phone had rung, it had been Madara and she had walked a little ways away from them. She always walked away from them when Madara called.

Mikoto had told them, not to climb the trees, that it was dangerous, but Mikoto wasn’t paying attention, she was talking to Madara with her back turned to them...so they had climbed the tree. Sakura had been the best. She had climbed up to the top, the highest and the fastest of the three of them. Sasuke had scowled, frowned and pouted at her. He wanted to climb as high as Sakura had.

So he had been reckless...and had fallen.

Sakura had been terrified. Sasuke fell from the middle of the tree, too far up to land safely, too far away from her for her to help him. He fell and hit the ground, and didn’t get up...his eyes had been closed and he didn’t move.

She had dropped to the ground beside him and started CPR, that she had read about but had never been shown, had never practiced before...and after a few minutes of her performing what she had hoped was CPR, he coughed and began to move again.

Mikoto had screamed and ran over, dropping the phone onto the ground, and dropping down beside her son. Sakura had picked the phone up and had told Madara that Mikoto would be just a moment. When Madara had asked her what was happening and if anyone had died...an odd question Sakura had thought...she had told him what had happened and that she had saved Sasuke and not to worry everything was fine.

The line had gone quiet, Sakura thought he had hung up but he hadn’t. When he spoke again, he congratulated her and asked her how old she was. She had told him, she was twelve, he had been impressed. ‘You should be a doctor Sakura, to help protect the family’, he had told her. She agreed, and that day, she had decided she wanted to be a surgeon, to protect those she loved and to help anyone else who might need her help.

A week later, she had picked the lock to Madara’s mansion on a dare and had been thrown face down, her arms pulled behind her back by Madara who had come home…’unexpectedly’, to praise her again for her lock picking skills that she had learned from a book A book that she had found in her room after school one day. A book, no one had known about, or how it had made its way into her room.

Sakura swallowed her doubts as she closed her eyes, the stars suddenly too bright for her. Madara said he had groomed her from a distance to take over for him, but he had never given her a choice, he had never even asked her what she wanted.

Her parents had been taken from her at the age of twelve without her permission, without warning. Madara had decided she would be his successor without asking her if she even wanted to succeed him. Her whole life had been planned out without her.

Sakura opened her eyes. Sasori’s words came back to her from their second meeting, when she had invited him to her apartment for his coat.

“Are you sure that is wise Sakura? I wouldn’t wish to put you in an awkward situation with Madara Uchiha.”

They hadn’t known one another, Sasori had no reason to take her feelings into consideration other than that, he cared about her feelings...even then. He didn’t try to hide the fact he knew Madara and her association with him or his family...he had been honest with her, open with her.

She was grateful for everything the Uchiha had done for her but...it was time she found her own way. Sakura smiled up at the stars, they seemed brighter now, she hadn’t truly ever appreciated how beautiful they were before Gaara had pointed them out to her. She would have to take time to look at them more often.

Gaara. He wasn’t what she had been made to believe. Izuna was wrong, he wasn’t a monster, he was just...he was just a product of his environment. Sakura found him to be polite, shy and calming if she were honest. She liked the sound of his voice, so deep, so reassuring, it made her feel...safe.

Chapter Text

“You were out there for a long time.” A deep voice said from the stairs above her.

Sakura turned to face Tobirama who was sitting on the stairs that led up to the next floor, two glasses in his hand.

“This will warm you.” He handed her a tumbler of what looked like whiskey.

Sakura took the glass with a nod, noticing these weren’t like the glasses from the bar. Nor was the whiskey when she took a cautious sip. Sakura closed her eyes with genuine appreciation for the drink. Whiskey, had always been her drink of choice.

“You appreciate fine whiskey I see.” Tobirama was amused, she didn’t look like the type of girl who drank whiskey, but she didn’t look the type of girl to keep killers as company either...and clearly, she did both.

“A guilty pleasure I rarely partake in.” She offered him a sincere smile. “Were you waiting for me?”

Tobirama didn’t answer her right away. Instead he seemed to study the crystal of his tumbler as he rotated it slowly between his large fingers.

Sakura drained the rest of her whiskey, noting that this ought to be her last drink for the evening and tried to hand the tumbler back to Tobirama.

“If there is nothing else, I should get back.” She made a gesture to the door that led to the hall.

“What are you doing with the Uchiha?” Curiosity and animosity dripped from his voice. Tobirama ignored the crystal tumbler she held out before him, his red eyes studying her face like he had studied the cut of his crystal tumbler.

“Excuse me?” Sakura thought he was being rather rude again and didn’t appreciate it.

“You’re not an Uchiha. I know you were adopted by them but you're not related to them by blood, so to me, you’re not an Uchiha...so what are you doing with them, you’re of age, why don’t you leave?” He was curious, she realized.

“Oh.” She understood now, relaxing a bit, he wasn’t speaking down to her, he just wanted to know. She supposed she was a bit of an enigma in the whole Uchiha scheme.

It wasn’t uncommon for women particularly to live at home, go to college and only move out when they married, even in this modern day, for larger older more traditional clans, like the Uchiha. However, like Tobirama said, she wasn’t an Uchiha.

“I don’t live in the compound.” She didn’t know why she was telling him, she didn’t know him, but there was something brutally honest about that man, that reminded her of Sasori.

Tobirama nodded once, then stood up. Instead of taking the tumbler from her hand he took her hand and pulled it and her up onto the stairs with him.

“I have something you should see. If you are not living in the compound and are not an Uchiha, you need to know.” He moved up the stairs with her arm in his pulling her along with him, making her stumble. If Madara refused to show her, he would. He didn’t believe in keeping people in the dark, an argument he had with his brother many times over their own family...dealings.

Sakura made several noises of protest which Tobirama ignored, stopping only when they had climbed two more flights of stairs to punch a code into a keypad. The door swung open and they stepped out of the stairwell into a dark carpeted hallway.

“Where are we?” Sakura asked, noticing only now that they were out of the stairwell did he slow his pace for her.

“The executive branch of the hospital. Our destination is a bit farther up, this way.” Tobirama moved down the hall to the right, stopping before the elevators and pressed the ‘up’ button.

“Senju San.” Sakura began but Tobirama interrupted her.

“You don’t need to worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” Tobirama told her gruffly as the doors to the elevator opened and they stepped inside.

“No, it isn’t that.” She muttered, trying to clear her head of the alcoholic fuzz. “I will be missed soon, I’ve already been gone for quite some time.”

“...and yet, no one has come to look for you, have they?” Tobirama looked down at her, his eyes serious, almost...imploring.

“Not that I know of but…” She was sure Itachi or Shisui would have looked for her by now, even Madara.

“You were gone for over fifteen minutes, between the table and the bathroom, then you went out onto the balcony off the stairs and were out there for over twenty minutes, we have been together for over 7 minutes now, that is a total of forty two minutes Sakura, and no one knows where you are right now.” He bent over, his voice low in her ear.

Sakura looked up at the white haired man, fearless...perhaps it was the whiskey...part of her brain was yelling at her to run, the other part wanted to punch this man in the face…

“Your point?” She was annoyed.

Tobirama laughed a small laugh. Her courage was admirable, attractive and incredibly foolish.

“My point is, I could have killed you a hundred times over by now, I could have hurt you in many ways, tortured you, used you, then dumped your body or given you to my men.” He told her with a cruel calm.

“I won’t, but I could have and no one would know, until they found your body, if they found your body.” He squeezed her hand and looked down into her startled eyes as the levity of his words struck her. She was far too innocent, he thought as he watched her eyes sparkle with moisture, a slightly dazed look in them.

“You seem to be completely oblivious to the dangers of being associated with a family like the Uchiha, or being an associate of the Akasuna...and now of the Senju, Sakura. Madara has neglected you and put you in harm's way by keeping you in the dark. Itachi shades you from the truth and does you no favors by protecting you from the dangers that haunt your every step, that wait for you around every corner. I am going to remedy your ignorance.” Tobirama told her, gently drawing her closer to his side and walking her through the open door into the penthouse suite he sometimes shared with his brother Hashirama.

“Oh!” Her breath escaped her lips in surprise when the door opened and she saw the beautiful flat before her. “Look at all the plants.” She smiled, letting go of Tobirama’s arm and walking forward on slightly inebriated legs toward the most beautiful flower she had ever seen.

“How very strange.” Sakura bent over to look at the flower, it was white on top with a dark purple along the bottom with what appeared to be wing like petals in a darker almost black purple with strips of the same color coming down off the buds like whiskers.

“It is called a Bat Flower. It is also poisonous.” Tobirama walked up beside her, looking down at her with interest. “Do you like plants?”

“I like unusual things, things that most people don’t like or misunderstand, I like...challenges.” Sakura swayed on her feet looking around at the other plants in the room.

“Is that why you talk to the monster without fear?” Tobirama asked her, startling her out of her perusal.

“The monster?” Sakura stood up straight and looked at Tobirama for him to elaborate.

“Sabaku.” He said moving across the open room to the wet bar, refilling his glass as well as hers.

“Gaara?” Sakura walked over to join him by the couch where he stood and took her tumbler from his hand.

“You refer to the monster by his first name?” Tobirama was surprised and wary. Was the woman that close to them already?

“He didn’t seem to mind, it was kinda an accident, it just came out honestly.” She stammered, she hadn’t realized she had called Gaara by his first name, or that Tobirama had been eavesdropping on their conversation. She had just met him, she hoped he wasn’t offended. “Gaara isn’t a monster. He’s just...misunderstood.

“Misunderstood?” Tobirama studied her face, the woman was an open book, he shook his head at Madara’s selfishness. This wasn’t an act, she wasn’t trying to deceive him, it was as he thought, she was too honest and in their world, such a virtuous trait, was a liability.

“Gaara is...I can’t explain it, but he isn’t what people think he is, he isn’t a monster, he’s gentle and kind, I can tell.” Sakura smiled, remembering their conversation on the balcony.

Tobirama snorted. “I would call you an idiot, but that isn’t it, you’re just very naive.”

“Is there a difference?” Sakura grumbled, her drink untouched in her hand, not sure if she should be offended or not.

Tobirama seemed to have a direction, a plan of some sort for bringing her up here. She wasn’t sure what his plan was but she didn’t feel threatened by him, not like that time in the parking garage, she had felt his killing intent then, a killing intent that was no longer present, not now, not here as she sat beside him on the couch.

“Of course there is. One can be fixed while the other sadly has no remedy.” Tobirama said with all due seriousness but Sakura laughed, and continued to laugh, almost upsetting her drink.

“I’m sorry.” She wiped her eyes. “I know you weren’t joking but…” She giggled.

“Your face, you’re so...so serious.” She giggled a bit more and wiped her eyes again smiling at him, her eyes sparkling with moisture.

Sakura took a drink of her whiskey and let it slide down the back of her throat appreciatively humming to herself.

Tobirama watched her close her eyes as she drank and listened to the gentle hum that she made in the back of her throat. His mouth twitched, perhaps...he shouldn’t have given her that last drink, he hadn’t realized how tipsy she was, he worried she might be too tipsy to concentrate on his words, his warnings.

“How much have you had to drink tonight?” He asked her bluntly.

“Hum? Three glasses of champagne, one whiskey before the one you gave me and this one.” She answered promptly without a single slur making his brows arch against his hairline.

“You would get along great with my cousin Tsunade.” Tobirama muttered under his breath.

“Hum?” Sakura set the glass down on the coffee table, empty, and looked at him with more than slightly unfocused eyes.

Maybe she’s not as naive as I thought, Tobirama met Sakura eye for eye as he contemplated his next move… or maybe she’s just that quick on the uptake.

“Why did you point your gun at me, over a parking spot? You totally overreacted, do you do that a lot? It seems really stupid for someone who supposedly took over all of the Senju’s criminal dealings.” Sakura leaned back into the comfortable couch, flipping her long hair over the back and turning her head to look at Tobirama.

“I totally overreacted? It seems alcohol lowers your maturity level Sakura.” Tobirama drained his glass and set it next to hers on the table, throwing his arm over the back of the couch, turning his body toward her while he drew his knee up onto the cushion. “...and loosens your tongue.”

“Perhaps...but not my intelligence.” She pointed out, raising a finger to her head and poking herself in the nose.

Tobirama laughed, out loud...something he had never done before. He cut himself off abruptly, his ears turning pink, he looked out the window to avoid her green eyes. She was adorable.

“Why are you so embarrassed that you laughed, is laughing that embarrassing for you? How strange.” Sakura tilted her head back even further looking at the ceiling. “Are those the constellations?”

Tobirama cleared his throat and looked up at the ceiling. “They are, the current ones.”

“Wow, that is really...amazing and quite unexpected to see in someone’s living room, was it your idea?” She asked him, turning her head left and right as she leaned back against the couch looking at the ceiling with great interest.

“It was.” Tobirama watched her, she was...fascinating, he could see why both Madara and Sasori were interested in the woman, she was an alluring combination of innocence and intrigue, daring and curiosity, all wrapped up in a rather pretty little package. His eyes slipped from her face down her neck and along her collar bone to her… silk covered…

“Sakura, are you in the habit of accompanying men you’ve just met up to their penthouses while drunk?” He asked her as a means to draw her into the purpose of him bringing her up here.

“I didn’t know where we were going, you didn’t tell me, and while I just met you, I didn’t just meet you today. Your Hashirama’s brother, who has been friends with Madara for ages, you wouldn’t hurt me, because Madara would kill you.” She said with confidence.

“I could have brought you up here to kill you to get back at Madara for revenge for all of the Senju he has killed over the years.” Tobirama pointed out.

“Hum.” Sakura nodded her understanding but then shook her head. “You like me, you wouldn’t kill me, there are others who you would choose over me to kill if you wished to get revenge on Madara.” She pointed out, sure of her reply.

“I like you?” Tobirama asked her, daring her to tell him why she thought such a thing, impressed with her accurate deduction of his personality, and a bit...unnerved with it as well. He prided himself on being difficult to read, but it seemed he wasn't all that difficult to understand...for her.

“Of course you do, you brought me up here to warn me didn’t you? About Madara, about Sasori?” She hummed again. “You also gave me your brother’s card when we last met, I impressed you, even though you wouldn’t admit it, you’re too...what's the word, uptight.” She ended triumphantly.

Tobirama snorted in amusement. Few people would dare to speak so openly to him, drunk or not...and he was beginning to suspect she wasn’t quite as drunk as he had originally assumed her to be...his mistake.

“Besides.” She added. “You respect me, that’s why you’re warning me.”

“It seems my efforts have been wasted then, if you’re so aware of your surroundings.” Tobirama was impressed but she was right, he would never admit it.

“Tell me what you wanted to tell me Tobirama.” Sakura raised her head and looked at him, appearing much more sober than he knew she was, but clearly not as drunk as he had thought. He smiled, a real smile at her.

He realized then, his efforts had been wasted, she knew more than she let on and it was he who had been naive. Tobirama narrowed his eyes at the woman. “Why? Why let me think that you didn’t know anything?”

“As you said, I am not an Uchiha but I wasn’t sure if you saw me as one or not. Your hatred for them is...legendary. I needed to know what kind of person you were, Tobirama. I needed to know who I could trust.” She smiled a half smile at him.

“You don’t trust me.” He said flatly, it would have been foolish of her to trust him, why was she saying it like that…

“Of course not, but I trust you more than Madara, more than Izuna and you’re more reliable than Itachi, you are honest and blunt and I appreciate that.” She sat up and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees.

“Madara used to send me books when I was younger, they weren’t just on war and tactics, chemicals and medicines. He sent me books on psychology, psychosis, mental health, it was fascinating really.” She hummed, she was still rather tipsy.

“Does he know? Does Madara know what you’re really like?” Tobirama leaned forward a bit and looked at her more closely, he could see it now, the lines of what he thought were worry, were strain, stress and from lack of sleep. She wasn’t as naive as he thought...as Madara thought. Did Sasori know, he wondered.

“You’ve been analyzing me this whole time.” He glared at her. He had been duped, a feat few could claim success in accomplishing. He scowled...this woman was much more dangerous than he had originally thought, much more of a threat than Madara realized...he had to have her on his side. A war was coming, he could feel it in the air. Alliances were going to change...she wasn’t an Uchiha...

“Aww, don’t be upset Tobirama, at least you don’t have to worry that I am oblivious anymore. I’m a quick study.” She assured him playfully, touching him lightly on the arm.

“What do you mean?” He asked her, his annoyance growing by leaps and bounds.

“Madara has only been back to Konoha for a little over a week now and I have learned more about the criminal underworld in that time, than I did for the first 23 years of my life, just by watching, and listening.” She sighed. “It helps when everyone around you underestimates you.”

“I’m not stupid. I heard the conversations growing up in the compound, saw the blood on Itachi and Shisui’s sleeves, followed them to some of their...jobs.” Sakura swallowed. “I know what it is they do, what you do.”

“Seeing it in flashes, in pieces of conversation isn’t the same as seeing it first hand, of being an actual part of it, Sakura.” He scolded her. Clearly they had left formalities and titles behind them now.

“Is that what you brought me up here to see? You wanted to show me first hand?” She asked him curiously. “Why would you care?”

“Come.” Tobirama rose to his feet and held his hand out to her, ignoring her question. Sakura looked up at him, licked her lips and placed her hand in his.

No turning back now, she told herself, this is what she had wanted right? He was offering her more honesty than Itachi or Madara ever had, she wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass her by.

“I used my private security instead of the regular security for the event this evening when I found out Sasori of the Red Sand had paid a million dollars to ensure he had a table at the event. Normally, even with Madara attending I would have had maybe one team, possibly two, however one can not be too careful with Sasori, something you would do well to remember.” Tobirama looked down at her with a measured eye as they walked down the long corridor, almost to the end of the penthouse.

Sakura nodded.

“This is my safe room, for emergencies, prisoners, or traitors.” He waved a hand at the door and a man stepped out of the shadows startling Sakura, she hadn’t even realized he was there.

“How is he?” Tobirama’s voice changed into a strict commanding gruffness. Sakura looked up at him, did they all do that? She had seen Sasori do it earlier that evening, had seen Madara do it countless times, even Itachi did it. Did they all have two personalities? Could she? Didn’t she already?

“Awake sir, we didn’t expect you until after the hospital charity.” The man’s eyes passed quickly over Sakura, then back to Tobirama. “He is restrained, and just as you left him Sir.”

Tobirama nodded. “Open the door.”

Sakura took a deep breath, this is what she wanted wasn’t it? To know what it was really like, to see for herself if she...belonged in their world? Tobirama ushered her into the dim room with a hand to her bare back. Sakura stepped over the threshold, into the abyss.

Chapter Text

“She’s been gone for quite some time.” Shisui watched the corner of his cousin’s eye twitch as they sat at their dinner table, ignoring the pointed looks from both of the redheads. Itachi and Madara had both gone to look for Sakura and they had both come back empty handed. Shisui personally wasn’t too worried, Sakura tended to do things like this sometimes, but she would always pop back up.

“Hn.” Itachi acknowledged his cousin, his eyes trained on the doorway to the ladies room.

“She wasn’t in the bathroom?” Shisui asked quietly.

“No.” Itachi grimaced.

Sasori narrowed his eyes at his nephew who nodded. “Hmm.”

“Obito?” Shisui suggested, just trying to keep the conversation going.

“She hasn’t left the building Shisui.” Itachi muttered out of the corner of his mouth, clearly not interested in small talk, he knew what his cousin was trying to do.

Shisui looked around the room. Madara had his eyes trained on another entrance to the hall, he didn’t know where Sakura was either. Shisui sighed, when they got fixated on something they never let it go.

“I wouldn’t worry, Itachi. You know she’s always been like this.” Shisui tried to reassure his cousin.

Sasori’s eyes moved to the brown haired Uchiha with interest.

“We aren’t kids anymore Shisui, and this isn’t the forest within the compound. I’m more concerned of snakes that walk on two legs than what trouble she might get into on her own.” Itachi was worried. He knew she did things like this sometimes, and depending on how ‘emotional’ she was, depended on how much danger or trouble she got into.

‘Snakes that walk on two legs’, Sasori didn’t like the sound of that, that could only mean...

“Sakura isn’t an idiot, come on, have a little faith in our girl. I mean it's not like it was going to be a big surprise or anything right?” Shisui linked his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his seat, a grin on his face.

Itachi tore his eyes from the exit to look at his cousin and sighed. “Perhaps you’re right.”

Sasori snorted internally and continued to watch the Uchiha cousins with interest. Itachi was smart, but he was no Madara. It was clear Itachi preferred diplomacy over bloodshed. Sasori would use that to his advantage. The younger Uchiha was more open to an alliance, it was clear to Sasori he wanted peace...peace...under the right circumstances, could be even more brutal and bloody than war. Did Itachi know that though…

The door closed behind her with a subtle snap, making her turn quickly to look behind her but Tobirama’s large palm pushed her forward into the dim room. Sakura could hear a hitched, ragged sort of breathing coming from the center of the room.

Sakura squinted her eyes, there was a man tied down to a raised cot in the middle of the room, the only light directly above him casting a very limited shadow of just a few feet.

“If you stand just outside of the light, he will not see you. Wait here and see, see what kind of world the Uchiha have been trying to protect you from. A world that sees you as nothing more than a target by association.” Tobirama whispered into her ear, his breath hot against her skin, his fingers trailing across the bare skin of her back as he stepped away from her, into the light.

“Sano, tell me who you’re working for. Who paid you to take the girl?” Tobirama’s voice was cold and deep, as he got directly to the point. There was an edge to it that Sakura hadn’t heard before in their brief acquaintance. He was the man they said he was, the head of the Senju syndicate.

“Do you think I would betray the family just ...for ...money?” The man bit out a harsh laugh, a mocking laugh.

“I didn’t think you would betray the family at all.” Tobirama said quietly, his voice laced with disappointment.

Silence. A cough.

“I had to Tobirama, you ...don’t ...understand.” Sano said, his voice full of...resentment?

“Then tell me. I would like to know why one of my most trusted men would not only betray me, but betray me in a most heinous and foul way. What is the girl to Orochimaru? Why would he want Sakura Haruno?” Tobirama asked, his voice light as though he had never met Sakura before, as if she wasn’t standing in the shadows ten feet away from them.

Sakura barely contained her gasp. Who was Orochimaru, and yes, why the hell did he want her of all people, she was no one. Her heart began to race, but not in fear. Is this what he had meant, Sasori...that she was already a part of it...did he know?

“Do you think he would tell me? As if I were that important...I don’t know what he wants with the girl but I can guess. The Uchiha adopted her, that alone... puts a target on her back. You’ve been following her for years yourself, do you think you would be the only ...one?” A grave humorless laugh, moist and mixed with fluid, blood no doubt. The smell was strong in the small room.

“I make it my point to watch all of my known enemies and more than a few suspected ones.” Tobirama leaned over the man, looking him in the eye. “You’re not telling me everything.”

Tobirama walked out of the light to the darkened corner opposite of Sakura and pulled a small medical table to the bed, the sterilized instruments were neatly lined up in a row, gleaming in the low light. Sakura licked her lips, did she want to see this...yes, she did. She had to.

Without any sympathy for her presence in the room, Tobirama picked up a large scalpel of an odd design and ripped it across the man’s chest in one powerful swipe. There was no blood, much to Sakura’s surprise. Tobirama had skillfully cut the man’s shirt off, nothing more.

“Sano, I do not want to do this, but I need answers. If you tell me what I want to know...your wife and daughter...will live. They will be cast out of the family, out of polite society, but they will live. You have my word.” Tobirama looked down at the man as a nervous tongue darted out from wet bloodied chapped lips. A quick jerking of the head...compliance.

Tobirama nodded once, set the instrument back on the table and wheeled it back to the corner of the room. With his face hidden in the shadows, Sakura thought he looked...relieved.

“Start from the beginning.” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at the man Sano as he began to speak, his voice cracked and stuttering.

“Her, her parents, they owed Orochimaru money, a lot ...of money. He was going to take the girl as payment, the father, he told him he could have the child to pay for their debt...he knew that Orochimaru liked...little girls.” Sano swallowed hard when Tobirama growled in disgust.

Sakura’s eyes widened, her mouth was too dry, she felt sick...

“At the last minute though, he chickened out, he told Orochimaru that he couldn’t have the girl, that he would rather see the man in hell. Quite a pair that man had, to stand up to Orochimaru like that but well, you know what happened. Orochimaru had her parents killed and when he went to collect the girl...well...she was already at the Uchiha compound wasn’t she?” Sano laughed, then choked weakly.

“He didn’t like that. Orochimaru tried a few more times over the years to get to the girl but those fucking Uchiha, man, they never let the girl out of their sight did they? Well, she’s moved out now isn’t she? He still wants her.” Sano’s breathing increased, sweat beaded his forehead.

“...and how, Sano, did he come to employ you, why did you turn your back on our family for a man who wanted a girl that was of no consequence to us, an Uchiha?” Tobirama demanded.

Sakura clenched her fists. She was beginning to understand now, why the Uchiha had acted how they had but...in her eyes, they had no right to keep this from her. They had to have known, with everything she had seen and heard over the years she knew exactly how well informed Madara was, he had to have known...

“Well, she isn’t an Uchiha I just told you, but she is friends with that Uzumaki boy, you know the one, Minato’s son. He wanted to use the girl to get to the boy. He thought if he had the girl, the Uchiha might hand over the boy, seeing as their heir has it in mind to marry the girl.”

Tobirama stiffened. “Itachi Uchiha?”

Sano nodded, then coughed, a fine spray of blood escaped his lips misting the air.

“That doesn’t explain why you betrayed me.” Tobirama continued ignoring the suffering of the man before him.

“Kushina was my cousin Tobirama, you know that...I thought...I thought if I was on the inside, if I was in on the plan that...I could rescue them somehow...I betrayed the family, for the family...just not the main fucking branch!” Sano spit out at Tobirama with vehemence.

“You should have come to me Sano. You should have told me, I could have helped you, but now...now there is no help for you.” Tobirama rose and rapped his knuckles against the wall behind him.

Even from a distance and in the dim lighting Sakura saw the look of genuine regret on the white haired man’s face. It was brief, but it had been there and she began to understand a little more about yet another man, who was now in her life.

The door that he and Sakura had come through earlier opened. The man that had let them into the room earlier bowed low to Tobirama. “Yes Sir?”

“Sano is to die, no mercy. His family however, are not to be touched. Relocate his wife and daughter tonight, after he has been disposed of. Give them…” Tobirama pulled a knife from his pocket, flicked it open by the edge and cut off a lock of Sano’s hair. “Give them this, to remember him by.”

“Yes Sir.” The nameless Senju bowed low again as Tobirama walked across the room, folding his knife back and sliding it into his pocket, took Sakura by the arm and led her back out of the room.

Before the door could click shut behind them, she heard the screaming start, but as the door shut and the automatic lock was reset, not even a whimper found its way to her ears.

Tobirama led Sakura back out into the living room where they had been sitting together before. He motioned her toward the couch and went to pour each of them another glass of whiskey. He sat down beside her on the couch once again, turning toward her, relaxed, watching her eyes.

Sakura took the glass from Tobirama’s hand and downed it, stopping only to lick her lips and place the tumbler with an unsteady hand on the table before them. “You knew.” Her voice trembled.

“So did Madara.” Tobirama nodded, his eyes still focused on the woman, the glass untouched in his hand.

“Itachi?” Sakura swallowed, her eyes on the table, the glass, but not the man next to her. There was a steady pain growing in her chest. She felt...she felt...

“Yes.” Tobirama confirmed what she had already begun to suspect.

“,,,and Sasori, do you know if Sasori…” Sakura licked her lips before they could start to quiver.

“I do not know, that is something you would have to ask him.” He lifted his hand to brush back the hair that had slipped from over her shoulder to fall against the side of her face, his fingers slid down her cheek, the tips resting against her pulse. Sakura closed her eyes and stilled her breath.

“You deserved to know exactly how much a part of this world you are, already were and have been for quite some time.” Tobirama could see her mind working to process everything she had seen and heard.

“The blood doesn’t bother me but the other....” Her voice was hard...she was...infuriated. “How could they...not tell me this…” It wasn’t a question.

“Control, protection...I don’t know. What will you do now Sakura? Now that you know.” He asked her curiously, his fingers tracing little circles at the base of her neck, the blood never bothered him either. She was angry, her eyes flashed as she turned to look at him.

“You’ve been watching me, but you acted like you didn’t know me in the parking garage.” Sakura narrowed her eyes at the man in accusation.

Her moods shift like water, unpredictable this one, he thought.

“I had you followed every now and then. You were a potential risk. I personally, never followed you and didn’t know what you looked like. I was to be notified if anything suspicious happened around you...by Sano…” His hand fell from her neck to land on his leg as he continued to watch the emotions change and move over her face with an analytical eye.

“The man hired by this Orochimaru to...abduct me, was watching me…” She understood now, how much danger she had been in over the years, completely ignorant because...because...no one saw fit to...tell her any of this.

“He didn’t tell me that Akasuna had made contact with you. I found out from one of my other men who had been watching Madara since his return...I knew something was very wrong and looked into it.” Tobirama picked up their glasses and set them in the minibar sink.

Sakura nodded. She felt sick and it wasn’t from the alcohol. She couldn’t think, she knew part of that was from the alcohol. “Thank you Tobirama, for...for telling me, for allowing me to be there.”

She was in a bit of shock, he could see that, but she was handling it amazingly well he thought. No hysterics, no screaming or crying…yet.

“You’re in a rather unique and dangerous position Sakura. Very soon, you’re going to need to pick a side.” He chose his words carefully.

Sakura laughed. “Am I?” Her eyes rose to meet his, her chin up, her head held up proudly. She wasn’t a fool, she understood why he had shown her what he had, why he wanted to be the one to ‘liberate’ her.

Tobirama was walking a fine line and he knew it. He could see the fire in her eyes, it burned bright, but this wasn’t the first line he had crossed, and he had already decided before taking her into his private room...that she was well worth the risk. “Yes.”

“We’ll see about that.” Sakura rose from her seat and bowed correctly. “I find myself...wishing to retire. I’ll be going home now Tobirama, thank you.”

“Of course.” Tobirama rose, motioning toward the elevator doors.

Their walk back to the hall was a silent one. He seemed to know she needed to compose herself before entering the hall, and his mind was already racing with new possibilities that could or would stem from tonight.

“Sakura, have you thought about what you will do concerning the internship, now that you realize it is more than just a college credit?” He asked her when the elevator opened into the executive offices and they stepped out into the stairwell together.

“No, considering the possible ramifications of my choice, I want to think about it some more.” She told him honestly, tripping only slightly as she walked down the steps beside him.

He caught her arm to keep her from falling, drawing her up against his chest at the next landing. “I didn’t show you that to scare you.” He told her.

“I know Tobirama. I did thank you, you know.” She pushed away from him, stumbling only slightly, the tension that had built up before falling around them.

He let her stand on her own, it was clear she no longer wanted his assistance, if she had ever really needed it in the first place. With a quick nod and a forced smile she pulled the door to the main hall open and left him standing in the stairwell alone.

Sasori saw her first. Her pink hair gathered at the end and slung over her shoulder, swung back and forth like a pendulum across her lower back. The Uchiha was on his feet as soon as he saw her,and moving toward her fast. Idiot, Sasori thought, you never poke an enraged tiger and any fool could see, Sakura was clearly enraged.

Sakura narrowed her eyes at Madara’s approach. She didn’t want to speak to him right now, she didn’t want to cause a scene. Stepping to the side and into the dinner tables she crossed diagonally through the room toward Shisui and Itachi, who had also seen her enter the room and knew her well enough to let her...come to them.

Itachi rose to pull back her chair for her as she approached, but instead of sitting down like he thought she would she stopped directly in front of him, her hands on her hips.

“Why didn’t you tell me Itachi?” She demanded.

“Tell you what?” Itachi asked slowly...this wasn’t good.

“You know what, or is there so much that you’ve kept from me over the years that you’re not sure which lie or secret I am referring to?” She looked like she was about to cry, or hit him, he wasn’t sure which.

She was still a little drunk, thanks to Tobirama and she felt betrayed, she thought out of all the Uchiha, Itachi was the one she could trust the most, did trust the most. She realized belatedly that this wasn’t the best time for this discussion as Madara walked up to stand beside her.

“Never mind. I want to go home.” She looked at him expectantly.

“Sakura, perhaps we could go in the hallway. I’m sure whatever is bothering you, there is a simple explanation.” Itachi reached out to take her hand but she took a quick step back, stumbling only slightly...perhaps she was a bit more intoxicated than she had thought.

“Damn it Tobirama.” She muttered under her breath making Madara narrow his eyes.

“Tobirama?” Madara asked suspiciously.

Sakura ignored Madara, her eyes locked on Itachi. “I want to go home, my home.”

“I’ll tell Obito to pull around the front dear. Obito will drive you home, perhaps I should accompany you…” Madara moved to escort her from the room but she took a step back from him, like she had done with Itachi.

“No. I don’t want...I mean, I want to be alone.” Sakura turned on her heel and walked slowly out of the hall, down the steps to the main foyer.

“Wait here.” Itachi told his cousin, ignoring Madara, and walked out of the room after the pink haired hellion.

Sasori shared a quiet look with his nephew who rose to find his brother among the stools of the bar. They...were leaving as well. Sasori pulled his phone out from his pocket to tell Temari to meet them out front.

Sakura tapped her foot on the marble tile of the main foyer to the hospital looking through the glass for Obito. Her hands came up to her eyes, batting away the tears of frustration that she simply wasn’t able to hold back anymore. She didn’t want to cry, not here, not in front of them, not in front of Sasori and Tobirama and who knew who else

She just wanted to go home, strip out of this dress that didn’t even belong to her and crawl into bed where she felt safe. Sakura let out a strangled sigh as she heard Itachi’s footsteps behind her.

“Sakura, please, tell me what happened, where were you, we were worried about you?” .Itachi reached out to her slowly, taking her hand in his and pulling her closer to him.

“You lied to me, all of you, for years, you’ve been lying to me.” She looked up at him, angry tears spilling down her face.

“Where were you Sakura?” Itachi asked her again.

“It doesn’t matter where I was or who I was with. What matters is I know now, I saw and I heard the truth. I know about my parents! I know why they really died, that they were killed! I know that you and your entire family have been keeping the truth from me all this time!” Her hand shot up from in between their bodies and slapped him hard across the face.

“I trusted you, all of you but I trusted you the most!” Sakura pushed Itachi away and ran down the steps and out the front door where a limo had pulled up.

Sasori opened the door to his limo, startling Sakura, she had been expecting Obito.

“Allow me to drive you home Sakura, we were just leaving, and your apartment is on the way to my estate, it wouldn’t be any trouble.” Sasori stepped out of his limo and motioned for her to get in with a graceful hand.

Sakura looked back at Itachi who had come out of the building and was running down the steps toward her.

“Fine.” Sakura took Sasori’s hand and allowed him to help her into his limo.

Sasori turned, smirked at the Uchiha and shut the door behind them.

Chapter Text

Sasori shut the door behind him and sat down on the padded black suede beside Sakura, across from his nephews. Kankuro was wisely looking away and out the window, Gaara watched the woman with a dazed sort of interest that Sasori wasn’t sure he liked, but Gaara nodded to him, and his eyes left Sakura for the window, like Kankuro.

Satisfied, Sasori opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by Sakura before he could even take the breath required to do so.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m sorry, thank you for driving me home but I don’t even know what to think right now.” Sakura looked up from where she had been staring at her hands to give Sasori an apologetic half smile.

“We cannot always oblige, but we can always speak obligingly.” Sasori quoted, making Sakura smile...which was of course his intention.

“Back to that are we?” She shook her head and smiled at the redhead beside her. When had her life become so...so….

“All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women.” Sakura smiled at the light she saw flare up in Sasori’s eyes when she quoted Voltaire back to him. It was...like their own private means of communication.

“I would think it would depend on the woman.” Sasori smirked at her, his eyes fixated on her mouth.

“Hum, I suppose.” Sakura looked out the window of the limo, they were almost to her apartment. She was relieved, she just wanted this night to be over with.

“Thank you for the ride home Sasori.” Sakura reached for the handle on the door beside her, nodding to both Kankuro and Gaara not even minding that no one had bothered to introduce her to the dark haired man next to Gaara so wrapped up in her own head as she was.

“It was my pleasure Sakura. Allow me to walk you to your door.” Sasori got out of the limo behind her, lacing her fingers with his and walked her to her up her stairs to her apartment.

“Get some rest. I’ll not pretend to know what may have happened between you and the Uchiha this evening but...call me if you need anything.” Sasori took a card from his suit pocket and handed it to her. “My personal number is on the back, call any time...for anything.”

Sakura had expected him to follow her into her apartment, but he bowed simply with a small smirk as though he knew her thoughts, and walked back down the stairs, his limo leaving only after she had unlocked her door and closed it behind her.

Itachi stood on the steps of the hospital and watched the limo drive away, he watched as Obito pulled Madara’s limo up to the curb and roll down the window.

“Where’s Sakura?” Obito barked out looking around.

“She just left. With Akasuna.” Itachi turned abruptly and walked back up the steps leaving Obito to sputter alone.

Damn it, Sakura, this was no time to be reckless, Itachi’s fingers twitched almost uncontrollably at his side as he walked back into the hall and headed straight for his cousin and Madara.

“Sakura just left with Akasuna. Shisui, go, make sure she got home okay. Madara, I know you want to go see her but as long as she is home, she is safe. I think it best if we leave her alone for now.” Itachi turned and was about to walk away but Madara reached out and stopped him with his arm.

“Safe?” Madara asked his nephew. “You let that man take her home and think she’s safe?”

“Do you really think I would have pushed for you to let her move out of the compound unprotected?” Itachi met his Uncle’s eyes.

“No, which is why I never brought it up, but considering her present company...who Itachi, who did you place in the building with her?” Madara asked quietly, ‘and how come my spies never told me about it’, he grit his teeth.

“Hatake, who else?” Itachi nodded to his Uncle and walked away, toward Izuna who was watching them from the bar.

“Kakashi...who else.” A grimace curved his lips, not quite a snarl but not a smile either.

“I hate that dog, of course you would place him there with her, Itachi.” Madara almost laughed. It was then he realized, his nephew had been making his own plans concerning the girl...for years without his notice, right under his nose.

“Is everything alright Madara?” Hashirama asked his friend once he returned to the front table to join him and his brother for drinks. Like Tobirama, he had seen Sakura leave, had seen Itachi follow her only to return alone, and not two minutes later Shisui leaves...but not before Akasuna and his nephews.

“Sakura wasn’t feeling well, Akasuna took her home.” Madara said coolly, his eyes on Tobirama.

“Akasuna?” Tobirama asked thoughtfully, but clearly not at all surprised by the news.

“Did you tell Sakura something Tobirama, she mentioned your name.” Madara leaned forward to look at Tobirama, across his brother.

“I gave her a taste of our signature whiskey, and made small talk with her.” Tobirama offered.

“You did?” Hashirama was surprised. Tobirama hardly ever instigated drinks with anyone that he didn’t have to.

“Sakura is an interesting woman, our conversation may have started on the stairwell but it ended in the penthouse.” Tobirama met Madara stare for stare. “I didn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know.”

Madara’s pulse jumped at the younger man’s insinuation as he reached for his tumbler. “It was not your place to tell her anything...Senju.” Tobirama could feel the man’s hatred rolling off of him.

“As I said, I didn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know. You have underestimated her Madara.” Tobirama rose from his seat and left the table, he had no desire to exchange pointless hostilities with the man.

“Madara, I’m sorry for Tobi, I don’t know what’s gotten into him.” Hashirama watched his brother leave the room and turned his attention back to his friend who was acting odd, if not more so than his brother. Something had happened, something he had missed. He would need to speak with his brother...why had Tobirama taken Sakura up to their penthouse, he never took anyone up to their penthouse.

In a low voice that could only be heard between the two old friends and their glasses of whiskey, Madara sighed, “I knew it wouldn’t be so easy to retire, if at all.”

Hashirama grinned. “You’re not dead yet man, have faith.”...and slapped his friend hard on the back smiling widely trying to lighten the mood.

Madara groaned, lifting his glass to his lips and drained it.

Sakura looked up from her couch where she had been reading and drinking a hot cup of tea, trying to rid herself of her alcoholic haze before going to bed, when there was a knock on her door. Checking the time on her phone she frowned. 1 am, who the hell would be knocking on her door at 1 am…

Rising from the couch she checked the peephole in her door. Shisui stood outside, his hand ruffling the hair behind his head as he waited. So, Itachi had sent his cousin hum...no doubt making sure she hadn’t gone home with Sasori or been kidnapped, shot or maimed by anyone else on the way home.

Sakura opened her door. “Itachi sent you?” She already knew the answer, she wasn’t going to give Shisui a hard time...unless he made her.

“He just wanted to make sure you got home okay, that’s all Sakura.” Shisui looked her over. “I can see you’re already heading to bed. I won’t bother you. I’ll be over in the morning okay?”

That’s right, Itachi had asked Shisui to stay with her while he was gone to Oto. “Okay, night Shisui, thanks for checking on me.” She smiled to herself as she closed the door.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought...she paused in her steps back to her couch, no...it was, they had lied to her, kept things from her that were her right to know, that she should know...if only to know what her life would have been like without them, would be like if she were careless...did they not trust her?

She frowned. Did they think she would...run away or...that she wouldn’t understand? Maybe it was okay they didn’t tell her right away, when she was younger, but now? She was twenty three years old now...they couldn’t have told her when she had turned eighteen or any time in between then and now...Sakura shook her head. She didn’t want to think about it now, she was too tired, too...shocked still, she had too many questions and not enough answers.

Sakura picked up the book she had been reading. It was one she had received in the mail, one she had assumed Madara had given her but...now with this new information...was it only Madara who had been sending her things?

Apparently more people than just Madara had been watching her over the years...She went to her room and pulled the pajamas out from under her pillow, the pajamas she had been gifted by whom she thought was Madara, but never really quite made sense to her or fit the other gifts that were clearly from him.

Slowly, she began to gather things around her apartment and carried them into the living room, separating them into two different piles. One pile of things that were clearly from Madara and another with things she didn’t think were from him but didn’t know where they had come from.

Amber eyes flickered over the screens in front of him. He had meant to only check in on her, to make sure she was staying home and that no one was joining her unexpectedly. As expected the Uchiha had sent someone to make sure she had gotten home safely and that he hadn’t stayed with her or forced her back to his estate with him. He scoffed mildly at the idea. He wasn’t so foolish to force his hand and ruin all of his hard work...not like Madara.

Sasori loosened his tie from around his neck and pulled it from his head, folded it and set it on his dresser as he continued to watch her. Slowly he undressed, setting his suit aside for cotton sleeping pants that tied at the waist comfortably.

At first he hadn’t understood what she was doing, gathering things from around her apartment. For a moment he had thought she was leaving, running away which seemed extreme but understandable in this situation...he had never thought of her as a coward though, and cowards ran.

As he watched her he noticed that she was making two separate piles. Sasori sat on the end of his bed and continued to watch Sakura move back and forth, back and forth in her apartment the piles on each side of the living room growing little by little.

Then he realized, everything he had ever sent her...was on one side of the room, none of the things he had given her were on the other side of the room in the opposite pile. Interesting…

Sakura picked up two books, one on mathematics, the other on herbs from Suna. Licking her bottom lip, then biting it between her front teeth she hovered between the piles. She set the mathematics book on the pile of things Madara had given her and then with only a slight pause set the Suna herbal on the other pile. Sitting back on her couch she looked from one pile to the other. The pile of things she was sure Madara had sent her was larger, but the pile of ‘unknown’, wasn’t small, and it had more...rare items in it, such as the herbal from Suna.

Suna…

Sakura shook her head. It was a start at least. She drained the rest of her tea from her cup and set it in her kitchen sink. With one last look at the two piles she turned the light off and crawled into bed for the night. She’d figure it out in the morning, when she had a clear head and a good night’s sleep. Turning over, she pulled her soft fluffy comforter up and around her shoulders and closed her eyes.

Sasori settled back into his own bed, pleased that Sakura was in her own apartment, where he could watch her again. He hadn’t slept well last night without her. As he pulled his own blanket up around him, his eyes wandered back to the living room camera, again, wondering what it was the woman was up to. Clearly she wasn’t packing for a trip, but he could see a method to this visual madness...she was...looking for something, a trend, a sign...something.

Sasori relaxed under the soft sounds of Sakura’s breathing, the stress of the last twenty four hours slowly seeping from his muscles. Like her, he would figure it out in the morning.

Gaara lay on his side, his phone propped up against a pillow on the other side of his large bed, the image of Sakura displayed in the soft reduced light on his phone. With the sound turned low enough that the audio receivers in his room couldn’t hear and the phone hidden by the bulk of the pillow, he watched her sleep. Just barely he could hear her soft breathing, he closed his eyes briefly concentrating on his own breathing until it matched hers.

It was almost like she was there, beside him...and now thanks to the event they had attended he had gotten to...

He had gotten to see her, talk to her and touch her tonight. His eyes softened as he watched her roll onto her back, her right arm flung wide, her hair messed and splayed over her pillow shining in the moonlight that filtered in through her bedroom window. She had been even more beautiful in person than he had hoped she would be. Her skin had been softer than any he had ever cut his knife into before and her eyes...they hadn’t looked at him in fear, but in...understanding, acceptance...friendship.

...and she had let him touch her face...without drawing back, without screaming or crying or...looking at him in fear. She hadn’t rejected him, ran from him or called him names. She wasn’t crying when she looked at him and when he looked at her. He had never been so close to a woman before without them...looking at him in fear and loathing, with disgust and terror...it was...nice.

Gaara knew she hadn’t known he was going to touch her face, he hadn’t known he was going to touch her until his hand had already started to rise, until his fingers had already touched her pale skin...and she had leaned into his touch.

Thinking back over their conversation yet again that night he realized her eyes had been, slightly out of focus when she had looked at him, that they had been...slightly dilated, the black a little blacker and the green a little thinner albeit not less brilliant.. At first he had though it the drinks she had consumed, she had quite a few before venturing out onto the balcony but...it wasn’t that

It was almost as if she were being hypnotized by the deep gentle hum of his voice. That is, if he were to guess...

A smile curved his lips. He wanted to see her again, he wanted to test his hypothesis, but more than anything, he wanted to touch her again. He swallowed as Sakura moaned softly in her sleep, the figure on camera in his phone turned over again in her bed. She was so much more real to him now that he had met her, talked to her and had felt her skin under his fingers. He wanted her to moan for him some more.

“How could you possibly think that was a good idea Itachi…” Madara was trying to maintain control but now that they were home and out of the public eye he was finding it harder and harder to keep the anger from his tone as he looked at his nephew.

“You don’t know Sakura as well as you seem to think you do Uncle. If I had tried to stop her, if I had grabbed her or kept her from getting into Akasuna’s car, it would have been much worse for the family. It might have pushed her into never speaking with us again.” Itachi looked down at his phone and read the text from Shisui.

“As it stands, she is understandably angry, she feels betrayed but...she is still talking to us, or at least one of us right now. Shisui says she is home, safe, and he will return to check on her in the morning.” Itachi slid his phone back into his pocket and gave his Uncle a cold stare.

“This is salvageable, but not if she feels like she can’t trust us anymore than she already does. Maybe Shisui can find out what happened while I’m gone.” Itachi rolled his shoulders, this was already too stressful.

Madara understood what Itachi was saying, he was telling him without telling him to leave Sakura alone while he was in Oto, but Madara had other plans. Admittedly, he might not know the woman as well as Itachi or Shisui but he knew things about her that they didn’t as well, like how soothing and calming his voice was to her...and how he was going to use it to find out exactly what happened between Sakura and Tobirama as soon as Itachi was in Oto.

Itachi could give out all of the subtle warnings he wanted, the mantle hadn’t been passed to him completely, not yet.

Sasuke and Naruto crept back down the hall, away from the living room where Itachi and Madara had been talking. Once the door to Sasuke’s room was shut Naruto immediately started talking in a hushed voice.

“What do you think that was about, why is Sakura mad at the Uchiha, and why will she only talk to Shisui?” Naruto’s eyes were round with interest.

“I don’t know. I know as much as you remember? Shisui is going over there in the morning to check on her, it’s Saturday, she’ll be home so we can go check on her, maybe she’ll tell us, we’re her best friends.” Sasuke rubbed his chin.

What happened to make Sakura lose her trust in his family, they had all grown up together, it had only seemed natural to adopt her when her parents had died, she was already basically part of the family at that point...the adoption only made it official.

“Whatever it was, it must be something terrible, do you think um, that it has something to do with Madara returning? I mean, you see the way he looks at her right Sasuke?” Naruto frowned at his friend.

“Yeah, I do. I already mentioned it to mom but she told me not to worry about it, that Itachi would take care of it but I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like he is, or that he can.” Sasuke said seriously.

Naruto nodded. “We’ll just have to talk to Sakura then right, tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” Sasuke nodded.

The two friends sat on Sasuke’s bed in silence. Something had happened and like usual, no one was telling them about it. When they were kids they used to make a game of it, with Sakura. Sometimes they would crawl out of Sakura’s room, because it was the closest room to the living room, and hide behind the couch and listen to Itachi while he spoke on the phone to Madara. Sometimes they would listen to Shisui and Itachi through the window of the guest house in the summer when they didn’t think anyone was home or near the guest house to overhear.

...and sometimes, they would just be in the right place at the right time and have the good sense to shut up and eavesdrop, like tonight.

Something had happened to Sakura...they weren’t kids anymore, they would just ask her what had happened at the charity event...and do what they always did, take care of it, together.

Chapter Text

Tobirama sighed, for the second time since his brother had joined him in their penthouse above the hospital that their family owned. He wished the man would just come out with it and be done. It was obviously bothering him enough for Hashirama to hover around the living room, and it was touchy enough of a subject that his brother had not exploded in a cascade of thoughtless words the moment the doors to the elevator had opened up into their suite.

Clearly, his brother knew something about Madara and the woman that he wasn’t sure he should mention to him.

“Tobi.” Hashirama sat down on the couch beside his brother, a worried expression on his face.

‘Finally’, Tobirama marked his place in his book with his thumb and turned to look at Hashirama. “Yes?”

“Why did you bring Sakura up to the penthouse, you had to have known how inappropriate that was, in the middle of a function too.” Hashirama looked at his brother with wide imploring brown eyes.

“Inappropriate? What do you think I did with her?” Tobirama wasn’t amused, his brother always did this, jumped to conclusions, made assumptions, it was the main reason that he, Tobirama, was in charge of the Senju syndicate and not Hashirama.

“Well, Madara seems to think that well, ah you and her might have…” Hashirama blushed like a girl.

“We didn’t have sex. I simply helped show her the world that she didn’t realize she was a part of. One Madara tried to hide from her.” Tobirama lifted his book back up and opened it to the page where he had left off.

“You mean…” Hashirama asked.

“Yes.” Tobirama nodded. “I had her watch while I dealt with...a complication.”

Hashirama gasped. “No wonder she was upset! Tobirama how could you do such a thing!”

“You misunderstand, it wasn’t bloody and it was directly linked to her, it was her right to know the truth. The truth that the Uchiha have been keeping from her for years, about her parents and that man, Orochimaru.” Tobirama rose from the couch, book in hand. “Leave it be, Madara can get as pissed as he likes, he only has himself to blame if this all blows up in his face.”

Hashirama watched his brother for a moment. “He says he loves her.”

“Madara only loves himself, he doesn't know what love is.” Tobirama snapped back not quite sure why it upset him to hear that Madara claimed to love...Sakura. The man might claim he loves her but Tobirama isn’t fooled. Hashirama was such a bleeding heart.

“...and you Tobi? Do you know what love is?” Hashirama asked him quietly as he walked out of the room toward his bedroom.

“No.” Tobirama muttered. “...but I know it isn’t that.”

It was her day off, she didn’t have classes, she had planned to sleep in and get some much needed rest after last night. Whoever was banging on her door at this hour was going to regret it. With a strangled cry of both anger and frustration Sakura threw back the covers of her bed, stomped to the door without even looking through her peephole to see who it was, and froze.

“Ga Gaara?” Sakura stuttered, her face flushing, realizing only belatedly that she was still in her pajamas.

“My Uncle wishes to invite you to dinner tomorrow evening if you are available.” Gaara said without greeting, without blinking at her state of undress.

“Tomorrow um, well...I suppose I could.” Sakura hummed to herself. She was upset at the Uchiha, not Sasori, maybe it would be good to get to know other people a little better and perhaps seeing him again would help her decide what she wanted to do in the future.

Sasori, like Tobirama, was part of ‘that world’, but he had made a point to tell her that all of his businesses in Konoha were legitimate...maybe he was her best option. Like Tobirama, Sasori was much more straightforward with her, perhaps she could…

“Oh Gaara, I’m so sorry.” Sakura realized she hadn’t answered him or invited him into her apartment yet. “Please, come in.”

Without a word Gaara took one measured step into her apartment.

“I’ll make some tea.” Sakura moved to the kitchen, grabbing a sweatshirt from the back of the couch on the way and pulling it on over her head. Maybe she should slip back into her room and throw some real clothes on.

As if he could read her mind, Gaara spoke in his usual deep calming tone. “I can not stay, I apologize. My Uncle only wished me to offer his invitation and to wait for your answer.” Gaara bowed shallowly, but not rudely, just...more casually than she would normally expect from someone like him.

“Then yes, um, I could come over for dinner, what time and where is his house?” Sakura set the mug down that she had pulled out of her cabinet and walked over to the coffee table to get a pen and paper.

“Temari will pick you up at six pm tomorrow evening and drive you to the estate, there is no need to drive yourself.” Gaara bowed again and moved to the door.

“Temari?” Sakura asked following behind him.

“My sister, my Uncle’s driver.” Gaara’s eyes passed over her, setting on her eyes.

“Okay, uh thanks Gaara.” Sakura smiled at the redhead who seemed to relax a bit as she continued to smile at him.

“If you are unable to make it, please call me.” He pulled a card out from his pocket similar to the one Sasori had given her the night before, his eyes seemed to soften for just a moment before he walked out her front door while she looked down at the card in her hand.

Sakura took it, her fingers lightly skimming his as she pulled the card away. “Thank you Gaara.” She said looking down at the card, but when she looked up he was gone. Craning her neck around the corner of her door she looked out into the parking lot to see him pull away in a plain black sports car.

Sakura smiled, a sports car? He hadn’t seemed the type to like something so flashy as that, but it had been a plain matte black...with a shrug she closed her door and threw his card onto her lunch bar. She needed to get dressed, Shisui would be over soon.

Sakura’s phone rang just as she set her coffee machine to brew. “Hello?”

“Hey flower, I can’t get there this morning but Naruto and Sasuke said they were planning on stopping by, mind if I come over after work?” Shisui said apologetically.

“No problem Shisui, you don’t have to worry about me you know, no matter what Itachi says, I’m fine okay, just...have a lot to think about is all.” Sakura lifted her shoulder and stuck her phone to the side of her face to pull down the sugar from the shelf and grab the milk out of the fridge.

“I know, but humor him, He’s always been like this about you flower, he...really cares about you.” Shisui said, she could hear the beeping of his car door in the background.

“Yeah? Then he shouldn’t have kept so much from me, look I’m not mad at you but maybe it’s good he’s in Oto right now. I’ll see you later. I need to get some coffee in me if Naruto is coming over.” Sakura laughed a little thinking of her loudest friend.

“I hear ya, or rather I heard him from the guest house at six am this morning trying to get Sasuke up and moving, they should be there soon, good luck.” Shisui laughed and hung up.

“Six am? He never wakes up before noon if he doesn’t have to.” Sakura tilted her head back and groaned...they knew, they knew or they knew something had happened at the fundraiser and were coming over to interrogate her….ugh. Reaching up into the cabinet, she pulled out a bottle of aspirin and set it next to the sugar, she was going to need it.

As predicted, Naruto was loud, much louder than he normally was, which fed into her original theory...they knew something or had heard something.

Naruto had a tendency to talk when he was worried or nervous while Sasuke’s demeanor didn’t change much, he did tend to get much more quiet than his normal bored standoffish self. Naruto hadn’t stopped talking since they had knocked on her door an hour ago and Sasuke had barely said two words.

Sasuke watched his friend. Her eyes looked troubled and weary like she hadn’t gotten enough sleep. He didn’t like seeing her like this. Their nearly inseparable trio had grown apart little by little as they had gotten older but they were still closer than most friends, or people their age. During the late nights, the depression and the trials of just being...them, they had grown closer, closer than most friends or family that he knew of.

Sasuke knew his family wasn’t normal, he had always known that. He knew that his friends weren’t normal, it had never bothered him. It was ‘his’ normal and it worked. That was all that mattered to him. He had no ambition or desire to join the family business, no one had ever forced him into it, not like Itachi who had been singled out by Madara, not like Sakura who...for reasons still confusing to him had caught the clan leader’s eye.

Sakura was beautiful, everyone thought so...but Madara could have any woman he wanted...why pick her, someone so...so...Sakura. Sasuke didn’t understand. Sakura was bossey, aggressive and her moods changed like the wind. She was formidable when roused, feisty and loud. She could also punch pretty damn hard. He and Naruto knew that better than anyone.

She was also unfailingly kind, optimistic and caring. She would go out of her way to help a friend, to make sure they were safe or happy. She could be...counted on to do what was right when the line was blurred, she was Naruto’s hope and his...security. She was everything to them. Sasuke had always felt like she was the one taking care of them, watching out for them, saving them...but now she needed their help...he wanted to make sure he was there for her, he only needed to know what he was supposed to be there for her, for.

After she had been attacked and saved by that Sasori guy, she had been acting differently. She was more reclusive than normal, called them less to talk, talked less in general. When he did see her she didn’t talk as much, she wouldn’t meet people’s eyes and he wondered if...it had something to do with what happened in the alley or if...it was because it had reminded her of that one night, when they were sixteen and that guy had…

It had all happened so fast. One minute they were all together hanging out, drinking and having a good time, the next they heard scuffling, screaming and then a loud crash. Sasuke and Naruto had ran around the corner of the building everyone had been in only to see Sakura staggering out from behind a bunch of stacked rotting crates, blood down the side of her arm, bruises already forming across her left cheek and that guy...trying to pull her back into the shadows to…

Before Sasuke could react, Naruto had ran past him, roaring something that he couldn’t make out, dragged the guy out from behind the crates and started punching him, then kicking him. Ino had run forward from behind and helped him pull Sakura to her feet. Sasuke had carried her home that night in his arms to the compound where Mikoto had bathed her face with cool compresses and forced hot calming tea down her throat.

Sasuke had sat beside her bed all night.

The next morning...the news came. The guy was dead, found butchered and mutilated in an alley...his...manhood cut to shreds, left rotting in a ditch. No one claimed responsibility, no one knew who did it. Sakura thought it was Madara, but… he had overheard his father and mother talking about it when they didn’t know he was listening. Madara hadn’t known about the attack until after the man’s body had been found. It couldn’t have been Madara.

Sasuke knew it wasn’t Itachi either, or even Shisui and there weren’t any other Uchiha who would take such a matter into their own hands, not without permission. It was simply too brutal, to have been his brother or his cousin. No, it hadn’t been Shisui or Itachi, but it had ‘personal’, written all over it. Sasuke didn’t have to be privy to the underworld to understand that.

A week later, a paid Martial Arts lessons contract arrived for Sakura. Sasuke thought it must be from whoever killed that guy. He had nodded in approval, then frowned in bewilderment when Sakura had refused to go, claiming Madara was just trying to control her. Again, Sasuke didn’t think it was Madara who had sent the contract. Whoever it was though...Sasuke had the impression they just wanted her to be safe, that they had gifted her these lessons so that she could prevent something like that from happening to her again. He didn’t understand how she could be so selfishly stubborn.

Didn’t she care that she made Naruto and him worry about her constantly?

No, it wasn’t that she didn’t care she was just so….Sakura. Sometimes she got lost in her own little world in that head of hers and...after she moved out of the compound, it felt like she had left them behind. She would never do that, he had been ridiculous to even consider such a thing of her. There was no one more loyal than Sakura. Once she gave you her respect and her loyalty, it took a lot to shatter it, in fact...he didn’t know anyone who had ever lost her loyalty once it had been gained. He could see it shattering now though and needed to know...what the hell had happened last night between her, Itachi and Madara.

He hadn’t always been there for her in the past. Now though, now she needed them, him, and he was going to be there for her this time. He would make sure of it.

“Sakura, are you gonna tell us what happened at that stupid dinner yesterday or not?” Naruto’s unusually soft voice brought Sasuke out of his head to look at the girl on the couch between them.

“It’s...hard to explain.” Sakura rolled her eyes at them, her boys. She could never lie to them and this wasn’t their fault. “I found out that...my parents were killed by a man named Orochimaru last night and that...Madara, Itachi...all of the Uchiha, they knew and no one ever told me about it.”

“What?” Naruto’s mouth hung open in surprise.

“It feels so strange to say it out loud.” Sakura laughed a little. “A lot has happened lately since Madara returned from, wherever he was for the last ten years.” A lot had happened to her in the last few days...

“Did you know the dress I was wearing, belonged to Itachi’s old girlfriend?” Sakura looked up, her eyes on Sasuke.

“I didn’t know he had a girlfriend.” Sasuke said in surprise.

“Had, yes, he had a girlfriend from what I can tell...he loved her very much. Madara found out and drew her into the family business dealings in Oto where she lived. She was killed and the dress I wore to the dinner last night...Madara gave it to me, without telling me about it’s association. I found out when Itachi saw it and froze...I’ve never seen him so…” Sakura took a deep breath. She wasn’t going to go into any more detail, they didn’t need to know that Itachi had never seen Izumi in the dress that he had given her. Guilt flooded her heart. She had promised to dance with him last night and instead she had...damn it.

“I can’t figure him out. Madara. Why do that? The only reason I can think of is to show Itachi, he can, to prove he is the boss but...it was such a cruel thing to do. Madara is cruel in a way Itachi isn’t.” She told them her thoughts as they sat beside her silently, letting her talk her thoughts out.

“Itachi, he...he isn’t made for that life and yet he is trying, it was a trade you see. For me.” She licked her lips.

“For you?” Sasuke didn’t understand the connection.

“Madara...attacked me, he...forced Itachi into an ultimatum. Itachi offered it but it was clear, he knew it was what Madara had wanted, he played right into Madara’s hands.” Naruto and Sasuke shared a look, there was much more going on than they had originally thought.

“Does this have something to do with that guy, that Sasori guy Sakura, you know, the one from that night when you went to Ino’s” Naruto asked, his knee thumping on the edge of her couch.

“Sasori? No, it actually has nothing to do with him, he helped me last night actually, drove me home and was really nice to me. He invited me over for dinner tomorrow night.” Sakura smiled at the thought. “No, this is because of what Tobirama showed me.”

“Tobirama?” Sasuke thought the name sounded familiar but he couldn’t remember why.

“Senju, Tobirama Senju, he’s Hashirama’s brother, Madara’s friend, they own the hospital...Tobirama suggested me for an internship there to his brother.” Sakura laughed.

“Madara was friends with, a Senju?” Sasuke hadn’t heard anything about that.

“Uh we met when I was ditching a tail of Madara’s, he pulled a gun on me and I uh, yelled at him for it.” Sakura blushed. “He’s actually really nice to talk to. I like him. He’s the one who told me about my parents, well, showed me he had uh one of his guys in there and…” Sakura waved her hand in the air, she supposed how she found out didn’t matter.

They weren’t a part of this and now that she was, she didn’t want them to be. She bit her lip, maybe she could understand where Madara and Itachi were coming from...maybe a little.

“In where?” Sasuke asked, not liking what he was hearing at all.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know the truth because of Tobirama. He showed me that I’m already a part of the criminal underground and that I can’t escape it, the best thing for me to do now...is to learn how to survive in it.” She realized talking to her friends, saying these things out loud had helped her clear her mind and come to the conclusion that...she couldn’t just run away.

She couldn’t go back to being the person she had been before she learned about her past and what her parents had done, how they had been killed and that this man, this Orochimaru was still trying to get his hands on her.

“Survive but Sakura...what does that even mean?” Naruto leaned forward invading her personal space even more than he already had been.

“It means that I understand why Itachi and Madara kept the truth from me. It’s scary and horrible to think someone is out there right now trying to figure out the best way to abduct me or hurt me. I get it, they didn’t want me to worry or to be scared.” She told her friends.

“Are you scared?” Sasuke didn’t think she looked very scared. She still looked pissed.

“Maybe a little if I’m honest, but not as much as I thought I would be. I’ve survived this long not knowing. Now that I do know, I’ll just be that much more careful.” Sakura tapped her fingers against her leg and looked at the two piles on the floor of her living room. Yeah, she understood why they had kept her in the dark, that didn’t make it okay though. There were words that still needed to be said between them, all three of them.

“I always wondered why Madara would send me such books, or maps, or weapons but now, it makes sense. It’s kinda liberating in a way, it’s like a light bulb turned on and I’m like ‘Oh’, that’s why.” She laughed again at the bewildered look on her friend's faces. “It’s a good thing.”

“If you say so Sakura.” Naruto still looked concerned but was happy to see her smile and to hear her laugh about it. He was worried of course but she did have the entire Uchiha clan and their police force on her side. What could go wrong?

Sasuke watched his friend, she had clearly come to a place in her head where she had made some decisions but she still seemed a bit on edge. He couldn’t quite place it.

“Sakura, has my Uncle...um, done anything to you? You said he attacked you, did he touch you?” He hated talking about things like this, it made him extremely uncomfortable.

“Don’t worry Sasuke. Itachi stopped him.” She picked her tea cup up and rose from the couch. “I’m fine. I can take care of Madara, don’t worry.”

Her smile now was a little too bright, a little too forced, he didn’t like it. So, his Uncle had touched her, but Itachi had stopped him from...from what kissing her...going too far...from hurting her? Sasuke frowned into his empty tea cup.

His mother said that Itachi would take care of it, not to worry about it but Itachi had let it get too far. Madara had attacked her in a public place and of all places at a fundraiser, the hospital. Itachi didn’t have things as under control as his mother wanted him to think he did.

Sakura would be okay, she was stronger than she looked and smart. Sasuke trusted her to make the right decisions now that she had more information. He didn't trust his Uncle.

“You said you were having dinner with this Sasori guy tomorrow Sakura?” He asked her.

“Yeah.” She called over her shoulder from the kitchen where she was making more tea.

“You trust him?” Sasuke rose from his seat on the couch to lean against her lunch bar.

“Trust? Uh I don’t know about that but I like him, he’s funny and he did help me out, a couple of times now. I don’t really know him enough to trust him yet. He was the one who pulled me from that alley and drove me home last night. He’s smart too.” She smiled thinking of the redhead. He was kinda hot too, but she wasn’t going to tell Sasuke or Naruto that. She certainly wasn’t going to tell Ino, she would never hear the end of it. “Has a personality.”

“People say he is just as scary as Madara though. Aren’t you worried that, he might...that you’ll get mixed up in something bad?” Sasuke asked her pointedly.

Sakura laughed, get mixed up in something bad...

“He told me on the train that all of his businesses in Konoha were legal, he told me without me asking him and didn’t hide the fact that he was a criminal.” She licked the honey from her spoon and took a sip of her tea, looking at him over the rim of her mug with those piercing green eyes of hers. “I’m learning quickly that not all criminals are bad. That some businesses aren’t legal because the laws are what holds them back from doing...good.”

Naruto’s eyes widened at his friend.

“Itachi told me that too by the way, don’t look at me like that Naruto, not everything is as black and white in the world as we thought it was. I think…” She licked the drop of tea off the rim of her mug. “That the criminal underworld lies somewhere in between and it depends on the person, if they are evil or not.”

“The person...you like him don’t you, this Sasori.” It wasn’t a question Sasuke was asking her and they both knew it.

“He’s honest. I like Tobirama for the same reason.” Sakura set her cup down on the counter behind her and watched her friend in sympathy. Only yesterday she was where he was at now, trying to piece the memories of two lives he didn’t know he had together to make sense of it.

“What are those piles for Sakura?” Naruto drew her and Sasuke’s attention from one another to the piles she had made on the floor of her living room the night before.

“I was trying to figure something out. I know like you guys know, that Madara has been sending things to me for years, now I know why, but there are a lot of things I don’t think he sent me. That’s the smaller pile.” Sakura pointed to the smaller pile on the floor coming back into the living room.

Sasuke and Naruto got up and started sifting through the piles, talking and comparing things.

“This pile seems to have more intense items in it.” Sasuke picked up a book about poisonous mushrooms, how to identify them, cure them and make them into poisons.

“While that one is more technical.” He pointed to the pile of ‘Madara’ things, the mathematics books, history of war books and strategy.

“Yeah and these books uh, look kinda old, valuable even.” Naruto opened a small handmade leather volume about disease and how to tell the difference between natural death from a disease and deliberate viral warfare. “Like Sasuke said, intense.”

Sakura looked from one pile to the other and froze. She hadn’t noticed it last night, she hadn’t taken the time to compare the gifts before. Her answer was clear and...shocking. She thought back to her first oddity, the first time a strange and out of character present had been given to her. It had been right after that party, after the guy had tried to force himself on her.

It all made sense now and she swallowed hard. If she was wrong, she would make a fool out of herself. She would look paranoid, crazy even...but if she was right...what the hell kind of game was he playing and how fucking long had he been watching her...how did she feel about this?

Damn...was this normal for ‘their world’, or was it just her? Oddly enough, she wasn’t nearly as upset as she thought she would be upon her latest realization. “I’m getting used to it.” She moaned into her hands, her shoulders shaking with laughter at the absurdity of the situation.

Dinner tomorrow night was going to be...enlightening.

Chapter Text

Sasori watched his monitors with a small smile on his face. He had always meant for her to come to the conclusion on her own, which she had done much faster than he had anticipated. Such was her methodical mind he mused. What would she do now that she knew?

A week was all it had taken her. As impressive as that was he also took into consideration the revelation she had made about Tobirama and what he had shown her. She hadn’t gone into detail when telling her friends, no doubt to keep them from worrying about her. He couldn’t help but wonder what it was that Tobirama had shown her but the outcome was clear. She was no longer naive to her own personal history and involvement in Konoha.

Sasori would have liked to have been the one to ultimately open her eyes to their world but the Senju had beaten him to it. In the overall scheme of things, it didn’t matter who had shown her the way, providing it wasn’t the Uchiha. Having the Senju open her eyes isn’t what he had planned, but it wouldn’t inhibit his plans either.

That explained at least some of her erratic behavior at the fundraiser, as well as her early departure. He knew it had to be more than a simple argument. The real question though, was how would she react when he told her the truth. Sakura was the type to confront him, to demand an explanation for his actions.

Sasori knew that it would only benefit the Uchiha if he lied to her now, so he wouldn’t, he didn’t want to. She had told her friends that only he and Tobirama had been honest with her and that was what she had liked about them. It was in his favor to be honest, no matter how uneasy the truth might make her feel.

It was a risk, all of this was a terrible risk, but if it worked, if at the end of this game he earned her trust, her loyalty, it would be worth a little tongue lashing and a few glares to him. In her eyes right now, there was only suspicion. When he told her the truth of it all there wouldn’t be any room for suspicion, only anger. Anger, he could fix. Betrayal and lies, could be forgiven, but never forgotten...as far as Sasori was concerned, he had won this battle over the Uchiha.

He had counted on the Senju dismissing the girl by her association to the Uchiha. Tobirama’s hatred for the cursed clan was well known. He hadn’t known that Tobirama’s brother, Hashirama, had been old friend’s with Madara Uchiha. That had been a surprise, however, the alliance between the Uchiha and the Senju made much more sense now. He would just have to find a way to use it to his benefit.

Sasori continued to watch Sakura and her friends, listened to their conversation and stored little tidbits of information away that he might need later to placate or interest her. It had been a good move to send Gaara to ask her to dinner, the timing couldn’t be better. He would tell her the truth, she would get angry, they would talk it out logically, she would be surprised of course and perhaps a bit more wary of him, but in time he was confident it was the best move. She would trust him in the end, he was positive.

“Uncle.” Gaara spoke quietly from behind his Uncle, who turned from the monitors they had been watching, to see Gaara looking down at his phone. “Itachi Uchiha, has just arrived in Oto.”

“Send Matsuri to meet him, tell her to give him a tour of our ruined warehouses and to...entertain him in any way he requires. I want information from him Gaara, see that she gets something for me. I don’t care how she gets it from him. I need to know who's in charge of the Uchiha family, last night’s events conflict with how the Uchiha have done things in the past.” Sasori turned back to the monitor to watch Sakura hug her two friends and shut the door behind them. Good, they hadn’t stayed long.

“If there had been a shift in power, we need to know. Tell her to take him to drinks and dinner, on my company account, get him to loosen his tongue if she can.” Sasori turned back to his nephew. His eyes watched the boy, his most loyal tool. Something had changed in him and Sasori wasn’t sure what it was, but he seemed less...hollow somehow.

“You don’t mind using Matsuri do you?” Sasori asked his nephew. “A female can put men at ease if they are trained properly, you did train her properly didn’t you?”

Gaara blinked. His Uncle had never asked him for his opinion concerning the girl before. “No, I don’t mind. She has been trained, yes.”

“Matsuri was your pet project wasn’t she?” Sasori knew the story behind his nephew’s failed attempt at getting in touch with his ‘Humanity’.

“She is nothing to me.” Gaara stared back at his Uncle.

“If Itachi kills her...you won’t...be upset?” Sasori asked him with mock concern, lacing his voice.

Gaara didn’t understand why his Uncle was asking him such stupid questions. “No Uncle. Why would I care about something like that?”

Sasori continued to watch his nephew. “Good.”

Satisfied, he turned back to the monitors where Sakura was washing the mugs and setting them to dry on her rack. Gaara looked up to the monitor, his eyes softening slightly at the sight of Sakura. Sasori turned back around, stopping mid turn to look at his nephew more closely, for a moment he thought he had seen...no, he must be mistaken. Of all people...Gaara knew that to covet something of his, was death.

Sasori almost laughed at himself. Gaara would never betray him, what would be the point. Without him, the boy had nothing. Sasori gave Gaara everything he wanted, violence, death, women to torture, the boy didn’t want anything else he reminded himself.

“Make sure Temari and Kankuro are dressed and ready for dinner tomorrow evening, we will be eating together...a perfect picture of a family. I want it to be perfect for Sakura.” Sasori waved his hand toward the door.

Gaara nodded and bowed. “Yes Uncle.” Gaara wanted everything to be perfect for Sakura as well, because she was perfect.

“Do you really think she is okay?” Naruto asked Sasuke as they walked down the stairs of Sakura’s apartment building.

“She'll be fine, she just needs time to think things over to work it out in her head, like she always does.” Sasuke told him, reassuring not only Naruto but himself as well.

Naruto nodded. Sasuke was right. “Hey do you think Madara will get really mad if she takes that internship with that Sasori guy?”

“Yeah, probably. She knows that though.” Sasuke unlocked his mom’s car. Stupid Naruto, there was no way Sakura would pass up an internship at Konoha Hospital, it was too good and too rare of an opportunity. Sasuke scoffed, Sakura might be angry and she might be stubborn but she wasn’t dumb.

Naruto opened the passenger door and leaned against the roof for a minute before getting in.

“Why do you think no one told her, I mean, isn’t it more dangerous for her not to know? I think she would have been more careful when we were kids you know, instead of going off on her own all the time like she used to do.”

“It wasn’t our decision, it was Madara’s. He has his reasons but yeah, I don’t know. Get in, let’s get going.” Sasuke shut his door and started the car. He could see both sides. Sasuke understood why Madara hadn’t told Sakura but he also understood why she was mad, if it were him, he would want to know too.

Dark grey eyes watched Sasuke and Naruto pull out of the parking lot, then darted up to the second story window where Sakura was watering her plants. A quick text was sent to Itachi who had asked to be updated on anyone who stopped by to see the woman, or if she left to go anywhere. Kakashi sighed, he didn’t mind watching one lone woman even if it seemed like a bit of an overkill...even for a possessive love sick Uchiha...it wasn’t any of his business and he was getting paid well.

Itachi reached into his pocket to pull his phone from his suit coat. He had just gotten off the plane and was heading for the baggage claim when his phone switched from airplane mode to regular roaming and chimed. Good, he thought, she was at home. Hopefully she would spend her day off there and maybe go to the complex for dinner tomorrow with the family.

He scrolled down to the other messages he had missed and paused in the middle of the walkway, several people shuffled past him, mumbling their annoyance but he ignored them to reread the message from Kakashi.

Sabaku had stopped by early that morning, had stayed a few minutes, and then had left again.

“Why?” Itachi muttered to himself, resuming his walk to the escalators that would take him to the lower level baggage claim.

Why was Gaara of all people visiting Sakura, and so early in the morning. He hadn’t stayed long...did he tell her something, warn her of something, threaten her or...he would have to ask Shisui. Itachi turned left after stepping off the escalator, he had been to Oto many times before, once for their set up and then every few months to check on their numbers. He typed out an inquiry to Shisui as he went, letting his cousin know of Sakura’s morning visitor.

“Mr. Uchiha?” A female voice filled with energy and friendliness caught his attention.

Itachi turned to see a young woman probably in her late teens early twenties a little younger than Sakura, with short mousy brown hair and brown eyes looking at him with a wide friendly smile on her face.

“Yes?” Itachi asked, he had never seen this woman before, how did she know him…

“Hi Mr. Uchiha! I’m Matsuri, Mr. Akasuna sent me to give you a tour of Oto and our warehouse facilities. I am here to help you to your hotel and to take you for drinks and dinner this evening, Mr. Akasuna’s hospitality.” Matsuri cheered at him in a most energetic and annoying fashion.

Itachi blinked. He hadn’t been expecting this when he and Sasori had spoken at the hospital fundraiser about a possible tour of Akasuna’s acquisitions and laboratories in Oto.

“No.” Itachi said more or less politely, but firmly, turning and walking past the woman to the baggage claim for his suitcase.

“Wait Mr. Uchiha, please Mr. Akasuna told me to make sure you had everything you needed. I’m not supposed to leave until you have had dinner and a drink on Mr. Akasuna’s tab.” The woman named Matsuri protested, stepping in front of Itachi who looked down at her blankly.

“I don’t drink, and my dinner has already been prepared. Please step aside.” Itachi stepped around the woman but the woman reached her hand out for him.

Itachi dropped his briefcase that he had been holding, grabbed her arm and twisted it up against her back, stepped up to the wall, pinning her by the arm.

“I decline Mr. Akasuna;s offer. Tell him thank you, but his hospitality is not needed. I will call on you when I am ready to take a tour of his warehouses, that is the only thing we agreed on and the only thing that will be discussed in the future. Do you understand, Matsuri?” Itachi let go of the woman’s hand ignoring the people around them. He thought she had a weapon in her hand, but he must have been mistaken...

Itachi picked up his briefcase and walked past the woman to the baggage claim, picked up his luggage and moved to the automatic doors at the end of the long building without looking back. He had more important things to worry about than some woman Akasuna had sent to distract him, she wasn’t even that pretty.

Itachi looked down at his watch, then up as a black limo pulled up to the curb in front of him. The driver got out, walked around to the curbside and bowed low. “Mr. Uchiha San, welcome back to Oto.”

“Thank you Ren.” Itachi ducked his head and sat down in the limo as Ren shut the door behind him.

Once Ren was back in the driver’s seat he lowered the window that separated the driver from the passenger.

“Karin has sent over the list of accounts you requested along with the usual updates. She asked me to tell you there isn’t as much as there normally is since you are visiting earlier than expected. If there is anything you wish for her to add to your research let her know before the end of the day tomorrow. She has her scheduled monthly meeting with Kabuto Monday morning.”

“Of course, thank you Ren.” Itachi murmured, pulling his phone from his suit coat to check his messages again...nothing.

He had hoped that Sakura would have texted him something at least, even if she was still angry at him. Sighing heavily he slipped his phone back into his pocket, he would call her later this evening after she had a chance to cool off some more. She never stayed angry for long, she would come around. He was sure of it.

Itachi looked out the window at the familiar sights and listened to the familiar sounds of Oto. Oto was smaller than Konoha but no less populated. More people fitting into a smaller area was a recipe for trouble. Tempers were always short and looks were always too long. Itachi had never liked coming here, from the first visit.

Ren pulled up to the main Uchiha Industries building, a modest three story structure complete with an indoor garden and cafeteria. Itachi chose to stay in one of the company suites on the top floor when he came, there was little need for him to venture out of the building, just the way he liked it.

His visits to Oto were always short after Izumi had died. There was nothing here that made him wish to extend his trip, so he never did. There was no point in walking the village, seeing the old haunts he and Izumi had gone. No use walking in the public parks filled with her laughter dead and faded. No, Itachi had no reason to stay in Oto for any length of time and every reason to leave...as quickly as possible.

Itachi stepped out of the limo onto the pristine steps of his family’s company holding in Oto and looked up to the top floor. His suite was lit up, by the private housekeeper no doubt, who would have his dinner laid out on the table waiting for him. Ren handed the doorman his suitcase as usual and Itachi followed him inside.

Green painted nails drew an invisible line on the spine of the herbal as eyes of the same color contemplated it’s existence. Sakura looked to her miniature lab set up in the corner of her living room and back at the herbal with suspicion. Originally she had thought Madara had given her the herbals and the other books on poisonous flora, fauna and fungi but now...she wasn’t convinced. She was sure in fact, that it had been Sasori.

‘Poisonous snakes of Suna, the anti-venom and antidote to common bites’ Sakura rolled her eyes at her own stupidity, but to be fair she hadn’t known about Sasori until recently. It was now so glaringly clear to her it was laughable.

After her attack, she hadn’t been in her right mind to notice anything expect for the feel of Sasuke’s shirt against her face, the pain in her cheek from where the guy had hit her and the scrapes along her arms and legs, but now...she thought she might remember a few things, odd things that meant nothing at the time but now…

There had been a black van driving up the far end of the street where her friends and her had been partying, as Sasuke had carried her away. Ino had been chattering and fussing at her by his side, she had looked up in a daze and seen two men, two men with red hair open the back doors of the van and walk quickly into the alley where the guy lay motionless on the ground.

On the ground where Naruto had left him to run up behind Ino, to make sure she was okay.

A week later when the Martial arts contract had come she had scoffed at it, thinking it was just another gift from Madara, but now she saw it for what it was...Sasori had been trying to make her stronger, to prepare her for...what? This life? It almost sounded insane, too far fetched and...ridiculous but her father had always told her to go with her gut, to listen to that voice in the back of her head, that it might save her life one day.

She was listening to it now and it told her...Sasori was not who he seemed to be. He wasn’t just the criminal mastermind, the semi legal businessman in Konoha and the corrupt official in Suna, he was...more than that, but what he was, she still wasn’t sure.

Sakura picked up one of the older books in her collection, a book from who she now knew was Sasori on desert flowers and their medicinal uses. This wasn’t like the books Madara sent her.

It wasn’t shiny and new. It was old and worn, it was loved...it meant something to him...and he had sent it, to her. She felt like...Sakura laughed and shook her head, no...her mind was running away with her.

Her eyes roamed over the two piles as she put them away. One pile, from Madara, had the shiny new books, the digital maps and notes of military leaders both current and past. It was cold and technical, methodical and efficient. The other pile, the pile she thought from Sasori was full of history, art, things that made you feel, it was full of cleverness, personal information and...Sakura smiled...passion.

Sakura sat back on her heels and opened the cover of her favorite book, a book from Sasori about the decline of humanity, how society had lost its way and needed to be...cleansed of it’s cancer. It was so fitting now that she knew.

With a stifled giggle she opened the cover and thumbed through the well read pages. She had read it so many times, she almost knew it by heart. When she got to the end she turned the last page, she had never realized it stuck before. Gently, she pulled the last page back, expecting the blank dual page common in older books to find handwritten characters in bold black new ink.

“One day you will see, you’re what humanity means to me.” -Sasori-

Sakura licked her lips nervously. He couldn’t possibly have written that to her, could he have? He couldn’t have known she would see it, the page had been stuck, had he done it on purpose...to do something like this, to hide it so painstakingly so...who does that….

Sakura swallowed. Her gut told her clearly, Sasori does this and yes, those words were for her.

Chapter Text

Lithe, strong fingers drummed a rhythmless tattoo against the wood grain of his mahogany desk as Madara starred with dark guilt filled eyes outward , out his office window into the fading sunlight. He had to fix what he had done. With a sigh he rubbed a hand across his face. What was wrong with him, in one night he had foolishly unraveled over a decade of hard work.

A mirthless bubble of humor pressed against the confines of his lips. His mother had told him once as a young man, before she had died, that no matter how strong a man he was, no matter how controlled his actions were, all it would take was one woman of substance to shatter the world he had built up around himself.

He had rolled his eyes at his mother and smiled a condescending smile at her. ‘Yes mother’, he had said. ‘The empire I’ve so painstakingly built for the family will be destroyed by a pretty smile’, he had joked with her.

His mother had smiled a condescending smile of her own at her son. ‘You’ll see Madara, one day, when the right one comes along, you won’t know what to do with yourself. You’ll find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do’.

He had heard Sakura's praises sung by his sister when she was only a girl, Fugaku had even said she was clever. So he had sent a book, on lock picking, to be laid in her room by a minor Uchiha cousin where she was sure to find it. He had planted the seed of interest into his youngest nephew when speaking to the family at their weekly family meeting about how his mansion was off limits, a polite reminder, not to enter the abandoned mansion for any reason. He had seen the gleam in Sasuke’s eyes, and how they had darted to the pink haired girl, who sat in the back of the room, her head down, in a book not paying attention.

Like every room in the main house, there were both audio and visual cameras hidden for security, his security. ‘Trust no one, not even the clan when you are the clan head, you will always stand alone’, his father had told him from a young age. ‘It is your job to protect them, but they will try you. There is always one that thinks they can do better’, his father drilled the lesson into him over and over.

Yes, there had always been one to challenge him, openly sometimes, but more often from the cowardly shadows. The surveillance system that he had installed and monitored himself had saved his life more than once over the years. Madara was a careful man who planned every move with forethought but no one could have planned on Sakura, not even him.

She was his wild card. He hadn’t even realized he had been drawn into her, until it had starred him glaringly in the face, as he pressed her up against the wall with his palm sliding up her inner thigh.

“Damn.” He hissed and shook his head. It was laughable to him and yet he couldn’t get her out of his head. He had to apologize to her, he had to do...something.

He had set a path for himself, for her, with the full intentions of using her for the family. The triggers he had set in her mind were placed there meticulously over a long spanse of time to control her, something he had been unable to do with Itachi, but when he saw her...he knew that he could use the trigger for other things, for more enjoyable things. Was it wrong, he asked himself...he wouldn’t hurt her, many women would love to take her place...he was attractive, strong, intelligent...right?

Madara walked over to the mirror and looked at his reflection. Dark Uchiha eyes met him, his eyes. Strong eyes beyond their years. Eyes that have seen death, torture, war and betrayal. Could she see it? Did she see him when she looked at him or did she see the clan head instead of the man.

Would she want him, he was nearly twenty years her senior...without his little mind control trick or would she run, like so many others who were brave enough to dare to get close enough to realize, to see the monster within...only to run away again and be silenced.

His phone dinged, drawing his attention away from his reflection and scrutiny. “Hashirama.”

Madara unlocked his phone, read the message and grit his teeth...damn that Tobirama, damn that bastard to fucking hell. He had no fucking right to show her that, to tell her what he had meant to tell her in his own time when the moment was right. Too many people, there were too many people surrounding her, something he hadn’t anticipated. Sasori of the Red Sand, Tobirama and even Itachi had set a partial claim on the woman in one way or another, his woman.

Swiping his thumb left he brought up the dial pad and punched in the direct dial code for Obito. “Meet me downstairs, I need to speak with Sakura. It’s time she knew, everything.”

Madara grabbed his suit coat and slid his phone back into his pocket, walked over to the picture behind his desk and swung it wide to reveal his personal safe. Punching in his ten digit code and grabbing two large rubber banded folders he shut the door, closed the picture and turned to look over his office before shutting the door behind him. She was upset that he hadn’t been honest with her, she felt betrayed, lied to...well if honesty is what she wanted, he would give it to her.

A light knocking on the door had her head snapping up from her mortar and pestle. Annoyed, she tapped the pestle against the side of the mortar and set it on it’s rubber mat beside the dried root she had been grinding into a fine powder. With a quick glance back at her work table she stuck a piece of paper in one of the poison guides Sasori had gifted her, shut the book to keep her place, and stepped across the room to answer her door.

“Hey flower.” Shisui hummed playfully as he held up two bags of take out and a travel bag slung over his shoulders.

“Oh hi Shisui, I thought you got off later for some reason, or did you have an early day?” Sakura took the take out bags from him and set them on her lunch bar as Shisui grabbed his travel bag and walked into her apartment.

“Nope I usually get off around 5pm, Fugaku gave me the day shift.” Shisui looked around her apartment, dropping his bag in the corner on the ground. “I remembered Mikoto gave you a bunch of blankets and stuff so I didn’t bring any bedding, but if I was mistaken I can go grab some after dinner.”

“I have tons, yeah Mikoto kinda went overboard like she thought I might freeze to death now that I’m living on my own.” Sakura rolled her eyes with a smile on her face.

“I wasn’t sure what you’ve been eating lately but I know your favorites, so I just bought an assortment. You’re off tomorrow too so whatever we don’t eat tonight we can munch on tomorrow.” Shisui said cheerfully as he took his coat off and hung it lopsided on her coat rack by the door.

“Sounds great, yeah I’m off tomorrow but I’m having dinner with Sasori, so you’re on your own for dinner. Gaara said that his sister Temari would be over at 6 pm to pick me up.” Sakura started pulling containers from the two paper bags Shisui had set on her lunch counter and opened the lids as she watched him out of the corner of her eye.

“Oh, okay, well then I’ll probably go to the compound for dinner. I’ll let Mikoto know where you’re going to be, I think she thought you would be over for dinner tomorrow, if not tonight. She called me on the way over here and I told her I had already picked our dinner up.” Shisui grinned and rubbed the back of his neck.

Sakura nodded. He hadn’t seemed surprised when she told him she was having dinner with Sasori or that Temari was going to be picking her up to drive her to his estate. Sakura was pleased he wasn’t making a big deal out of it, like Itachi or Madara would have. Turning to grab two plates from the cabinet she turned back around to see Shisui punching keys on his phone.

“Letting Itachi know who I’m having dinner with tomorrow?” She asked sweetly.

To his credit he only looked slightly guilty as he grinned at her, tucking his phone back into his pocket. “He would want to know wouldn’t he?”

Of course he would, Sakura knew that, but it didn’t make it any less annoying. “Thanks for not lying to me about it at least, about telling him what I’m doing.”

“You might not like it, but this is how it works. We all keep tabs on one another, it isn’t just you. We’re just not hiding it from you anymore now...now that you know.” Shisui shrugged and took the plate she held out to him.

“I got us yakitori, karaage and chanko nabe.” Shisui smiled as Sakura handed him a bowl for the chanko nabe. She was taking this better than he thought she would.

“It looks great, thank you Shisui.” Sakura dipped a rice ladle into the chanko nabe and ladled it into her bowl, then some for Shisui as he held his bowl up for her.

Sakura and Shisui had spent a lot of time together, but never alone. Itachi or another one of the family members had always been around. She had been a little hesitant at first, having him over like this, but Shisui was laid back, easy going and funny most of the time, she would rather have him watching over her than Izuna or Obito.

Not that she had any problem with either one of them, but they were always so serious and she hadn’t forgotten her conversation with Izuna at the fundraiser. It was fine, it was only for a few days. Itachi would be back soon if not tomorrow she thought, she could put up with a goofy laughing Uchiha in her living room and sleeping on her couch until then. Besides, class resumed Monday and Shisui would have work. She would only see him for a couple of hours in the evenings which she would spend studying..

They had just settled down on her couch and had turned on the T.V when there was another knock on her door. Shisui looked at Sakura who looked at him and shrugged.

“I was only expecting you.” She took a bite of her yakitori, making no move to answer her door.

Shisui took the hint and set his plate down with a sigh. He was there to look after her, he could answer her door. Sakura smirked as she chewed her food and watched Shisui open the door to her apartment. She watched as he froze, his whole posture stiffening, turning his body to widen it in the door frame hoping to hide the figure in her door from her, but he couldn’t hide the familiar deep voice of Madara Uchiha from her ears.

“Shisui, take a walk. I wish to speak with Sakura alone.” Madara pushed his way forward, forcing the younger man to step back and away from the doorway.

“Uh, no I don’t think that is a very good idea.” Shisui began but was immediately silenced with a dark cold look from the Uchiha clan head.

“I came to...apologize to her. Take a walk, Shisui.” Madara grabbed him by the arm and threw him out the door, shutting and locking it behind him.

“It’s cold out and he doesn’t have his coat.” Sakura stood up to get Shisui’s coat, but Madara plucked it from the coat stand beside the door, unlocked and opened the door throwing the coat at Shisui who had been standing on her doorstep staring at her door frame blankly.

“Now he won’t be cold.” Madara said flatly looking around the small living room, his eyes settling on the plates and bowls on her coffee table.

“I apologize for interrupting your dinner. I wanted to speak with you, without an audience, or a babysitter.” Madara walked further into the room and leaned up against the back of her couch facing her.

“I was wrong to handle you the way I did...at the Konoha Hospital Fundraiser. I’m sorry.” Madara bowed low, keeping easy eye contact with Sakura as he did so. “I should not have treated you so poorly.”

Sakura cocked her head to the side and set her plate down, her chicken forgotten in light of this new...distraction. “You’re sorry. You’re sorry for manhandling me and pinning me against the wall, feeling me up and condescending to me?”

“Yes, and for lying to you for years and forbidding the family to tell you the truth.” He added pulling two large folders from his coat, laying them on the couch beside her. “You want the truth, well, here it is.”

“Sakura, I thought I was protecting you. I had always meant to tell you, which is why I kept these files. They’re yours, your families and some of the clippings from their...accident.” He told her making no move to join her on her couch.

“I waited too long to tell you the truth, I know that now. Part of it was because I simply didn’t want you to know. I thought if you knew you would feel threatened and I wanted to save you that trauma. I couldn’t have it both ways, for you to take over for me and for you to remain ignorant of your past, I know that now.” He continued.

“I was selfish. I will not ask you to forgive me, but to forgive the family. It was on my order and only my order that they kept the truth from you. If they had told you, they would have been punished.” Madara inclined his head to her and walked to the door. “You will have questions. I will be waiting.”

“I’m sorry to have interrupted your evening with Shisui but I thought I had waited long enough to give you what was rightfully yours.” He nodded to the folders on the couch, then unlocked the door and opened it. Shisui was sitting on the steps to her apartment, his head turned to meet Madara’s eyes.

“Thank you for staying with Sakura, Shisui, take the day off tomorrow, I will tell Fugaku when I return to the compound to cover your shift.” Madara walked past the man and down the stairs.

“Wait!” Sakura was barefoot and rubbing her arms, it was cold out.

“Madara.” She called to him from the top of the stairs, Shisui beside her. “Thank you.”

Madara nodded, got into the limo, and let Obito drive him back to the compound. “I hope I’m doing the right thing.” He muttered.

Obito looked up from the road to look at his passenger. He had never seen Madara so anxious before. Obito had seen Madara at the brink of death, bleeding out in the back of the limo, had seen the man loose four clansmen at point blank range only to be missed by a hair, he had seen the man near drowned in his own blood held together by Izuna, teeth clenched as he kept Madara’s intestines from falling out of his belly as they raced to the hospital and to Hashirama.

He had never seen him look this anxious over something so...ordinary before. All this trouble, over one little woman...his thoughts strayed to Rin...some women were worth it. He sighed.

Madara watched the city fly by outside of his window. It had started to rain, each raindrop on his window a new problem, a new compromising position and a new point of view to his dilemma. Itachi had decided to fill the role that had always been his. Sakura had demanded the truth that he had tried to keep from her for too long. Tobirama was interfering in Uchiha business and Sasori of the Red Sand was...what was that blasted redhead’s interest in Sakura exactly…

“Obito, you observed Akasuna with Sakura before. What would you say his intentions are? What is the man’s directive concerning her?” Madara asked his driver.

Obito met Madara’s eyes in the rear view mirror. “I would say he is interested in her for the same reasons you are.”

Madara nodded, the same reasons he was. “So, he is attracted to her as well, is what you're saying, not just for her merits.”

“I don’t assume so but I would say so. You were attracted to her merits, but when you saw how she had...grown, you were also attracted to her as a woman, weren’t you?” Obito smirked in the mirror at the older man.

“You’ve made your point.” Madara tapped his fingers against his knee.

“Akasuna, he seems to have established a friendship with Sakura in such a small amount of time.” Madara murmured to himself.

“Sakura doesn’t seem too opposed to his attention either.” Obito met Madara’s eye in the mirror again.

“What do you mean Obito, what do you know?” Madara asked.

“I know that she was smiling a bit too much and laughing a little too hard for a new acquaintance when he walked her home from the train that day, and he did drive her home from the fundraiser didn’t he?” Obito offered.

“He did.” Madara conceded.

The man was clever, Madara had known this. What he hadn’t known, nor expected was for Akasuna to take such an interest in a member of his family, and yes, Madara considered Sakura a member of his family.

Maybe he had missed his chance, maybe he had ruined it...but he wasn’t going to sit back and let the girl be stolen right under their noses either. He had invested too much into her education to let that happen.

Madara had come home, after spending a decade away in Oto, Suna and Rain establishing contacts, killing off threats and setting up the next several decades for the next generation of Uchiha, to train Sakura in the field. Now that Itachi has decided to take his place however, perhaps his plans should change.

‘Some men are better left to live alone’, he had told his mother. ‘You’re a family man Madara, you are not one of those men’, a family man didn’t always mean settling down. Madara rubbed his palms over his face. Yes, he was a family man, who had always done what was best for his family, he had been foolish to think he could have something for himself, someone to call, only his. He sighed and pulled his phone from his pocket and punched in the familiar number. “Itachi, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Itachi hung up his phone. Well, that was interesting. He had never known Madara to give up so gracefully, he had prepared himself for a bloody and vicious internal war against the man for Sakura’s affections, but this was...unprecedented behavior for his predecessor. Giving up, may not be the correct words, ‘For the greater good’, Madara had used Itachi’s own words when explaining his plan.

Yes, Itachi understood. Sakura could not be allowed to get any closer to Sasori of the Red Sand. That was something both he and Madara agreed on. For the greater good of both their clan and for Sakura, he and Madara would work together to keep her safe. While Tobirama’s intervention was a surprise and an annoyance to both Uchiha, it could be dealt with much more easily than the redhead through their alliance and Hashirama's long standing friendship with Madara.

Still, Itachi found the Senju’s interference disturbing. Tobirama had no love for the Uchiha, everyone knew this, just as everyone knew that the only reason there was an alliance, was because of Madara and Hashirama. Itachi was taking over as the Uchiha clan head and all of their business dealings, but Tobirama had been in charge of the Senju’s holdings for years now.

Itachi knew why Madara had chosen him as his successor.

Izuna, while a bit hot headed and lacking in professional indifference that it took to run the clan, was not a bad choice. Izuna would have stepped up and taken the reins, if Tobirama hadn’t taken control of the Senju syndicate upon the old Senju’s untimely demise. There could be no alliance with Izuna and Tobirama, both sides knew this. So, Madara had chosen Itachi, who had continued to defy him at every turn...until Sakura had caused the younger Uchiha to offer Madara a compromise.

Itachi tapped his index finger on the edge of his phone as he looked out over Oto from the Uchiha Industries main building. Sakura could be stubborn, she would fight them on this, he knew. She saw Sasori as a friend, she thought he was a decent person. She even seemed to have a soft spot for that monster Gaara, if what Shisui had told him was correct, and he had no reason to doubt his cousin’s observations.

Madara said she deserved to know the truth.

Itachi agreed that Sakura had been kept in the dark for too long, he had never understood why Madara hadn’t told her about her past, her connection to the criminal underworld of Konoha before, he had assumed he had his reasons. He did, only, they weren’t the reasons Itachi had thought they were.

Madara wanted to tell Sakura exactly who Sasori of the Red Sand was, and what his nephew was but Itachi didn’t think that was a good idea. Some of the things the man and his monster had done were almost...unbelievable. Itachi suspected if they told her, she would only see it as a false way to discredit her new ‘friend’ and see it as another attempt at controlling her. No, in order for Sakura to believe them, they would need to show her. Some things were only believable if you witnessed them first hand, as evident from Tobirama’s interference.

Show her...this was not something Itachi looked forward to and it was easier said than done. Sasori was a very private man. It would be very difficult to show Sakura what kind of a man he was without putting her in danger or subjecting her to the man’s wraith herself. It would have to be a set up...they would need to trick the man somehow or set a trap for him. A near improbable task.

Almost everyone had tried and no one had succeeded. Sasori hadn’t risen to the top tier of the underground, with only a third of the manpower that the Senju and the Uchiha had individually, by being careless. His knack for seeing a trap or an ambush was near legendary.

If only Madara had handled this better, if only...well, there was nothing that could be done to change the past. Itachi knew in order to salvage the situation, in order to secure both of their futures they needed to proceed with caution. Sakura was clever, strong willed and loyal, but she was also impulsive, emotional and stubborn...but most of all, the most annoying and endearing quality of hers...was that she was unpredictable. If they didn’t do this right, it would all blow up in their faces.

Shisui had texted him that Sakura was having dinner with Sasori tomorrow night at his estate...she would be alone in the scorpion’s den. Should he call her? What could he possibly say to her that would put her on her guard and not offend her or make her think he was yet again, being over protective? Damn that Madara, damn Tobirama, and damn Sasori of the Red Sand and his twisted monster of a nephew.

Itachi yanked the elastic out of his hair in frustration. Who could he call, who would she listen to right now, certainly not him, not Madara, Shisui was already staying with her...Sasuke maybe? No, it had to be someone Sakura both respected and wouldn’t want to disappoint, someone she couldn’t in good conscience say no to...his mother. Itachi punched the number into his phone and waited for his mother to pick up the line.

“Gaara Sama, Mr.Uchiha wouldn’t listen to me, he didn’t want Akasuna Sama’s hospitality, he refused to meet me for dinner. I tried Gaara Sama , I tried but…” Matsuri was cut off by the ominous voice on the other end of the line.

“You disappoint me Matsuri. I thought I had made my Uncle’s desires clear. You were to entertain Itachi Uchiha at...all costs.” Gaara stared out of his bedroom window into the night, his tone low, his anger rising.

“...but Gaara Sama, he attacked me, he told me that he would, he would kill me if I persisted.” Matsuri complained foolishly.

“...and I will kill you if you fail me. Do you understand Matsuri? I expect a better, more satisfying report tomorrow after his tour of our facilities.” Gaara hung up on the girl.

“Pathetic.” He growled, his fingers twitching at his side, he would kill her with his own hands if she failed to get any information out of the man. It was a personal insult that she hadn’t tried harder, he had trained her himself.

Matsuri cupped her phone in her hands. Gaara Sama was upset with her, her bottom lip trembled, she knew what happened to those who failed him, who failed his Uncle. ‘At all costs’, Gaara Sama had told her...she knew what that meant but...she wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t beautiful enough to seduce the Uchiha, he was...so far out of her league it was ridiculous...what the hell did they expect her to do?

If she tried and failed, Gaara Sama would kill her. She had seen what the man could do, what he liked to do to women...she shivered. Her training...hadn’t been...pleasant. She had thought that at one point during her training he might have had feelings for her but then...he had used her in such a painfully cold way that...no...she held no false hope that he cared for her, that he had ever cared for her. She was a tool, nothing more, a failed experiment on his part. He would kill her, she had no doubt.

She thought she loved him, perhaps part of her still did. It was an infatuation, everyone told her, it was the danger, the thrill of the unknown and for a time it had been...fun. Until he had taken it too far, until she realized the one having the fun wasn’t her but him. She had cried while he had taken his pleasure from her, hurt her and used her. He had laughed in an unhinged maniacal sort of way as she had bled, as he had cut her while he had…

She was sick, she knew. He would kill her, she knew. There was only one thing to do...the younger Uchiha was known for his logic, his understanding...perhaps if she explained, if she told him the situation, if she had something of value to offer him, he would consider her plea. It wasn’t the best idea, but she was dead either way, by the Uchiha perhaps...but by Gaara, most definitely if she failed, and he would not make it quick, he would not make it painless. Matsuri shivered, she knew what she had to do.

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, get the fuck out of the way asshole.” Hidan growled at the blonde who glared back at him not at all bothered by his language.

“I do so un, shut the fuck up freak and let me do my job.” Deidara glared at the Jashinist in anger.

“Stop wasting our time Deidara and just blow the lock off would you, we have a lot more to do tonight and Hidan’s right, you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re wrong, it isn’t your job to pick the lock, it was Hidan’s.” The woman with blue hair sighed. “Hurry up, we’re already behind schedule.”

“Just because you’re sleeping with Leader Sama doesn’t mean you can boss us around on a mission Konan.” Deidara sneered at the woman then ducked as she pulled a knife and made a decent swipe across his eyes. “Shit woman, I was only joking!”

“Shut up and blow the damn lock Deidara.” Konan hissed, sleeving her blade.

“Hahaha fucking idiot.” Hidan laughed openly at the blonde bomber who pulled the explosive putty from his pocket molding it into the shape of a star before placing it over the lock and handle of the warehouse door, the arms of the star encasing the entire deadbolt.

“Step back.” Deidara nodded to the corner of the hall as he wrapped the wire to the putty and down the frame of the door to the floor letting a few feet run along the cement to the corner.

“Say cheese.” The bomber laughed out loud.

BOOM!

“Quickly, I’m sure that let everyone know we were here. Grab what we came for then torch it, same procedure as Oto.” Konan ducked through the smoking door ahead of Deidara and Hidan.

“That wasn’t my best art, but it wasn’t bad, un.” Deidara skipped through the door after Konan.

“Shut the fuck up about your dumb ass art.” Hidan followed Deidara running to the lock box, swinging his steel rod through the air and smashing it to pieces.

“Take it easy, it’s worthless to us if you break it, not to mention we’ll all die.” Konan grabbed the tiny blue vial from the box and ran out the door Deidara had blown up as the red lights flashed above them.

“Time to split, un.” Deidara threw some colorless clay balls out behind them as he and Hidan ran out the doors after Konan.

Three minutes later, and two blocks away running as fast as they could, they heard the explosion. Deidara turned to look behind them as he ran and grinned, it was burning even brighter than the warehouse in Oto, now that was art, he thought to himself as their black van pulled up to the curb in front of them and they piled inside.

“Do you have it Konan?” Pein asked his old friend as she slid into the passenger seat beside him.

“Here Pein.” Konan handed him the blue vial she had pulled from Akasuna’s safe.

“Excellent. We have everything we need now.” Pein pocketed the vial and drove away from the curb.

“Everything we need for what?” Hidan asked, from the back seat.

“Everything we need to start a war.” Pein met Konan’s eyes and nodded in answer to her unspoken question.

“Deidara, you have your target, you know what to do. Let me know when the implant has been dropped. We’ll make our move once everything is in place.” Pein watched the bomber in his side mirror with one eye, the other on the winding road in front of him.

“Are you sure Pein, the target is not officially affiliated with any one branch, are you sure it is wise to bring her into our war?” Konan said quietly for only Pein to hear.

“Yes Konan. The sins of the father are passed to the children, you know that as well as I do. It can not be helped, besides, she is already part of our war, whether she wills it or not.” He replied just as quietly.

“Perhaps but...this doesn’t feel right. I thought you promised me, we would never be the ‘bad guys’.” Konan looked out the windshield at the road ahead of them, her lips tensed. “I’m not sure Nagato would have wanted this, for us to do it this way.”

“Nagato is dead Konan, because we tried to do it the ‘nice way’, Orochimaru killed him remember?” Pein reminded his friend.

“I will never forget what that man did to Nagato, how dare you Pein, how dare you suggest such a thing, neither of us will ever forget.” Konan glared at her friend. “I still have nightmares about and I know you do too.”

“I’m sorry. This is what we have to do.” Pein looked at his best friend since childhood, the only one he had left now that Nagato was gone. “If there was another way, I would take it, you know that.”

“I know, but...she’s innocent Pein.” Konan pushed the hair back from her face, her eyes following the city lights of Konoha in the side mirror as they left it behind them. “She has no idea we exist and what we mean to her, what we should mean to her...what her mother meant to us.”

“Then it’s about time she found out isn’t it?” Pein said gently.

“Hey, what are you guys whispering about un?” Deidara stuck his head in the middle of Pein and Konan, his blue eyes narrowed and looking from one to the other.

“We are discussing a possible new recruit for the organization.” Pein said without pause.

“Oh yeah? Who is it?” Deidara brightened at the idea, he liked the thought of more people, he was sick of Hidan, didn’t care for Zetsu and thought Kakazu was just too grouchy all the time.

“We are still discussing it. There are steps that need to be taken before they can be approached.” Pein told the blonde.

Deidara looked at Konan for a better explanation but the woman merely shrugged. Deidara rolled his eyes, he should have known better, Konan never revealed more than she had to.

“Well, can I go with you this time to get them when you make up your mind? Hidan got to go last time and killed them by accident, with me at least you know I won’t kill them...at least not on accident.” Deidara clarified.

“Take him, she might respond well to him, he is closer to her age than any of the others.” Konan mumbled.

“She?” Deidara hummed with excitement. “Good, no offense Konan, but we need more women in this organization. Is she cute, un?”

Pein almost rolled his eyes like his friend beside him but he refrained from the frivolous action to turn his head and stare down the bomber. “You may come when I go to collect her, if I collect her, but you will not speak, do you understand, not one word Deidara.”

“Yeah yeah un I get it okay yeah.” Deidara leaned back, he had gotten his way, he smiled smugly to himself, a girl huh? Interesting, he wondered who she was.

Shisui held the door open for Sakura after Madara had left. He made no comment about the folders on the couch, simply picking up her plate and handing it to her with a nod.

Sakura took her plate with a more than slightly distracted smile, her eyes sweeping across the couch to the two thick folders Madara had dropped off a half hour ago. Carefully she picked them up and dropped them on the floor so Shisui could sit back down beside her without sitting on them.

She had wanted to know the truth and he was offering it to her. He had asked for nothing, but had given her an apology. He told her she would have questions and that he would be waiting for her call, not that he would be expecting her to come over, to meet face to face. He was giving her distance...he was giving her respect.

Her eyes were on the television in front of them but Shisui knew her mind was elsewhere. How could it not be...he supposed she had quite a bit to think about. He wondered what was in the folders of course, but he could guess. Madara had apologized...he never thought he would see the day that Madara Uchiha would bend out of empathy.

Madara hadn’t stayed. He had simply apologized and left the folders, another mystery Shisui couldn’t figure out. He had been fully prepared to challenge the man if he had stayed any longer, or had tried to remove Sakura from her apartment. He was glad it hadn’t come to that. Shisui was in his prime, but very few could take on Madara Uchiha and live. The man was a living legend.

Sakura and Shisui ate in companionable silence for the next half hour before Sakura yawned and took her near empty plate into the kitchen. “I think I’m going to call it a night Shisui. I have a bit of reading to do.” She inclined her head toward the two folders on the floor by the couch.

“Sure thing flower, just show me where the blankets are?” Shisui looked around the small living room.

“Closet.” Sakura yawned again and motioned toward the small closet in the hall. “Night Shisui, see you in the morning.”

“Thanks flower, sleep tight. I’ll be out here if you need me.” Shisui walked to the closet and pulled two blankets from the top shelf.

“For sure.” Sakura smiled and waved to him over her shoulder as she closed the door to her bedroom, setting the folders on the end of her bed.

Sakura moved around her room picking up her pajamas and setting them on her bed by the folders, moving to the bathroom to brush her teeth and brush her hair. She was stalling. She knew it but part of her wasn’t sure she wanted the truth, now that it was sitting at the end of her bed, readily available to her.

This is what she wanted though, wasn’t it, she asked herself, her bottom lip caught between her front teeth as she chewed it nervously. Before she could chicken out, before she could think too much and work herself up into a nervous fit she changed into her pajamas, hopped up onto her bed and opened the first folder.

Sakura frowned at the newspaper clipping. It was one she had seen before, one she had in her keepsake box. It was old news to her. She set the clipping aside and picked up the next one. This one, she hadn’t seen before, it was different from the first one.

‘Local man died, the last victim of a deranged killer’, the headline read. Deranged killer? Last victim? Sakura scanned the article, one line stood out from the others. ‘Mourning wife vows revenge.’ Sakura squinted at the caption next to the picture of...her mother Mebuki Haruno.

“What?” Sakura didn’t understand. Didn’t her parents die together?

Chapter Text

The papers slid through her fingers one after the other as she read each one as fast as she could. Her mother...according to two of the four newspaper articles had lived, at least, they claimed she hadn’t died with her husband, that day as Sakura had thought, as she had been told...as it read in the Konoha Daily News. The Konoha Daily News that was owned and operated by the Uchiha family.

Sakura picked the article up from Ame again and read it for the third time. ‘Surviving wife of the famed Kizashi Haruno, vows revenge on Ame’s undesirable number one, Orochimaru.’, the article read.

“Famed?” Sakura frowned. Her father was famous?

“I swear, he will not get away with this. I will do everything in my power to end his disgusting experimentation on children! He will never get his hands on my daughter!” ‘Mebuki Haruno, the late wife of Kizashi Haruno, told Ame People’s Journal, three hours after she was released from the Ame hospital where she was treated for a mild concussion which she sustained from the attack that killed her husband.’

Sakura picked up the other article with similar quotes. An article from a Taki newspaper. “Today we mourn the loss of a good man, a brilliant scientist and inventor, Kizashi Haruno. Haruno San, left behind a wife of fifteen years and a twelve year old daughter. Our heart goes out to them for their loss.’

The article slipped between her fingers to fall back down into her lap. There were others, that claimed her mother Mebuki had died with her father, there was one that claimed she, Sakura was also dead, killed by the same evil assailant, this Orochimaru with her parent’s...only she wasn’t, she was here, right here in her bedroom and very much alive.

What the hell did this mean...Madara had told her she would have questions...she didn’t even know where to begin. Setting the news articles aside she opened a plain, unlabeled white envelope and found pictures, older pictures.

Sakura held her breath and flipped the small stack of photos over. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked down at the first picture. It was a picture of her mother and father, Mikoto Uchiha standing between both of them, just as pregnant as her mother who stood beside her, smiling into the camera.

“Sasuke.” Sakura mumbled her best friend’s name, it had to be Sasuke that Mikoto was pregnant with in the picture because Sakura was an only child and they were the same age.

She had no idea that her parents had been that close to the Uchiha clan, but it made sense. Her and Sasuke had been friends since...well since she could remember and this must be why. Eagerly she placed the photo to the back and looked down at the next one in her hands and froze.

Naruto’s parents looked out of the glossy print at her, Kushina, his mother held a little baby Naruto in her arms as Minato, his father held them to his side with a strong arm around Kushina’s waist. Sakura could see Uchiha in the background, recognizing the main house off to the left. This photo had been taken within the compound. Naruto’s family had been close to the Uchiha as well, just like hers had...no wonder the Uchiha had adopted both of them, but…

How come no one had told them how close their families were. Itachi baby sat Sakura sometimes but she couldn’t remember being this close, not like the pictures led her to believe. Something didn’t seem right about this to Sakura. Why as they got older would their seemingly extremely close families...drift apart or take pains to appear as though they weren’t as close as they were? Didn’t the effort void itself when the Uchiha adopted both Naruto and herself?

There were too many questions and not enough answers.

Sakura placed the photo of baby Naruto and his parents to the back and looked at the next one. It was a younger Madara and Izuna...with Mebuki, holding a baby Sakura, her pink locks stuck up in spikes all over her head, her thumb was in her mouth. It wasn’t the sight of herself as a baby that startled her as she looked at the picture, it wasn’t the way Izuna had his arm slung comfortably over his mother’s shoulder, it was the way Madara was looking at her mother that made her uneasy. He wasn’t glaring at her but there was a coldness in his eyes that Sakura recognized as the same cold look he gave Tobirama Senju. Madara...didn’t like her mother Mebuki. Why?

Sakura moved onto the next picture. Her father was hunched over what appeared to be a microscope. He was in a lab coat of some kind with a patch on it’s arm that she couldn’t make out. There was another man in the frame with her father, looking over his shoulder at the slide her father was looking at.

He was shorter than her father, with long sleek black hair, but what caught Sakura’s attention was how very pale the man was...almost a sickly shade of white, that made her skin crawl. She didn’t know why, call it a hunch but she didn’t like this man and she didn't like the look in his eyes as he stood behind her father Kizashi. It looked like...ambition or perhaps...greed.

Sakura swallowed and shuffled the picture to the back.

The next picture was of her mother Mebuki again but her mother was older in this picture, bent over a small boy who was laughing up at her. There was a little girl standing beside them, smiling down at her mother and the boy, another small boy stood to the left holding a towel, they appeared to be at a beach.

What stood out the most about the picture was that the first boy had the brightest orange hair Sakura had ever seen and it made her blush. The girl, had a very unique blue colored hair and the other boy’s hair was a dark wine red. Sakura ran her fingers through her own unusual shade of pastel pink and smiled. Who were these children, was she related to them?

The next picture was dark. Sakura held it up to the light but it didn’t help. She could barely make out a tall figure sitting in a chair, in what appeared to be an office of some sort. It was night Sakura concluded, she could see the lights of a city behind the man through a window in the background. The office was high up, perhaps in a skyscraper Sakura guessed, the city lights in the background looked far away, much farther away than they had from the third floor balcony of the Konoha Hospital.

Sakura wondered at the photo. Why would someone take a photo with the lights off? She peered down at the photo moving it from side to side, tilting it in her hand and noticed another figure in the corner of the room that looked like...her father? Was he sitting down in the other chair? She grit her teeth in frustration, the picture was so dark.

“Oh.” Sakura realized that the men in the picture didn’t know they were being photographed...someone had taken this picture without their knowledge.

Unable to see anything else of interest in the photo, Sakura drew up the next photo, the last photo. It was a picture of the ‘accident’...her father lay in a pool of his own blood, his skin pale and graying...clearly dead. As shocking as that was to her, what made her blood run cold, what made her choke on her own spit and close her eyes only to open them as quickly as she had squeezed them shut...was the small figure of her mother...running from the scene...Very. Much. Alive.

“What the fucking hell…” Sakura didn’t understand. She had to talk to Madara...and she wasn’t going to wait until morning to call him.

Sakura shoved the photos back into the envelope and the articles back into the folder. She pulled her pajamas from her body and threw on a sweatshirt and jeans. She hadn’t even opened the other folder, she didn’t care what it held, she needed answers for what she had seen, she needed to have Madara explain to her what this meant.

She was beginning to understand now that she knew nothing. Everything she thought she knew about herself, about her life...was a lie. The Uchiha weren’t the only ones to lie to her...her parents....Kizashi Haruno wasn’t a file clerk for the city. Her mother survived the ‘accident’ and had left her to the Uchiha, to grow up without her, to...who knew what....Madara knew, she was sure of it.

Sakura shoved the folders into a messenger bag, grabbed her phone and her keys, and flung open the door to her bedroom.

Shisui popped up off of her couch as she stormed across the living room to the front door. “Where are you going, Sakura? What happened?”

“I have to talk to Madara. Don’t wait up.” Sakura walked out the door, shutting it behind her with a snap.

She was halfway down the steps when the door to her apartment flew open and a half dressed Shisui nearly fell down the stairs in an attempt to chase her.

“Wait! Sakura come back!” Shisui scrambled down the stairs and broke out into a run to catch her before she made it to her car and left.

“No Shisui, so help me if you get in my way I will hit you with my car. I need to speak to Madara.” Sakura slammed her car door shut and started her car.

“Shit!” Shisui ran back up the stairs, grabbed his own phone and keys, locked Sakura’s front door from the inside and ran to his own car to follow her to the Uchiha compound.

“What the hell had Madara given her?” Shisui groaned as he dialed Itachi.

Sakura flew down the streets of Konoha barely stopping at a red light. Unlocking her phone one handed, she text Madara. ‘You said I would have questions, I do. I’m coming over now. I’m on my way. Shisui is following me.’

Two minutes later she pulled into the drive that led to the gates of the Uchiha compound. With a quick wave to the guards she pulled through the slowly opening gates, tapping her foot anxiously on the pedal wishing they would move a little faster.

Pulling up to the manse she saw that Madara was waiting for her, the door to his home open behind him, light spilling over the entrance way.

“Sakura.” Madara walked down the front steps to his home to take her arm in his. “I received your text. I’m glad you’re here, come.”

Sakura nodded her head and allowed Madara to lead her into his home, a home she hadn’t been in since she had picked his lock and garnered his interest at the age of twelve. The headlights of Shisui’s car shone across the foyer as Madara shut his front door, turning the lock behind them.

“Would you care for some tea my dear?” Madara walked Sakura down the hall to the left into a small and cosy sitting room.

“Got anything a bit stronger?” She smiled weakly at the man who laughed, a deep pleasant sound that immediately relaxed her.

“As you wish, my blossom.” Madara purred, motioning to the small comfortable couch in the middle of the room, as he walked on toward the mini bar in the corner to pour their drinks. Sakura sat down on the couch and watched Madara pour their drinks.

“I don’t know what was in the folders Itachi, but I’m telling you, no good can come of this. Sakura is in his house right now, alone. No, Izuna isn’t home, his car is gone. I have no idea where he is. You know I can’t get into the house, Madara has the place locked down tighter than the prison!” Shisui paced back and forth in front of the mansion looking up at the windows, trying to figure out which room Sakura and Madara were in as he spoke with Itachi.

“I’ve tried calling her but she isn't answering. She might have her phone set to ‘do not disturb’, she was going to bed before she flew out of her room like a bat out of hell. I’m telling you, whatever upset her, it has something to do with those damned folders Madara gave her tonight.” Shisui told his cousin.

“You can’t do that! If you leave Oto and come home now you’ll only push her away more, you know that Itachi. Just give me some time to think okay. I’ll call you back.” Shisui hung up on his cousin and glared at the mansion in front of him. “Damn it Sakura!”

Madara smiled a small smile as he poured two tumblers of whiskey. Sakura was on his couch biting her nails clearly distrubed by the contents of the folders, as he would expect her to be. He wondered, was it the articles, the photos or the research that had distrurbed her more, which one, he wondered had her leaving the comfort of her home tonight to seek him out. It didn’t matter, he smiled again, she was here with him, alone.

Arranging his features into what he knew to be a look of casual concern, he turned with drinks in hand, moving slowly to the couch. “Here, you look like you need this.” He set the glass down on the small table in front of her without making eye contact.

“Thank you Madara. I’m...sorry for coming over so late but uh I was, well I have questions and I don’t know if you can answer them but I think you must know the answers because you’re the one who gave me the files so…” Sakura took two large gulps of her whisky finishing the tumbler in one breath making him blink in surprise.

Izuna had told him she had swallowed a double shot at the hospital function like it was water but he had thought his brother had been over exaggerating. Madara rose to bring the decanter to the table for them and poured her another double.

Sakura chose to sip her second drink, her eyes moving around the room, settling on the fire in the hearth. Madara waited patiently, enjoying the way her hair looked in the firelight and how the amber of the whiskey cast an ethereal glow over her fingers where she held the tumbler to lift it to her lips. She would speak when she was ready, there was no need to push her. They had all night.

“I looked at the folders you gave me. Well, one of them. I read the articles. The conflicting accounts of what happened. I hadn’t planned on coming over tonight, I had questions after reading the articles of course but…” Sakura took a deep breath before she continued. “I saw the photos, the ones in the white envelope, the one of...my father dead and my mother...clearly alive, walking away.”

Madara watched her hand tremble, her knuckles turned white as her grip increased on the small crystal tumbler.

“Drink it down Sakura. You’re going to need all the strength the drink can give you. I will tell you what you want to know, but drink that first dear, to numb the pain.”

Sakura nodded and tipped the tumbler back, swallowed and set the crystal on the table in front of her. She licked her lips, clasped her hands together in her lap and turned to face the man beside her on the small couch. “Okay, tell me, please.”

“I want you to know, I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how. I thought, if you were surrounded by family, by my family, you would be satisfied. I never should have underestimated you Sakura.” Madara brushed the hair from her cheek with the back of his hand, and Sakura resisted the urge to lean into his touch. He was offering her comfort, comfort that she desperately needed right now...but she needed answers more.

“You’re mother Mebuki...survived the attack that killed your father.” Madara paused, giving Sakura time to absorb his words.

“However, she is now...gone.” Madara took Sakura’s hand in his when she paled at his words.

“How? When, and why didn’t she come back for me if she survived the attack?” She demanded.

“She asked us to...help her fake her death. We took a body, of another woman who had been recently killed, and laid her by your father to take her place. As you know, our family owns the Konoha Daily News as well as the Konoha Police, it was an easy cover up...at home. The other articles you saw were from other countries, where we had little or no control over what was printed.” Madara poured another two inches into her tumbler ,sipping his own, as he watched her mouth open and close in silent protest to his claims.

“You said she was gone now though, how did she...I mean she’s dead now then?” Sakura asked, her eyes on her drink.

“She was killed, last year...in Oto by a man named Orochimaru.” Madara watched her eyes widen with recognition, then narrow in anger.

“Orochimaru.” The name escaped her pretty lips on a hiss.

“You know the man?” Madara gripped his own glass anxiously. He had spent the last decade trying to keep her safe from the man who had killed her parents, how the hell did she know who he was?

“I know that he wanted to kidnap me but the reason I was told...is different from the one you’re telling me.” Sakura said slowly.

“I think that... the man may have been lied to though, the one who told me, he may have been given false information or...he could have been simply lying.” Sakura frowned thinking of Sano Senju and what she had heard in Tobirama’s ‘safe room’.

“What man?” Madara was careful to keep his voice low and soothing, he wanted to know who she had been talking to and how this ‘Man’ knew about Orochimaru and why he hadn’t heard anything about him.

“It doesn’t matter.” Sakura said, draining her glass once more, too distracted to notice the change in his tone. “Why would my mother want people to think she was dead? One of the articles said she vowed revenge for her husband, was it revenge against that man, that Orochimaru? The article had mentioned experiments on children, what experiments?”

“Why should I answer your questions when you won’t answer mine?” Madara wanted to know who she had been talking to, to get such information.

“You promised me the truth. I promised you no such thing.” Sakura lifted her chin and met Madara eye for eye.

Madara smirked. Bold. “So I did.” He had taught her well.

Sakura watched the man before her smirk into his glass as he considered his next words. She could tell he hadn’t expected her to say such a thing to him, but that he was pleased more than offended by her moxy. She had come tonight expecting answers but she hadn’t counted on him being quite this accommodating. Why, why was he humoring her to this extent...was she growing paranoid…

“Mebuki was an interesting woman. Your mother was...loud and uncouth. I admit I didn’t care for her much but...she was loyal to your father. She wanted revenge, like the article said and what better way to get revenge on the man who killed your husband if he thought you were dead?” Madara asked her.

“However, as I said before, I could not control what the other news printed, only what we printed in Konoha and Suna.” He grimaced, knowing what was to come from that statement.

“Suna?” Sakura asked.

Madara sighed. “Yes, Suna. The Uchiha used to have an alliance with the Royal family of Suna, until Akasuna no Sasori split the Suna Royal family down the middle and murdered anyone who refused to follow him.”

“Sasori?” Sakura’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“Yes Sakura. Your new friend Sasori is a crowned prince of Suna...and a heartless murdering psychopath.” Madara raised his glass to her and drained it.

Chapter Text

Sasori stared at the empty monitor. He knew she wasn’t there, he knew she had left but he wasn’t sure what his next step should be. She had told the brown haired Uchiha that she was going to see Madara Uchiha…

Madara Uchiha, who had stopped by briefly earlier that evening to drop off two thick folders to Sakura, apologized, then left. Sasori had watched Sakura open the folders, had seen the articles but was unable to read them from the camera angle. He wondered if they were the same articles he had read about her family or if there were different ones, ones only the Uchiha had access to.

Like the articles, he was unable to get a clear view of the photos she had been looking at. It was the photos that had sent her running to the Uchiha. He hated not knowing things, particularly about Sakura, he had come to feel that it was his right to know everything that went on around her. She was...his.

Sasori had of course looked into her background when she had piqued his interest at the young age of sixteen but there had been little to find. Someone had gone to great lengths to erase much of her childhood history and the history of her immediate family. Sasori had his suspicions of course. Some trails had clearly been erased whereas others had skipped years only to end inevitably in a dead end, a cold trail.

It was a common means to hide the truth in their line of work, which was a form of evidence of its own. People didn’t hide things without reason. You don’t lock something up if it isn’t valuable. He had other things to take care of, there had been an explosion at one of his laboratories, his personal laboratory, but he couldn’t quite pull himself away from the monitors. She wasn’t at home, she was with Madara Uchiha.

He had already dispatched his nephew to the laboratory, Gaara would see that everything was taken care of, he knew the procedure, he had the checklist. Sasori sat down at the end of his bed and rotated through the cameras of Sakura’s apartment replaying the scene from earlier in his head.

‘What’, ‘Famed’, ‘Sasuke’, ‘What the fucking hell’...Sasori closed his eyes recalling all the words she had said out loud, piecing the fragments together in his head of what he had seen and what he had heard.

It was clear, after a moment's contemplation, she had discovered something, or more like Madara had given her information she hadn’t had before, shocking information...and that’s why she had gone to see him.

‘You’ll have questions’, the man had told her when he had handed the folders to her. Clearly he had been correct.

Sasori grit his teeth, he needed to know what was in those folders. He knew everything about her that he could know, except for those first years, those lost years and he was sure the things he was looking for were the same things Sakura had been looking for, the things she had found out about herself and her family...the information that was in those folders. Sasori hated not knowing things...he had to find a way to get to those folders. Perhaps while she was in class Monday, he would send Gaara to take pictures of the information in them, or perhaps he would go himself.

Maybe...she would tell him if he asked her. Of course he couldn’t ask her directly about the folders but he could word his curiosity in the form of concern. It would be a good test, to see how much she really trusted him, if she trusted him at all. Sasori smiled to himself at the thought.

Careful fingers traced the soot that lined the inside of the safe. “I want samples taken, my Uncle will want to know what explosives were used, he will want to run a chemical trace.”

Gaara looked around the ruined laboratory, his uncle’s private lab that had been purposefully disguised as a common warehouse...so, they had found it. His Uncle would want to know immediately. Gaara pulled his phone from his pocket.

‘They have it’, was all that he sent his Uncle. Sasori would know what ‘It’ he was referring to. His Uncle had anticipated their movements...that’s why there hadn’t been any Suna guards at the laboratory tonight, only hired thugs. No loss to humanity, not that Gaara or his Uncle cared about such things.

“Sir, we found something we think you should see.” A masked man spoke politely from Gaara’s peripheral, careful to move slowly without making any sudden moves to alarm the unstable redhead.

Gaara nodded and followed the man to the door of the lab. His steps agitated making the man nervous.

“Explosives sir, different than the ones used to blow the warehouse up, but similar to the ones used in Ame.” The man bowed, placing several bagged chunks of cements and powdered debris on the table before Gaara.

“Continue your investigation. I will take these to my Uncle.” Gaara picked the bags up and carried them out to his car.

It was just as his Uncle had thought. Whoever had set fire to their warehouses in Ame, were the same ones who had broken into his private lab and had stolen his ’Prototype’ airborne chemical weapon. Only, they hadn’t stolen the real one, because his Uncle...was a clever man and had anticipated their efforts.

Gaara hurried across the wreckage to his vehicle, he hadn’t wanted to come to investigate a fire where his Uncle had already foreseen the outcome. He had wanted to stay at the estate and watch his cameras, he wanted to watch the monitors with his Uncle and be there when Sakura returned to her apartment.

His nerves were on edge, he didn't like that she had left her apartment so late at night to go to the Uchiha compound, to see Madara Uchiha.

He closed the door to his car and popped his phone into its holder on the dash. With a few quick swipes he brought up his own cameras in Sakura's apartment. She wasn’t there, she wasn’t where she was supposed to be, home in her bed waiting for him to kiss his phone goodnight like he had last night.

She was supposed to be home, to be there for him and she wasn’t, Instead she was with another man, at the Uchiha compound with another man...with Madara Uchiha...not home, with him in his bed but...Gaara gripped his hair with one hand, the other on the steering wheel as he sped through the streets of downtown Konoha.

Damn it, he needed her and she left, to go...to go...see another man. He wondered, his hand loosening it’s hold on his spiky locks at the next turn, is this how his Uncle felt?

Did his Uncle love the woman as much as he did? He saw the way his Uncle watched the woman, he saw the way his Uncle’s breath had caught in his throat when he had first seen her at the Konoha Hospital Fundraiser. Did he love her though, as much as he, Gaara loved her?

Impossible...Gaara had never been in love before. No one could possibly love Sakura more than him, not his Uncle, not that younger Uchiha, not Madara Uchiha, no one.

Gaara calmed his breathing. It was okay, he told himself, everything would be fine. He loved her. She would love him one day, one day when she saw how much he cared for her, like he had never cared for anyone before. She would see that he loved her, like he had never loved himself or anyone before her. She was special, his Sakura.

She would understand...she wasn’t like those other women, those useless bodies that warmed his soul for a moment before flickering out like a candle in the wind, a fleeting moment of weakness or desire, of hate...no Sakura was special and he couldn’t wait for the day that he could touch her again, show her how special she was to him...and of course, how much he loved her.

Shisui slunk around to the back of the manse to look for Obito, maybe the man would give Madara a message for him. Shisui had a fifty fifty chance. Obito was loyal to Madara, but Shisui knew he also had a soft spot for the pinkette.

Shisui found the man on the back porch, cigarette in his mouth, eyes closed to the night’s sky.

“He won’t hurt her, tell Itachi not to worry.” Obito let the words fall out of the side of his mouth without opening his eyes.

“You don’t know that.” Shisui started to protest but Obito opened his eyes and turned to him, slouched against the side of the small wooden bridge from the porch that led out to the koi pond in the gardens.

“Do you think Itachi would hurt her?” Obito asked Shisui seriously.

“No, but…” Shisui was cut off by the older man.

“Neither will Madara. He might lose his temper but...women have a way of making you kinda crazy...when you really care about them.” Obito took a long exaggerated drag form his cigarette before closing his eyes again and turning away from Shisui.

“Will you give her a message for me maybe? Tell her I’ll be back at her apartment, if she needs me to come get her I don’t mind?” Shisui asked him.

“Sure.” Obito stuck his hands in his pockets and cracked an eye open. “I’ll tell her.”

“Thanks.” Shisui ran a hand through his hair and walked back to the front of the manse to his car.

Obito watched the man go, shaking his head, he would tell her, in the morning...knowing Madara, Sakura was probably staying the night.

He had already moved her car into one of the old carriage houses in the back, no one in the main house would even know she was there, much less in the master suite with Madara. Madara had given him specific instructions, that they were not to be disturbed.

He hadn’t lied to Shisui. Madara wouldn’t hurt Sakura, but the clan head wasn’t used to taking no for an answer either. There was a reason Madara had been so successful during a time when other ancient families like the Hyuugas were being exterminated, Madara could talk anyone into anything and make them think it was their own idea.

“Sasori killed his family?” Sakura didn’t understand. Why would he do that?

“To be fair, he didn’t kill all of them, only the ones who refused to follow his new world order.” Madara poured her another drink, fitting the glass into her hands for her, his fingers sliding effortlessly over her own.

“The royal family of Suna...I’ve read about them, they’ve been around almost as long as, as the Uchiha and the Senju.” Sakura took an absent minded sip of her drink, her eyes in her lap, distracted by her own thoughts.

Sasori was...well she knew he was a criminal, he hadn’t denied it when she had asked him. He had made a point to tell her that his business in Suna was...illegal, but...if he was royalty, was it really illegal, or did he say that because anywhere else it would be considered illegal, did he say that so she would understand...or so that she wouldn’t think he was trying to trick her? The man always chose his words so carefully, since the first time they had met.

It made her smile. She could appreciate a careful man, a clever man.

“Yes, with a past just as bloody too.” Madara admitted. “Not quite as bloody anymore though. Now we seek alliances, broker peace through industry and commodities if you will.”

Sakura nodded, she understood. She knew what kinds of businesses the Uchiha owned and operated, she understood the value of corruption that free enterprise could bring.

“There is a difference though Sakura, one that is very important to understand.” Madara turned on the couch to face her, drawing his knee up onto the cushion sideways so that his leg brushed hers.

“I do not kill, unless it is to protect the family. Akasuna, your friend Sasori...enjoys killing, just as much as his nephew, the one you call by his first name, Gaara of the Sand.”

Madara watched her face, he could see the defiance building in her eyes. He sighed. Itachi was right, she wouldn’t believe them until she saw it with her own eyes. “I have something to show you. I had a spy planted with Akasuna, a doctor and scientist who graduated from Konoha Medical, a student like you, hand picked for an internship by me for his intelligence, for his loyalty, to spy on Akasuna for the family.”

“Wait here dear, finish your drink. I will get the file from my office.” Madara rose, pulling his hand from hers slowly as he rose.

Sakura nodded into her drink, sipping it as he had suggested. As she waited her eyes began to wander around the small sitting room. She realized she had never been in this room and she had always wanted to, not only this room, but all the rooms of the manse. It was the reason she had taken her boys up on the dare when they were twelve. Of course when she was twelve she hadn’t made it past the foyer. She had always wanted to see inside Madara’s mansion...and now she was, with his permission.

Rising from her seat on the couch she moved around the room picking up a book from the book shelf. Madara had some very interesting tastes in books she mused as her eyes passed over an ancient history text to a modern warfare novel. She smiled as she saw the entire collection of Icha Icha on a separate shelf.

Madara had never struck her as a man who would enjoy a novel, much less a romance novel.. With the smile on her lips she moved to a large cabinet, it’s doors were made of different colored interlacing glass, it was beautiful.

Admittedly she hadn’t had a lot of time to look around before he had tripped her and flattened her face to the ground with a deep growl. She wondered briefly how much longer he would be and if she had enough time to look at any of the other rooms in the manse before his return. Drinking the rest of her drink quickly she set the glass down on a side table and slipped out the door quietly, looking left and right at the many different pictures hung on the wall.

The paintings, for she could see clearly now the artistic brush strokes that made up the muted colored forms, were all of Uchiha. Like most of the old clans the Uchiha were proud and set great importance in preserving their history. It was something she had always been jealous of.

Sakura didn’t come from an old clan, her father’s father had been a simple merchant, prosperous but a merchant nonetheless. There was no ancient bloodline, no family crest, nothing to be proud of that she hadn’t earned herself.

The further she walked down the hall the fewer the paintings that lined the walls. Turning around, less she became disoriented, she realized she didn’t know which door she had come out of.

“Damn.” She bit her lip, there were simply too many. She could blame the alcohol sure or the lateness of the hour but she knew it was pure carelessness. She had been distracted.

“This is your fault.” She told an old grouchy looking Uchiha on the wall who seemed quietly affronted at her baleful half hooded gaze. Sakura giggled...perhaps she shouldn’t have accepted that last double glass from Madara.

Humming to herself, and reasoning that she hadn’t made any turns, she should just walk back down the hall toward the direction that she had come from and open every door on the way...or, her mischievous mind told her, she could continue on and slip around the corner to explore a little more before Madara returned.

Sakura knew she was tempting fate of course, because Madara would return eventually and notice she was gone. No doubt he would be annoyed, if not outright livid with her, he had told her to wait for him, but…

Without a backward glance and with only the slightest hunching of her barely guilt ridden shoulders she stepped around the corner, only to gasp at the most beautiful room she had ever seen.

Tall walls rose up around her nearly two stories high. Crystal and gold chandeliers laced with cranes of silver and diamond studded eyes soared in between ancient torches, now electric, making the precious metals glitter and sing. Silk banners lined the perimeter, the Uchiha family crest adorning the tails. It was a hall, an ancient hall from a time gone by, from an era past when the family would meet en mass to settle disputes, claims and to dole out justice, the last of every word given gracefully and authoritatively by their clan head, by a man like Madara.

Sakura tiptoed into the room, her fingers gliding over the polished surface of a side table, glass covering a field of rice and paddy inlaid into the wood. The craftsman ship was exquisite, she had never seen anything like it. No wonder Madara hadn’t wanted them in here as kids. She could just see Naruto as a teenager falling over by accident and breaking a priceless table such as this one...the horror that would have ensued!

Again, she thought she must have had a bit too much to drink as she giggled at her own nonsensical thoughts. Well, with the night she was having...why the hell not, she could always call Shisui for a ride home, if he wasn’t too mad at her for ditching him.

With one last look of longing at the beautiful artistry encompassing the table she moved to the other side of the gathering hall. Looking up as she approached she marveled again at the amount of time it must have taken to carve such an ornate rounded doorway. The precision of the curve, the hand carved detail was simply breathtaking.

Turning her head up Sakura admired the painted reeds and cranes that decorated the walls as she entered the next set of rooms. The reeds were painted from floor to ceiling, white and black cranes hidden among the rushes as she walked past them. Stopping in front of another traditional sliding door, she hesitated for a moment. Should she…

Looking over her shoulder and listening intently she heard no noise, no foot falls or sign of Madara anywhere. Quickly, she slid the door open and stepped inside sliding the door shut behind her. It was dark, there were no lights from the hall after the first door. She could see the silhouette of the gold lighting in the gathering hall and the roundness of the circular door that had brought her to where she was now but she didn’t turn back.

Sakura knew she should go back, she had been gone for quite some time now and surely Madara had returned to the sitting room to find her gone. He would be looking for her. Feeling rather rebellious after the night's revelations she boldly took one step and then another toward the other side of the room. There should be another door leading to the next room as was typical of these old houses, but no door came, nor did the other side of the room.

Step by step, moving cautiously across the seemingly empty and fathomless abyss she moved. At last, she sighed, she could see through narrowed eyes a shadow of a door. Stepping the last few steps, she slid the door open and found herself in a dimly lit room. There was a huge platform bed at the far end of the room, a fire pit in the middle complete with a cooking tripod and a dresser to the left while a standing wardrobe made of fine cherry wood stood to the right.

The manse itself was ancient, a relic from the past but this room, there were no modern modifications to it like there had been in the other rooms. She felt like...she had stepped through the door into the past. It was chilling and thrilling at the same time.

“This is...a bedroom?” Sakura stepped farther into the room looking around. She could hear water coming from her left, and saw, not far from where the dresser sat up against the wall, a small private sliding door wide enough for perhaps two people. Moving quickly, full of curiosity she slid the door open to reveal the most beautiful enclosed outside garden she had ever seen.

There was a meditation fountain in the corner, the water falling in a steady beat as the bamboo cup filled, fell over, then up righted itself to start the process all over again. She could see the silver and gold of the koi in their pond, the moonlight reflecting off of the delicate whites and pinks of the chrysanthemum petals at her fingertips. Little stacked rocks lined the porch at one end as she stepped out onto the smooth wood surface and lifted her chin in the crisp night air.

It was so calming here, so peaceful. Sakura felt the stress and the anxiety of the day fade from her bones with each cold calming breath that filled her lungs through her nose and escaped her lungs over her lips.

“I see you’ve found my private garden.” The deep soothing familiar baritone of Madara Uchiha hummed behind her ear, as warm arms encased her body and pulled her back up against his chest, his head resting on the top of hers as they looked out into the night at his moonlit garden away from the prying eye of the main house.

Chapter Text

“Madara, I…” An unease settled over Sakura as Madara shushed her. Her heart told her he was too close that this was not right but...her head was telling her to trust him, it was okay she was safe he would protect her, he cared about her.

“Shh dear, relax.” Madara ran his fingers up and down her arms soothing her with his calming voice. “Enjoy the beauty before you, be at peace love.”

Sakura leaned back into his touch and closed her eyes, she could feel the stress of the day seeping from her bones being replaced little by little with the man’s body heat, soothing her aching mind. She nodded once, then opened her eyes to the moonlight garden, and sighed.

He could feel the tension of her muscles relax against him, she couldn’t see him smile, or hear the thoughts that were racing through his head. ‘No one but Shisui and Obito know she’s here and Shisui won’t do anything without an order from Itachi’...’Itachi’, Madara thought momentarily...if he went too far, would the boy retract on their agreement? Too far, Madara scoffed at himself...there was no such thing as too far for him.

Madara hummed low in his throat. No, nothing was too far, she belonged to him. He had waited long enough.

“Sakura, you must know that everything I did, I did to protect you.” His fingers laced with hers, pulling her farther back, closer against his chest, his mouth beside her ear. “...because I care for you.”

Sakura closed her eyes again, his voice it was...it was…her eyes snapped open, it was wrong...so wrong.

“Madara, I don’t know what you think you’re doing but this is not appropriate. I came here for answers, and you’re going to give them to me. You owe me answers and…”

Madara spun her around in his arms. “I owe you?” His voice dropped, dangerously low and vicious. This was the second time she was defying him, disrespecting him.

“I. Owe. You?” He moved her against the side of the door wall and pressed her up against it with his body. “No love, you have that wrong. You owe me.”

Sakura narrowed her eyes, she had...had enough of this from him. “If you think that you can just…”

A bruising kiss cut off her voice. “Umph!” She protested pushing against his heavier, larger form.

“Insolent girl.” Madara pulled her from the wall and pushed her through the garden door back into his darkened bedroom.

“It’s time you learned your place.” He dragged her to the bed pushing her down onto the padded surface, crawling on top of her and forcing her arms above her head.

Something inside her snapped. Something she didn’t know she possessed. Perhaps she had always had it in her, she wasn’t sure but she knew...she was not going to let him do this to her. With all the will power she possessed, she stilled her movements and went limp, her head rolling to the side, a blank look upon her face. “I’m sorry Madara.” She whispered softly.

The man on top of her paused and narrowed his eyes in suspicion of her sudden compliance. He could feel her shivering, almost shaking underneath him. Did she finally realize there was no one here to save her, that she was alone with him and that she should...her voice distracted him.

“You’re right. I should...be grateful to you. Forgive me.” Sakura bit her bottom lip, turned her head and looked at him apologetically.

His heart drummed against his chest as he tried to calm his desire, he needed to think clearly...this was a trap, it had to be. She was too compliant, too…

“I’m sorry.” Sakura said again, softly, slowly...a blush forming on her cheeks, as she trembled beneath him again.

“I forgive you Love.” Madara tested her, slowly letting go of her hands above her head and running then down her body. She shivered at his touch, but let him touch her.

“Let me show you how much I care about you.” He watched her, waiting, looking for a twitch, a smirk...any form of deceit. Carefully he ran one hand along the hem of her shirt, plucking at the fabric, then boldly slid his hand up under the shirt against her skin, his eyes never leaving hers, judging her reaction.

A sigh escaped her lips, he smirked...his palm cupping her breast over her bra. He could feel her nipple hardening at his attention, bending his head, he kissed her again, gently this time, licking and pulling on her bottom lip.

Sakura willed herself not to pull back, not to hit him...yet. “Madara.” Her voice was a forced sort of breathless as her eyes fluttered closed...not yet, she told herself.

“Sakura.” He cooed softly in her ear, one hand under her shirt pulling at the front clasp of her bra, then other moving down, fumbling with the zipper of her pants. “Such a good girl.”

She could feel the warmth of his voice pulling at her restraint, it felt...good, his touch, the heat of his hands as they slipped into her panties, she felt….her head flooded with his voice. “I’ll be gentle, open your legs Love, let me touch you. Let me make you feel good.”

Almost subconsciously, her legs began to open. NO! She screamed at herself, no, do not let him do this to you, this is not what you want! Damn, too close, stick to the plan she reminded herself, lull him into a false sense of security. Damn this man, how did he...damn it she ran her fingers through his hair, gathered the silky mass between her fingers, making him groan, his fingers sliding up into her heat. She moaned.

No...Sakura’s eyes snapped open, she yanked on his hair making him grunt in pleasure...it was now or never. She pressed her head back as far as she could into the plush padded bedding lurching forward while pulling his head down to hers….

Wham! She headbutted him right in the nose, CRACK...she felt rather than saw the thick pungent warmth gush across her face. With all the strength she could muster through the fog, she pushed off the bed into his body and threw him from her form, leapt to her feet, zipping her pants back up as she ran through the garden door out into the garden and running through the gate at the side.

She ran as fast as she could, stumbling as she clasped her bra back in place shaking the fog of his voice and touch from her head. Sakura could hear him bellowing, she knew she didn’t have much time. She had surprised him, but soon, it wouldn’t be enough, and if he caught her now she knew...he would not be gentle…

She raced around the corner, her mind whirling a smile of triumph on her face. She had never done anything like that before in her life and it was...it was...freedom. With eyes darting wildly from side to side she thought furiously, where, where would it be….spotting the old carriage buildings, there, she crowed to herself in her head, that’s where her car would be.

Pulling her keys from her pocket as she ran, stumbling only slightly, she flung open the doors to the carriage house, saw her car at the end and ran to it, unlocking the auto locks and jumping inside. As she started her car, the blinding lights of the carriage house were thrown on, and there stood Madara, blood staining the front of his shirt, gun in hand.

“Fuck.” Sakura threw her car into drive and pressed her foot to the gas, slowly then down as the vehicle lurched forward, she didn’t want to flood the engine, not now...he moved faster than she could have anticipated, she screamed as the first shot...a warning shot went through her back side window. She didn’t take the time to look, she stepped on the gas and crashed through the carriage house doors and sped off, leaving a very, very pissed off Madara behind her.

Obito stood in the shadow of the second story cat walk over the carriage house. He had seen the woman run into the building, find her car and lock herself inside. He had watched Madara’s approach, watched him raise his gun. Obito had pulled his own gun at the sight of the man but lowered it as he realized the man wasn’t going to shoot the woman, but her back window. Obito grinned as he saw the change in Sakura’s eyes...a victim no more...watched as she crashed through the garage doors of the carriage house and sped off leaving a very pissed off, bewildered Madara Uchiha behind her.

...she was just like Rin, and women like that...needed to be respected as much as they needed to be protected.

Obito remained in the shadows of the cat walk and watched Madara walk back to the manse, his fist clenched at his side, his gun in the other. Pulling his phone from his pocket he punched in the numbers.

“Is she safe?” The voice on the phone asked.

“She is, and she did it on her own. You were right, she’s a fighter that one.” Obito watched the light in Madara’s bedroom glow brightly, his figure pacing back and forth. “She just left...drove straight through the garage door without the slightest hesitation.”

The person on the other end chuckled lightly. “Of course she did. I would expect nothing less from her. I will be in touch.” The line went dead.

Obito pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it, taking a long well earned drag as he jumped down from the cat walk onto the main floor of the garage and out through the Sakura car shaped hole in the door. ‘Of course she did’, the man’s words came back to Obito as he walked and smoked. He had been hesitant at first to join this man but now...he understood...this man...he didn’t think ten steps ahead like Itachi or Madara, no. He thought one hundred steps ahead and prepared for every possible outcome.

...a man worth following. Obito flicked his cigarette off to the side into the grass and smiled. A perfect match for the pink haired hellion.

With a constant eye to her rear view, scanning each mirror repeatedly Sakura flew through the downtown district. She couldn’t go to Mikoto, she couldn’t go home to her apartment, no she had to go...somewhere Madara couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Itachi was in Oto, she could drive there but….no it was too predictable she had to...do something insane, something so out of her norm that they would never even think of looking for her there....she bit her bottom lip and pulled out her phone at the next red light.

Shisui paced back and forth in Sakura’s living room. He had to do something, he just didn’t know what. Itachi said he would call him back when he had called him and told him what had happened. He hadn’t called him back yet though and Shisui was getting restless. Madara had spent too much time alone with Sakura already.

Itachi always did this, thought about things too much, waited too long. If he didn’t do something quickly it was all going to fall apart. Shisui ran his hands through his hair. If only Itachi had told Sakura how he felt about her years ago, they might not be in this situation. Shisui loved his cousin, respected him, but sometimes...sometimes he wanted to hit him over the head and knock some sense into his genius head!

Shisui had considered calling Sasuke and Naruto but decided against it. Those two tended to completely lose their heads where the Pinkette was concerned, they would probably do more harm than good. He had to think carefully, he didn’t want to push Sakura away from them anymore than she already was being pushed away by Madara, by Itachi...damn it. He needed to know what was in those files.

Obito entered the manse and made his way slowly toward Madara’s private sitting room. He knew he had moments before Madara returned from his bedroom, but that was alright. He only needed to snap a few pictures of the files Sakura had brought with her. Her messenger bag was on the floor by the couch. A few quick pictures, and Obito was shutting the sitting room door silently behind him.

‘Sometimes your best friend is a friend you don’t know you have.’ Obito smiled as Rin’s words came back to him. He would be that friend for Sakura, she would need it...and soon...a war was coming, she would need all the help she could get.

Itachi sat at the end of his bed in Oto staring at his phone. He had two options, leave and bring Sakura back to Oto with him or...send Shisui after her. Shisui was no match for Madara though...damn...he didn’t know what to do. He had tried calling Sakura three times now, but she didn’t answer. He had texted her twice, without reply. She was clearly ignoring him and he couldn’t blame her but…

He dialed his cousin. “Find her, bring her to me here in Oto.” Itachi hung up his phone and let it fall from his hand into his lap. Had he made the right decision? Had he just sentenced his cousin to death by Madara’s hands? Was he trading Sakura’s virtue for his cousin’s life...this is why he had never wanted this position, but he had been naive to think he could escape destiny, fate, or whatever this was...hell, this was hell he was positive.

Madara ran his finger down the bridge of his nose as involuntary tears streamed down his face. With a barely repressed sigh he gripped his nose between his hands, one on each side of the bridge...and yanked it back into place. A stifled grunt of pain was all he would allow himself as more tears and blood slipped down his face, over his lips to fall to his shirtfront. The minx...the bitch was going to pay for this.

She had shed his blood...he was going to make her bleed for it. As much as he admired her for her moxy, he could not allow her to disobey him like this. He had been too lenient with Itachi, he wouldn’t make the same mistake with Sakura. He had hoped to do this without breaking her, however, it was clear, that is exactly what he would have to do to show her that he really cared about her. He had done it before, with Mikoto, he could do it again...for the clan.

‘Yes’, Madara thought as he walked out of his room toward the kitchens for some ice. He would break her will, break her soul, then rebuild her, rebuild her into an obedient partner, one worthy of his love.

He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Find her. Do not hurt her, much. You know what will happen if you fail. Don’t come back without her.”

Madara hung up the phone. Sakura might be able to outrun and fool a simple tail, but let’s see if she can out run his trackers and their guns. Satisfied, he continued down the hall toward hsi kitchen.

As Madara passed the closed door of his sitting room he realized Sakura had left without taking her bag with her. Pleased she hadn’t made off with the precious files he opened the door to find her bag exactly where she had left it. Picking the bag up with him and taking it with him to the kitchens he smiled, he now had yet another thing to hold over her head, surely she would want these back.

Shisui drove through the compound gates and parked his car in front of the main house. He knew he couldn’t approach Madara directly. The man would simply shoot him outright. Shisui didn’t want to think about what horrible things Madara could be doing to Sakura in the privacy of his own home right now. He needed to act, but he needed to act smart. He didn’t want to put Sakura in any more danger than she was already.

Moving slowly with the shadows along the main house, Shisui made his way around the back. He could see the lights of Madara’s manse up ahead. With sure steps he ran across the yard closing in on the carriage house that lay between the manse and the main house only to find glass and splinted wood littering the lawn and gravel drive.

“Sakura’s gone. She was in a hurry to leave.” Obito’s footsteps crunched on the gravel drive as he walked toward Shisui, his hand waving at the evidence of Sakura's departure.

“So I see.” Shisui grinned as relief flooded his system. She wasn’t there, she wasn’t in danger. “Uh, do you know where she went?” He asked Obito who shook his head.

“No, but at least she isn’t here eh?” Obito turned and walked back out into the dark, away from the manse, away from the main house.

Shisui stood there looking after the man until the night enveloped him. He was acting odd...more than he usually did. Shisui had always thought Obito was an odd sort of man, different from the rest of the Uchiha, kinda like he was himself. They had never had an issue with one another but Shisui had only been a kid when Obito had left to follow Madara into his ten year venture, so he didn’t know him as a man. Unpredictable, that’s what the man was.

Sakura pulled into the gas station at the edge of Konoha. He had told her to drive north, that someone would find her, to pull into the farthest gas station east of the Naka River. She had laughed as she hung up her phone. His directions had been specifically vague, it sounded like a horrible Saturday morning B movie where the heroine died due to lack of ‘wit’. Sakura shook her head and waited in the farthest parking spot in the back of the gas station, keeping both of the entrances and exits within view as well as the main road.

It was late, she would be able to see her ‘escort’ for miles. The last thing she wanted was for Madara to find her, or one of his men right now. She looked up as a grey sedan drove by at a suspiciously slow pace, but kept going, the driver not even turning their head. Relaxing only slightly, she laughed at herself again. Was she being paranoid? No...she assured herself, after what had happened at the manse...no she wasn’t being paranoid. She was being smart.

Several minutes passed and she began to worry. Had she driven too far...was this not the farthest gas station from the river...her fingers tapped her steering wheel but stilled immediately as she felt the stickiness of the gummed blood on her hands, Madara’s blood. That bastard…

She had been so stupid. She had been naive. Never again...she growled, would she let a man treat her like an object, like a possession. She wasn’t the same person she had been less than 78 hours ago, the world wasn’t the same she realized just how foolish she had really been, how sheltered she had been.

...she had left the files in Madara’s manse...she had run away from him in such a hurry it couldn’t be helped but she groaned under the loss of what was her life, the truth.

Headlights flashed a mile down the road. A car had turned onto the main stretch from a side street. Sakura ducked down into the seat of her car, just in case and waited. She watched as the car came closer, the street lights over head illuminating it’s matte black body as it drew near...a familiar sight...Gaara’s black sports car.

Sasori had sent his nephew to escort her. Sakura let out a nervous breath she hadn’t realized she had held in her chest, the ache subsiding with it’s release. She was safe, Sasori would help her, she could trust him...she wanted to trust him.

Gaara pulled up next to her and parked. With a hand he motioned for her to roll her window down. Sharp eyes took in her messed hairm bloodied shirt and bloodied hands. “You’ve been spotted. Leave your car. I will send someone to get it for you later. Get in.” His deep voice soothed her and she nodded once, getting out of her car.

Gaara leaned over in his seat and pushed the passenger car door open for her. Sakura slid into the seat next to him and buckled her seat belt on. “Thank you for coming for me Gaara.”

Teal eyes softened at her words and he nodded. “Don’t thank me yet.” He looked over his shoulder as two cars pulled into the parking lot, their headlights off. “Hold on Sakura, and don’t scream.”

Chapter Text

Sakura’s eyes went wide and her hands gripped the middle console and the armrest of the passenger door. Gaara hit the gas and spun the wheel of his car, turning one eighty and flooring it out of the parking lot.

“Oh shit!” Sakura clamped a hand over her mouth...he had told her not to scream, no doubt it would distract him from concentrating on the road and their pursuers.

With a steady hand on the wheel Gaara pushed a button on his dash and spoke clearly, enunciating each word. “Two in pursuit, black, four door, guns. West of previous location. Intercept.”

West of the previous location….but they were east. Sakura watched in awe as the redhead slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel again, her stomach lurched to the side, then her head slammed into the back of the seat as he sped off in the opposite direction making the two cars that had been following them fly off the sides of the road. She couldn't help it, she couldn’t hold it in, she laughed out loud, tossing her head back in delight. It was thrilling.

“I’m pleased you are enjoying yourself Sakura.”

Sakura looked over to find the faintest upturn to Gaara’s lips. He looked like he was enjoying himself as well, much more than he had been at the fundraiser. Tonight, he was in his element, tonight his eyes looked more alive. She liked it.

“Do not worry.” Dark teal met forest green. “It will be over soon, just hold on, and maybe close your eyes. It’s about to get a little bloody.” His eyes flickered to the front of her shirt, then her hands where Madara’s dried blood had already begun to flake off of her skin.

Sakura nodded. Two seconds later the night exploded around her in the form of gunfire that set the road on fire.

Pop Pop Pop

She closed her eyes as he had suggested and held her breath. Her nails dug into the leather of the door rest, her toes pressed against the sides of the floor where she braced for the crash she was sure to come. Sakura could still see the flashes of gunfire through the lids of her eyes and wondered, who was shooting and who was dying.

The car jerked back and forth making her body slam up against the door, then the middle where her shoulder brushed Gaara’s. She could feel his muscles tense and move under their connection as he righted the car and sped off in another direction. Screams rent the air, the smell of smoke almost choked her.

“The windows are bullet proof.” He told her casually as they sped down the road. “Don’t worry.”

She almost laughed again, ‘Don’t worry’, but refrained. She could feel the speed of the vehicle even out, she no longer heard shouting or the loud pop of gunfire. There was no more smoke, no one screamed...she could feel her hands again and slowly let her grip on the door subside.

“You can open your eyes now.” Gaara said quietly, a slight lit of amusement in his voice. She looked adorable squished down into his passenger seat, eyes squinted shut, fingers digging into the arm rests...a slight curve to her lips. He wanted to see more, he wanted to show her more of his world. She was exciting.

Sakura opened her eyes, sat up straight in her seat and looked around. They were alone again, there wasn’t anyone else on the road. She let her breathe out slowly. “Thank you Gaara.”

A nod and a twitch of his lips, “We’re almost there. My Uncle had already prepared a room for you. You’ll be safe with us. You have my word.” He promised her.

Sakura nodded, yes, she had made the right choice by calling Sasori. She could trust them, him, Gaara. Sakura flashed him a brilliant smile.

Naruto cracked his eye open as a sliver of light from the hallway beyond his bedroom door crept across the floor of his room and up the back of his desk chair. A sudden widening of the door, a shadow and Sasuke slipped into his room. The end of his bed sagged under his weight and they sat together in companionable silence like they used to when they were kids.

Only, it was different now, because Sakura wasn’t with them.

Angry voices could be heard along the hall from the kitchen. Someone slammed a cupboard. A muted screech sounded as a chair was angrily pushed back. A slap echoed throughout the main house, then light stomping vibrated the family pictures on the wall as Mikoto passed Naruto’s bedroom, Sasuke’s bedroom slamming the door to Sakura’s bedroom as she fell onto her adopted daughter’s bed.

Heavier footsteps could be heard coming closer to Naruto’s door. A pause, a deep breath. It was Fugaku. Naruto’s door opened slowly. “Boys, come on out, into the kitchen. Your Uncle Madara is here. There’s something you need to know, from us, before you hear it on the news or from one of your friends.”

Sasuke and Naruto shared a silent look of horror. Their mother was in their sisters' room...they could hear her sobbing into Sakura’s pillow. Dread filled them.

“No.” Sasuke broke the silence.

“Come on.” His father stepped back from the door and walked them to the kitchen.

“I don’t care what the forensic department says, I want to see the body.” Madara slammed his hand down on the table and glared at Izuna.

“There’s hardly anything left of her brother to call it a body, we had to match the remains up with her dental records.” Izuna pushed his hands through his unbound hair and sighed.

“Remains?” Naruto swallowed hard, his fists clenched.

“Shit.” Izuna cursed under his breath, he hadn’t heard them come in.

“Sakura’s dead, car crash, an hour ago, at least that’s what Izuna says.” Madara stood and pulled his phone from his pocket, walking out of the room, leaving devastation in his wake.

“What?” Naruto whispered, backing up against the wall of the kitchen.

“Sakura.” Sasuke whispered, and sat down hard at the kitchen table.

“How did she die in a car crash, is Shisui hurt too? Where is he, wasn’t he supposed to be watching over her on Itachi’s orders?” Naruto asked Izuna.

“He wasn’t with her.” Izuna’s eyes darted to Fugaku who looked away. “Sakura...came over to the mansion tonight and got into an argument with Madara about her family and our family...about her parent’s murders.” Izuna closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Sakura’s parents were murdered by a man named Orochimaru. A man who to this day is trying to get his hands on Sakura and her...extremely rare blood type, a blood type...otherwise unknown to man.” Izuna opened his eyes and looked at the boys.

“Well he can’t now can he, because her blood is all over the road somewhere because of Madara.” Sasuke stood up, his fists clenched at his sides. ‘Undiscovered blood type’, who cares about that! Sakura was dead! “Does Itachi know?” He demanded.

“I’m sure Shisui told him, he’s at the accident site...helping to clean up.” Izuna pushed his chair back from the table, pausing at the door. “This isn’t what we wanted you know. We tried to keep her safe.”

“Tried to keep her safe?” Naruto’s face contorted grotesquely. “TRIED TO KEEP HER SAFE!”

“Naruto.” Mikoto stood in the doorway of the kitchen holding her hand out. “Sasuke.” She held out both of her hands to her boys. “Please.” She whispered.

Naruto looked like he was about to explode or lung at Izuna, or…

“Please.” Mikoto said again, her voice breaking.

As one, both of her boys moved to wrap their arms around her. She pulled them to her and buried her head against both of their necks and sobbed.

Shisui wiped the corner of his mouth on his sleeve and straightened his back. One look at the carnage, and his stomach emptied itself without any warning. He had seen many gruesome things but none as gruesome as the bloodied tuffs of pink hair and flesh sticking to metal. ‘Sakura’, he couldn’t even bring himself to speak her name. He had failed her. She was dead, because of him, because he couldn’t even....damn it. Itachi, oh kami, Itachi…

“We’ve got some more of her over here and two whole bodies.” A minor Uchiha came up behind Shisui speaking carelessly.

“Her name was Sakura you fuck, don’t speak so crassly!” Shisui grabbed the man by the throat and squeezed. The man fell to his knees choking.

The man nodded and Shisui dropped him. “Have the coroner call me personally with the results.” Shisui grabbed his jacket off the hood of his cruiser and walked back over to Sakura’s wrecked car.

A piece of loose rayon fluttered past his feet. Bending over quickly, Shisui picked the fabric up where it caught on the toe of his shoe, and fingered it between his thumb and forefinger.

Looking around he saw another bit of the same fabric stuck with some flesh and blood on the side of what was left of Sakura’s twisted car door. Breathing through his mouth he plucked the flesh from the metal and compared the fabrics. It was part of a blouse.

Shisui stood up, the pain in his heart replaced by a sudden chill down his back, then hope springing to the pulses in his brain. Sakura hadn’t been wearing a blouse, she had been wearing an overlarge bulking bright orange sweatshirt of Naruto’s.

The dead woman from the wreck...wasn’t Sakura….Sakura wasn’t dead. Then who…

Shisui looked around, pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and placed the bit of bloody flesh and fabric into the bag, sliding it into his jacket pocket before walking away, phone in hand. He needed to speak to Itachi. Someone had planted a body here. Someone wanted them to think Sakura was dead when she wasn’t. Who, who would do such a thing, and where was Sakura now?

“Itachi, there’s something you need to know…” Shisui began to fill Itachi in on everything that had happened from the time he had raced down Sakura’s apartment stairs to now. He re-told parts, reworded some things and made his own speculations as Itachi listened.

“We do not know if she was still wearing Naruto’s sweatshirt when she left Madara’s Shisui. We will rely on the dental records.” Itachi closed his eyes, he needed to remain calm, he needed to think this through. “Was she wearing a blouse under the sweatshirt?”

“I don’t know.” Shisui frowned. “She could have put one on after going into her bedroom, but I doubt it, I mean...she literally tore out of her room and ran out the door Itachi.”

Itachi ignored the pain in the back of his head. “Go to the station, file your report, then go to the hospital, wait for the coroner's findings. Do not let them switch hands, no one touches them but you. Bring them to me in Oto.”

He hung up the phone. “I never should have left her.”

Itachi rose from the armchair he had been sitting in and walked over to the tinted windows of his top floor suite in Oto and looked out over the lights of the sunken city. He hadn’t been there for her, like Izumi. Only...Izumi had died here in Oto, while Itachi was in Konoha and now...Sakura might be dead in Konoha...while he was here sitting in Oto when he should have been there for her.

‘Damn it’, he had promised to protect her, like he wasn’t able to do for Izumi. He was worthless, he couldn’t protect anyone, not Izumi, not Sakura...not the family, no one. Itachi rested his forehead against the glass. He would wait for the autopsy report. They would test for poisons, alcohol, any drugs Madara may have given her.

Two bodies had been found near the wreck, an unmarked, unregistered vehicle overturned and burned to ash...this wasn’t an accident. This was a set up, but why...to kill her or to fake her death...

...and if it wasn’t Sakura, even better. Itachi didn’t dare to hope though, not yet. He would wait, wait for the report and then decide what to do.

Itachi unlocked his phone and typed out a quick message to Shisui. He needed to call Madara, he wanted to hear the man’s voice himself when he told him. Shisui had just called him, he doubted anyone had called Madara yet, and if they did...he would be expecting Itachi’s call.

Shisui’s phone dinged. “Yeah I figured.” Shisui muttered. ‘Tell me when the samples are in the hands of our private medical examiner’. He understood. Itachi would want to be the one to call Madara, to look for discrepancies in his voice, for tells. It was a long time until sunrise and Shisui had work to do.

With one last look at the accident scene, he got into his car and left with his sample. He would drop it off to their personal medical examiner, then head to the hospital to make sure he was the only one there to receive the report from the coroner. As he drove away, paramedics and police were loading the last dead man into the ambulance, no one had survived. A head on collision they said. Drunk driver, they claimed…”We’ll see.” Shisui muttered.

Madara ran his hands through his hair. That was not how it was supposed to go. They were supposed to bring her back, not...the door to his bedroom cracked open. Madara leveled his gun at chest level.

“It’s me.” Izuna slid the door all the way open and stepped inside. He took a seat opposite his brother and waited.

“I told them not to hurt her.” Madara said, admitting he had sent the men after Sakura.

“I know.” Izuna said quietly.

“This wasn’t...what I wanted. I cared about her.”

“I know.” Izuna rose and walked back out of the room, leaving his brother alone in his misery.

The call came in just as the first rays of sunlight spilled across the sky.

“It’s her Itachi. It’s Sakura.” Shisui took a deep breath. “They matched the teeth they found to.” He choked. “To Sakura’s dental records. It was a 100 percent match.” A stifled gasp escaped him but he didn’t care.

“She’s gone.” Shisui hung up the phone before Itachi could respond. Shisui knew he wouldn’t. He threw the coroner’s notes and the official report into the passenger side of his car and threw it into drive. He would drive half way to Oto, take a room and arrive before dinner the following night if he was lucky. Maybe two nights, he needed a drink.

His phone slipped from his long fingers to his lap, then to the floor with a clatter that went unnoticed by its owner. ‘She’s gone’, Shisui’s words repeated over and over in his head. ‘She’s gone’...shock, his brain told him...he was in shock. He had told himself not to hope and yet...he had, he had hoped with all his heart that it wasn’t true, that it was a ploy of Madara’s that…

‘She’s gone’...and he was alone...again.

Itachi rose from his seat and pulled on his coat. He moved like a man drugged not sure where he was going. He grabbed his keys, his phone and moved toward the door of his suite. The company car was in the front of the double wide office park doors. The driver opened the doors for him, spoke to him...Itachi had no idea what he had told him as the car started to move.

They stopped in front of a flower shop, Itachi got out, made his purchase, and was back in the car just as it started to drizzle. He hated Oto. It rained almost as much as Rain Country.

Soon, they arrived, he had told the driver to go here? How...ironic. He continued to move as if in a daze. “Leave me, I wish to be alone.” He told his driver.

“When shall I return sir?” The driver asked, keeping his voice low out of respect for the dead.

“I will call you.” Itachi shut the door behind him, flowers in hand as he made his way to a familiar grave.

“I’m sorry Izumi.” Itachi bowed down in front of Izumi Uchiha’s grave, and set the flowers in the holder. “I failed, again.”

Tears fell like the rain around him, down his cheeks to dot along the lapel of his suit coat. He cried for Izumi, for Sakura...for himself. It didn’t matter, the rain hid his shame. There were so many things he hadn’t gotten to tell her, them. He sat down in front of the grave. He could feel the cold and the wet soaking into his expensive dress pants but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter.

There was an unfamiliar scent in the air. Sakura frowned, her eyes still closed, burrowing deeper into her covers seeking more warmth. The foreign scent persisted. It wasn’t a foul smell, or unpleasant, only different. Slowly Sakura opened her eyes. It was morning, weak fall sunlight spilled over the rich azure blue of her coverlet, making her squint.

Blue? Sakura groaned. She wasn’t in her room, she wasn’t in her apartment. That’s right, She sat up in bed, she was at Sasori’s estate. He had made this room up for her, generously, on rather short notice. Sakura hadn’t paid her surroundings much attention last night. She scolded herself for her carelessness. She had to be more careful now...more than ever.

Sakura looked around the room. It was nice, simple...not over decorated and not decorated too richly. It was functional and elegant at the same time. Tasteful and efficient. It reminded her of Sasori. It suited her. It suited him. She smiled recalling some of the events of last night.

After evading what she had assumed were some of Madara’s men, they had driven north almost to the border, where they had gone through three different check points on private land. Sasori’s land.

“My Uncle is a careful man.” Gaara explained when she asked why there were so many checkpoints to reach the estate.

One gate opened, for them to drive through, only to close behind them. A search under the car, a check of ID and a picture taken of the interior. The gate in front would open, then close behind them. They got out of the vehicle, a search of their person, the vehicle, another picture from another angle. Sakura had wondered wildly what would happen if she had to go to the bathroom or if there was an emergency.

She giggled to herself thinking of how she had asked Gaara that question after the last checkpoint. He had shrugged and said with a straight face. “I suppose one would wet themselves...or worse.”

He assured her that it was policy, but once Sasori lifted the restrictions for her, she would no longer need to be subjected to such careful scrutiny. She had been so tired she hadn’t thought about his words too deeply. However now, after a good night's rest she found she had a lot of questions for Sasori, and the Uchiha.

Sasori had met them in the foyer after Sakura had waited for Gaara to park his car and join her on the steps. Conversation was short. He had shown her to her room personally and had wished her good night’s sleep.

Well morning was here, and she had slept well, thanks to Sasori’s hospitality. Before she could push the covers back from her chest a soft knock sounded at her door. “Come in.” Sakura looked around for a robe but found none.

A small woman with a breakfast tray moved into the room, the fragrant tray in her arms in front of her, her foot closing the door with a faint click behind her.

“Good morning mistress. My Prince wishes me to inquire after your health and hopes you enjoy this meal to break your fast.”

Sakura watched the woman set the tray on the bed beside Sakura, arrange the flower just so, then bow low to her backing out of the room. Sakura blinked. ‘My Prince’...Sasori was a Prince?

Chapter Text

The night before…

“She just pulled into the station.” Kankuro spoke into the mic.

“I see her.” Gaara returned.

“She was followed, we’ve got company, ETA two mins Gaara.” Temari’s voice came out slightly fuzzy through the dial.

“Understood.” Gaara pulled into the gas station alongside Sakura’s car and motioned for her to roll down her window.

“You’ve been spotted. Leave your car. I will send someone to get it for you later. Get in.” Gaara leaned over from his seat to open the passenger door for her, they needed to hurry. She had just gotten in and buckled her seat belt when their ‘company’ arrived.

He looked over at her with a slight softening of his eyes, it was good to see her again, but there would be time to talk later. “Hold on Sakura, and don’t scream.”

Gaara wanted to laugh as she gripped the side of the door and the console that separated them with white knuckles and a slight clicking of her teeth as he stepped on the gas and spun the car around. He almost took his eyes off the road to see the expression on her face when she had gasped out “Oh Shit”.

Being close to her again, being with her again was nice, it made his heart race and his lips curve without effort, but it also broke his concentration. He frowned. He needed to protect her. She had called his Uncle for help. His Uncle had sent him and his siblings to make sure she made it to him in one piece. He had a job to do. He needed to focus.

Pressing the dummy button on his dash, he mouthed the needed words to no one. “Two in pursuit, black, four door, guns. West of previous location. Intercept.” He could hear the real commands in his ear piece.

“They’re coming up fast, turn around. We’ll catch them between us.” Temari threw her car into second, third, then fourth, to sixth gear and tore out from behind the large farm equipment in a nearby field which she had used as cover, lights off, to meet Sakura’s pursuers head on.

To her left was her brother Kankuro in an identical vehicle, lights off, driving in tandem. “Hit it Tem.” Kankuro grinned.

“It’s open season on Uchiha.” Temari laughed into her mic as she pulled the E-Brake and opened fire while her car spun in a half circle and slid sideways across the lanes, Kankuro’s doing likewise perpendicular to hers.

Pop Pop Pop.

“That’s it? Madara only sent two trackers after her?” Kankuro was disappointed. He had hoped to have a little more fun than this. It had ended too quickly.

Gaara watched Sakura out of the corner of his eye as he spun the car around one more time, her head slamming into the back of her seat, her pulse jumping in her neck. She looked like she was enjoying herself, it thrilled him to see that she wasn’t afraid. There were no tears, no panicking, she was beautiful. Then, she burst out laughing.

He couldn’t help it, he smiled, just a little. He adored her. “I’m pleased you are enjoying yourself Sakura.” He was definitely enjoying her.

Temari and Kankuro shot past their car, he doubted Sakura had even noticed at the speed his brother and sister were going with their lights off. She had been wiping the moisture from her eyes while she laughed. She hadn't been looking at the road. Something to be addressed in the future, he made a mental note. Perhaps his Uncle would allow him to train her personally.

“Do not worry.” He turned to her, meeting her eyes. “It will be over soon, just hold on, and maybe close your eyes. It’s about to get a little bloody.” He smirked at her quick intake of breath, she was...excited at the possibility of blood?

Her sweatshirt was covered with blood, as were her hands, and he wondered...whose. He could see the dried blood flaking off of her knuckles as she gripped the sides of his car again. She jumped in her seat when Temari and Kankuro let the fire loose on the Uchiha, but she didn’t scream…’she was perfect’, he cooed to himself in his head. Perfect for him.

“The windows are bullet proof.” He thought he should let her know, in case it was bravado and not guts keeping her calm. “Don’t worry.”

She didn’t look worried though. She looked like she wanted to laugh again. Clearly she was having as much fun as he was. “You can open your eyes now.” He said amused by the sparkle of her eyes, the excited way her chest kept rising and falling. She liked it, he could tell...she liked the thrill.

“Targets secured.” Kankuro’s voice came over the radio.

“Lay the field. I want them recognizable. Mutilate the corpse, I do not want the woman recognizable. It must be perfect. The coroner has already been sufficiently bribed but none of that will matter if you mess this up.” Sasori’s voice came over the dial clearly. “Do you understand?”

“Yes Uncle Temari and Kankuro said in unison.” Gaara could hear the fear in their voices. He knew his Uncle would have done it personally if he could. There was always a risk involved having his siblings handle delicate situations such as this. Gaara himself would have done it, if his Uncle trusted anyone else to deliver Sakura to him safely, but he didn’t.

“We’re almost there. My Uncle had already prepared a room for you. You’ll be safe with us. You have my word.” He told the woman beside him.

He would protect her with his life. It had surprised Gaara when his Uncle had come to him, walking quickly and pushing the door to his room open without knocking.

“It’s time Gaara. Sakura just called. Madara finally pushed her over the edge like I knew he would. Go get her, I’ve sent the coordinates to your phone. I am dispatching Temari and Kankuro, the corpse is already in Kankuro’s car. Go, bring her to me...without a scratch on her Gaara… or I will kill you.”

“Yes Uncle.” Gaara walked out of his room, through the side door, into the family garage and got into his car, all the while concealing his growing excitement. It was time, she would be here with them, where she belonged. He would get to see her everyday, talk to her, be by her, smell her…touch her, if she allowed him...

His Uncle planned for every possible outcome, always. Sakura’s room had been set up months ago, complete with hidden cameras and microphones. Sasori had picked out the colors of her bedding that would complement the unique color of her pastel pink hair and flawless porcelain skin. He knew she liked fresh flowers, and had ordered some to be delivered while he waited for her to arrive.

Each piece of furniture had been chosen to compliment the other, to be simple and functional in design, but also of good quality. He wanted to leave an impression without impressing her. He wanted her to see herself, her personal tastes and preferences alongside his own. A subconscious comfort. He wanted to make sure she was as comfortable in his home as possible. He wanted her to see it as her home too.

Yes, Gaara knew, his Uncle was a clever man, but so was he. For his Uncle’s ultimate plan to work...he would need to send the pinkette ahead of him to Suna, with someone he trusted. The only person his Uncle trusted, was him.

They passed through his Uncle’s check points easily. Sakura with her inquisitive mind had asked about them, as he had expected her to, as his Uncle had predicted she would. He assured her it was just a precaution, more for show for her, it showed her how safe she would be with them. He didn’t want her to worry about the Uchiha or anyone else while he was with her.

His Uncle had been waiting for them in the foyer, he would never do something so tacky as to meet them on the steps of the estate, but he did insist on showing Sakura to her room. It was to be expected, the man was finally getting what he had wanted, what he had planned and prepared for nearly seven years. He didn’t hold it against his Uncle. Sakura was special.

Gaara’s phone dinged as his Uncle walked Sakura up to the second floor of the estate. ‘Scene is set, Uchiha Police force are on their way’ -Kankuro-.

Sasori met his nephew’s eyes from across the room. Gaara nodded once. Sasori blinked over the top of Sakura’s head. ‘Good’, it meant. Gaara watched as his Uncle lead Sakura around the corner of the stair to the room he had prepared for her, his palm on her back, subtle, but there.

Sasori had placed her room beside his of course. Gaara’s room was on the other side of the main stair, on the other side of the estate, but it didn’t bother him. He would still get to see her. It was enough, for now. Just knowing she was near calmed him, made the blood flow through his veins, made the voices stop screaming in his head. It was enough, for now.

Presently...

“Dr. Zetsu, so good of you to come so early and without notice.” Madara’s deep tenor made the smaller man’s eye dart around the room...but there was no escape. Two men stood along the wall of the lavish downtown office.

“It is my pleasure to sever the house of Uchiha.” Dr. Zetsu bowed low, his hands trembling at his sides, his back bent to near breaking in his submission. He knew why he was here, but he hadn’t done anything wrong. He had given Shisui Uchiha the report, the report he had demanded from him as soon as it was finished...he had claimed it was for Madara Uchiha but...

“As I’m sure you know, I had you escorted here for the results of your autopsy and chemical testing of the...recent car accident involving my men. I trust you brought the results with you?” Madara raised one dark brow at the man who continued to tremble before him.

“Uh, well as you know Lord Madara um…” Dr. Zetsu began to sweat profusely. Was he mistaken...oh no...

Madara narrowed his eyes at the man…”Dr. Zetsu...there is a reason I had my men escort you from the safety of your home, you understand the implications I’m sure.”

Dr. Zetsu swallowed, he understood, his family would be killed if he didn’t...oh kami.... “Shisui Uchiha came last night while I was at the hospital he took the results, told me you wanted them ASAP, I...I didn’t know he...didn’t give them to you Lord Uchiha.” The man trembled and bowed low, his forehead to the ground. He was already dead, he knew, he only hoped his family, oh kami his beautiful wife...

Madara rose from his leather seat, stepped around the deep red black mahogany wooden desk and bent low over the man. “Are you telling me...Dr. that Shisui Uchiha has my file on the accident. That you gave my file to someone else without checking with me first, that the results of the autopsy for Sakura Haruno...are gone?”

“Y Yes, forgive me, I sir please, I…” The man began to panic and sweat. The mistake was his, maybe if he begged the man, maybe he would spare his wife and his son, maybe...

“I see.” Madara held out his hand and one of his men stepped forward. “Thank you Dr. Zetsu for your years of service. Unfortunately, your services are no longer needed.”

“...But my family…” Dr. Zetsu began.

Madara’s arm came down, the flash of the blade was quick, accurate and...efficient. A thin wisp of blood was cast upon the wall beside Madara, one thin semi dotted line of life, broken at the ends, drop by drop trailing off until it stopped and was no more.

“Such is life Doctor, you made your choice and I made mine. Leave no witnesses. Kill them all, even the boy. Forge the records. I want it to appear as if they’ve moved, leave no evidence.” Madara sighed, some of the tension leaving his shoulders.

Dr. Zetsu’s body lay on the floor, his head had rolled off to the side, settling on an ear. Madara handed the sword to the same man who had given it to him. “Clean this trash up. The weight of a human head, as is our custom...24k gold, to the man who brings me Shisui Uchiha’s head. Tell the rest of my men.”

“Yes sir!” The three Uchiha in the room echoed.

“Are you sure that’s wise Madara?” Izuna cocked a brow at his brother. He had remained silent but felt the need to voice his opinion now. Marking Shisui, was a mistake. “To hunt Shisui, means to go to war with Itachi. You’ll split the clan you know. Shisui is well liked, admired.”

“...and which side will you be on...brother?” Madara turned to face Izuna, their eyes locked. Was his little brother challenging him?

“You insult me Madara.” Izuna rose from his seat, dropping down to his knee in front of his elder brother. “You shouldn’t have to ask.” ‘You are the clan head, I am not challenging you’, his action spoke the words for him.

“I shouldn’t, but things are not as they used to be, are they Izuna. Loyalty is rare when it should be expected. Clan means nothing now to those newly born. Sasuke’s generation is weak. Sakura, I had thought that...well, no matter. She will learn.” Madara sat back down behind his desk and tented his fingers, war was coming.

“You think she’s alive.” A statement.

“I know she is, why else would Shisui have taken those files?” Madara countered, annoyed.

“For Itachi of course.” Izuna wasn’t sure. Sakura could be dead. Shisui taking the reports could have been for Itachi’s peace of mind. To Izuna, it wasn’t proof of life, only circumstance.

“I am sure Itachi wants the files as proof, but the man is no fool, he will not believe she is dead and gone just because a paper tells him so, he will investigate, and so will we. It’s time we reached out to an old friend.” Madara pulled his phone from his pocket.

“You mean...brother, no, that man, he’s…” Izuna cringed. His brother was inviting the Devil into their den, no good could come of this.

“I didn’t say I trusted him, but Danzo is a man that gets things done.” Madara grit his teeth. He didn’t want to call the man anymore than Izuna but...he felt that his hand was forced. He needed to act.

Madara had hoped it wouldn’t have come to this. He had hoped the last time he had dealt with the man...would have been the last time. For some things though...it paid to have a man like Danzo in your pocket, a man who could move between the shadows and the light without notice.

Too many people knew the name Uchiha, Madara was too visible, too easily recognizable, he needed a ghost...who better than Danzo, the father of the nameless, the unwanted, and the used. He would need to move fast, before Itachi...before Sasori. Who knew what the red devil was up to or if…

Madara slammed his hand down on the flat surface of his desk as he realized his mistake. “I want a fucking tail on Akasuna now!”

“Izuna, you, I want you to take care of this personally!” Madara rose from his seat, how could he have been so stupid. He had been paying so much attention to his nephew he hadn’t even considered Akasuna to have a hand in this...sloppy, he was becoming sloppy. It was her fault, she distracted him...damn it.

“Akasuna?” Izuna watched his brother storm from his office, the door slamming behind him. “What the hell would Suna want with Sakura?”

Izuna rose from his seat by the window to do his brother’s bidding. He didn’t understand. Sakura was no one, outside of the Uchiha, why would someone like Akasuna want her aside from her unique appearance. It’s not as though anyone knew Madara had been grooming her to take Itachi’s place. Madara hadn’t had her take MA lessons for that very reason, he wanted her hidden, unknown…

What could his brother be thinking...it was ridiculous. Akasuna’s interest in Sakura was nothing more than superficial...this was a waste of time.

Izuna had spent the greater part of the last ten years traveling between Suna and Rain, back to Suna. Secret negotiations, treaties and alliances had been hard won, but they were in place. While Sasori had been away, Izuna, little by little had been whittling away at his loyalties, right under his nose, in his own backyard.

When the time came for the take over, they would have a secure foothold in Suna. He didn’t understand why his brother was so concerned. Even if Akasuna wanted Sakura, he wouldn’t have her, there is no way Sakura would turn to a man she hardly knew, not over the Uchiha that she had known all of her life surely. She was dead...Izuna was positive.

Izuna groaned and stretched, but a job was a job. He had better get going, the news of the woman’s demise had obviously cracked something in his brother. Everything was so obvious to Izuna. Madara would see it in time...he just needed to grieve…

A grape rolled off the side of his plate as he moved his breakfast tray to the side. Ridiculous, he thought. The maid had one task, one task to do and she had to open her mouth and tell Sakura about his...title. Damn woman...he hadn’t planned on telling Sakura about his family’s position in Suna until after she had become more accustomed to him. The maid would have to be punished. He would give her to Gaara…how hard was it to bow and set a food tray down…

Dressing quickly, his breakfast ruined, Sasori walked out of his bedroom door and down the hall to his nephew’s rooms. Knocking once, he opened the door to find his nephew eating his own breakfast in his bed.

“I want the maid assigned to Sakura’s room punished. Use any method you desire. Take as long as you like, you have the day off. I will be spending the day with Sakura. I am sure she has many questions.” Sasori didn’t wait for an answer, he didn’t see the small flicker of disappointment flitter through his nephew’s eyes.

Gaara set down the cup of tea on his tray. His Uncle wanted him to punish the maid...he felt none of the excitement he normally did at the prospect. He knew which maid he had assigned to Sakura’s care, she was a little thing, delicate and soft. Something Gaara would normally enjoy cutting into...punishing but...the need, the drive...was no longer there.

Why…maybe he could...

Sasori stopped in front of his door. He turned his head to the next door over where Sakura was...he would let her eat, shower perhaps, before he called on her. Opening the door to his room he picked the tray up and took it to his desk. He would get a few things out of the way, that way, his time could be better spent assisting Sakura, getting her used to her new home.

A small smile graced his perfect lips, her new home, with him. It felt good having her closer, here with him. He would make sure she wanted for nothing, that she was happy, protected and well taken care of. She was more than worth it. He would offer her insight, the power of knowledge he knew she craved, opportunity and the funding for her research that he knew she wanted to do...with him she would have no restrictions, no policies to worry about, no laws to abide by...he would offer her what the Uchiha refused her. Complete uncensored freedom, for her love and undying loyalty.

A fair trade, and a one time offer.

He had read her proposition to the Konoha medical board. She had submitted a plea to the board her first year of medical school to assist children in mental health wards through natural medicines that were more gentle on the patients than the currently prescribed medicines and cost less to both produce and distribute.

...but the board had refused to even consider her request. There was no money in curing the currently, incurable. The truth was...the medical board wanted the sick to stay sick. It wasn’t about the medicine or the children. It was about money. Once a patient was cured...they left.

Sakura had too much heart, too much drive to be shut down and shut up in one of those facilities. She was wild and vibrant. He would help her. He would be there for her, to watch her grow to be everything he knew she could be. He had faith in her. Sasori didn’t want her crushed like so many of her kind.

She had caught his eyes seven years ago when she had walked into his coin laundry and had demanded a job. Her eyes had shone, with a life he hadn’t seen in many years. He didn’t want her light to be snuffed out. He wanted to be the reason she sparkled, he wanted to make her glow.

Chapter Text

“So, you really are a Prince hum?” Sakura traced the simple golden crown that Sasori had set before her on top of his desk in his private office.

“A relic of days long past and best hidden among the dust that collects on the shelves of the Suna archives. I hope this will not change the way you see me?” Sasori watched her fingers trace the rubies of his legacy.

Sakura looked up from the sparkle of the jewels embedded in the crown, her eyes sparkling with much more brilliance than the polished emeralds along the crown’s base. “How do you think I see you now, to not want my opinion of you to change?”

There was a lightness to her eyes, a slight flush on her cheeks...Sasori realized she was playing with him. “You’ve not said, I prefer to assume the best, you did call me, did you not?”

“So I did.” Sakura set the crown back in it’s case and pushed it back across the desk towards its owner. “Why show me that, when your maid already told me what you were? Are you trying to impress me?”

“Are you impressed by a crown?” He asked her, lifting the case and placing it back in the floor safe underneath his desk.

“No.” Sakura smiled sweetly at him.

She liked this play on words, this roundabout conversation. It was entertaining and...informative. This man was no fool. She had been right to call him, to align herself with him. That wasn’t the question though. The question was...why did he want her here. She didn’t think a simple internship warranted the bloody interference he had commanded on her behalf. No, this was...that was something more.

“If I had told you that I was a Prince, the next in line for the throne when we had met, what would you have thought of me?” They both knew the answer, but that wasn’t what was being said. His words, like hers, masked the truth. This...was a dance.

“I would have thought you insane, or that you were lying to hit on me.” She stated the obvious, the boring, the mundane. What he had expected her to say.

“...and if I had come to you and told you that I first laid eyes on you, at the young age of sixteen, when you came through the doors of my coin laundry demanding a job...what would you have said...Sakura?” He held his breath. This could go either way but...he needed her complete trust for his plan to work.

Sakura narrowed her eyes at the redhead. ‘Ah’, she said to herself. “So, you’re like Madara then are you?” Her voice was steady. A test.

“We both know that’s not true. Don’t insult yourself like that my dear...it is unseemly.” He narrowed his eyes right back at her. ‘Challenge accepted’

“Hum.” Sakura hummed without commitment, her head turning to look out the window. A pause. Two breaths, the clock chimed noon. Breathe out. “No, you’re right. I apologize, you are not like Madara Uchiha.”

Relief.

“Why tell me now?” She asked, her fingers tracing the edge of the desk.

‘She touches things when she calculates’, Sasori made the mental note, his eyes flickering from desk, to fingers, to lips, to eyes, then back to her fingers.

“I could have hidden it from you, you never would have known.” He understood the question and the meaning behind it, the weight of his answer...was substantial.

“Which is why I told you.” He smirked.

Silence.

“Seven years.” She whispered.

“I’m a patient man.” He watched her. He could almost see the thoughts in her head.

“That night...I saw you. I didn’t know it was you at the time but...that was Gaara with you, wasn’t it?” She lifted her eyes to his. “You were the ones who...killed that boy who had attacked me who had tried to…” Her voice trailed off, followed by her eyes. Her fingers continued to trace the edge of his desk.

“Yes.” A simple answer, that weighed down around her.

“So, not just an internship then hum. Just me.” She looked up to meet his eyes, they were so intense, so intrusive as if he could see inside her head.

“Just you.” He smiled.

“Yes.” She said, looking back up at him. Her posture straightening with each breath, each jump of her pulse. “The answer to your unspoken question, what you really want to know is, Yes. Sasori Sama.”

“I didn’t know that I had asked anything of you. You, called me dear.” He held his breath, did she know...did she see that far ahead...were they that much alike?

“So I did.” She smiled.

“I have received 7 phones calls, over 25 text messages and four emails...since my absence Sasori Sama.” She laughed a pointed laugh. “I had no idea you were so...invested in me.”

She knew...how did she know…she didn’t know, but he would have to tell her and soon. It was clear, she hadn’t checked her voice mails, texts or emails yet, or they would be having a completely different conversation right now.

“Madara Uchiha, his nephew Itachi Uchiha...they underestimated you. I will not make that mistake my dear. However, do not make that mistake with me. As you said from your own...beautiful lips...I am not Madara Uchiha. Nor am I his nephew. I am in a class of my own.” Sasori rose from his seat behind his desk.

“As to your answer. I will wait. I want you to give it more thought before you accept me...and everything I have to offer you. If you tell me ‘yes’ again, I want to know that you are aware and truly accept all that my devotion and patronage entails.” He lifted her up from her chair by her hands.

“Agreed?” His amber eyes looked down into her green ones.

“Agreed. Sasori Sama.” Sakura paused. “...and your nephew Gaara...is he too in a class of his own, or is he...one of yours through and through?” She smirked at the jump in his pulse.

“I demand loyalty or submission. Gaara is loyal, his siblings are submissive.” Sasori squeezed her hands in warning.

“...which would you expect from me Sasori Sama?” Sakura asked him quietly.

“Equality.” He told her truthfully, smiling at the surprise in her eyes, she hadn’t expected that of him. “Please, do not call me Sama...I am not a Prince with you.” He smiled again.

“Then what are you Sasori?” Her voice lightened at the pleasure she heard in his tone.

“I already told you Sakura, do you forget so easily, or perhaps you require the reassurance? I am a man, who was attracted to a woman...I just didn't know how to tell you.”

“Oh.” Sakura blushed, unsure how to respond to such a naked truth, surprised by his honesty.

“Shall we take a walk through my gardens? Or would you prefer to take some tea in the kitchens?” They had spent the morning speaking in circles, feeling one another out and touring the indoors of the estate.

“I would love to see the gardens, if you have time. I do not wish to keep you from your work.” Sakura knew he must have plenty to do, even on a Sunday.

“I am yours.” Sasori pulled her arm through his and led her out his office door, securing it behind him before their walk through the gardens.

Matsuri tapped the side of the manila folder against her leg as the driver wove through the mid day traffic in Oto toward the Uchiha Industries building. Itachi Uchiha hadn’t returned any of her calls, hadn’t shown up for his morning appointment with her for the tours of their facilities, and she was pissed. She had a job to do and he was making it very hard for her to do it. She wasn’t going to be punished by Gaara Sama because some over privileged, pampered prick was blowing her off, no way.

Gaara’s Sama’s spies had told her the Uchiha had left early that morning right after sunrise, had been gone for several hours, but had returned less than thirty minutes ago. She had dropped everything to run over there before he could disappear on her again. The car pulled up to the front of the building. Matsuri didn’t even wait for the driver to open her door before she flung it open herself, surprising the doorman, flew past him and up the stairs into the lobby of the building.

Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.

Itachi groaned.

Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.

Dropping the bottle he had picked up on the way back from the cemetery, he moved toward the intercom.

“What?” He groaned into the mic.

“Mr. Uchiha, I apologize for the interruption, but there is a Matsuri, from Medicore Financial here to see you. She claims to have an appointment, but she is not listed on my schedule for the day. Would you like me to take a message?”

“Send her up.” Itachi wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.

He was still waiting for Shisui to get here with the coroner’s report on Sakura’s accident. As soon as Shisui was here, they would leave together, and go back to Konoha. Nothing mattered now. He didn’t care about anything anymore.

“Yes Mr. Uchiha.” The voice came through the intercom.

Itachi took another drink from the bottle that had tipped over, half of it’s contents spilling out onto the carpeted floor of his suite. Mildly amused at his state of undress he started to attempt the impossible task of tucking his dress shirt back into his dress pants when there was a loud abusive knocking on his door. He groaned. The sooner this horrible woman was gone, the sooner he got back to his bottle. Itachi took another drink before lifting the latch of his suite door and opening it wide.

Gaara glared at the monitor in his Uncle’s bedroom. He watched his Uncle make sickening small talk with Sakura, pour her tea for her, cut pieces of cake and set them on plates for her. He wanted to be the one to serve her cake, to pour her tea...to hold her hand. His phone beeped. His eyes narrowed as his Uncle pulled Sakura to her feet by both of her hands, tucked her into his side and walked her deeper into the gardens of the estate. He growled…

Pulling his phone from his pocket he tapped his messages icon.

Text: 12:09 pm : Matsuri- Mr. Uchiha is drunk. I am in his suite at Uchiha Industries. What should I do?

‘Drunk’, Itachi Uchiha never drank, it must be because he thought Sakura was dead. Gaara was disappointed. He had thought the younger Uchiha was more astute than that. This could work to their advantage though. He had never expected Matsuri to seduce Itachi, the man was well known for his self control. Gaara looked back up at the monitors. His Uncle was playing with the ends of Sakura’s hair.

Gaara tightened his grip on his phone.

Text: 12:11 pm : Gaara- Take him back to your apartment where the cameras are already set up. Drug him. Seduce him. Fuck him. I’ll be watching.

...and so would Sakura. His Uncle was a problem to be sure, but now at least...the Uchiha would no longer be a contender for Sakura’s affections.

The gardens of Sasori’s estate were beautiful. She had never seen so many flowers in bloom this late in the season. Sasori explained his gardener had planned it to fit the seasons, so that there would always be color in the gardens. Sasori admitted his gardens were one of his favorite places to walk.

“They are very well taken care of. I can tell how much effort your gardener has put into them.” Sakura complimented the beauty around them.

“He is paid well to do so.” Sasori waved his hand at a small koi pond. “Would you care to sit with me?” He pointed to two flat rocks beside the pond.

“I would like that.” Sakura smiled, sitting on one of the rocks, Sasori lowering himself beside her.

“How pretty.” Sakura looked at the koi swimming round and round , in and out.

“We do not have such things in Suna. It is difficult to cultivate anything in the desert much less have standing water for any length of time, but the desert does offer other beauties.” Sasori watched the lively koi with her.

“Gaara, my nephew, likes to grow cacti. He has a variety of species, both poisonous and non.” He said conversationally.

“Really? That’s actually very interesting, I would never have imagined Gaara to be interested in such a thing but...now that you mention it to me...I can see it, it suits him.” Sakura smiled thinking of the quiet redhead who had picked her up last night.

“Does it.” Sasori watched her smile, jealousy flaring momentarily in the back of his heart. “Do you know him so well? I was not aware of your spending much time together.”

Sakura looked up from the pond to look at Sasori in surprise. Was he jealous? Ridiculous. “I haven’t, no more time than I have spent with you.” She watched him.

“Ah.” Sasori smiled at her, the darkness gone from his eyes.

Sakura nodded, her eyes dropping back to the pond. Had she imagined it?

Sasori’s phone rang. “Please excuse me Sakura.” He bowed slightly, moving off to the side of the pond, turning his back to her.

“Yes?” He hissed into his phone. He was not pleased with his nephew’s interruption. He had told him he had the day off for a reason. Why was the boy not punishing the maid...

“Uncle. Itachi Uchiha is intoxicated and at Matsuri’s apartment. He is your rival for Sakura’s affection, is he not?” Gaara said with false indifference.

Sasori paused, his annoyance evaporating. “Set it up, in the...in my public office, on the conference monitors, make it visible, I want a clear picture and sound. We will be back to the house in fifteen minutes.”

“Yes Uncle.” Gaara hung up his phone and texted Matsuri the adjusted time frame.

Sakura smiled up at Sasori as he walked back to her. “Do you need to go? I know you’ve spent the entire morning and afternoon with me.” She rose to her feet and dusted her pants off.

She was still in her jeans and over sized orange sweatshirt for Naruto's. She would need to go to her apartment later to get some things, or perhaps Gaara could go for her...she didn’t want to run into any Uchiha just yet, or Itachi...if he had come back...

“I apologize dear. There is one quick thing I must get out to a client in Suna. I was distracted and had put it off, would you mind accompanying me back to the house? I will send it out to him and then we may resume our afternoon.” Sasori offered her his hand and she took it.

“Okay. I don’t want to be any trouble. I would rather wait to deal with the phone calls and the emails. I’m just...not ready yet.” She looked down and to the side a bit embarrassed.

“I understand, no need to rush…” He led her back to the house and into his public office where his second set of monitors were set up, rotating through the grounds and various office buildings around the world.

Sakura noticed the screens right away, they lined the spanse of one of the interior walls. “What’s this?” She asked him as she shuffled through a few papers on his desk.

“Hum?” Sasori looked up, mock distracted from his task. “Those are my surveillance cameras dear. I have cameras in all of my offices, from here to Oto, and in some of the company apartments used by select, trusted staff members.” Sasori said absently.

“Allow me to take care of this dear. I will return momentarily. Please, have a seat.” Sasori waved to one of his cushy leather seats in front of the surveillance wall of monitors.

“Okay, take your time. Really, I understand, I just appreciate you letting me be here.” Sakura felt bad for monopolizing his time, he had done so much for her. She hoped he understood how much she appreciated his help and his understanding.

Sasori nodded and left the room.

Gaara was waiting for him in his bedroom down the hall. “Everything is set up Uncle. Matsuri and the Uchiha are in her living room now, getting more...comfortable.”

“Wait a moment. I want her bored so that the monitor will be her only choice of distraction. I don’t want her to miss it. Set the frames to rotate and then slow the stills. Have Matsuri’s apartment queued at number three in the rotation.” Sasori watched the monitors while Gaara hit some keys on the panel.

Sakura drummed her fingers on her knee as she sat in Sasori’s office and waited for him. Her eyes flickered over the monitors in front of her. A vacant office building, with the typical office set up. Desks lined up in a row, cubicles partitioned off from one another by plastic panels...boring. The picture changed to a different camera in a different building after a few minutes. Sakura sighed.

She stood and made her way to the window, looking out over the gardens. They really had been beautiful. She would admit she had enjoyed her morning with Sasori. He was not only a witty conversationalist but kind and thoughtful. Her thoughts shifted to Itachi, another kind person, if a bit over protective. He meant well. He cared about her. She never did give him that dance she had promised him. Maybe they could...go out on a date when he got back from Oto.

They had talked about it roughly. She wasn’t opposed to him taking her out on a date, perhaps...she turned from the window bored. Looking down at her watch it had only been a ten minutes. She could wait a little bit longer. Her eyes returned to the monitors. They had switched.

Sakura watched a woman a little younger than her pour two drinks. Oh, Sasori had told her that some of his more trusted employees had company apartments. Perhaps they were like the ones the Uchiha had, like the one Itachi was in, in Oto right now. Sakura continued to watch the woman walk through the apartment, feeling a bit ashamed. Should she be watching this?

She knew that the apartments in the Uchiha holdings were monitored for legal purposes...whatever that meant. A man rose to take one of the glasses from the woman. Sakura froze. Itachi?”

‘I have cameras in all of my offices, from here to Oto’, Sasori’s voice came back to her.

Oto, this apartment was in Oto.

‘I don’t like Oto, I never leave the Uchiha Industries suite if I don’t have to’, Itachi’s words came back to her.

Liar…

“Let me help you Uchiha San, just relax, drink that, it will help okay?” The woman cooed, a sickeningly sweet voice filled Sakura’s ears.

“Matsuri, this is...unnecessary.” Itachi slurred a bit.

Sakura frowned, was he...drunk? Itachi never drank. She looked down at her watch it was barely 2:30pm.

“You always say that Uchiha San, I know what you like.” The woman moved over next to Itachi and started to pet his arm.

“What are you…” Itachi took two gulps of the drink, draining his glass then rose to his feet.

“Already?” The woman laughed.

Sakura clenched her fists at her side. Was Itachi...did he have...

“Matsuri.” Itachi said the woman’s name quietly, almost pleadingly to Sakura’s heated ears.

“Yes?” Matsuri giggled, stepping up to Itachi and started to unbutton his shirt, then pushing it back off of his shoulders, her fingers moving to his pants.

Itachi’s eyes were closed, his hands rose as if to push the woman away. Sakura took a step closer to the monitors, her eyes wide. His hands fell to the woman’s hips. The brown haired woman purred and ran her hands up his chest, standing on her tippy toes to run her tongue over Itachi’s mouth.

“I don’t want to see this.” Sakura murmured, and yet, she couldn’t look away.

“Fuck me, like I like it Itachi.” The woman was taking off her dress.

Sakura wanted to scream. She wasn't with Itachi but they had...she thought he…did he do this every time...but what about Izumi. He had told her he mourned Izumi and hadn’t thought of anyone but her since Izumi had...but this woman, she obviously knew him and he knew her and they had...

Matsuri pushed Itachi down onto the couch and pulled his pants from his legs, taking his underwear off seductively as she wiggled on top of his lap while Sakura watched, tears forming in her eyes.

“Sakura I…” Sakura heard Itachi mumble. “This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.”

How dare he...how dare he say her name with this, with this...whore...

“Don’t worry Uchiha San, I’m already paid for, it comes out of the companies account like always.” The woman lifted herself over Itachi’s hardened sex and lowered herself down over him, his hands gripping her hips and pulling her into him.

He moaned out loud. “Hnn.”, rocking his hips up into the woman.

Tears began to fall down Sakura’s face. He wanted her, he wanted this...this...tramp and he had told her that he...no…

“Fuck, you’re so tight.” Itachi groaned, burying his head into the woman’s neck as he lifted her up and down over his cock.

“Yes Uchiha San, so deep, fuck me, like I like it, like you always do.” Matsuri moaned and hissed as she bit Itachi’s neck.

“Hn…” Itachi picked the woman up, flipped her over, grabbed her ass and forced himself back into her hard. “Fuck, this is, fuck…”

Sakura had seen enough, she ran from Sasori’s office, down the hall and slammed the door to her room.

Gaara looked at his Uncle who smirked. “I believe that’s my cue.” Sasori left his nephew to watch the rest of the show. Sakura needed him.

Gaara looked back up at the monitors.

“Sakura.” Itachi moaned out as he thrust into the brown haired woman. “Sakura, I love you, please...I’m sorry.”

Gaara turned the monitor off. He had no desire to watch any further.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t right, but fuck...it felt so good. Itachi let his head fall back against the edge of the couch, his hips thrusting up into the woman straddling his...no this wasn’t...damn but…it had been so long since he had made love to a woman…

“No, this isn’t love.” Itachi threw Matsuri from his lap and stood up. “I don’t...want this. Cheap imitation...” What had she given him, his head didn’t feel right.

“Uchiha San, please, relax it’s okay, let me service you.” Matsuri crawled back up onto her knees in front of Itachi and wrapped her hands around his hardness.

Itachi’s hands fell to her head as she opened her mouth and began to suck him gently. Her mouth was so warm and so wet, he couldn’t think. “Hnnnn.”

Matsuri swirled her tongue over his cock the way Gaara had taught her, and used her teeth to massage him as she took him deeper down into her throat. Itachi was a handsome man, Matsuri didn’t mind doing this for him, but she knew Gaara Sama was watching, and perhaps Akasuna Sama. With one more small swirl of her tongue she withdrew him from her mouth and pushed him back onto the couch.

Itachi knew something was wrong, he had been drugged, he could feel the dullness in his limbs...this woman had drugged him but why and on whose orders? He needed to regain his composer...control...

“Stop. Don’t want this.” Itachi pushed the woman’s shoulders weakly as she climbed back on top of his lap, lowering herself back down over his sex.

“Shh, just let me do my job Uchiha San.” Matsuri covered his mouth with hers, moaning into his closed lips as she rode him.

‘Fuck, the woman was good and tight and it felt so…’, Itachi squeezed her breasts, rubbing his thumbs over her nipples. It had been so long, too long since he had felt a woman’s touch had touched a woman. Was it wrong...this wasn’t love but it felt good and maybe...just once he could let go.

“Yes, that’s it Uchiha San, just enjoy it.” Matsuri leaned back, her hands on his knees and spreading her legs for him more, driving him deeper.

Itachi’s eyes opened. This was not Sakura but...his eyes looked down where they were connected, watched his cock disappear inside of the woman’s tight pussy and closed his eyes again. It didn’t matter did it? Sakura was gone, this was all that was left for him, meaningless sex.

“Bedroom.” He picked Matsuri up and carried her to the next room, threw her onto her bed and locked the door behind him.

He would take out all his grief, all his anger and confusion out on this woman. He would use her and then throw her away, because what did it matter, he had lost yet another woman he cared about...loved, he didn’t need love anymore. All it brought was pain, all it did was cloud the mind and make you weak.

He had tried to do the right thing. He had loved Izumi, then Sakura but now...they were both gone, because he couldn't protect them. It didn’t matter. He would take over the clan, kill Madara for killing Sakura, then go after the Senju. It was time the Uchiha took back what was theirs.

Starting with this woman, some changes needed to be made. Why restrain himself when she was so willing, when she was here and wet for him, why hold back, there was nothing waiting for him in Konoha.

“Bend over and spread your legs, don’t talk, just shut up and take it.” Itachi moved behind the woman, gripping her hard by the hair and forcing her down onto her own bed. “I’m going to fuck you until I forget how to feel anything.”

“Sakura?” Sasori pushed the door to her bedroom open. “I didn’t see you in my office dear, is everything okay?” He stepped into her room.

Sakura turned away from the window that she had been glaring out of to meet sensitive amber eyes, a mild look of concern in them and felt terribly guilty. Why was she upset if Itachi had a lover or took a prostitute to his bed? They weren’t a couple, they weren’t involved or...they had spoken of it, he had led her to believe they were something more but...she had called Sasori, not Itachi when she had needed help.

She had no right to be angry...and yet. She had to make sure. Itachi had been drunk, it looked almost like he was resisting, like he truly didn’t want the woman to touch him...perhaps.

“I saw something on your tapes in your office.” Sakura flushed with embarrassment. “I saw Itachi Uchiha with one of your employees, in her apartment, um, being intimate. While I was waiting for you, it came up on the cameras. I didn’t mean to watch.”

“Oh? I was not aware it had gone that far.” Sasori said mildly, sitting on the end of her bed and waited for her to continue.

“You knew?” Sakura asked, surprised.

“I knew Matsuri and Itachi spoke, that they had gone out to dinner a few times but, it is none of my business you understand, what Matsuri does in her time off is her own business. I never watch the cameras in her apartment, they are there for liability reasons.” Sasori waved a hand dismissing the situation.

Sakura blinked. He wasn’t concerned, but of course he wasn't; she chided herself, what was it to him if the Uchiha and his manager slept together. “Itachi seemed not himself.” She muttered.

She didn’t want to watch more of it, she didn’t want to embarrass herself but...she had to know, to make sure what she saw was...real. “I think he may have been drugged.” She looked up to meet Sasori’s very surprised eyes.

“What?” He smirked internally, she was incredible, even through the emotional trauma she was sharp. “Well, that would be a problem.”

“I want to see the surveillance again, uh if you don’t mind.” Sakura said boldly.

“You want to watch them… um Sakura I’m not sure that is…” Sasori was laughing in his head, too easy he mused.

“I want to make sure it’s consensual.” She deadpanned.

“As you wish dear.” Sasori rose from her bed and walked out of the room.

Sakura followed him down the hall and into his office where the camera was rotating through the office buildings and other holding. Sasori tapped a few times on the panel bringing up Matsuri’s apartment again, moving through the cameras in her apartment until they found them in the bedroom together.

Sasori watched Sakura watch Itachi flip Matsuri over onto her back and pull her by her legs to the end of the bed where he stood over her. He watched Sakura grit her teeth and gasp as Itachi spread his manager's legs pushing into her hard, twisting her breasts with his hands while she screamed and moaned his name out loud. They watched as Itachi bent his head taking one of the woman’s nipples into his mouth, licked her and bit her as he leaned over her.

“Looks consensual to me.” Sasori said mildly, his eyes never leaving the woman next to him. Matsuri would be rewarded for her performance, it was everything he could have hoped for.

“Yes, it does.” Her voice was low, hurt and...livid.

“Have you seen enough dear?” Sasori’s hand hovered over the panel in front of them.

“I have. Thank you Sasori.” Sakura turned on her heel and walked out of the room.

Mikoto moved slowly around her kitchen making her slow preparations for dinner. Last night had been a sleepless fruitless night. Her husband had left her home with her two youngest to spend the night at the precinct. Shisui wasn’t answering his phone and Itachi was still in Oto. Madara and Izuna had left earlier that morning for their offices in downtown Konoha and she hadn’t heard from them since.

She knew Naruto and Sasuke were up, but they had yet to make an appearance that day. She was alone in her kitchen, for now.

Trembling hands pulled rice from the cupboard and set it by the rice maker. Fresh spinach lay on the counter to be washed. The ginger was in the sink, it’s skin yet to be peeled. She sat down hard at her kitchen table. She didn’t have the heart. What was the point in making dinner when hardly anyone would be there to eat it.

Mikoto rose and walked out of her kitchen, down the hall to her daughter’s room. They had all failed her, and now, Sakura was dead. She would never forgive them, never forgive herself. Mikoto wasn’t as clueless or as naive as everyone thought. She didn’t speak unless it was required, she never gave her opinion until it was asked...she was the perfect Uchiha wife...exactly how Madara had trained her to be.

Gone were the rebellious days of her youth where she had defied her older brother at every turn. She had hoped for more, for her adopted daughter. Sakura had such a bright future ahead of her and now...because of Madara, because of them...she was gone. All that talent wasted, all that youth and vitality cut short. Such is the way of their clan, she thought to herself. It was a bitter flavor, one she had tasted so often it made her ill.

Gaara opened the doors to the kitchens. His Uncle wanted the maid punished, but his heart just wasn’t in it. However, if he didn’t, his Uncle would know and ask questions. The maids scattered before him as he made his way through to the back room where he knew the girl was hiding. So foolish, like she could have escaped him. Before Sakura, he might have found it amusing and punished her further for harboring such a hope, but now...no, there was no thrill to this chase. It seemed so pointless now.

She was hiding, as he predicted behind the large dry goods shelves. He sighed. “Come out.” He commanded. “...and follow me.”

His Uncle would be watching, he knew. He wondered if he would make Sakura watch him, like he had set up Itachi Uchiha. That wouldn’t do. Gaara led the woman out of the house, he could hear the gasp of surprise, she had expected him to take her to his rooms. Normally, he would, but no, he had something else in mind. Something away from the cameras, away from Sakura.

Once they were far enough away from the manse Gaara stopped and turned to face the maid. “I know you have heard the stories. I have no plans to use you that way. I am going to cut you. You are going to scream. If anyone asks you will tell them I raped and tortured you. If you fail to comply with my request...I will kill you.” His steely cold eyes bore into her startled brown.

“Y yes, Gaara Sama.” She squeaked, her whole body trembling.

“Good. Give me your arm.” Gaara pulled his blade from its sheath on his back and sliced her arm open, she screamed a terrified scream and tried to pull away from him.

“Hold still and it will be over soon.” He ran his blade along the inside of her arm, fighting back the urge to lick her blood from his hands as he threw her arm back at her and grabbed her by her hair. “It needs to be convincing, scream some more for me.” He growled.

Gaara bent his head and bit her hard on the neck three times, leaving large dark bloodied marks on her pale tender neck. They would bruise and serve as evidence of her assault for days to come.

“Your clothes.” He pulled her to him by her shirt and ripped it down the side, wiping his bloodied hands on her collar. One swift slap to the face and tears sprang to her eyes. He cocked his head to the side, stepping back. “Good, now limp back to the house, make it believable. If anyone asks...remember I was brutal, tell them you think that I am a monster and you are petrified of me. Do you understand?”

The maid held her bloody arm to her chest and nodded mutely.

“Now go, before I change my mind and decide to use you.” He turned his back on the woman and took several deep breaths to calm himself. So close, it was so close to what he wanted to feel. The rush of her blood over his fingers, the soft warm skin against his palms. He wanted to fuck her, to make her hurt, to make her scream. The fear in her eyes had almost set him off, the trembling under his hands...he ached.

That wasn’t what he wanted now though. He wanted one woman, and only one woman, to tremble underneath him.

“Sakura.” He moaned, slipping his hand into his pants and turning deeper into the woods.

Sasori watched the blood stained maid run from the woods back to the kitchens on his surveillance monitors in his office. He was pleased to see the boy had done as he asked and punished the maid. He had thought the boy was going soft, he had waited too long into the day to complete his requested task but perhaps there were other things the boy had to attend to. He had been the one to tip him off about the Uchiha and Matsuri…

Sasori dismissed his nephew from his head, there were other things to focus on. He had left Sakura in her room to calm herself and work through what she had seen on her own. His presence wouldn’t be welcomed now, he knew that. He would wait for her to come to him, when she was ready.

There were things he needed to take care of anyway. He would send Temari and Kankuro to retrieve her belongings from her apartment. No one had been there all day, he had been monitoring the cameras from his phone. He pushed away from his desk and rose to his feet to find his niece and nephew. Sakura would want to change her clothes before dinner that evening.

Surreal, that was the word she was looking for. This was all so very surreal and...enlightening. Her world that she knew was no more. The safety she had thought was there was gone, had never been there, only now, she knew. Itachi...was not the man she thought he was and the rest of the Uchiha…

Sakura sat up on her bed and looked around her. There was nothing here that reminded her of herself, of her...former life. This is what she needed. Change. She needed change, but first...she needed a shower. Her simple wash before she had gone to bed the night before hadn’t been nearly enough for her. It merely served to remove Madara’s blood from her hands.

The bathroom was beautiful, clean and crisp towels hung on the racks, scented soaps lined the counter top and the shower was both wide and stocked with scented shampoos and lotions. Sakura laughed, she felt like she was in some lavish hotel. Well, Sasori was a Prince of Suna she mused as she shed her clothes. She looked down at the bright orange sweatshirt in her hands. “Naruto.”

What was she going to tell her boys? How could she explain to them how she felt, what she wanted from her life now, who she wanted to be versus who she had been...did she really want to leave them behind? No...they would have to come with her, just...not right now.

She licked her lips, her thoughts gathering in her mind. She needed a plan. She needed to decide exactly what she wanted and to go from there. She needed to make a list, she always thought better when she made a list. Seeing it on paper helped clarify things for her, helped put them in perspective. Sometimes talking to Ino helped, or Sasuke and Naruto but...she needed to do this on her own. This needed to be her decision, one she made on her own and if they were really her friends...they would understand.

Her hands were surprisingly steady as she turned the taps to the shower and adjusted the water temperature before stepping under the spray. She had always done well under pressure. She didn’t panic like Naruto did or shut down like Sasuke. It was one of the reasons she had wanted to be a surgeon.

Leaning forward, her forehead fell against the cool tile and the warm water fell over her head and down her aching body. She had a few bruises on her upper arms, courtesy of one Madara Uchiha, but they would fade.

She would stay here, with Sasori, if he would let her. Her classes resumed tomorrow but, maybe she would skip until she had a more concrete plan together. Sasuke and Naruto for instance wouldn’t hesitate to corner her at school and demand answers from her. Answers she didn’t have for them right now, not yet.

This was easier said than done she realized. She would have to face them eventually. It’s not like she could just disappear on them and start over somewhere new, where no one knew her…she realized that was exactly what she wanted to do though.

She didn’t want to go back to her apartment, the apartment Itachi had helped her move into, where Naruto and Sasuke had spent countless nights watching movies with her, where her and Ino had gossiped about boys and school together. Sakura didn’t want to go back to the compound, where Madara was, where Fugaku and Mikoto...Mikoto...no, it was time to say goodbye to that life. It was time to be herself, on her own.

Six months ago she had moved out of the Uchiha compound to be herself and yet she hadn’t been able to escape their grasp. Even in the false safety of her own apartment she had felt their pull, their control, it wasn’t until...Sasori had entered her life, made himself known to her that her world had...grown.

She tilted her head back and reached for the shampoo on the shelf. It hadn’t been until Sasori, that Tobirama had opened her eyes to the reality of her situation. Soapy hands ran over her body, washing away the filth of the person she had been, the uncertainty and the nativity. It was slowly becoming more and more clear to her. The Uchiha, had never let her be herself, she had always been what they had wanted her to be.

Sakura turned the taps off and stepped out of the shower. That changed...right now. She wasn’t anyone’s puppet to manipulate or control, she wasn’t an Uchiha, she was a Haruno, the daughter of Mebuki and Kizashi Haruno, the famous scientist and inventor. It was time she started acting like it. It was time she found out what had really happened to her parents.

He could tell by the set of her jaw she had come to some kind of conclusion. Her movements were brisk, direct and confident. A smirk drew up one side of his mouth as he watched her pull her jeans back on without underwear and thumb the fabric of the orange sweatshirt with distaste. Reaching over he picked the phone up from his desk and dialed the maid’s rooms.

“Miss Haruno is in need of a clean shirt, give her a plain shirt of my niece's.” Sasori hung up the phone without waiting for a reply. Two minutes later there was a knock on Sakura’s door. He watched her turn, draw the towel up around her chest and call out her greeting. The maid bowed her head when she opened the door and handed a surprised Sakura a plain black button up collared shirt.

Sasori watched the door close behind the maid. Sakura turned around twice looking for the camera she would never find. Hesitantly, she withdrew the towel from her chest and clasped her bra over her breasts, then pulled the shirt on over her head without unbuttoning it fully. She would be just fine, Sasori hummed to himself, pleased by her evident acceptance of her placement in his home.

Leaning back more comfortably in his chair he smiled as Sakura ran her fingers along the dresser in her room. She was thinking, calculating, evaluating her situation, her future. He could almost see the thoughts in her head as she stopped, turned and took in her surroundings. His eyes sparkled at the small smile on her lips as she picked up the brush he had bought her and began to brush her hair.

It was clear, she was beginning to entertain the possibility of her new found freedom with him. He could see it in her eyes, the pensive set of her mouth, she knew she was no longer under the control of the Uchiha here at his estate. His heart thumped in his chest, she was beginning to accept that he might be her best option, that he was a friend she could turn to, could rely on...one deserving of the loyalty she had misplaced with the Uchiha.

His plan was finally coming together. Sakura was starting to trust him. Now was the most crucial time. Now was when it would either work out exactly as he had planned, as he had hoped...or it would all fall apart. Whatever happened, if she chose him in the end or not...he knew she was well worth the effort as well as the wait.

The Uchiha had been so foolish. Madara had taken her compliance for granted, had cut her down and had tried to control her. He had seen her as nothing more than a pawn to be used and be molded into what he had wanted. He had made a grave mistake when he had underestimated this woman...he had been a fool.

Itachi had given up so easily it was disappointing, he had expected more of the younger Uchiha. It was clear to Sasori, the man did not love the woman the way she deserved to be loved. If someone had told Sasori Sakura had died, there is nothing that would make him believe such a claim without hard proof. Immovable proof without a shadow of a doubt. He would never have given up on her so easily, which is why he deserved her, why she would be his...because he wouldn’t stop until she saw exactly who he was.

A man, in love with a woman, with her.

Sasori offered her everything the Uchiha had taken from her, and had denied her. He would show her tonight that there was so much more to life, that there was so much more within her grasp, that he would give it all to her...all she needed to do was reach out, and take it.

Chapter Text

Konan frowned as she listened to the recording one more time.

Zetsu had given his coroner report to Shisui Uchiha, not Madara Uchiha. The forged documents that Akasuna had paid for went to the wrong person. Konan took her ear phones off and set them on the table. Pein needed to be notified immediately. Eighteen hours had already passed from the time of the autopsy to now. Steps would need to be taken to correct this, and Zetsu hadn’t checked in with them yet. Konan was beginning to worry that their plan hadn’t gone as well as they had hoped.

It was always raining in Rain Country. He felt the pressure of the room change as Konan opened the door to his office. Without turning around to face her, he told her the latest news on their target. “She is with the Puppetmaster, at his estate with his monster of a nephew, Konan.”

A chill went through her bones as she took in Pein’s words. “Zetsu hasn’t checked in yet and his wife and son are not at home.” She told her friend.

“Collateral damage.” He turned to face her, knowing she was displeased. There was nothing he could do though. Zetsu had given the papers to the wrong person. The damage was already done before he could have done anything to save the man, or his family.

The corners of Konan’s mouth tightened. She hated it when he stated it so bluntly. “We need to extract her.”

“That won’t be easy. It was possible when she was with the Uchiha, even with Madara monitoring her every move. Akasuna is not Madara, she is nearly untouchable now.” Pein sat down in his chair behind his desk and rubbed his temples. “She’s worse than her mother. This won’t be easy.”

Konan smiled. “Mebuki’s blood runs deep in her daughter, no matter what the lab results say. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. She has class tomorrow, perhaps we could approach her then. Deidara is close to her age. Dress him up as a college student, have him approach her alone.”

“Perhaps.” Pein nodded his agreement. “If he lets her go to class.”

“Akasuna is not Madara.” Konan shut the door behind her. She needed to tell the others that Zetsu was no longer with them.

Akasuna wasn’t Madara, Pein acknowledged his friend's words...he was worse. Pein opened the bottom drawer of his desk and popped the hidden latch for his false bottom drawer and pulled out a small tattered picture. The edges were frayed and cracked but the center, the important part remained.

Five smiling faces looked up at him. A little girl with blue hair, a boy with red hair, a blonde woman, a little tiny pink haired girl, and a boy with orange hair at the beach.

Yahiko ran his hand over his orange spiky hair and smiled. “Sakura, it’s time you remembered who you are.”

Brown eyes flew wide as he scanned the paper before him, flipping it over quickly to look at the back, then set it down. Reaching for the phone Hashirama couldn’t believe his eyes, he had to know, was this another one of his friend’s false ends or was the girl really dead? What would Tobirama do, would he even care?

“Madara, it’s me, Hashi. Is it true? I just saw the paperwork, is Sakura dead?” Hashirama gripped his desk phone.

“It is possible, however, I have not received definite proof.” Madara said evenly. He had expected this call.

“So, these results could be forged then.” Relief washed over Hashirama. He had liked the girl and so had his brother.

“It is possible. I won’t know until I see the official report.” Madara could hear papers being shuffled around in the background on Hashi’s line.

“The coroner’s report isn’t here. Let me see if I can find it and send it to you Madara.” Hashirama offered.

“No need. I know where it is and have sent a man to...retrieve it.” Madara nearly growled into the phone.

“Ah.” Hashirama paused, contemplating the wisdom of his next words. “Madara, what’s going on?”

“Do you really want to know old friend? You left this world behind remember, do you really want to get drawn back into it?” Madara sat back in the chair of his desk, his eyebrow raised at his friend's inquiry.

“I want to know if there is anything I can do to help you. I know you...cared for the girl.” Hashirama replied.

“Hn.” Madara checked the time on his wrist. “Meet me at the old manse tonight. I have something to show you.”

“Eight o’ clock. See you then.” Hashirama hung up his desk phone and sat back in his chair. Was he doing the right thing? He hated to think of what the girl’s death would do to his friend.

Shisui pulled into the Uchiha Industries parking lot and got out of his car. Itachi hadn’t answered his phone and he was beginning to worry about his cousin. It wasn’t like him not to respond. He had planned on drinking out his sorrows but thought it best to do it in company, because that’s what misery liked best, and he knew Itachi needed a stiff drink as much as he did.

The receptionist caught Shisui with a wave as he walked through the front doors of the building. “Mr. Uchiha went out this afternoon Sir and has not returned.”

“He went out?” Shisui frowned.

“Yes, Miss Matsuri from Medcore Financial came and escorted Mr. Uchiha from the building earlier this afternoon.” The receptionists cheeks bloomed a brilliant pink.

Shisui’s eyebrows raised to his hairline. A woman had persuaded Itachi to leave his suite? “Do you know where they went?” He asked the receptionist.

The receptionist ducked her head in embarrassment. “Um, no but I did overhear the woman tell Mr. Uchiha she was going to take him home and get him out of his clothes.” She stuttered.

Shisui ran to the elevator to search Itachi’s suite for any clues, this was bad. Medicore Financial was owned by Akasuna. Itachi was with a known enemy. “Damn it Itachi, what the fuck have you gotten yourself into.” Shisui opened his phone as he unlocked the door to Itachi’s rooms and started calling Itachi again.

Itachi groaned and rolled over. What was that horrible ringing noise? “Shit.” Itachi sat up, holding his head in one hand and throwing back the covers with the other, then stumbled.

“What the hell?” He cracked a bloodshot eye open and looked around his bedroom only, he wasn’t in his bedroom.

“Ugh.” He reached for his pants on the chair by his nightstand but they weren’t there. Searching he found them on the ground and pulled out his phone.

“Shisui.” Itachi greeted his cousin, wincing at the piercing pain in his head.

“Where the fuck are you, the receptionist said you left with someone from Medicore Financial, who was going to undress you, what the fuck is wrong with you, what the hell are you doing Itachi? I’m in your suite with the coroner results of Sakura’s murder and you’re off fucking some whore? I’m leaving the paperwork on your kitchen table and going home.” Shisui hung up on him, he didn’t care about his response.

“Shit.” Itachi dropped his phone in his lap and looked around for his clothes. He was disgusted with himself yes, but not enough to really care. This wasn’t like him and yet, he didn’t regret anything. He needed to leave.

“Are you leaving? I was going to make us dinner.” A voice in the bedroom door had Itachi reaching for his gun, only...it wasn’t there.

“I can’t stay.” He squinted at the woman in a T-shirt blocking the exit. “This was a mistake.”

“All five times?” The woman grinned at him.

“Yes.” Itachi pulled his pants up, zipped and grabbed his shirt. He shouldn’t have let himself get so carried away, she wasn’t even that pretty. “Who told you to drug me?”

Matsuri licked her lips nervously. He knew she had drugged him. “What do you mean?”

Itachi buttoned his shirt up, eyes watching the pulse jump in her neck. “Was it Akasuna or his monster who told you to drug me?” Itachi’s voice was calm and deceptively even.

“I, um...don’t be silly Mr. Uchiha.” Matsuri began, but Itachi moved from across the room fast, grabbing her by the hair and forced her to her knees.

“Someone I cared about very much is dead. You took advantage of my grief. I will not be merciful. Unlike your monster, I do not play with my kills. Tell me...who told you to drug me?” Itachi picked her up by her hair and slammed her into the wall.

Even as he pressed his forearm to her throat he knew it was a lie. This wasn’t her fault, it was his. He knew he had been drugged and had used it as an excuse. There was no excuse for what he had done...if he still cared about that.

“Ga Gaara Sama.” She squeaked.

“Thank you.” He dropped her on the ground and stepped over her shaking form, walked out the door and called his driver to come pick him up. Maybe he could catch Shisui before he left if he hurried.

“You lie…” Matsuri whispered. “You are merciful. Gaara Sama would have killed me for poisoning him.”

Sakura sat on the hidden bench in the gardens alone. She had looked briefly for Sasori in his office after her shower but had found the office empty. Not bold enough yet to knock on his bedroom door she decided to take a walk through the gardens to get the rest of her thoughts in order.

It was crisp out but not too cold. The sun was low in the sky but not set so there was still the barest hint of warmth. She would need to go in soon but for now she was content to sit alone on the bench and take in the serene calming beauty of the garden.

Sakura decided to text Naruto, to let him know where she was and that she was safe. He would tell Sasuke and then Sasuke would tell his mother. If Madara found out, and she wasn’t sure he didn’t already know after last night, it wouldn’t matter. No one was going to get through Sasori’s security checks. She laughed. She had picked the perfect place to hide away from her old life.

Pulling her phone out of her back pocket she grimaced. Three more text messages and two more missed calls. She sighed, she would have to deal with it eventually. She unlocked her phone and started to read the text messages.

“What? They think I’m...dead?” Sakura stared at her phone. “What remains?”

She read all of the messages, her brows furrowed, piercing everything together.

‘Are you really gone? Fugaku said they are testing your remains. I just talked to you yesterday, it seems impossible’, text from Naruto.

‘This is a sick joke, Uncle Madara just told us you died in a car accident, call me immediately’, Sasuke.

‘I will find you. You can’t run from me’, Madara.

Sakura snorted, so he didn’t think she was dead but then...why did Naruto and Sasuke, why did Madara tell them she was dead?

‘Flower, you need to call me ASAP, please’, text from Shisui. Oh, but that was the first one, after she had already gone to Madara’s...did he think she was dead as well?

The gunfire, she realized. “Oh.” Sasori must have had to do something to cover it up.

Sakura hadn’t been a player in the Uchiha syndicate but she wasn’t completely oblivious as to how things were run. She, with her boys, had overheard many interesting conversations about ‘arrangements’, ‘clean ups’ and ‘planting’ evidence. Were all criminals so predictable she wondered. She would have thought Sasori would be more creative.

Admittedly she was a little miffed he had done such a thing without asking or telling her, but she knew he wouldn’t have had time to ask her permission. She thought back to Tobirama and his penthouse, of the man on the table. Sometimes sacrifices must be made. She was trying to understand. How would she explain this to Naruto and Sasuke...

Although, she tapped her fingers against her lips and smiled, if he faked her death, that was pretty creative. Why else would some of them think she was dead and some like Madara who knew how to play the game, didn’t...she would need to speak with Sasori.

That could wait though. In the meantime, she closed her eyes...if she were presumed dead, she couldn’t go back to school...what about her degree? She still wanted to be a surgeon and she couldn’t do that if she was dead. She laughed. If she had been her old self, she might be freaking out right now, but she wasn’t.

Sakura opened her eyes to the darkening sky. Had it only been a little over a week since she had first talked to Sasori on the train? Fickle, that’s what life was she decided, fickle. How unfortunate and fortuitous at the same time she mused.

Well, first things first, Sasori had offered her MA lessons when she was sixteen and she had turned him down, she wondered if he would be willing to extend the offer to her once again in light of their current situation. She didn’t think headbutting Madara would work twice and she knew from the text...he knew she wasn’t dead. He would be looking for her, she needed to be ready.

Her fingers tightened around her phone as she thought of Itachi. No, she didn’t want to see any Uchiha right now, not even Shisui. Sakura stood and smoothed out her borrowed T-shirt and turned toward the narrow pathway that led back to the house when she heard voices and paused.

“How many stitches did you get?” A girl's voice broke through Sakura’s peace and quiet.

“Ten, I was lucky though, he could have hurt me much worse.” Another girl’s voice came from the dense overgrowth of flowering bushes and Sakura realized they were just on the other side of the colorful divide from her.

“Did he...you know um, touch you?” The first girl asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it. You never know who is listening and Gaara Sama said he wouldn’t hold back next time if I told anyone.” The second girl said.

“It’s amazing you know. We heard so many stories about how horrible and how sadistic he was. He cut your arm because of his Uncle I bet, there had to be proof of your punishment.” The first girl spoke again.

“He was really blunt but...I could tell, he didn’t really want to hurt me. I could tell he was almost, sorry.” The second girl said in an awed voice, almost as if she didn’t believe her own words.

“Wow. He’s not the monster people say he is then, I wonder, if his uncle is really as ruthless as people say, or if he’s like Gaara Sama, only does what he has to, to maintain control.” The first girl spoke to her friend.

“I don’t know, but I bet it has something to do with that woman Gaara Sama brought home last night, you know, the one with the pink hair? Ever since they started watching her, they’ve changed, well...Gaara Sama has changed, did you notice, he doesn’t watch us anymore, he only watches her.” The first girl continued her line of thought.

“Either way, I wouldn’t want to be her.” The second girl said. “We should get back to the house. Akasuna Sama said he wanted dinner to be perfect.”

“Yeah, for that woman probably.” Their voices started fading away. “I’ve never seen the master in love before. I never thought it was possible.”

Sakura gasped, but they didn’t hear her, they were too far away to hear. Sasori was in love with her? No, that’s just what the maid said, it didn’t make it true. He had told her himself that he was attracted to her, that he thought she was pretty, but that wasn’t love.

...it could be, in time...a little voice in the back of her head whispered. Maybe...and Gaara? Sakura swallowed. She had never paid the opposite sex much attention. Sasuke and Naruto kept most interested males away from her, and if they didn’t, Shisui and Itachi had. She had never realized how controlling the Uchiha had been before...it had just seemed natural at the time.

Mikoto had mentioned several times how it would be so nice to have her marry into the family and Sakura had thought nothing of it. She had assumed the would be mother, was joking or teasing her but now, it held a whole new meaning. Sakura thought back to all of their family functions, Itachi had always escorted her. He had always been her ‘date’ to events, it had only seemed right, he was the oldest brother, the one more suitable to protect her, watch out for her...to be responsible for her.

“Damn.” The word escaped her lips on a breath, she had been so naive. If it hadn’t been for Sasori and Tobirama, she would have been married off to Itachi before she even knew it. Married to a man who...took his pleasure where he liked.

“Fuck that.” She growled and stomped up the narrow path toward Sasori’s house for dinner.

So focused on her thoughts she didn’t see him before she almost ran into him.

“Sakura.” Gaara’s arm shot out to steady the pinkette before she could trip and fall over. “I came to get you for dinner.”

“Oh Gaara, I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” Sakura blushed in embarrassment.

“I do not mind, however, it would be prudent to pay more attention, given...the recent changes in your life.” Gaara inclined his head to her politely.

“Yes, um. Actually, I was thinking. I wanted to learn some things uh, like fighting. You know, to better defend myself after what happened with Madara last night.” Sakura licked her bottom lip, hesitant to go into detail.

Gaara nodded. “I think that is wise. I will need to get permission from my Uncle but I would be happy to start you out with some basic self defense and depending on how quickly and accurately you pick it up, we can go from there.”

“...and guns, I mean, I would like to learn how to shoot a gun, please.” She added quickly, blushing a deeper shade of pink at his smile.

“It would be my pleasure Sakura, to show you how to shoot a firearm, and perhaps how to wield a blade?” Gaara offered, his voice playful.

Sakura nodded seriously. “If you don’t mind?”

“As I said, I will have to get permission from my Uncle, but I would be happy to teach you everything I know. Again, I think it is a wise decision and I know that my Uncle would like you to be able to protect yourself, if we are not with you.” Gaara held his arm out to her. “Shall we?”

“Thank you Gaara.” Sakura slid her arm through his and let him pat her hand as they walked up to the house.

“It is getting colder out. You should wear a jacket when you go to the gardens from now on.” Gaara told her.

“I know, Oh, I was also wondering if I could get some of my things from my apartment? Maybe after dinner?” Sakura asked.

“Uncle has sent my siblings to gather your belongings. He had planned on telling you at dinner. Do not worry Sakura. You will be well taken care of here.” Gaara walked her up the steps that led into the main part of the house and through the door.

“I don’t want to be any trouble.” Sakura looked down at her feet. “Do you think your Uncle would mind if I stayed with you a little longer, at least until I figure out what to do next? It was rather stressful with Madara last night and I don’t want to see any Uchiha right now. If I go home, that will be impossible.”

Gaara knew there was more in her head than she was telling him, he could feel the tension in her arm where it touched his. She must know by now, his Uncle hadn’t taken her phone from her for a reason, he wanted her to know, to ask.

“You are no trouble Sakura, you may stay here as long as you like, I’m sure. In fact, I believe my Uncle had made arrangements for just that. The Uchiha will not be looking for you.” There was no gasp, no protest...she knew...good, that would make things easier.

Sasori was waiting for them in the dining hall. His eyes narrowed slightly at how close his nephew was walking with Sakura, her arm in his but studied his face into a polite welcoming warmth as her eyes fell on him. “Good evening dear, I am glad to see the maid brought you something to wear. I sent my niece and nephew to gather your things for you, I hope you don’t mind. I assume that you didn’t wish to return to your apartment, under the current circumstances.”

“Such as my death?” Sakura raised a pink eye brow and placed her free hand on her hip. She felt rather than saw Gaara pull slowly away from her to stand beside his Uncle.

Sasori’s mouth twitched. “Ah, you figured it out. Clever girl.” Sasori waved for her to sit down and pulled a chair out for her.

Once she was seated with a glass in her hand he began to explain his part in last night’s adventure.

“You called me in a slight panic dear. I feared the worst. If I was wrong in my assumption, it is just as easily corrected. If I was correct, then you are free of the Uchiha and can be your own person now, make your own choices.” Amber eyes watched her reaction over the rim of his glass.

“What did Madara Uchiha do to make you call me so late and with such...enthusiasm?” Sasori asked her gently.

“He tried to rape me.” Sakura said bluntly.

The stem of Sasori’s champagne flute snapped in his hand, blood began to drip from his fingers where the glass had cut into his skin. Gaara growled but didn’t move otherwise.

“Did he.” Sasori’s voice was low and dangerous, as he set the broken glass on the table and reached for his cloth napkin to staunch his wound. “An unfortunate mistake on his part.”

Chapter Text

“Why are we even here un? Isn’t she supposed to be dead?” Deidara pulled on his polo shirt collar and shoved his hands in his pockets while he glared at Pein. He thought this was stupid and pointless, like the woman was going to show up for class after the night Leader Sama said she had…

“...and you don’t look like a college student un.” Blue eyes passed over the too stiff form of his leader, his too straight back and too stern expression. “You’re scaring the kiddies Leader Sama.”

Pein ignored the blonde as well as the odd looks from many of the students they passed on the way to the clearly marked lab building. He doubted that Sakura would be in class today as well, but it didn’t hurt to look and keep an eye out for anyone else who knew she was alive and might also be looking for her.

This isn’t something he would normally do. Normally he would have sent Deidara alone or perhaps Kakuzu to check in on the woman, but he had a personal investment in her safety...and he wanted to see for himself, if there was anything to see.

“Too bad she didn’t take any art classes, all this science stuff is boring un.” Deidara looked into the lab class Sakura was supposed to be attending but saw no hint of pink and withdrew his head. “She isn’t here.”

“I can see that Deidara.” Pein ignored the man’s annoying clicking of his teeth and looked down the hall where one Naruto Uzumaki and one Sasuke Uchiha had just entered the building and were walking their way. “Come, we need to leave.”

Deidara looked up, then down again, shuffling his hands in his pockets and letting his blonde bangs fall over the side of his face hiding his eyes as they walked past two of Sakura’s best friends. Leader Sama had briefed the bomber before they left Rain with a small amount of background information on their target and her...associations. They wouldn’t be recognized but it didn’t hurt to be cautious.

“She isn’t here Sasuke.” Pein overheard the short haired blonde telling the Uchiha.

“I got a text from an anonymous number saying she wasn’t dead and would contact us soon. I’m not going to sit around and do nothing, now come on dobe.” They heard the Uchiha snap back at his friend.

“Do you really think she would just go to class? We aren’t the only ones looking for her if what we think happened to her, happened.” Naruto growled out at his best friend.

“I know that Naruto, that’s why we’re here.” Sasuke glared at his friend as they continued down the hall.

Deidara snickered quietly as he and Pein walked out the lab building doors.

“That was a complete waste of time un, now what?” Deidara started to complain the moment they stepped back outside. He had gotten dressed up in this ridiculous disguise for nothing. His pants were too tight and he felt like his polo shirt was trying to choke him.

“It wasn’t a waste. We now know someone texted Sasuke Uchiha and that Sakura Haruno is alive. It was most likely Sakura herself who texted her friends.” Pein pulled his phone from his pocket and texted the information to Konan. No, it wasn’t a waste, it helped to confirm what he already thought.

“How do you know it was her, he said anonymous yeah.” Deidara asked as they walked to their car.

“Who else would it be, and we already know she is with Sasori. I am sure he has already given her a new phone to use, a secure one. No doubt Madara had her other one bugged.” Pein opened the door to his car and got inside.

“Hmph.” Deidara rolled down the passenger window after getting in and threw his arm lazily out the side of the car as Pein drove out of the parking lot toward Sakura’s apartment. Leader Sama was probably right. The Suna man was known for his foresight, he wouldn’t leave such a thing to chance.

“So what are we going to do now?” Deidara asked, watching the buildings pass them by one by one as they drove toward Sakura’s apartment.

“We are going to her apartment to see if anyone has been there, or if anyone goes there.” Pein turned down the next street. “We know she is with Akasuna, but we don’t know what she is aware of. I’m going to leave her a message. If we can’t make contact with her while she is with Akasuna, we will have to make her reach out to us.”

“Aware of?” Leader Sama was talking in half phrases again. Deidara sighed. “How are we going to do that?” Deidara asked.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Pein said cryptically as they pulled into the parking lot across the street from Sakura’s apartment.

“Who is this woman Leader Sama? I thought she was just a regular recruit yeah, I mean one you and Konan have a history with but....” Deidara rolled his window up and sat back in his chair looking at the building across the street.

“She is...a recruit but a special one.” Pein pulled a piece of paper from his jacket and turned it over in his hand. Pein nodded across the street as two people came out of Sakura’s apartment moving quickly. “We aren’t the only ones here.”

Deidara and Pein watched as Kankuro and Temari walked down the stairs with some boxes and loaded them into the back of a van, then watched as they ran back up the stairs.

“Deidara, move quickly, slip this paper into one of those boxes after the next time they come out.” Pein handed the blonde the piece of paper he had taken out of his jacket.

“Un.” Deidara took the slip of paper and opened the passenger door.

Moving quickly across the street at a steady pace Deidara wove his way in and out of cars as he approached the van from the side. It appeared that it was only the two visitors inside Sakura’s apartment. He watched as they came down the stairs with more boxes and loaded them into the van. Before their feet passed through Sakura’s apartment door, Deidara darted forward, slipped the paper in between the flaps of the nearest box and jumped off to the side walking around the opposite end of the building as Temari and Kankuro came back down the stairs with more boxes.

Pein drove around to the other side of the building where he met Deidara and they drove away as Temari and Kankuro climbed the stairs once more.

“So what was that?” Deidara asked as they drove down the street to the freeway and then on toward Rain.

“A thousand words.” Pein replied without looking at the man.

“Right un.” Deidara rolled his eyes and looked out the window.

Kakashi stared down at his phone. So, it was time...he sighed. Closing the text message from Obito he pulled up the newest unread text from Itachi.

‘Has anyone been to Sakura’s apartment?’- Itachi

‘No.’- Kakashi

If Kakashi felt guilty about lying to his former co-worker, his friendship with Obito out weighed it. It had been a long time since Kakashi had served and protected, with the Konoha police force, nearly ten years. Some things, were better left in the past, while others...well other things could never be forgotten or debts repaid.

Obito said the woman was worth protecting, that she was like Rin. Kakashi had never spoken to the pink haired woman, he didn’t know if she was like Rin or not but if Obito wanted to protect her...he would help. After all, he was the reason Rin was dead, it was his fault...he had been the one to pull the trigger...how was he supposed to know she would jump in the way…

Kakashi ran a hand through his spiky silver mess of his hair. Yeah, some things were better left in the past. It didn’t matter anyway, who won, who lost...who lived or who died. It was all the same to Kakashi, as long as he still had Obito, he didn’t really care.

It felt wrong not being in class but the conversation over dinner last night with Sasori and Gaara kept playing over and over in her head. Disconnected sentences of Sasori’s kept making her bite down on her bottom lip in contemplation.

“It is best if the world thinks you are dead. Some might think you’re alive, but I see no need in proving their assumptions or hopes to be correct.” He had told her with softened eyes. “This way you can start over, without the bonds that bound you to the Uchiha and their world.”

He had offered her exactly what she had wanted, freedom.

“...and my schooling? I’m just to give up right before graduation?” She had asked him, a problem she hadn’t been able to come up with a solution to in the privacy of her borrowed room earlier that day.

“I would not ask you to give up your dream Sakura, surely you must know that.” He had actually sounded hurt and she had...felt bad. He was doing all of this for her and she was being selfish.

Sakura recalled his hesitancy, it was clear he did not want to tell her what to do, that his offer was just that, an offer. She had appreciated his kindness, she appreciated it now as she looked out the window toward the gardens. Sasori was a complicated man, but a good one...she was sure. He just, like Madara, made his own rules and anything that fell out of his personal spectrum or interest...simply did not exist in his world.

“You may finish your schooling and earn your degree, in Suna.” He had smiled at her, his desire nearly transparent to her in his eyes as he spoke. “There are some perks to knowing the Prince of Suna. Your college credits will transfer to Suna University. You will study under my grandmother, Lady Chiyo and finish your internship at one of my medical companies there...if you like.”

Sakura looked out her window, it had begun to rain as she ran though their conversation in her head. She had been surprised at his offer, at his kindness and generosity. She had heard of Lady Chiyo, a Doctor of medicine on par with Tsunade Senju, only with a different expertise...in poisons. It was a generous offer, like all of his offers to her were, but to move to Suna, under his patronage, under his...protection…

“You told me that your holdings in Suna weren’t legal.” She had pointed out to him after he had made his offer to her.

“Neither is faking your own death. The choice is yours Sakura, I’ll not force you, but you are and were already a part of this world, our world.” He looked at his nephew who inclined his head. “You just didn’t know it.”

“Besides,” He smirked at her. “What is legal, when I own Suna and all that passes through it?”

Sakura laughed quietly to herself. Everything Sasori had said to her was the truth, everything he had told her was reasonable. She couldn’t have thought of a better plan herself, so she had agreed, and if she were honest with herself, she wouldn’t mind spending a little more time with the man and getting to know him better. Sasori was intelligent, attractive and interesting. He had made his feelings toward her very clear and part of her couldn’t help but acknowledge she had called him more out of desire to see him again, than because he held no connection to the Uchiha.

“One thing though, I will not be able to join you right away and I assume you will wish to leave immediately.” He had smiled when she had nodded at him. “There is still business I must attend to, more so now that I will be coming to join you in Suna. You will go ahead of me, with Gaara. He will help get your set up, settled and I will meet you as soon as I am able.”

Sakura hadn’t realized how much she had assumed of Sasori until he had told her he wouldn’t be coming with her right away, that they wouldn’t be going together. She liked Gaara and didn’t think he was the monster everyone told her he was but...

“Can’t I stay here and um, wait for you?” She had asked him hesitantly, not wanting to overstep her boundaries or sound ungrateful. He had chuckled and smiled at her.

“I would like for you to stay with me, but I would rather have you out of Konoha, away from Madara Uchiha.” His voice had grown low when he had said Madara's name, it made Sakura shiver.

At his insistence, she had told him what had happened, he had listened intently, his eyes narrowing, his fists clenched around his bloodied towel. Gaara had sat motionless, his eyes on Sakura as she glossed over the details, giving them the barest amount of words and facts.

“...and then I uh, headbutted him and broke his nose.” She had told them.

Gaara had blinked, but Sasori had laughed. A full masculine pleasure filled laugh, that had made her smile. She liked his laugh, much more than Madara’s, more than Itachi’s.

“Did you.” He had smirked at her fondly once he had stopped laughing, and had made her blush.

Sasori had agreed to her request that Gaara teach her basic martial arts, with the stipulation that as she progressed, she would then take more advanced lessons with him. She had agreed with only a slight tinge of pink to her cheeks. He had been against her learning to use a firearm at first but agreed only after she agreed he could purchase her a small pistol to keep on her person at all times, once she had mastered the use and safety guidelines.

They both agreed that blades could wait until she had a better understanding of martial arts. Gaara had seemed pleased.

Sakura leaned forward and rested her head against the window, watching the rain gather and slide down the pane of glass. Sasori had given her a new phone last night. It wasn’t anything special and already had all the numbers she would need programmed into its contacts. He had told her it was registered with his company in Suna and didn’t have the bugs in it that he was sure her own phone had.

When he had told her not to put any of her old contacts into her new phone she had smiled. She never had put any contacts into her phone, she had learned from a book a long time ago to memorize all of her numbers so they couldn’t be stolen if her phone was ever compromised. Memorizing things had never been a problem for her. She laughed thinking about it.

Sasori had been pleased, that’s when he had learned she had a photographic memory. She had blushed under his direct gaze, he always looked at her, watched her so intensely, ever since she had met him on the train that one day he had been...imposing, his presence was undeniable. A man worth knowing.

Her fingers reached out to touch the cold glass, to trace the water streams and drops as it continued to rain outside. That wasn’t the first time he had seen her though, she recalled him telling her he had first seen her when she had been sixteen and had applied for a summer job at one of his businesses.

He had been watching her for quite some time. It wasn’t creepy or upsetting to her, it was reassuring now, in a way that Madara’s interference in her life had never been. Sasori’s interest in her, albeit not normal, was comforting, flattering. He had never tried to control her decisions like Madara, had watched her and protected her from afar without her knowing instead of infiltrating every aspect of her life and molding her into what he wanted her to be...like Madara had.

Sasori had also told her with a small twitch to his left eye if she wished to walk away, if it was too much and she wanted to go back to the Uchiha compound or if she wanted to go home to her apartment, he wouldn’t stop her. He didn’t recommend it but he wouldn’t keep her here against her will. He had made it clear she wasn’t his prisoner, that he wanted her to be happy, that if she stayed it was her own decision. He would force nothing on her, only offer it to her.

That had been why she had decided to stay and accept everything he had to offer...his advice, guidance and friendship.

So, they had laid out their plans, spending the rest of their dinner deciding when she would leave, who if anyone she would tell, the how and the why of it all. His other nephew, Kankuro, who she was finally properly introduced to, had arrived later that evening with an overnight bag of her things. Sakura didn’t ask how they had gotten into her apartment or knew what to get her, when his niece had also walked into the dining room.

It was then she learned that Kankuro and Temari were the ones who had helped her that night with Madara’s tails, that they had been the ones doing the shooting and had set up her ‘demise’ for the police.

How fitting, she smiled a bit, her head still resting on the cold window, her fingers still tracing the rain. Her mother had faked her death with the help of the Uchiha and now she had faked her own death with the help of Akasuna. “Like mother like daughter”, she muttered against the glass.

Two people, Sasuke and Naruto, were the only two people she had texted to tell them she was alive. A vague text that could have been sent from anyone, just to let them know...she wasn’t dead. It would frustrate them, it would confuse them and cause problems for them she was sure, but she was also sure they would keep it to themselves. She was sure they wouldn’t tell anyone, not even Mikoto.

She had to tell them. They had to know she was still alive, particularly Sasuke. He wasn’t as cold hearted as he wanted to appear. She knew he felt deeply, that he just didn’t know how to show it. Naruto, was a bit more complicated. He wasn’t as happy go lucky as most people saw him as. He too felt deeply, but in a different way. Her boys...yes, she had to tell them the truth, she couldn’t let them think she was dead and gone.

Mikoto...Sakura sighed. There wasn’t anything she could do about her adopted mother’s feelings now. She felt bad but...it was what needed to be done. She knew she had to harden her heart, move forward, not only for herself but for them all. To tell her was a risk she wasn’t willing to take. She had made her choice. This is what she wanted. She would miss Shisui and if she were honest and now that she had calmed down a bit, Itachi, but like the others, like Ino, it couldn’t be helped.

She had drawn her line in her mind and she would keep to it. This is who she was now, who she wanted to be...Her father wasn’t the man she thought he was, nor her mother the woman who had raised her. She was no longer the Sakura that she was two weeks ago. She would follow in their footsteps, take what they had left her, what little they had left her and run with it.

What had they left her...more questions than answers, two folders that she no longer had in her possession, a shadow of who they were...and dangerous enemies she was only now beginning to realize she had. “Thanks.” She muttered into the glass.

All in all though, Sakura felt good about her decision. She was looking forward to her lessons with Gaara. She had time to think about what she had overheard in the garden, when she had heard the maids talking about him, about Sasori. She decided to ignore the gossip, for she was sure that was all it was, about their speculation on Sasori’s feelings for her, love, how silly. Affection perhaps but not love. Women talked, she had been friends with Ino long enough to know half of what was said wasn’t true.

Sasori’s reaction when she had told him Madara had tried to rape her was frightening. He had been so still, as though he had been afraid of what he would do if he moved. Gaara had been just as still, just as quiet. She hadn’t told them everything...and they knew it. She knew they didn’t want to ask, as much as she didn’t want to tell them.

It didn’t feel real yet, her decision to stay, to allow Sasori to help her, to be a part of...whatever this was.

Sakura had glossed over the folders when telling them of that night. There wasn’t a lot to tell. She hadn’t even looked in one of the folders Madara had given her, too upset about the photos and the articles in the first one she had opened. She had told them about Orochimaru, bits and pieces of her past. Sakura had decided to trust them, but...she wasn’t quite ready to spill everything she knew. Part of her told her she was being paranoid, another smart.

Sasori had smiled that smile of his, the one she thought meant he was either pleased with her or that she had done exactly as he had expected her to. Either way, she was pleased and that’s what mattered. She was beginning to understand some things, that she never thought she would even want to understand.

All her life, whether she knew it or not, she had been surrounded by men, strong men who took what they wanted, made things happen for those whom they cared for, were responsible for, and used any and all means to fulfill those responsibilities.

Looking back at that party, where that boy had tried to touch her, she wasn’t bothered by it anymore, knowing it had been Gaara and Sasori to shoot him in the head, to cut his body up and throw it into a ditch. They were protecting her, doing what they knew she couldn’t do for herself.

She also realized that the martial arts contract had been from Sasori. Even then, he had tried to give her the tools to forge her own way in life and she couldn’t help but wonder, if she had taken him up on his classes, if what had happened with Madara, would have happened at all, if she had been...stronger.

Sakura had been proud of Itachi at first, when he had denied Madara’s offer to take over the clan, to step up and take his place for the next generation of crime but now...she saw him for what he truly was. He was weak. She understood why Madara had turned his eye to her for his next choice, but understanding wasn’t forgiveness.

It was pitiful and pathetic now, Itachi’s words. ‘Forgive him’, she laughed a bitter laugh. No, she would not be forgiving Madara. Itachi was another story, to be considered later. Belatedly, she realized she had never asked Madara, what the clan had their hands in, what kinds of businesses they ran both legal and non. She knew of some of course but not nearly enough she realized.

She wondered briefly, if Sasori would tell her what illegal businesses he ran. He had been honest and straightforward with her so far but...she wasn’t an Akasuna, there were still boundaries she wasn’t sure she could cross with the man, should cross.

A man who was attracted to a woman, he had told her that was what he was. Just me then huh, she had said. Just you, he had told her meeting her eyes. She blushed. Yes, she was attracted to him too, but there were other things to deal with at the moment, more important things she needed to focus on. Like always, she berated herself. She never had time for romance before, why should she make time now?

Maybe he’s worth it, that damned voice in the back of her head again. “Maybe he is.” She smiled a little smile.

... Sasori wasn’t like anyone she had ever met before. Sakura thought back to the writing in the back of the ‘Desert Flowers and Their Uses’, book he had given her. ‘One day you will see, you’re what humanity means to me’-Sasori...maybe for him, she could make time.

Chapter Text

“So are we going to talk about it or are you going to keep ignoring me?” Shisui glared at his younger cousin, like he had been glaring at him since Itachi had returned from Matsuri’s apartment the night before. Itachi still looked like shit. Shisui had never seen him looking so ragged, even after Izumi had died. He didn’t feel any pity for his cousin though, he was acting like a disgusting pig and he had let him know it.

Itachi had caught up to him at the Uchiha Industries suite before he had left, and asked him to stay. Shisui had wanted to leave, he didn’t want to hear any of the sordid details of his cousin’s dalliance, but Itachi had remained quiet, his dark eyes imploring and steady. So….he had stayed, but it was morning, they had both gotten some much needed sleep and there were things that needed to be said between them.

“I’m not ignoring you, there is nothing to talk about.” Itachi rubbed his temples, his head still hurt from yesterday. He didn’t want to have this conversation with his cousin.

“Nothing to talk about.” Shisui couldn’t believe Itachi. He was going to talk whether he liked it or not. “You want to tell me why you not only fell for an amateur drugging you, but fucked her as well?”

“Am I not allowed to fuck someone? I’m an adult.” Itachi snipped back at his cousin. He already felt guilty about it and Shisui was making him feel even worse.

Itachi dodged the punch to the side of his head, rolled from his bed, sprung to his feet from the floor and rounded to face his cousin again. “What are you doing?” He asked, surprise clear in his tone. Shisui had never tried to seriously hit him before.

“I’m going to knock some sense into that clouded brain of yours!” Shisui looked at Itachi with disgust.

“Sakura isn’t even buried and you’re fucking some whore!” Shisui walked out of Itachi’s bedroom, to the kitchen and grabbed the coroner's notes, tossing them onto the bed. “Here’s your fucking report.”

“It doesn’t matter if she’s buried or not Shisui, she’s gone.” Itachi picked up the folder but didn’t open it, he just stared down at it as if it would burst into flames or explode on him. Didn’t Shisui understand, it didn’t matter what the report said, nothing would bring her back. What did it matter if he found his release with someone else.

“Yeah, she’s gone...and Madara is to blame.” Shisui sat down on the bed, turning his burning eyes to Itachi. “So, what are we going to do about it huh?”

Itachi looked his cousin in the eye. He saw determination there, loyalty and trust. “We’re going to kill him, then we’re going to take back all of our holdings that we offered the Senju in our treaty...then...we’re going after Suna.”

“You’re going to split the clan.” Shisui rubbed his stubble, he really needed to shave...and shower.

“The clan is already split. I will unify the clan, under me.” Itachi moved to the bathroom where he found the aspirin.

“Why go after Suna?” Shisui asked, not entirely surprised at his cousin’s decision to go after Akasuna.

“To have true peace...I need to take out more than just Madara. Removing Madara from power won’t stop the rest of the criminal underworld in the five great nations. If I take out all the major players, I can take my time eliminating the smaller ones later.” Itachi swallowed two aspirin dry, the bitter taste matching the bitterness in his heart.

“Peace through war. Brilliant.” Shisui shook his head. He never thought he would see the day his cousin, the one who despised war, killing, the criminal world would wish to not only go to war with the other clans, but start it. “You’ve been pushed that far huh?”

“You disapprove?” Itachi pulled his shirt from his head and threw it in the laundry basket.

“It’s going to be a really bloody war Itachi, particularly with the Senju.” Shisui didn’t answer Itachi’s question. Had he really loved Sakura this much?

“I know.” Itachi was well aware what he was starting, it would be a war the likes of which no one had ever seen before in the criminal underworld, but necessary, in Itachi’s opinion, to reach the peace he desired, had always desired but had held back from instigating...for Sakura’s sake. “I have nothing left to lose.”

“Oh? What about Sasuke, or your mother?” Shisui asked.

“They are already lost.” Itachi undid his pants and stepped into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

“You’re the one whos lost Itachi.” Shisui muttered, he was hungry, he needed food. This was too much to contemplate on an empty stomach. Shisui leaned over and snatched the phone up on the side of the bed and dialed the kitchens. He would have something sent up. It would do both of them to get something in their stomachs. This conversation was far from over.

He didn’t approve of Itachi’s plans, or his new careless attitude. He only hoped his cousin would change his mind, once he was over his grief. He missed Sakura too, but taking the clan into another war, one bloodier and more dangerous than the one they had fought only seven years ago...no, that wasn't the way.

“Orochimaru is dead.” The voice in the phone said without concern for it’s listener.

Madara narrowed his eyes at the clock on his wall in response to this unexpected news. “By whose hand?”

“Mine of course. He tried to back out of a deal with me, it was most unfortunate. His apprentice, a Kabuto Yakushi, has taken up his more clandestine adventures, but he won’t last long. He bears only a third of Orochimaru’s talents. The snake never trusted anyone, least of all those closest to him.” Danzo’s voice came through the receiver, dripping with contempt and ill concealed arrogance.

“You plan to take over his holdings I assume?” Madara hadn’t expected this turn of events. Danzo was gaining power, to take down someone like Orochimaru so effortlessly. The man was arrogant, for a reason.

Madara had no interest in Orochimaru’s research and even less in his apprentice Kabuto Yakushi, with the exception of one little thing.

“I have already taken over all of Orochimaru’s research and dealings.” Danzo said without bravado. “Was there something you were interested in, Madara?”

Madara did not like this man, the audacity to address him by his first name instead of his title…but that could wait, because there was something he was interested in. ”Yes, Kizashi Haruno’s research. What is your price, for all of it?”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Ah, the blood serum.” Danzo’s voice was calm, controlled and fake.

Madara waited impatiently. He didn’t have time nor a desire to stroke this man’s ego, but he did want Haruno’s research.

“Fourteen million dollars.” Danzo finally named his price.

“With no copies, no replicates.” Madara demanded, he could almost feel the man gloating through the line.

“An even fifteen then.” Danzo countered.

Fifteen was not an even number. “Done.” Madara said after a long pause. He would get the research front he man, then kill him. There could be no loose ends and Danzo had just outlived his usefulness. He would find Sakura himself.

“May I ask what you want with it Madara?” Danzo hesitated, then added…”There is no proof it works.”

“It’s personal, it doesn't matter if it works or not, that is not why I want it.” Madara said evenly, annoyed by the man’s assumptions that he would tell him anything.

“The girl then, Kizashi’s daughter. I had heard...she was dead.” Danzo said, the question clear.

“She is. I killed her myself.” Madara hung up the phone and turned to Hashirama who had arrived while he had been on the phone.

“Madara.” Hashirama nodded to his friend in greeting, noticing the lines of strain around his mouth and eyes. He had overheard part of Madara’s conversation.

“Hashirama.” Madara crossed his arms over his chest and waited for his friend to say what he wanted to say, the look in his eye was clear.

“Madara...are you trying to start a war?” Hashirama watched the twitch of Madara’s eye and sat down hard across from him on the other side of the desk, his hands on the wood top.

“I didn’t start this war, Akasuna did, by abducting something that belonged to me.” Madara raised a dark brow, waiting for the lecture he was sure his friend would offer..

They had talked about it, the night before. Madara had told him he thought the woman’s death was a cover up, staged, like her mother’s. Only this time it wasn’t the Uchiha covering it up, but Sasori.

“So, you think he has her, against her will?” Hashirama looked concerned. “Perhaps Tobi could help if...”

“No.” Madara raised his hand. “That will not be necessary. I have Izuna watching the man as we speak and using his contacts in Suna to find out where Akasuna is keeping her, if he is keeping her.”

“So you aren’t sure.” Hashirama nodded. He understood. Madara had already thought of a plan, he only needed proof that Akasuna had the woman before he made his move. He had sounded so confident before that Sakura was alive. Hashirama realized, it was hope...Madara hoped she was alive.

So his friend did have feelings for the woman, it wasn’t just a whim.

“...and Danzo, you’re buying Kizashi’s research off of him. The research that belongs to Sakura, her inheritance? Why Madara?” Hashirama thought he could guess though.

“As you said, it is hers. I want to...be able to offer her something if… when I find her, if she left with Akasuna of her own free will to...gain her trust back.” Madara said quietly.

Hashirama’s eyebrows rose to meet his hairline. “What have you done?”

Madara hissed and clenched his jaw. “I didn’t do anything.” How did Hashirama always know...

“Madara.” Hashirama leveled a ‘look’ at his friend. It was clear Madara was ashamed, whatever it was he had done.

“I may have lost my temper with her that night and...pushed her a little too far.” Madara looked away from his friend and out the window of his office. “I don’t know how to...talk to her without getting angry.”

“Madara did you...uh, hurt her?” Hashirama knew his friend had a temper, knew he was used to getting what he wanted and didn’t like the word no, but Madara had never cared enough about a woman before to care if they told him ‘no’, not that many did. He would just find another woman to fill his needs, but what if...he didn’t want another woman, what if he…

“Madara?” Hashirama stood up and placed his hands on Madara’s desk, his voice low.

“I didn’t mean to.” Madara finally spoke. “I didn’t hurt her but...I would have if she didn’t break my nose. She headbutted me in the face.”

“She broke your...oh! That’s why your face was swollen last night!’ Hashirama‘s laughter boomed out across the small space that divided the two friends.

“Are you quite done?” Madara asked his friend, annoyed.

“No.” Hashirama said more seriously. “Madara, why, I mean, you’ve never done that before have you?”

Madara scowled, he did not want to have this conversation. “Of course not but she is, it’s different. She belongs to me.” He tried, and failed to justify his actions to his friend.

Hashirama sat back in his chair. He didn’t like what he was hearing. This was bad. “No, Madara, she doesn’t.” He said slowly, ignoring his friend’s scowl.

“She doesn’t belong to you Madara, no matter how you might feel about her, no matter what you might have done for her. You don’t own her, Madara. That isn’t love..” Hashirama said seriously, sitting back down in his seat and watching his friend carefully.

“Well it doesn't matter now, she’s gone, dead or run away or abducted, it doesn’t matter.” Madara growled.

Hashirama had never seen his friend like this before. It worried him. “Maybe you should just focus on finding out if she is alive or not and go from there.” He suggested.

“I intend to.” Madara locked eyes with his friend, challenging him to stop him.

Hashirama left his friend to stew in his thoughts and walked down the steps of the Uchiha Industries HQ in downtown Konoha business district. He would have stayed with his friend longer but he needed to meet his brother for lunch and didn’t want to be late.

Tobirama was sitting in his usual spot in the back of the restaurant, his back to the wall facing the door with both kitchen to his right eye and the restrooms to his left. He saw his brother before he opened the door to the restaurant, something was wrong, he could tell immediately. He knew his brother had met with Madara the previous night and was coming from his office now.

“What happened?” Tobirama demanded as soon as his brother sat down at the table across from him.

“Ah nothing Tobi. It’s raining outside.” Hashirama smiled brightly, ignoring his brother’s annoyed look that he was giving him. Tobirama knew him too well.

“Fine don’t tell me.” Tobirama motioned for the waiter while his brother fidgeted in his seat. He knew if he stayed silent and glared at him enough his brother would crack and eventually tell him what was bothering him.

Tobirama ignored Hashirama while they placed their orders and took pointed sips of their drinks.

“Sakura, the woman we met, I met at the hospital fundraiser, she’s dead, or gone missing.” Hashirama blurted out after several minutes of strained silence from his brother.

Tobirama set his glass of iced tea down and looked at his brother. “I see. Why do you think she is either dead or missing, and why are those the only two options for her...what I can only assume is her disappearance?”

“Madara said she, that he, um had a slight argument with the woman, she broke his nose and ran from him.” Hashirama frowned, not sure how much to tell his brother. Madara had told him he didn’t need Tobirama’s help, and Hashirama suspected he didn’t want it either, but Hashirama had liked the pink haired woman, and wanted to make sure she was okay.

“She broke his nose?” Tobirama’s mouth twitched. He knew the woman was a hellion but to break Madara’s nose...was impressive. “He didn’t block it?”

“Well, I’m sure his hands were occupied. Sakura headbutted him in the face.” Hashirama explained.

“Occupied.” Tobirama said flatly, then grit his teeth. “Occupied?”

Tobirama had never liked the Uchiha, but even he wouldn’t have thought Madara capable of something like...that.

“He said he didn’t mean to, he didn’t hurt her but she ran and there was a car accident, only Madara seems to think that the body the Konoha Police found, wasn’t Sakura’s.” Hashirama said quickly.

“He didn’t mean to? I doubt that very much.” Tobirama said gruffly, he knew exactly what his brother was referring to without the elaboration of words. “She headbutted him?” Tobirama couldn’t hold his smile back. He knew he liked the woman.

“Yes, his face was swollen yesterday, now I know why. Do you think you could look into it, Tobi, not for Madara, but for me?” Hashirama said quickly, seeing his brother tense up a bit at his request.

Tobirama nodded. “I will look into it. The police picked up a body you said?”

Tobirama would look into it, and not only for his brother, but for himself. He was curious to find out what had happened as well.

Hashirama nodded. “What was left of it.” He said quietly.

“Hum.” Tobirama knew, like Madara who controlled the police, how easy it was to ‘identify’ a torn and mutilated body beyond recognition, and to compromise the coroner’s report. “Who was the attending for her autopsy? I assume there was an autopsy?”

“Madara didn’t say.” Hashirama was relieved. Tobirama would find out what happened. He hoped the woman was okay, she had such a promising future ahead of her.

Tobirama grunted. He could see how upset his brother was. If he were honest, he was a little upset too. He doubted Sakura was dead though, given the small amount of information that his brother had provided, he was sure she was alive...and hiding from Madara. Car crashes, didn’t shed their victims usually, nor tear them beyond recognition. Hashirama wasn’t an idiot even if he acted the fool sometimes. Tobirama knew his brother knew the woman was alive too, he was, after all, a surgeon and had worked on many car crash victims. This seemed too convenient. Dental records were easy to fake.

No, what upset Tobirama was the fact that Madara had tried to force himself on the woman. Tobirama was a criminal, he had tortured, murdered and maimed countless people, but rape…

Monsters like Akasuna’s nephew raped women, monsters like he had always known Madara Uchiha to be.

“If Madara doesn’t think she is dead, if he thinks she is missing, where does he think she is?” Tobirama asked his brother as their food was served.

Hashirama waited for the waiter to leave before answering his brother. “With Akasuna. Madara thinks he abducted her.”

“Really.” Tobirama hadn’t been expecting that. “I will find her Hashirama.”

“Thank you Tobi.” Hashirama smiled brightly at his brother.

“You’re paying for lunch.” Tobirama picked up his chopsticks and ignored his brother’s sputtering.

“Wow, did you leave the kitchen sink?” Sakura laughed at Temari and Kankuro as they brought box after box into her bedroom.

“Uncle told us to bring you everything.” Kankuro licked his lips nervously. Was the woman upset, if she was they would be punished.

Temari laughed. “No, we left that, but only because we didn’t have a wrench on us.” Temari liked the woman, she was...normal and could prove a decent friend and distraction.

Kankuro shot his sister an apprehensive look. Easy for her to be relaxed, he grumbled to himself. If he was too nice, looked too long or said the wrong thing to the woman he would be castrated by either his brother or their Uncle. Both of the red heads seemed a bit too interested in the woman for him to relax around her.

“Good thing too, I have no idea where I’m going to put all of this.” Sakura looked around the room, it was getting smaller and smaller by the moment.

“Well, your books can go in your sitting room…” Temari walked over to the door next to the window and opened a door Sakura hadn’t realized was there.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Sakura followed Temari into a large open room filled with empty book shelves, a couch and a minibar. Two large windows let in plenty of the dull Fall light and there was a fireplace off to the left side that no doubt shared a chimney with the one in her bedroom that was on the same wall.

“I didn’t know this was here!” Sakura hit herself in the forehead and laughed.

“Hidden door.” Temari turned and pointed to the handle less door behind her.

“How did you open it then?” Sakura inspected the door.

“Heat sensor.” Temari pressed her palm to what Sakura thought was a decorative mirror at eye level.

“Amazing.” Sakura mumbled with a smile. “That is uh, really cool.”

Temari smiled, it was kinda nice having another woman in the house.

“I’ll go get your books then.” Kankuro left the room to bring the boxes of books into Sakura’s sitting room for her.

“Most of the occupied rooms have their own sitting rooms.” Temari explained as she showed Sakura her mini bar. “The maids restock it so drink or eat as much as you like. I know my Uncle wants you to feel comfortable here.”

“Thank you.” Sakura bit her bottom lip.

“What’s wrong?” Temari thought the woman looked a bit unsure of her surroundings.

“Is Sasori, always this nice?” Sakura asked, not wanting to sound rude but she didn’t know how else to phrase it.

“No.” Temari said, moving across the room to help her brother. “Just with you.”

Just with me, Sakura’s heart jumped in her chest. Why me, she asked herself, what’s so damn special about me?

“Temari.” Kankuro called out to his sister from the other room.

“Be right back.” Temari smiled at Sakura setting down the box she had in her arms.

“Yeah?” Temari asked her brother in Sakura’s bedroom.

“We have company.” Kankuro held his phone up for his sister to see the text from their brother.

“Izuna Uchiha, huh? So Madara Uchiha, knows she’s alive? I knew that stunt wouldn’t fool him, Uncle must know that too...” Temari guessed.

“Or he just hopes she is. Do you think someone tipped them off when we were at her apartment?” He asked in a hushed tone.

“It’s possible but we scouted the entire area for two hours last night before getting her an overnight back and then again this morning.” Temari frowned. They had been particularly careful, had hurried and grabbed all of her things in near record time so they were there as little as possible.

“Maybe Madara just put a tail on Uncle, knowing of his interest in Sakura.” Kankuro guessed.

“Maybe. Does Gaara want us to check it out?” Temari asked.

“Yeah, he wants one of us to take a trip off the estate, see if he follows.”

Temari nodded.” He wants to know who he is following, or if there are multiple tails.” It made sense. “I’ll go, you get the rest of her boxes from the van. She’ll need time to organize her things and her martial arts lessons with Gaara start tomorrow morning.”

“Right. Let me know how it goes.” Kankuro picked up another box and walked into the sitting room where Sakura was unpacking.

Temari pulled her jacket on as she ran down the side stairs to the parking garage. Gaara met her at the garage door.

“Take him for a long drive if you can. Uncle is going to leave ten minutes after you if he follows you, in the limo with Kankuro as the driver. I will be staying here with Sakura. Text me if your status changes.” Gaara didn’t wait for an answer before walking away from his sister to the house.

“Got it.” Temari opened the garage door and got into her car. This seemed like a lot of work for one woman, but Temari had already started to like Sakura, so she didn’t mind.

Chapter Text

Izuna saw the main gates to the estate open wide, a small black compact drove out and down the road, he wasn’t sure if he should follow or not. Clearly, it wasn’t Sasori. It appeared to be the blonde, his neice, Temari. He hesitated for a moment. No one had entered or left the estate all morning and it was a little after one in the afternoon now. This might be his only lead.

Slowly, he pulled out after her and followed her down the road.

Sasori watched his cameras. He saw Temari leave and the Uchiha follow her a moment later. Pulling his phone from his pocket he texted Kankuro to meet him out front with the limo, he had errands to run. Sakura would be safe, he had told his nephew to watch over her for him while he was gone. She would be busy unpacking her things, he would be back before she even knew he was gone.

Kankuro met him out front and they too drove out the gates, onto the main road, toward downtown Konoha. Sasori would get Sakura some more flowers for her room and perhaps a new book. He had spent most of his morning taking calls and watching his cameras. He found watching her while he worked, relaxing.

Their talk over dinner last night had gone much better than he had hoped, barring the information that Madara Uchiha had forcibly touched her, it had gone well.

Madara Uchiha...Sasori drummed his fingers on his knee as Kankuro drove through the rainy streets of Konoha. The man would need to be dealt with, but not yet, there were still a few loose ends that needed to be tied up before Sasori was willing to take on the Uchiha clan head.

The man would be taken care of though. He had touched what was his, Sasori’s, and against her will. Yes, the Uchiha was a man worth killing, personally.

Gaara walked down the hall, his feet fell soundlessly on the padded carpet, his head cocked to the side, listening for any tell-tale noises that his Uncle had returned earlier than anticipated. Sakura was unpacking in her rooms. Gaara was just going to check on her, to see if she needed anything, and to see how she was doing he told himself. Innocent. Thoughtful.

He heard her before he saw her, she was humming a wordless tune to herself as she placed books on her shelves. Gaara stood motionless in the door frame of her hidden room, watched and waited for her to notice him. He frowned. He had been standing there for several minutes now, enjoying himself, but she hadn’t looked up, around, or noticed him since he had arrived. That wouldn’t do.

“Sakura.” Gaara’s deep resonance reached out to her from across the room.

Sakura turned her head and smiled at the redhead leaning against her hidden door. “Hello Gaara. I didn’t see you there.” Sakura turned back to her book shelves and continued to smile.

Like his Uncle, Gaara knew that Sakura had been receiving books from Madara Uchiha over the years on various useful subjects. She was no doubt well versed in history and war tactics but lacked the very important, the most important part in his mind, practical application. She had no idea he had been standing there. He could have shot her, thrown a knife at her, poisoned her with a senbon, or gassed her to death before she even knew what was happening.

“We will need to make you more aware of your physical surroundings and more sensitive to another’s presence when they are in your proximity.” Gaara spoke softly as he moved further into her room and looked around.

“Hum?” Sakura tilted her head to the side, making her hair shift from her shoulder to fall forward against her face.

Gaara watched the shifting of her hair in fascination, moved closer to her side, and sat down on the couch without invitation. “I could have killed you before you even knew I was in the room with you.” He said bluntly.

Sakura laughed. It was such an unexpected reaction to what he had said that Gaara blinked at her, several times before ducking his head in apology. “I didn’t mean to speak so rudely. I saw a flaw in your behavior and wish to correct it, for your safety.”

“A flaw in my behavior.” Sakura pursed her lips, then sat down on the couch beside Gaara who watched her curiously.

He nodded.

“Yes, I would like your help with that Gaara. Thank you.” Sakura continued to smile at him.

“You're not upset? I am not accustomed to speaking to another so...freely.” He told her. He never spoke to anyone really, besides his Uncle, and never like this...casually, giving his opinion, freely.

Sakura shook her head. “I’m not upset, Gaara. I need to know these things. I like that you’re blunt. It reminds me of um, Tobirama Senju and of your Uncle Sasori.” Sakura laughed again.

The noise was forever ingrained into the drum of Gaara’s ears now, he couldn’t get enough. They sat in companionable silence for a moment. Gaara liked this, just sitting with her, close to her, but his Uncle would be back soon and he wanted to make the most of his time alone with her.

“Would you like help?” He motioned to the books in the boxes and then to the bookshelves along the opposite wall.

“If you like. It isn’t very exciting, not like your driving. Where did you learn to drive like that Gaara, it was really um impressive.” Sakura asked him as she opened the next box.

“My Uncle taught me. He needed a driver he could trust.” Gaara took several books out of the box and walked over to the bookshelves. He could see by reading the titles she was organizing them by subject and started placing the books on the shelves accordingly, in alphabetical order under their subject, like she had.

“I thought Temari was his driver?” Sakura paused in her organization to look up at the man beside her.

“She is his chauffeur, I am his...performance driver.” Gaara continued to place books on their corresponding shelves. He didn’t bother to add that his Uncle didn’t trust his sister, like he trusted him. Gaara paused. His Uncle did trust him...what was he doing here, with this woman, when he knew his Uncle...did it matter?

“Oh.” Sakura picked up a few books and moved to her shelves to put them in their places. “Could you...teach me how to drive like that?”

Gaara stopped what he was doing and looked over at the blushing woman. “You want to learn how to lose a tail?”

“I know how to lose a tail but, not like you, not like that.” Sakura had asked so much of him already, was she asking too much? “If you don’t want to, I understand. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked you, you’re already doing so much for me already, forget about it.”

“No.” Gaara said a little too loudly, a bit too quickly.

“No?” Sakura asked.

“I...want to teach you. I told you, I would teach you everything I know.” He pushed two books into an open spot on the shelf and turned to her, eyes softening as he looked at her. “It’s...important to me.”

Sakura swallowed. She felt that he was trying to tell her something, that by saying it was important to him, she felt so silly but she thought maybe he was telling her that she was important to him.

“It is?” She asked him quietly. “Why?”

Gaara didn’t speak right away and she wondered if he was going to answer her at all. He turned back to the open box and took out two more books, walking away from her. Sakura wilted, had she gone too far, was she being too pushy?

“You make the shouting in my head stop.” He said quietly, his eyes on the books in his hands. She was going to run, she was going to leave, she wouldn’t want to talk to him anymore...why had he said that…....because it was the truth.

“You hear a voice in your head?” Sakura asked curiously.

Gaara looked up nervously from the books he had been staring at. Was she scared? He looked into her green eyes, lighter than his, more vivid, more green and took a deep calming breath. She didn’t look scared, or worried, or angry, she was simply looking at him, like he was looking at her.

“Yes.” He nodded.

“Me too.” Sakura admitted to him, a bit shy, a bit self conscious.

She had never told anyone before, not even Naruto or Sasuke, but if Gaara heard a voice in his head too then...maybe he would understand, she felt she understood him, his confusion and it had taken a lot of guts for him to tell her that. The least she could do was reciprocate. He was trusting her...she would trust him.

Gaara blinked. She heard a voice too. She was like him? Did her voice tell her to kill people too? Did her voice tell her that the only way she would feel alive, feel content was to cut and bleed and hurt people? Gaara swallowed. Would she think him a monster if he told her all the things the voice in his head told him to do to her?

Would she think him insane if he told her that the voice had been calm ever since he had met her?

“I’ve never told anyone that before, have you?” She asked.

Gaara shook his head. “No.”

“You don’t mind telling me though?” She asked him curious as to why he would tell her, someone new, about something so personal.

“No.” Gaara said again, tonelessly.

“Does Sasori know?” She asked, even more curious than she had been before.

Gaara shook his head. “I’ve never told anyone before.”

It was then that Sakura saw the gift Gaara was giving her for what it was. Trust. He was trusting her. She smiled and her eyes shone brightly. “Thank you Gaara.”

Leaning toward him she reached out to him. He didn’t move, so she moved closer and slowly wrapped her arms around his middle, hugging him. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise. You can trust me”

He swallowed. She was hugging him. Sakura was touching him, willingly, on her own. His arms rose and wrapped them around her waist, his hands slipping under her arms. She moved her arms up around his neck and smiled into the side of his cheek. Gaara pulled her closer to himself, forcefully, hungrily and buried his face in her hair. This is what he wanted, needed, touch, feel, warmth, her.

A small squeak of surprise left her lips but she didn’t protest. She wondered how long it had been since someone had hugged him, if anyone had ever hugged him. Her heart went out to him. She didn’t know what kind of guardian Sasori had been to the boy, but the man seemed to crave affection.

Sakura could hear ragged short breaths coming from him as he held onto her. His grip tightened, then loosened around her waist as if unsure, testing, to see if she would push him away. She could do this for him, she didn’t mind. It’s what friends did for one another.

“I won’t tell anyone either.” Gaara whispered into her hair, half choking on his words.

“It’s a deal then.” Sakura agreed, letting him hold her as long as he liked. An understanding, an agreement of trust. It was...nice.

“I’m sorry.” He pulled away reluctantly after a very long time.

“Don’t be silly. We’re friends. It’s what friends do for one another. Anytime you need a hug, you come to me okay?” Sakura smiled at the confused look in the man’s eyes. “Really Gaara. I mean it.”

Gaara nodded and they resumed unpacking her books and placing them on her shelves. Each a little embarrassed after that sudden display of affection. When they had finished, and she had moved onto putting her clothes in her dresser and putting her toiletries in her bathroom, he spoke again.

“We’re friends then?” He asked her as she came out of her bathroom.

“If you like?” She sat down on the bed beside him.

“I’ve never had a friend before.” He said quietly, slightly embarrassed.

Would she think less of him? He knew she had friends, that Naruto person, that Sasuke guy and that Yamanaka woman. He felt a twinge of jealousy remembering all of the people that had been able to be like this with her, that had been able to hug her, hold her and spend time with her for years...years he had spent alone. It had never bothered him before, but it bothered him now.

Was this what love was? He didn’t know. It hurt though, why did it hurt to think of her with others, why did the thought of her caring for someone else bother him. He clenched his fists willing himself to calm down. She didn’t need to see this side of him, not yet.

Sakura didn’t know what to say. That was terrible, he had never had a friend before? Was it because he had been raised by Sasori? Was it because of what they did, because of their...business. She supposed friends would be hard to come by in their line of work. You couldn’t make friends with people like a normal person. You would always have to be cautious, wondering if they were friends, or enemies in disguise.

What a horrible way to grow up, and in that moment, she was mildly grateful to Madara, for shielding her from that in her youth.

She sighed. “I’m sorry about that but I think I understand. I didn’t know the things I know now but I imagine it would have been hard to make friends huh?” She smiled and nudged him with her shoulder playfully trying to lighten the mood.

Gaara nodded. “People think I'm a monster. I am. I used to be I mean. You’ll see. When we get to Suna.” He wasn’t looking forward to that he realized. He had never cared what anyone thought of him before, except Sasori. Sasori had always valued his killing intent, his blood lust, but Sakura, would she?

“I don’t care what other people say. I don’t think you’re a monster. It doesn’t matter to me what they think, it only matters what you think.” She said confidently.

“I used to be a monster but...recently, I’ve not had the same...urges I used to.” He said truthfully.

“Then that’s all that matters.” Sakura leaned over and kissed the side of his cheek playfully. Urges?

“I’m hungry. Will you show me where the kitchen is?” Her thoughts jumped to her stomach.

Gaara’s hand rose to his cheek where Sakura had kissed him. He wanted more. He wanted to kiss her mouth...he wanted to feel her underneath him, trembling with want and desire, with need, the same need he felt for her. He wanted to...taste her blood.

“My Uncle...desires you.” He told her boldly, bluntly, ignoring her question about the kitchen.. “Do you desire him?”

“What?” Sakura’s smile faded from her lips as she turned her head back to her friend.

“My Uncle he...wants you, for himself. He...cares for you. Do you care for him?” Gaara struggled with his words. He wasn’t good at this, he didn’t know how to tell her what he was...feeling or what he….

“I don’t know him well enough to say Gaara, but I consider him a friend, like you.” She said honestly.

“A friend.” Gaara repeated her words.

“Like me.” Anger flared up in his head making him press a finger to the side of his head. She had hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, saying that it was because they were friends. Had she hugged and kissed his Uncle like that, did she hug and kiss her other friends like she had hugged and kissed him?

“Yes, like you.” Sakura tried to smile. She could feel the tension in the air around them. Was his voice speaking to him now, was his stronger than hers? Did it make him do things, is that why he was called a monster?

Gaara opened his eyes, he hadn’t realized he had closed them, and looked at her. He could see the slight unease in her eyes. He was scaring her after all. With a bit of effort, he pushed his feelings down and away, schooled his face like his Uncle had taught him, and looked back up at her with a more calm and bland expression.

“Thank you, Sakura.” Gaara rose from the bed, his hand dropping from his head. “Allow me to show you to the kitchens.”

Sakura followed Gaara out of her room and into the hall. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of their conversation. She was pleased he had opened up to her, shared with her and felt that they were a little closer now because of it. However, his question and statement about his Uncle bothered her.

Was Gaara telling her that he...was attracted to her? She had already started to consider a relationship with his Uncle Sasori, who had openly told her he wished to pursue her.

She bit her bottom lip. If she was right, if Gaara had feelings for her or if he was developing feelings for her...it might be a problem. She hadn't even figured out how she felt toward Sasori, much less Gaara. This was new, all of it and she was still getting acclimated to her new surroundings.

Sakura followed Gaara down the long hallways and then down the stairs in silence. He stopped in front of two wide double doors, turned and opened his mouth but stopped, then just looked at her.

“I’m sorry.” He said. “I shouldn’t have...asked you that.”

Sakura smiled. “It’s okay Gaara. You can talk to me about anything, I just wasn’t sure how to answer you. A lot has happened and I am still getting used to it.”

Gaara nodded. “The kitchen is through here.” He pushed the doors open behind him, allowing her to walk in ahead of him. It was awkward now, between them. That wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to be honest with her, to talk to her...because, because...he never talked to anyone...her voice had his head snapping up in surprise.

“Wow, this is uh, the biggest kitchen I have ever seen.” Sakura said loudly, as she looked around in wonder at all of the copper bottomed pans and pots that hung from a rack to one side and the rows and rows of small appliances on the other.

“My Uncle likes his food cooked very specifically, so he keeps a decent kitchen and cook.” Gaara walked over to a walk in cooler and opened the door. “What would you like to eat?”

“Um, maybe something simple, are you hungry too? I could make us a salad. I’m not a great cook but I can manage that.” Sakura smiled.

“Salad, yes. I like salads.” Gaara started pulling lettuce, carrots and other small things from the shelves of the cooler.

Sakura pulled down a large bowl from one of the racks and started to wash the lettuce in the sink.

“Ga Gaara Sama!” A maid squeaked as she came through the doors at the far end of the kitchen, two chickens on a roasting plate in her arms. The maid set the plate on the counter and bowed her head low.

“Can I get something for you Gaara Sama?” The maid’s voice was small, scared and nervous.

Sakura looked from the maid to the man beside her who had started washing the carrots. Why was the girl so nervous?

“No.” He didn’t bother to look up from the carrots.

The maid bowed her head even lower at the sound of his voice, her trembling evident in her voice. “Yes Gaara Sama. I apologize for interrupting.”

The maid picked up the plate of chicken and put it in the cooler. “If you need anything, please call.” The maid bowed again and left the kitchen in a hurry. She hadn’t looked at Sakura, not even once.

Sakura looked after the woman with raised eyebrows. Is that what he meant when he said everyone was afraid of him? Sakura shook the water from the lettuce and began ripping it to pieces.

“Gaara?” Sakura looked over at the man next to her, his hands stilling on the carrots.

“Yes?” He knew what she was going to say.

“Why are they so afraid of you? Is it because you kill, for Sasori like you said?” Sakura asked him.

“Yes.” He didn’t look up to meet her eyes. “That and...because I used to...hurt women.”

“You used to hurt women? What does that mean Gaara?” Sakura put the lettuce down and turned to her new friend for an explanation.

Gaara licked his lips and opened his mouth to tell her, but the kitchen door slammed shut behind them. Gaara whirled, pulled a knife Sakura didn’t know he had, and flung it at the door in one fluid movement.

Sasori caught the knife with one hand, spun it smoothly over his knuckles and sent it flying back at his nephew, who ducked, then dropped to the ground in apology once he realized he had thrown a knife at his Uncle.

“Gaara, please leave us. I wish to speak to Sakura alone.” Sasori dismissed his nephew.

Chapter Text

Sasori closed the door to Sakura’s sitting room behind him and motioned for her to sit on the couch. Once they were both seated he cleared his throat and took her hand in his.

“I apologize for interrupting you in the kitchen. My nephew is not accustomed to speaking with many people. Many people are not interested in speaking with him, usually. He forgets that some things can not be said.” Sasori stroked her fingers with his in a calming steady manner.

Sakura looked down at her hand, watched his fingers caress hers gently and blushed. “I’m sorry I…” She began.

“You did nothing wrong.” Sasori assured her. “The fault is mine. I should not have left you alone with him, without explaining some...things to you first.”

“Things? Such as why he used to hurt women?” Sakura was confused. Did Sasori not want her to know? His business was his own but if Gaara hurt women, or used to hurt women, wouldn’t that put her in possible danger? She had felt completely at ease with the man up until then, but now...well, she wasn’t sure what to think.

“First, know that I would never leave you with my nephew if I thought he would harm you Sakura.” Sasori squeezed her hand in his. “I trust him.”

Sakura nodded. You trust him, but you don’t know he hears voices in his head…she was beginning to see that Sasori didn’t know his nephew as well as he thought he did. It seemed Gaara was just as clever as his Uncle.

“He is my bodyguard, my second set of eyes when I need them. He rarely speaks to anyone other than myself.” Sasori paused. He didn’t wish to scare her. “I have never known him to take to someone like he has taken to you. I didn’t warn you of his...personality because I didn’t think he would speak to you so comfortably as he does.”

“He usually watches, silently and doesn’t instigate conversation. I have never known him to speak so much, not even to me. He must like you a great deal.” Sasori continued to stroke her fingers as he watched her reaction to his words.

He was both pleased and a little worried at his nephew’s willingness to speak so openly with Sakura. Did the boy not understand if he told her how he tortured and used women she would run from them and never look back...he would need to have a talk with Gaara, soon.

“We’re friends, but you didn’t answer my question. What did he mean, when he said he used to hurt women?” Sakura asked him bluntly. She understood what Sasori was saying, she had come to that conclusion on her own observations of his nephew. His lack of emotion, his social awkwardness were not an issue as far as she was concerned.

“He kills for me. Men and women. His reputation for his brutality, is well known among those who deal in what we deal in.” Sasori told her. “I told him it would take some time for you to adjust to your new surroundings, to your new outlook on life. I assume he thought you would be frightened of him and was trying in his own, awkward way, to tell you the truth of his...profession.”

“Ah.” Sakura understood now. “He told me before that he killed for you, I told him I understood, why bring it up again?”

“I would venture to guess, he didn’t believe you the first time. Most people are not as understanding as you are my dear.” Sasori sat back against the cushions of the couch, satisfied with her acceptance of his explanation.

“I am not new to the violence of the world Sasori, I remember what you did for me when I was sixteen. We didn’t need to leave the kitchen, no doubt Gaara thinks he is in trouble.” Sakura felt there was more to be said, more that he wasn’t telling her.

“I will speak to my nephew. I am glad you are not disturbed. I know that Madara tried to shield you from the more grotesque nature of our business, however, in regards to the kitchen, I do not want you to cook while you are with me. I have a staff for that, please allow them to do their job. No doubt you will throw the cook into a mild panic attack when he hears that you and my nephew were in his kitchen.” Sasori chuckled, diffusing the seriousness of the situation and setting her at ease.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I mean, Gaara didn’t seem to think it would be an issue.” Sakura explained. “He did tell me you had a cook, but I didn’t see anyone in the kitchen aside from a terrified maid.”

“I’m sure Gaara simply wished to make you happy, he is an observant man, if a quiet one. He probably assumed you wouldn’t wish to bother the cook with a request.” Sasori smiled a knowing smile at her.

“Well, yes, I suppose that’s true.” Sakura acknowledged his words. “I don’t like bothering people for things I can do myself.”

“An admirable quality, however, the cook gets paid well to be on call no matter the day or the time of day that his services are needed. Do not hesitate to call upon him.” Sasori squeezed her hand once more before letting it go and raising up from the couch.

“I see you’ve unpacked most of your things that Temari and Kankuro brought over from your apartment.” Sasori wandered over to the book shelves, picking out one of the books he had gifted her a few years ago.

“Yes.” Sakura joined him by the book shelf, looking down at the book in his hand.

“Thank you for sending them to get my things for me Sasori, and for sending me these books over the years.” She took the book from his unresistant hand and flipped to the back, lifting the formerly stuck page.

“One day you will see, you’re what humanity means to me.” She read the words out loud to him, closed the book and looked up into his amber eyes.

“You wrote that, didn’t you?” She asked him, watching his eyes as he looked down at her.

“I did.” He said softly, his hand coming up to cup her cheek, his thumb moving over the softness of her cheek bone. He wouldn’t deny it, she knew the truth of it, the clever thing. He didn’t want to deny it, her.

“For me to find?” She breathed out. She already knew the answer to her question, but hearing it from him, was something she needed, wanted.

“Yes.” He said again. Her eyes were shining, he couldn’t look away from her. He had waited so long for this, for her to come to him with her questions, to give her the answers she needed to hear.

“Why?” She asked him, her heart thumping soundlessly in her chest.

Sasori ran his thumb over her cheek one more time before dropping his hand from her face and smiling softly at her. “Everyone has to have something to hope for, even me.” He told her in all honesty.

“Something to hope for?” Sakura looked down at the book in her hands and re read the sentence he had written her, before she knew of his admiration for her, before she knew he existed.

“You seem to be under the impression that I am a good man, but I’m not Sakura.” He watched her eyes widen in surprise and he wasn’t sure if it was his words or his honesty that surprised her more, but he couldn’t turn back now, nor did he wish to. “You give me hope that, the world won’t always be so dark, that even I might, in time and with effort, be a better person one day.”

Sakura let his words flow over her, her eyes stared back into his steady gaze as he looked her in the eye, there was not deceit in his words and for the first time since they had met, she could see the flicker of fear behind his calm facade. Brutal honesty is what he had given her and continued to give her. She understood.

“I do not think you are a bad person. I think you are a man who does what needs to be done to get the results he...desires, for whatever reasons. That isn’t important to me though.” She noted the skeptical look in his eye and smiled.

“I don’t know exactly what I want from life, but that’s because I don’t know what life has to offer to me yet. You’ve given me an opportunity to find out, and I took it. People change and…” She paused thinking to herself of the last few days, “I think you’ve changed a little, since we first met on the train, since you began stalking me. You didn’t hold my ignorance against me, I’ll not hold your past against you.”

“I wasn’t stalking you, I was…” He began but she laughed and cut him off.

“Right, you weren’t stalking me on the train, you started stalking me when I was sixteen and still in high school, yeah, that’s so much better Sasori!” She laughed, laying her hand on his arm, her eyes crinkling in delight at the look of guilt and offense on his face as he watched her laugh at him.

“If you’re quite done.” He muttered, placing his hand over hers where it rested on his arm, pulling her closer to him.

“I’m sorry. All I mean is, neither of us are who we were so it doesn’t matter. I’m happy to be here with you now.” She wiped the moisture from her eyes and continued to smile at him.

“I am happy you are here as well my dear, let us sit, tell me...what do you think of the herbals I sent you?” He pulled her down onto the couch with him and opened the book in her hand.

Itachi’s fingers felt around for the plate on the table and plucked up one of the pork dumplings his cousin had ordered for their meal as he read the report Shisui had brought him. There wasn’t anything significantly out of place with the coroner’s findings to the average eye but Itachi wasn’t average and the report wasn’t on some nameless random person.

Itachi knew things about Sakura that others didn’t. For instance he knew that when she was fifteen she had fallen from her favorite rock by the river onto Naruto Uzumaki, one summer while they had been swimming, and had cracked her tooth on his hard head. The tooth had been repaired, only to split later making the original tooth worthless.

Sakura Haruno had a false left front tooth. The body they had ‘recovered’ from the car ‘accident’, did not.

“Shisui, the coroner that performed the autopsy for the car accident, did he also perform the autopsy for the two uchiha found at the scene?” Itachi looked up from the report, picked another dumpling from the plate and looked at his cousin expectantly.

“I don’t know. I told him to do Sakura’s first because that was the most important at the time. Read me the number on the bottom and I’ll call him.” Shisui picked his cell up from the tabletop and punched in the numbers as Itachi read them off the paper to him.

“It’s a recording.” Shisui hung up the line without leaving the doctor a message. “We can stop by the hospital when we get back to Konoha if you want.” Shisui swiped the last dumpling from the plate and popped it into his mouth as Itachi nodded and closed the folder.

“Shisui, I know you don’t approve of my plan, but you must see the wisdom in it.” Itachi decided to take the initiative and bring up the last thing that either of them wished to speak about but both of them knew they must.

“Wisdom? I see the ruthlessness of it. I never thought I would see the day, that I would see so much of Madara in you.” Shisui shook his head, so eating and a little down time hadn’t changed his cousin’s mind.

“Madara? I am not like Madara.” Itachi’s voice held the slightest bit of an edge to it.

“No? Claiming genocide on the criminal world for the greater good, for peace, isn’t as ruthless or more than what we have seen Madara do in the past, in the last war Itachi? He claimed that killing the entirety of the Senju Clan would bring peace, that killing the Hyuuga, would bring peace. I think the similarities are clear. The only difference I see is that you are willing to take it even further than he ever was, you want the world Itachi...in the name of peace.” Shisui was breathing heavily, this man before him now...was not his cousin.

“No. I do not want the world in the name of peace. I want peace for the world.” Itachi corrected his cousin.

“Sakura didn’t die because of a feud or because she got caught up in some criminal undercurrent Itachi. She died because...because well, I assume she died because she tried to run away from Madara.” Shisui realized he didn’t know why Madara had sent the two scouts after the woman. Obviously it was to bring her back to him but why did she run from him in the first place?

It seemed Itachi had already come to that conclusion. “Which is why Madara, will die. As I told you, there is little left for me to lose, I see no reason to stop with Madara Uchiha.” Itachi walked across the room and threw his coat on.

“Are you coming?” Dark cold eyes watched his friend, his cousin, his blood, waiting to see if he would follow him or not, if they were still...family or not..

“Yeah. Of course I am. You’re going to get us killed I know it.” Shisui grabbed his own coat and followed his cousin out the door, running his hands through his hair in frustration, this wasn’t going to end well he just knew it..

Itachi smiled. He knew he could count on Shisui, perhaps, he would reassess his options after Madara was dead, but until then, he refused to lose focus. Itachi only hoped Shisui would continue to grant him his understanding, perhaps...he did have something to lose still.

Like most men with something to hide from the world, Tobirama had a private place that he slipped away to when things got too bloody, too intense or too dangerous for him. A peaceful place where he could be, himself.

For Tobirama, it was his cabin on the border of Fire and Wind, a place no one knew about, only himself. His brother Hashirama didn’t even know he went here from time to time and he took great pains traveling in circles to get there, ensuring none followed him.

Lunch with his brother had been illuminating in more ways than one. Madara Uchiha was losing it, over a little pink haired girl. While Tobirama never had any great deal of respect for the man, he would be the first to admit he was a formidable opponent during the last decade of conflict.

An intelligent man who was as clever as he was ruthless, but the Madara his scouts had reported on for the last week, the Madara his brother had described...wasn’t the Madara he was familiar with.

Mad, his whole clan was mad in Tobirama’s opinion. A genetic flaw to keep the bloodlines clean Tobirama had told his brother often enough. Tajima Uchiha, the clan head before Madara, Madara’s father, had gone insane in his last few years or reign over the family. Even Madara was heard to admit it to his brother Hashirama when he didn’t know Tobirama was listening.

The man had taken on the entire Yamanaka Clan, in their own territory. It was what had ultimately caused his demise and what led to Madara taking over the clan in his stead and making peace with the Yamanaka as a result of many talks and many compromises.

Tobirama cast his line, setting his fishing pole in its holder and pinned a bell to the tip. As he prepared his next pole with a drop shot with live bait he replayed the last few days in his head. Admittedly he hadn’t paid Sakura Haruno much attention until she had taken his parking spot in the Konoha Hospital parking garage. She had just been another string of inquiries attached to the many Uchiha dealings that need to be monitored.

If he had realized who she was sooner...well, there was no point in wondering what if, or contemplating on what might have been. He knew now, he just...didn’t know what his next move should be.

Being himself, one never to turn a blind eye or interest away without examining each and every aspect both provided and non, he had of course looked into her after that meeting in the garage. She had accused him of ‘not’ being an Uchiha. He snorted at the memory. It had been an unusual statement. A statement that one would not normally utter unless they were involved with the Uchiha, for better or for worse.

After watching her drive away he had pulled his phone from his pocket and searched his contacts and notes. Asano’s name had come up and he had briefly remembered assigning the man to watch her over two years ago on and off as time permitted.

She had been of little importance at the time of her parent’s deaths and he had not seen the need to set a specific schedule to watch her, so he had waited until she was in college, a place where she might make something of herself. Asano had been told to inform him of any changes of substance to her behavior...only, he hadn’t.

The tail that he had placed on Madara Uchiha however, came back with some rather interesting information on both the Uchiha Clan head and the woman he had met, Sakura Haruno. It seemed that the Uchiha Clan head had very specific plans where the woman was concerned. However, his meeting had told Tobirama that the woman’s plans didn’t align with the Uchiha’s.

Through his continued research into the girl’s family background, he had learned that Sakura Haruno was the daughter of the famed inventor and scientist Kizashi Haruno and the daughter of the brilliant bio chemist Mebuki Haruno. Both of which were known to experiment and dabble in bio chemical engineering and synthesized DNA chemical agent replication...for fun. A dangerous connection that the girl was clearly oblivious to.

A dangerous past he was sure Madara Uchiha was more than aware of...why else would he want the woman, why else would he adopt the girl into his family and bind her to them with such pains and expense...

Tobirama had sought to cure her of her nativity at the fundraiser only to find it was he himself who had been naive. He, like Madara, had underestimated her. He however, unlike Madara, refused to make the same mistake twice.

Tobirama dropped his line into the water off the end of his small dock and watched the live bait swim and wriggle on the hooks he had set. His brother’s words came back to him as he watched the minnows move back and forth.

“Madara said she, that he, um had a slight argument with the woman, she broke his nose and ran from him.”

She ran from him, into the arms of Sasori of the Red Sand, either willingly or no, and that, Tobirama realized, is what he needed to find out first. Did the woman ask Sasori for help with the Uchiha? Why didn’t she call him, Tobirama? She knew him as well as she knew the redhead didn’t she, she could have called him, he would have helped her.

Hashirama...ah, Tobirama looked out over the lake in front of him, of course. He had told her himself that Hashirama, his brother, was best friends with Madara, and had been since their childhood. No, she wouldn’t have called him, but he wondered, pointlessly, if she had considered him an option before moving onto the more likely choice of Akasuna, someone who had good reason to hate the Uchiha, who had already shown an interest in her.

The woman was no fool, that much had been clear to him in their brief time together in the penthouse he shared with his brother, she would have ruled his assistance out due to his association. Assuming, she went to the man of her own free will and hadn’t been abducted as Madara had suggested.

Suggested. Hashirama had told him Madara thought it a possibility that Akasuna had abducted her, not that he knew he had abducted her. The man’s pride no doubt prohibited him from admitting the truth to himself, or to his brother, Tobirama thought. Then, most likely, Sakura had asked Akasuna for his help. Clever girl.

It really was quite an intelligent move on her part Tobirama mused and a dangerous one.

Akasuna had the money and the means to both hide and protect her. She could finish her medical degree in Suna, away from the controlling arm of the Uchiha and have the freedom he knew she wanted. The desired freedom he had seen in her eyes. There was of course one very major drawback to this solution, one the woman still seemed to be oblivious to, Akasuna himself and his nephew.

Before he left for his cabin Tobirama had done a bit of intelligence inquiry. He learned through a simple phone call to the city that Akasuna owned Sakura’s apartment building, that he owned the laundry mat she had worked at during her high school summers and a call to her university with the dropping of his family name, that Akasuna had paid off her outstanding school loans prior to her assumed death.

The man had been watching the girl for years. Everything had been planned with such impressive detail Tobirama feared for her safety, if she was with the man, she would be trapped...again.

Tobirama wondered if the man knew about her family history. He thought it unlikely, even though Akasuna was well known for his elusive spy network and was well informed about almost anything and everything around the world of interest, hardly anyone knew the truth, that was still breathing.
Sakura had no idea how interesting she was, he knew, because he had been in the right place at the right time many, many years ago, and as much as the Uchiha had kept the woman in the dark about her past, her parents' past, he doubted that even they knew the extent of her value.

Reaching over to his briefcase beside his tackle box, he pulled out an old rubber band bound file. It was a file he himself had stolen, long ago, before the untimely deaths of Kizashi and Mebuki Haruno. A file that contained everything Sakura needed or wanted to know about her parents, her past and what her future held. It was the complete catalog of both of her parents' research and their experiments...on their daughter, the keeper of their most treasured and dangerous legacy, and their other...test subjects.

Too many had died for this research, because of the research he held in his hands, good people, like Kushina Uzumaki and her intended Minato Namikaze. He had no idea that the girl had lived. Haruno was a common name, the newspapers had said she had died with her parents, he had been a fool. He had been careless, and now the world’s greatest weapon, was in the hands of the world’s most cunning, most diabolical mass murderer the world has ever known…

...Akasuna No Sasori.

...and Tobirama Senju doubted very much that the man was even aware of what he had welcomed into his home because Tobirama, who had been sitting on this information only just now realized, who Sakura really was and what she was capable of.

“Shit.” Tobirama jumped, as the bell on the tip of his pole started jiggling loudly, startling him from his thoughts.

Chapter Text

Izuna sighed a bored sigh as he pulled into another shopping mall. The woman had been to two different shopping malls that afternoon, how many more did she plan on going to…

Izuna looked at his watch, three hours, he had been following the blonde for three hours, for nothing. This was pointless. He checked his phone for messages while the blonde got out of her car and walked into another shopping center.

Izuna had been relieved when his brother had texted him that he wouldn’t be using Danzo for his investigation into Sakura’s death. Izuna had never liked the man and didn’t understand why his brother insisted on using him from time to time. Anything the Uchiha needed to do, could be done by the Uchiha in Izuna’s opinion. He also didn’t like how Madara had put a price on Shisui’s head but Madara was the clan head and his brother. Izuna was loyal to Madara, and would put up with a lot from the older man.

Before Izuna had left with Madara to secure their holdings in the surrounding countries Izuna had been very narrow minded. Younger than Madara and kept in the shadows most of his life, not being the heir to the clan, Izuna had a much smaller window of observation over the running of the family. Only after their father, Tajima Uchiha’s death, did Izuna’s world begin to grow.

Little by little Madara had introduced Izuna to the darker parts of their legacy and found his brother lacking in drive to do what was necessary. That’s when Madara had turned to Itachi and had started training him to take his place when the inevitable or the unfortunate happened. Itachi was more intelligent than Izuna, but he too lacked the drive and the ambition Madara had been looking for in his replacement. However, there was no one else...until Sakura had come along.

Izuna and Madara had left soon after Sakura had moved into the compound and Izuna hadn’t given the girl much thought after that, caught up as he was in his own affairs in Suna, but now...everything that was happening in the underworld seemed to be associated with that woman.

Madara felt that Oto was their most favorable avenue, so the clan head had spent most of the last decade there, building relations, scouting potential business contacts that preferred to move along the underground in tendrils and feelers, rather than coming out from under the safety of their rocks to deal with the well known Uchiha.

It had been very beneficial to their clan, there was no doubt, only...it wasn’t the kind of business they were accustomed to. Arms dealing, running, exchange...drugs, both recreational and medicinal was one thing but...human trafficking, human experimentation and slavery...Izuna had no interest in such things, nor the stomach for it.

‘Its lucrative’, Madara had told him. Yeah, it was but...it seemed like an unnecessary evil to Izuna and didn’t sit well with him, particularly if Sakura was going to take over for the family. She wouldn’t stand for some of the human trafficking, no matter how accepting Madara said she would be of their other, less than legal dealings. Trading in arms was one thing, but a woman for a sex slave...another.

Distasteful...that’s what it was.

Izuna watched Temari walk back out of the shopping center and get back into her car. He checked his watch, another hour had gone by. This was ridiculous.

Izuna had seen the woman before, in pictures along the walls of the Kazekage manse, when he had been in Suna. Only she had been much younger in the pictures.

‘My great granddaughter’, the old woman had waved an aged and gnarled hand at the photo Izuna had stopped in front of on his first visit to see Lady Chiyo. ‘My grandson’, Lady Chiyo had waved her other hand at the other wall where a very young Sasori had looked out at Izuna, his eyes no less intense, even as a child.

Izuna had enjoyed his time in Suna, so much, that he didn't want to leave when Madara had called him back to Konoha. Without hesitation Izuna pulled his wallet out of his back pocket at the next red light. Looking down quickly, he smiled at the picture behind the plastic. Beautiful light brown eyes looked up at him out of the photo, a slender, delicate face framed by light brown hair…”Kiko.” Izuna smiled.

No, Izuna hadn’t wanted to leave Suna, but he was loyal to Madara, to Konoha, to the clan.

Izuna’s phone buzzed in his pocket as the light turned green. With one hand on the wheel he shoved his wallet back into his back pocket and unlocked his phone in its stand on the dash.

‘Meet me at the tower in fifteen minutes’ - Madara

Izuna pulled off the main street and turned left heading for the tower. He was on the other side of the city, it would take him almost the full fifteen minutes to get to the Uchiha Industries tower. He wondered what his brother had planned, he hadn’t mentioned anything but it must be important enough to pull him from his trail. The blonde wasn’t doing anything special, Izuna didn’t mind.

Temari saw the Uchiha turn down a side road and smiled. Pulling off the main road herself, she drove back to the Akasuna estate relieved she didn’t have to pretend to shop anymore.

Madara was at his desk when Izuna opened the doors to his office. Something had happened, Izuna could feel the tension in the air. Without a word, Izuna took a seat in one of the chairs in front of his brother and waited for him to set his phone down.

“I have a meeting scheduled with Danzo in an hour and would like you to accompany me. I am buying Hizashi Haruno’s research from him.” Madara set his phone down and looked at his brother.

“Danzo huh.” Izuna scratched his chin. Danzo didn’t usually sell information, he usually keeps it for himself. “He’s willing to sell it to you, why?”

“It didn’t work, the research and the results showed that their testing didn’t work, their theory was only good in theory. That’s why he is willing to sell it to me. It’s of no use to him.” Madara drummed his fingers on his desk. “We will make the exchange on the docks. I don’t want him walking away from this.”

Izuna nodded. It was to be expected. Izuna was glad that his brother had decided to end their working relationship with the man. Danzo simply wasn’t a man you dealt with if you didn’t have to because he couldn’t be controlled. His brother rarely left loose ends and Danzo was not a loose end anyone wanted to have. That wasn’t the issue though.

“Why Madara, why is this important to you? Is it only about Sakura, or is there more to this?” Izuna asked his brother. Whatever information Danzo had, had to be expensive.

“I want to have something to offer her.” Madara looked away from his brother’s eyes. He knew what Izuna thought. He thought it was pointless, that Sakura was dead, but Madara couldn’t shake this feeling...that she wasn’t.

“You really think she’s alive? You’re not just, hopeful?” Izuna spoke carefully.

“She’s alive. Sasori has the resources to fake her death, he has the means to hide her from us in Suna. She could disappear from the public eye, my eyes, if he wanted her to. If she asked him to help her.” Madara looked back at his brother.

“Right.” Izuna looked at the clock. “Danzo will have his men with him.”

“Not many, not for a mere informational exchange, besides, I will have you with me.” Madara smirked.

“So that’s how you want to do it huh?” Izuna grinned at his brother. It had been a long time since they had gotten their hands dirty.

“Like old times eh Izuna?” Madara nodded. This might help relieve some of his stress. Killing Doctor Zetsu hadn’t been very fulfilling.

“Yeah.” Izuna laughed. “It’ll be just like old times. Okay well, we’d better get going huh.”

Madara rose from his desk and clapped his hand to his brother’s shoulder. “Let’s get this over with.”

Tobirama glanced at his watch as he merged onto the Konoha exit. He had only been gone for a few hours. It was a long drive but it always helped him to clear his head so it was worth it to him. He felt better, more focused and relaxed. Fishing had helped him put more than a few things into perspective as far as the Uchiha and the Haruno girl were concerned.

Madara’s descent into the madness that plagued the Uchiha, didn’t bother him as much as the damage the man could do, before the younger more level headed Itachi Uchiha could take over the family business. Perhaps he should reach out to Itachi, whom he had never had any issues with, who seemed more interested in peace.

Tobirama pulled onto main street and was headed toward the hospital, his penthouse when his phone rang. Looking down he saw it was the man he had set to tail Madara.

“What do you have for me Han?” Tobirama answered his phone, pulling into the hospital parking garage.

“Madara Uchiha and his brother are moving toward the docks. Rumor has it Danzo killed Orochimaru and took over his affairs. Madara Uchiha’s tap indicated the Uchiha is making a bid for Haruno’s research that Orochimaru stole and expanded upon.” Han reported.

Tobirama pulled into his parking space and shifted his car into park. “Really.”

Han waited on the other line.

“I want in on that bid. Call Danzo, make him an offer. Call me back.” Tobirama got out of his car and hit the ‘up’ on the elevator.

So, Madara was buying Kizashi Haruno’s research papers from the snake’s executioner. Danzo never sold anything, which meant...the man had no idea what he was selling, nor how valuable it was. Tobirama shook his head, the fool. Tobirama grit his teeth. Madara Uchiha could not...get his hands on those papers.

Tobirama’s phone rang again as the elevator doors to his penthouse opened.

“Danzo invites you to join the open bidding in person, at the docks in forty minutes.” Han spoke without greeting.

“Meet me there with two more men, tell no one else.” Tobirama walked down the hall to his room and opened the secret closet with his palm pad on the wall.

“This may require a bit more fire.” His eyes cast an appraising look over his private collection of…’Fire’.

Danzo’s eyes narrowed as his assistant hung up the phone on his desk. “Both the Uchiha and the Senju want the man’s research do they?” Danzo took a sip of his tea and thought about the multiple different possible outcomes of this ‘Meeting’.

“Send a representative to the docks. I will be unable to make this meeting personally. The files will remain with me for now. The situation has become much more dangerous than I had anticipated.” Danzo set his cup down and waved his assistant away.

Leaning over he picked up the stack of files he had acquired from the snake and thumbed through them with more enthusiasm. “Why would both the Senju and the Uchiha want these files…”

“Uncle.” Gaara knocked on Sakura’s open sitting room door and looked in at his Uncle and Sakura who were sitting on her couch together. “Kankuro has word on a meeting you will want to attend. Our radio has picked up something of great interest.”

Sasori looked up from the book that was open on his lap that he and Sakura had been discussing. With an apologetic smile Sasori rose to his feet. “If you will excuse me my dear, I won’t be long.”

“Of course. I’ve taken up too much of your time already.” Sakura felt bad, they had spent the last three hours discussing books and other nonsensical things, no doubt the man was busy and she was distracting him from his work.

“It was a pleasure I hope to resume upon my return.” Sasori assured her before nodding to his nephew and walking out of the room.

Gaara nodded to Sakura before following his Uncle, wondering what they had talked about, and what they had been reading together.

Sakura watched the red headed duo leave her room and wondered about what she had heard. It was obvious to her that Kankuro had been spying or listening in on something he shouldn’t, or on something others weren’t aware of. She had heard Madara tell Itachi how ‘well informed’ Sasori was and thought it must have something to do with that. He obviously had no difficulties spying on her for the last seven years.

She wondered...if he knew anything about her parent’s deaths, or about this Orochimaru person. If Madara knew, someone who knew Sasori to be ‘well informed’, then surely Sasori must know. Sakura made a mental note to ask him about it later.

Setting the book down on the side table that she had been discussing with Sasori she moved to the windows where Temari and Kankuro and started to set up her lab. Her lab she was sure Sasori had gifted her a few years ago. Lady Chiyo was Sasori’s grandmother, the one she would finish her education under in Suna, and a poisons master. Everything was starting to make more and more sense to her, the more she learned of the man. She had come to the right person.

With a smile on her face she picked up the carefully wrapped mortar, the one she had been using when Shisui had shown up at her apartment after his shift at the Police Station, before Madara had given her those files. She would finish the poison she had started, while she waited for Sasori.

“Send a representative to the docks. I will be unable to make this meeting personally. The files will remain with me for now. The situation has become much more dangerous than I had anticipated.”

Danzo’s voice came through the recording. Kankuro hit the stop button and replayed the conversation for his Uncle once more at his request.

Sasori’s eyes looked at the clock on the wall of the small office Kankuro monitored his various recordings in. Thirty minutes. He had thirty minutes to come up with a plan. He wanted those papers. They would ensure Sakura’s continued trust and admiration, it would be the final piece he needed to gain her loyalty he was sure. He had to get them, so he could be the one to give them to her.

If the Uchiha or the Senju got their hands on them...she might leave him or start to think she could find the same kind of ally in the Senju that she had found in him. He could not even allow that to be a possibility.

“The Uchiha are making a bid for the papers Uncle...and so are the Senju.” Kankuro looked down at his phone. “Our tail on Tobirama, the one you put on him after the fundraiser says he just left his penthouse and is heading for the docks. It can’t be a coincidence.”

Sasori’s mind was racing. Danzo...the man was too careful to put himself in the line of fire. “Danzo will not be at that meeting, I assume he will send a proxy or...a stand in. He won’t risk his own neck.”

“Which means the papers...won’t be there.” Gaara nodded his understanding.

Sasori turned to his nephew. The boy usually kept those thoughts to himself, he had never voiced his opinion like that before. Sasori narrowed his eyes at his nephew…”Exactly. What do you think we should do Gaara? What would you do?”

Sasori’s voice was low, controlled and...dangerous while he waited for his nephew to respond. Kankuro swallowed, this was bad…

“I would go to Danzo’s offices while both the Uchiha and the Senju were occupied and force Danzo into telling me where the real papers were, then kill him.” Gaara said without pause, inclining his head respectfully to his Uncle for asking him for his opinion on the matter.

Sasori hummed his approval, taking note of his nephew’s show of respect. “Yes, but Danzo is not the kind of man you can strong arm for information...where would he have them, they must be with him, now that he knows both the Senju and the Uchiha want them...come Gaara. We are going to take a small drive, let’s pay Danzo a visit.”

Gaara followed his Uncle out of Kankuro’s office.

“The Uchiha are here.” Han nodded to a black limo that had just pulled up. Both passenger doors opened at the same time to reveal Madara Uchiha and his brother Izuna Uchiha.

“I am aware.” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest and watched Madara Uchiha and his brother Izuna walk at a leisurely pace toward him and his men. Obito Uchiha had also gotten out and was leaning back against the driver side door watching the Senju with a bored sort of expression.

“What is this, why are you here Tobirama?” Madara asked, not bothering to mask his annoyance or his suspicion at the Senju’s presence.

“The same reason you are I imagine, Madara, Izuna.” Tobirama inclined his head. The Senju and the Uchiha had an alliance, but the air between himself and Izuna was still a bit foul and always had been.

“Oh? Care to tell me who invited you to this, private meeting?” Madara crossed his own arms over his chest as he quirked an eyebrow at the younger Senju.

Tobirama stiffened, Izuna had reached into his suit coat, the man beside Tobirama pulled his own gun out seeing the Uchiha had his hand on his.

“We’re not here for that. Put your gun away. We have an alliance with the Uchiha, need I remind you?” The last sentence was divided between his man and Izuna.

“Danzo invited us to bid on his acquisition.” Tobirama informed Madara politely, if a bit gruffly, his eyes still on Izuna.

“He’s right Izuna, put it away, keep an eye out for Danzo.” Madara watched Tobirama. “So, you’re here for Haruno’s research...why? What good is it to you?” Madara asked the white haired man.

“I think the real question Madara, is what good is it, to you? What do you care of Hizashi and Mebuki Haruno’s research? My brother is in the medical field. I, myself have a degree in biology, but you, it doesn’t seem like something you would be interested in, for scientific reasons.” Tobirama kept his gaze steady, cultured and flat.

“Unless…” The man paused, taking in the tension around the older man’s mouth and the flickering glances Izuna was casting his brother into account…”It isn’t for scientific reasons.”

“It’s none of your business why I might wish to have Haruno’s research. I am not in the medical field no, but I, like the Senju have many medical facilities and doctors working at said facilities that might find the research interesting, who might be able to pick up where Kizashi and Mebuki Haruno left off.” Madara feinted calm, his fingers twitching at his side.

Does he know...Tobirama asked himself as a third car pulled up, parking in between the Senju and the Uchiha’s limos. No, he can’t, he only brought Izuna with him, unless…

“Mr. Uchiha, Mr. Senju.” A young man with short black hair and blank expressionless eyes bowed low to the two men. “My name is Sai. I will be assisting you with your bid for the Haruno papers on Mr. Shimura’s behalf. Shall we get started?”

Madara smirked. “Of course Sai.”

Tobirama realized then, that he had made a mistake. Madara had sent a man to kill Danzo and take the papers, knowing Danzo wouldn’t show up to the meeting himself. Again, Tobirama had miscalculated. Damn it...

Chapter Text

Gaara dropped down beside his Uncle into the small inner hallways of the common office building where Danzo did most of his legitimate business. Like the Akasuna and the Senju, Shimura Enterprise had both legal and illegal businesses. Unlike the Akasuna or the Uchiha, Shimura Enterprise was mostly, illegal, dealing particularly in human trafficking and pleasure.

Sasori and his nephew had been to Danzo’s building before and knew the basic layout. Like most buildings in Konoha, private and public, Sasori had studied the blueprints as a precaution, in case the information was ever needed, as it was now.

“This way.” Sasori motioned for his nephew to follow him down the narrow hall and to the left.

Sasori rounded the corner and paused behind a large ficus tree, holding up two fingers for his nephew, who placed two throwing knives in his hand at the unspoken request. Sasori bent his wrist at the proper angle, leaned back slightly and let them fly.

Thunk. Thunk.

“Go.”

The word had barely left his lips as Gaara leapt past him through the door.

Thump. Thump.

Gaara rose from the second body as his Uncle stepped into the open space before a large desk, his keen amber eyes darting around the room, focusing on the spot where Danzo’s foot disappeared through the open window. “Go. I will meet you downstairs in no less than ten minutes. Gaara, he must not live.”

Gaara ran across the room and climbed out of the window, dropping down onto the ground running fast, knife at his side. He wouldn’t let him escape.

Sasori stood in the middle of the room taking his time to examine everything. “Where…” He tapped his foot on the carpet. The safe hadn’t shut all the way. “Heedless.” He murmured and walked to the safe pulling the coveted papers from it’s depths.

“Waste not want not.” Sasori pulled the other files from the safe and a few smaller boxes, tucking them into his pockets, and pulling Danzo’s own briefcase to himself, pushing the files inside and locking the clasps.

He heard the man before he saw his shadow creeping up behind him. Dropping down on one knee, Sasori kicked out hard, slid under Danzo’s desk, pulling his gun from his coat, and firing a well aimed shot to the Uchiha’s head. The man dropped to the floor with such a startled look on his face it was comical. “Useless.” Sasori stepped over the body and out the window to meet his nephew.

It was pathetic. Gaara walked up behind the man, his fingers bloodied and abraded, from trying to climb the tall brick wall of the alley.

“There is no escape.” Gaara’s voice was smooth, low, dispassionate. An easy kill.

Danzo turned to face Gaara, his eyes filled with disdain. “Akasuna can’t even kill me himself? I’m insulted.”

“The insult is my Uncle’s if you think yourself worthy of dying by his hand.” Gaara’s knife dropped to a more comfortable position in his palm as he walked closer to the man, a small smile curling his lips.

Danzo snorted. “A monster, that’s all you are, all you will ever be.”

Like most of the world, Danzo had never seen Gaara as anything other than that. Pity.

“Unfortunately, my Uncle is in a hurry, and I do not have time to show you...what kind of monstrosity I am capable of.” Gaara cocked his head to the side...Danzo never saw his hand move, never heard the blade impact his brain, only felt the cool steel, where no steel should be.

The five inch blade struck Danzo in the forehead with such force, his entire body jerked backward, and hit the brick wall behind him. Gaara didn’t even bother to look behind him as he walked away, certain of his kill. His Uncle was waiting for him and Sakura was waiting for them both.

Sasori pulled the vehicle up along the curb and got out, leaving the driver’s door open for his nephew. Gaara slipped into the car and threw it into drive before his Uncle had fully closed the passenger side door and pulled a phone from his pocket, that Gaara recognized as Sakura’s.

Sasori unlocked the phone using Sakura’s password and punched in a number. Gaara kept his eyes on the road but listened with great interest as his Uncle snorted into the phone.

“Yes, Konoha Police? I would like to report a murder at Shimura Enterprise, yes, just now. No I did not, however I believe the intent was theft, hard to say really, no I will not be there to give a statement, I see no point, no ...of course I saw who did it. I killed two of the guards, an Uchiha and my nephew killed the other two guards and Danzo Shimura, yes, that’s right. This is Akasuna no Sasori, please inform the Uchiha I have the papers they wanted and tell his friend the Senju...I will be waiting for them.” Sasori smirked and hung up the phone as they passed through the gates to his estate.

“Get Sakura, Temari and your brother. Set the auto lock down on the estate. I expect we’ll have company soon. We leave immediately.” Sasori got out of the car as soon as it had stopped and handed the briefcase to the waiting servant. “Call the pilot, we leave as soon as he gets here.”

Sakura looked up to see Gaara standing in the doorway of her sitting room. “Hey Gaara, you’re back already?”

Gaara nodded and stepped into the room without invitation, his finger twitching at his side. His brother and sister were already by the H-Pad, they needed to hurry. “Sakura, my Uncle asked me to get you, would you please come with me?” Gaara walked over to where she was sitting,extended his hand out to her, and waited.

“Oh um, sure.” Sakura rose to her feet taking Gaara’s hand, Gaara picked up her jacket from the side table and held it out for her.

Sakura slipped her arms into the jacket and smiled. “Did you want to go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Not right now, we must hurry.” Gaara moved her quickly out of her room, her bedroom and down the hall.

“Is everything okay Gaara?” Sakura was alarmed at how quickly the man was moving, something had happened, were they in danger? “Gaara? What happened?”

“My Uncle has started a war...over you. We must hurry.” Gaara opened the side door of the estate and ushered her out onto the grass.

Sirens could be heard in the distance. Sakura turned her head, her eyes wide. “Are those, is that the police? Is that a helicopter?” She asked Gaara who was almost running now pulling her along after him.

“Yes.” Gaara shouted over the whomping of the blades overhead. He moved her to the helicopter where Sasori was waiting to lift her into her seat.

“Come dear, it’s time I showed you Suna, it appears I am able to join you after all.” Sasori said loudly, smiled at her drop jawed expression and lifted her up into the helicopter by her hands.

“Sasori, what happened, what’s going on?” Sakura shouted over the loud hmm of the helicopter’s blades overhead, pulled on the safety harness that he handed her, and watched as he buckled her into the seat more firmly.

“We acquired some information at the cost of Danzo Shimura’s life, pissed off not only the Uchiha who wanted to make a bid on the information, but also the Senju.” He smiled at her as he cupped his hands to her ear so she could hear him better, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “Hold on my dear, we’re taking off.”

Sakura grabbed onto his arm, her stomach flopped, and she closed her eyes briefly. She had never been in a helicopter before. Sasori tapped her on the arm and pointed to the ground, the ground that was slowly falling away below them. Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open, she could feel the thrum of his laughter over the vibrations of the metal surrounding them.

She could see several police cruisers and dark haired Uchiha milling about on the ground, their arms raised, pointing...guns at them. A few shots were fired, there was shouting that couldn’t be heard and Sakura screamed, but her effort was barely heard above the wind and the blades of the helicopter.

Sakura watched in horror as a familiar black limo pulled up and the recognizable form of Madara Uchiha stepped out of the limo to look up, straight into her eyes, his hair whipping in the wind from the downdraft of the helicopter’s blades, but his anger was as clear as the vindication in his eyes.

Sakura watched him smile, his lips moving silently, her eyes widened in horror.

‘I’ll be coming for you dear, you belong to me.’ He mouthed to her, she had read every word as clearly as though he were right there gripping her arm, dragging her back to the Uchiha compound to lock her up and away for the rest of her life.

Another figure stepped out of a different limo, one in complete contrast to Madara’s dark head. Tobirama Senju looked up at Sakura, his red eyes flashing.

‘Thank goodness.’ His lips mouthed. ‘She’s safe.’

Sakura smiled, she waved and Tobirama waved back, a look of shock and amusement clearly plastered on his face for all to see. Sakura smirked at Madara’s glare, but turned her head back to Sasori when he curled his fingers over hers, and pulled her attention back from the ground to himself.

She looked into his eyes and saw something she had never seen there in his eyes, triumph and satisfaction, longing and faith. Sakura smiled and squeezed his hand, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He had done this for her. He had started a war for her...she knew she should be horrified, should run, scream or do...something, but she couldn’t and part of her...perhaps the girlish selfish part of her...was thrilled.

He had started a war for her...Sasori was fighting for...her.

Obito got out of the car after Madara and leaned against the door, his hand raised in a slight gesture of greeting, or farewell, Sakura didn’t know, but she inclined her head gracefully as the distance between them increased.

Obito schooled his face into a bland indifference on the outside, but inside...inside he was laughing his ass off. She had done it. Sakura had escaped right under all of their noses, in the arms of one of the most dangerous men in the world, by the skin of her teeth.

He looked over at Madara who was still watching the sky, a dark scowl on his face, then to the Senju, who was...laughing. Well the wonders never ceased, Obito shook his head. He was just about to pull his phone from his pocket to text Itachi when the other passenger door opened and Izuna got out and looked up at the sky. The helicopter was gone but the younger man seemed to be in a bit of shock.

“Sakura, she’s...she’s alive and with...Akasuna...why the hell would she go with him?” Izuna asked anyone who would answer.

“I imagine because your brother tried to rape her.” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Madara whose head snapped to the Senju’s, then to his brother.

“What?” Obito’s phone slipped through his fingers and fell to the ground. “That’s why she broke your nose and drove through the garage doors that night?”

“Madara?” Izuna’s brows furrowed as he looked at his brother in disgust. “Is that...true?”

“Leave us.” Madara waved the police away and turned to his brother. “Not right now Izuna.”

“Are you...are you fucking serious? Of course right now! Is it true! Is that why she ran! Did you fake her death or did, was it...Akasuna, he...he’s fucking helping her get away from you! Oh kami I thought...fucking hell Madara!” Izuna exploded on his brother, his words caught in his throat making him choke.

“Izuna, you don’t understand she…” Madara began but was interrupted as multiple explosions rent the air behind them.

Tobirama dove inside on the open door of his limo he had been standing next to. Obito ducked and rolled under his own vehicle looking out from underneath the limo scanning the ground. He saw Madara and Izuna on the ground ten feet away, their hands over their heads and guns drawn.

A loud piercing wail drew everyone’s attention to the road behind them, the sirens of the approaching paramedics, could be heard in the distance. Obito rolled out from under the false protection of the Uchiha limo and looked up into the sky to see a white plastic bird with a wireless remote attached to its body, the source of the explosions.

“What the hell is that?” Obito squinted up at the bird.

“Oh shit.” Tobirama was heard saying before he slammed the car door to his limo shut.

Obito ran back to the limo and shut the door as two green loosened pins dropped from the bird’s tail, dropping the grenades over their heads.

“Madara!” Izuna ran for his brother and pushed him out of the way of the falling grenades. Madara tripped, stumbled, and fell over the side of a garden bench tumbling back and down the hill, away from the group as the grenades hit the ground...and exploded.

“Izuna!” Madara rolled, springing back up to his feet and ran toward his little brother where the explosions had just gone off, but it was too late...Izuna lay dead, surrounded by dirt and ash, an arm ripped off and throw several feet away, his head caved in by the force of the explosion, his face unrecognizable, his chest bloodied and still.

Madara fell to his knees as little square papers fell around him. He fell forward, hunched over gasping for breath...Izuna....Izuna….

Obito uncurled his body from under the dash and looked out of the cracked windshield...to carnage. Four police officers, Uchiha, lay dead and dismembered, Izuna among the fallen and bloody. Little black papers floated down around the bodies and the dirt. Obito opened his car door and grabbed for one, turning it over in his hand. A red cloud, outlined in white, on a black background...The Akatsuki…

Lights flashed in the distance, the paramedics were coming...too late. Obito walked over to the Uchiha clan head and bent over pulling him up by the arm, but Madara hit him in the side and pushed him away. “Leave me.”

Obito grunted but nodded and stepped back, away and stood by the limo...waiting.

Tobirama surveyed the damage, tucking one of the little black squares into his pocket and pulling his phone out, unlocked the camera function and started taking pictures of everything. The estate was still there, but the fire raged on. He moved over to what was left of the white bird, took some more pictures and stepped back to his car as the paramedics pulled up and got out of their trucks to tend the wounded and to carry away the dead.

Madara slowly rose to his feet, to stand over what remained of his brother, only to collapse back to the ground beside Izuna. “I will make sure they pay for this, they will suffer, I promise you Izuna, I promise.”

Madara gripped the unrecognizable bloodied mess that was Izuna’s face and kissed what would have been his lips, pulled a blade from his belt and cut his palm. “By my blood, they will all die. Akasuna, his monster, his niece, his other nephew, the old woman, her brother, all of them...and Sakura...she will come home, to me, where she belongs.” Blood dripped from his fist down, drop by drop falling onto the dead body of his brother.

Tobirama slipped his phone back into his pocket and stood still, watching Madara rise to his feet, a lock of Izuna’s hair in his hand. Madara turned and looked at the Senju, nodded then walked toward Obito who opened the door to his limo for him.

Tobirama watched Madara’s limo drive away before pulling his phone from his pocket again and calling a familiar but rarely used number.

“Itachi Uchiha, this is Tobirama Senju. Do you have time to speak with me? I think there are a few things you need to know.” Tobirama got into his limo and motioned for the drive to drive on.

Itachi waved for Shisui to pull over to the side of the road. They had just crossed the last mile marker into Konoha but they weren’t in the city yet. “I have my cousin in the vehicle with me Senju San, may I put you on speaker so that Shisui might hear what you have to say as well?”

“Yes.” Tobirama waited.

“Please begin Senju San.” Itachi said clearly over the open line.

“Sakura Haruno is not dead. She is alive and well, and on her way to Suna I assume, with Sasori of the Red Sand and his nephew, after killing Danzo Shimura. Akasuna has in his possession...Sakura’s parent’s research. Are you familiar with their research or their experiments Uchiha San?” Tobirama’s voice was gruff as usual but held a faint echo of...caution as he spoke.

“I am not Senju San.” Itachi’s words came out choked...Sakura. Was. Alive.

Shisui stared at his cousin...oh shit.

“I am not sure how much Madara knows but, he has vowed to kill Sasori and his family, he has vowed to hunt Sakura down and drag her back to Konoha. I fear for her immediate safety however, at the hands of Akasuna. I do not believe he knows...how valuable Sakura is yet, but when he does...he will use her for his own selfish gain.” Tobirama’s words were measured, deliberate, and precise.

“I don’t understand Senju San, forgive me but why is Sakura so significant, aside from familiar ties, she is nothing special, nothing to start a war over surely.” Shisui chuckled.

There was a pause at the other end of the line for a long time. The Uchiha thought the Senju may have hung up, but then Tobirama sighed a deep sigh. “I hadn’t planned on telling you this but, your grandfather, Kagami Uchiha...was a good man, he had my respect. You are a lot like him Shisui Uchiha and you, Itachi, are nothing like your father or your Uncle. Thank Kami.” Tobirama paused again.

“Sakura Haruno, is not the woman you know her as. She is the genetically altered child experiment of her parents, Kizashi and Mebuki Haruno...an accident if you will.” Tobirama told them.

“An accident...you mean they experimented on...on their own daughter?” Itachi’s voice was cold, he was disgusted.

“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. They used an agent when rewriting Sakura’s DNA, an agent of their own creation. It wasn’t supposed to work, it was just a theory but...it did work and Sakura is the end result of all their labors. Out of the four test subjects...she is the only perfect being.” Tobirama’s voice dropped.

“Perfect being, you mean…” Shisui choked.

“Yes, she is the only known ‘Super human’, in existence.”

“Holy shit.” Itachi swore uncharacteristically.

“Yes...holy shit indeed.” Tobirama sighed into the phone.

Chapter Text

Sakura looked out through the window next to her and watched Konoha fade away into the early evening dim. She could see the tower lights of Uchiha Industries, the guiding light on top of Konoha Hospital and the lights of Konoha Medical University growing smaller and smaller, becoming harder and harder for her to make out, like the pieces of her old life.

A light pressure around her fingers and a gentle caress on her cheek made her turn her eyes to the man beside her. Sasori… A new trajectory, a new path, her eyes held Sasori’s as he continued to run his fingers along the outline of her jaw and up into her hair, a slight smirking uplift of his lips told her…’for you, I did this for you’.

Sakura closed her eyes to the rest of the bodies in the small compartment so that all she could feel was his hand, his touch...her future. Slowly, she leaned into his touch, her sigh went unheard of in the louder drowning roar of the helicopter’s blades but the minuscule trembling of his hand told her, he understood. She had...finally accepted him.

He had done this for her. He had her trust now.

Gaara watched his Uncle and the vessel of everything he had never known that he had been missing from his life, bond before his eyes. A deep growling hatred began to burn and fester in his soul as he watched his Uncle run his lips over Sakura’s, watched Sakura’s eyes close as his Uncle pressed his lips to hers. It was as if he and his siblings weren’t even there, as if...he no longer mattered to either of them…

‘Friend’, she had called him, ‘Come to me whenever you need a hug’, she had told him. His Uncle had made his claim on the woman, but he had been her friend first...hadn’t he? His Uncle had said from the very beginning that the woman was his, fine...but from the very beginning he had been her friend first and she had been...his first friend. He realized...they too had a bond, and relaxed his grip on his harness, letting his hands fall to his lap.

The voice in his head persisted but he ignored it. She was his friend...that was enough for him, for now.

Kankuro shared a look filled with his sister of both dread and wonderment, as they cast their glances between the two redheads before them. Temari shrugged at her brother’s unspoken query. ‘None of our business’, her eyes said...but it was, Kankuro thought, his gaze falling on Sakura, his eyes roaming over her body as his Uncle kissed the side of her neck affectionately.

Kankuro jerked in his seat, sending an annoyed flick of his eyes to his sister, who had just hit him, and was staring straight ahead.

Idiot, Temari mentally scolded her brother. Their Uncle might not be paying as much attention as usual, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still paying attention...he was always aware...

Kankuro followed her gaze to his Uncle, who was looking at him through the fringe of the pinkett's hair, his lips on her neck. A warning, ‘Don’t look at her’, Kankuro looked away. Shit...this woman was going to get him killed.

“She’s alive.” Itachi held his head in his hands and groaned.

They had stopped at a small hotel in between Fire and Rain after their informative phone call with Tobirama Senju. Itachi needed a bit of time to wrap his head around what had happened, what he had been told and what he had seen in the coroner’s report. Sakura was alive. She was on her way to Suna with Akasuna because Madara had tried to rape her, Madara had put a contract out on Shisui and Izuna Uchiha...was dead.

Itachi lifted his head and looked at his cousin with tired eyes. “She’s never going to forgive me.”

Shisui rolled his eyes, he had little sympathy for his cousin in this matter. If the man had just waited, stayed in his suite in Oto like he said he was going to, he wouldn’t even be in this mess.

“Then don’t tell her.” Shisui leveled a look on his cousin’s dark bloodshot eyes. “Women have a way of knowing these things though and our Sakura is sharper than most. Now we know why though huh?”

Shisui sighed and patted his cousin on the back a little rougher than necessary. “You’re screwed, but at least she’s alive.”

Itachi nodded, yeah...at least she was alive.

“So, do you think she knows about her…” Shisui was cut off by a loud forceful knocking on their hotel room door.

Itachi pulled his gun from it’s underarm holster, moving to the side of the dresser and ducking low while Shisui, with his own gun in hand crouched on the other side of the bed away from the door. Both guns were trained on the door, one at head and the other at chest level.

“Itachi.” The reverberating voice of Madara Uchiha came through the door.

“I just want to talk.” Madara said a bit more casually and knocked again. “I know you’re in there, the proprietor called me right after you arrived.” The light on the door changed color and Madara pushed the door open.

“Gave me the key too.” He threw the magnetic strip onto the bed in front of Shisui and made a show of moving his hands so that both men could see he was unarmed.

Itachi didn’t move from his spot by the dresser and Shisui didn’t move from beyond the edge of the bed.

“My condolences Madara, for Izuna.” Itachi inclined his head to the man without breaking eye contact.

Madara nodded. “I canceled the hit on you Shisui, I was...upset.”

Shisui nodded but didn’t lower his gun. What the hell was the man doing here and what did he expect from them?

“We are all Uchiha, we do not need to be killing one another, there are plenty of enemies out there to do that for us...like the Akatsuki.” Madara pulled a small black square piece of paper from his pocket slowly and set it on the dresser.

Itachi looked up and over the edge of the dresser at the paper with a red cloud on a black background, outlined in white. He rose to his feet, his gun arm falling at his side. Tobirama had mentioned this, but hadn’t gone into much detail. Itachi had assumed there wasn’t much detail for the man to offer them. Did Madara know something the Senju didn’t? “The Akatsuki killed Izuna? Why?”

Shisui still had his gun trained on Madara, but also rose to his feet, moved around the bed, to stand beside Itachi. He still didn’t trust Madara, he had been acting...off lately. Unpredictable.

“To keep me from going after Sakura. I was their target, not Izuna.” Madara sat down on the end of the bed. “Enough of this petty squabbling over a woman, Itachi. We need to unite the clan before Akasuna kills us all with the help of his new friends, the Akatsuki.”

“Akasuna is working with the Akatsuki?” Shisui shoved his gun back in it’s holster. It seemed the man didn’t come here for blood after all, not theirs at least.

“If he wasn’t before, and I don’t know that he wasn’t, he will be now...wouldn’t you?” Madara said evenly.

Itachi understood his reasoning, but it didn’t mean he had forgiven Madara for what he had done to Sakura. “If you hadn’t tried to force Sakura into bed with you, she wouldn’t have run, and she wouldn’t be on a helicopter on her way to Suna with one of the Uchiha’s greatest enemies right now.”

“A momentary weakness, can you blame me, she really is quite alluring, even Sasori’s monster seems to think so and he likes to play with his food before killing it. Of course, I doubt after going through all this trouble, Akasuna would let his monster kill her...but that doesn’t mean he won’t let him ‘play’ with her...after he’s done with her of course.” Madara’s voice was cold and Itachi wasn’t quite sure what it meant for them, or for Sakura.

“Why should we trust you after everything you’ve done?” Shisui asked the older man, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“After everything I’ve done?” Madara’s voice raised in volume just a tad. “Yes, let’s see what I’ve done. I’ve secured all of our international holdings around the world, set the Uchiha on the map for both illegal and legal trade, opened profitable new trade avenues in Sound and Wind and have kept the family safe while putting all of my personal wants and needs on hold to do it.”

“Shall I continue Shisui, or should I reinstate your contract?” Madara had his gun in his hand before either Shisui or Itachi could move. “You’re still a little too young to take me on boys. I know about your conversation with Tobirama, do you take me for a fool? I’ve not led one of the most prestigious clans for over three decades without knowing who to trust and whose phones to tap. In fact, I tap them all, always have.” He set his gun in his lap and smiled a charming smile first at Itachi, then at Shisui.

“I admit, I may have lost my head a bit over the girl but that’s over now. I see that love was never meant for me, no matter. My brother is dead and Akasuna has taken something from all of us. Will you help me get it back?” Madara asked them, his eyebrow raised in query as he waited for their answer.

“It, you mean Sakura?” Shisui asked.

“She is an Uchiha whether she likes it or not. She is in danger whether she likes it or not. It is our duty and obligation to get her back and bring her home to the Uchiha where she belongs, whether she likes it or not. You do still want her...don’t you Itachi? Akasuna is a dangerous man...and his nephew...well, you know his reputation, need I say more?” Madara sat back onto the bed, his hands behind his head.

“I do not believe that...Akasuna would...hurt Sakura.” Itachi said slowly, honestly, as loathe as he was to admit it.

“No? I am not too sure about that myself, but even so. If the one will do her no harm, what of the other, surely you are not blind to that monster's reputation. You’ve seen the results of his...exertion.” Madara reached into his suit coat inner pocket and pulled out several photos, police photos, and laid them out on the bed before the cousins.

“This was his last victim.” Madara tapped a photo of a naked young woman cut to bloody shreds, the kanji ‘Love’ carved into her left breast. “The last woman he ‘loved’.”

“Sakura is a very beautiful woman, how long...do you think it will take for Gaara of the Desert to…’Love’ her?” Madara set his final piece in place.

“Akasuna…” Shisui began but Madara cut him off.

“Trusts his nephew.” Madara hissed, he was done humoring them. “Make your choice, you're either with me or…” Madara trailed off…

Shisui looked at the pictures on the bed, the disgust clear in his eyes unable to shake the image of Sakura used and abused like the women in the pictures before him. He raised his eyes to his cousin and saw the same terror, the same...disgust. Madara had his answer.

“We bury Izuna tomorrow morning. You are welcome at the compound...unless you prefer to stay here tonight of course.” Madara rose from his sitting position at the end of the bed, opened the door, and left the two cousins to stare at the pictures that he had purposefully left on the bed to haunt them.

“Itachi, you’re not really considering…” Shisui rose to his feet, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Don’t be ridiculous cousin, of course not. Let Madara believe what he wants to believe. If he wants to think we are so easily manipulated, so be it, the mistake is his. It gives us the freedom to move on our own, to...help her when\re she needs us, by her enemy’s side.” Itachi looked down at the photos, his stomach turning over.

“Her enemy meaning Madara, your Uncle?” Shisui clarified.

“You heard what Tobirama Senju said as well as I did. It’s time we stopped underestimating her. It’s time we...started trusting her, to see her for who she really is.” Itachi picked up the pictures Madara had set out on the bed to manipulate and control them to do his bidding. He was disgusted...that the same blood that ran through his veins, also ran through Madara’s...absolutely disgusted.

Itachi moved to the square piece of paper on the dresser and picked it up. The Akatsuki, he had heard of them. They were a small group of specialized mercenaries for hire, small time criminals that had slowly been making a name for themselves over the last ten years. Itachi turned the paper over in his hand and looked at it closely, then over again, holding it up to the light.

There was shadow writing in the white of the outline of the cloud, small, almost...invisible to the eye. Moving to the lamp beside the bed, Itachi held the square over the heat of the bulb and looked for the writing again...it was there only slightly more visible...a...phone number.

“Shisui, look at this.” Itachi handed the paper to his cousin with his finger to his lips.

Shisui nodded, took the paper and held it over the light bulb just as Itachi had done and looked at the paper. “Interesting.”

“I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat, there is a decent noodle stand, down the road, next to the pay as you go mobile phone place. Shall we?” Itachi grabbed his coat and threw it gracefully over his shoulder.

“I love noodles.” Shisui grinned, zipping up his own coat as Itachi shut the door behind them.

Tobirama sat at his desk in his office at Senju Co. Tower in downtown Konoha’s Historical District, a little square piece of paper in his hand and the pictures from the Akasuna Estate pulled up on his computer monitor. There was a connection to be made here, he just hadn’t found it yet...but he would.

His conversation with Itachi and Shisui Uchiha had gone well. He had been correct in thinking their ideals and morals were aligned with his own. There was an alliance between the Senju and the Uchiha, but there had never been any stipulations set as to which Uchiha and which Senju...were allied and which if any...were not.

For the first time that he could remember, his goals aligned with theirs, to protect Sakura Haruno. Tobirama smiled in the privacy of his office. If, she needed their protection.

He wasn’t sure how it worked, how any of it worked, but after reading, then re reading her father’s papers and records...he assumed she hadn’t awakened her potential because she hadn’t been tested or tried yet. She had excelled in her studies at the University and everything she did but...she rarely did anything out of the ordinary, until now...

She hadn’t been forced into a position where she had to sink or swim...life or death, for those synapses in her brain to fire. She was a product of an unknown chemical agent that doubled, then tripled the synapses in the brain and extended the natural growth of her dendrites.

In other words...Tobirama sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin, Sakura Haruno learned things three times as fast as anyone else on Earth, had a photographic memory and could process information faster than anyone to exist before her. Her mind was like a computer, an infallible computer processor.

Tobirama pulled the rubber band bound folders closer to himself and opened them again. Shuffling through them until he found what he wanted he pulled the MRI from the folder and set the rest of the papers aside. Picking up the papers he walked over to his drafting table and flipped on the under lamp to illuminate the surface, pinning the MRI to the table he studied the nerve cells that he could recognize and the increased cortical thickness.

Tobirama pushed his chair back from the table and poured himself a whiskey from his minibar. “Amazing.” He muttered, taking a sip from his glass.

“She’s smarter than I am.” Tobirama frowned, shaking his head and downed the rest of the whiskey in his glass. “Shit.” For the first time in his life he felt...inadequate. If only he had gotten his hands on Orochimaru’s research as well. He wondered how the snake had continued, after Kizashi and Mebuki had died, had he made further progress, did the man have more experiments out there or was Sakura still the only one?

Sasuke and Naruto watched Madara enter the dining room and sit down across from them. The man looked tired, worn and defeated but under the skin...even Sasuke could tell there was a fire burning. Naruto looked over at his friend catching his eye, he had seen it too.

Sasuke looked down at his plate and waited, Itachi hadn’t come home yet and Shisui was still gone. Madara had told them they would return soon when Sasuke had asked about them a half hour ago. When was soon, and where were they. Sasuke didn’t trust his Uncle. Something was going on, and like always, no one was telling him anything.

He hadn’t gotten anymore anonymous texts, he hadn’t heard anything from any of their friends. If it had been Sakura to text him, he had been the only one to get a text. It had made him happy but now, it only weighed him down. What if it wasn’t from her, what if it was from her but...something had happened to her and she needed his help. There were too many questions and not enough answers.

The accident hadn’t been on the news, the death’s hadn’t been reported. His Uncle’s doing, he knew. He had expected it. Ino, Sasuke thought of the blonde for a moment then moved on. He would tell her about Sakura...when there was something to tell.

Sasuke looked up to see his brother Itachi and his cousin Shisui enter the dining hall, kiss his mother and take their seats at the table. Sasuke tried to catch his brother’s eye but Itachi wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at Madara...who was looking at Itachi.

“Izuna Uchiha is dead.” Madara said once everyone had seated themselves. “We will pay our respects tomorrow morning at the burial grounds. The ceremony will of course be private.”

Mikoto’s head snapped up from her plate...Izuna too....

Naruto didn’t understand why the man bothered to tell them that. All Uchiha burials were private. “How did he die? Was he murdered? Was it the same person who murdered Sakura?” Naruto couldn’t hold it in any longer, he had to know, he had to get some answers.

The already deathly silent room, fell even more silent after his words, no one breathed in or out.

“Sakura...is alive.” Madara said calmly. “She is in Suna with Akasuna no Sasori. We are leaving after the funeral...to bring her back home, safely.”

Mikoto gasped and clasped her hands to her mouth, tears sprung up in the corners of her eyes. “Sakura, she’s, how do you know Madara?” She demanded.

“I saw her, in the helicopter with Akasuna, after the Akatsuki blew up my little brother so that she could get away.” Madara looked his sister in the eye. “Is that proof enough for you Mikoto?”

“The Akatsuki? What’s that?” Naruto narrowed his eyes at Madara for the first time in his life.

“A criminal organization of highly skilled and specialized members. We do not know if they were working for or with Akasuna though.” Itachi said quietly, his hands in his lap. “There is no proof, only conjecture.” His eyes rose to meet Madara’s.

“Conjecture.” Fugaku said stupidly. “If they killed Izuna then of course they are working with the man.”

“Shut up you fool.” Mikoto glared at her husband. “Do not speak of things you know nothing about.”

Sasuke’s mouth dropped open...since when did his mother speak to his father like that? Itachi smirked a small smirk that was quickly replaced with his usual bland indifference as Madara cocked his head to his side and looked at his sister.

“So that’s where she got it from.” He smiled at his sister for the first time in many, many years. “I never appreciated your inner fire Mikoto, until now.”

...and that was as close as an apology Mikoto Uchiha was likely to ever get from her brother.

“Mikoto.” Fugaku glared at his wife.

“Shut up Father, be still.” Itachi narrowed his eyes at his father, whom he had never respected and used his mother’s words against him again. “Do not speak of things you know nothing about.”

“We will bury my brother in the morning and leave for Suna in the afternoon. Itachi, ready your men.” Madara nodded to Obito as he entered through the side door and sat down across from Mikoto. “That includes you Obito.”

“Of course Madara.” Obito inclined his head.

Chapter Text

She had to concentrate on the instruction before her. She couldn’t think about what had almost happened last night between her and Sasori, what she had wanted to happen between them. Sakura bit her bottom lip between her teeth and tried to concentrate on the red head behind her.

“Again.” Gaara’s voice commanded her from behind. He could tell she wasn’t focused and he thought he knew what she was thinking of. He growled out his frustration.

Sakura dropped down low into her measured center of gravity, adjusting her feet and tucking her chin in like he had shown her.

“Adjust your feet.” Gaara spoke forcefully kicking her left foot with his right from behind, a bit more forceful than was necessary.

She lost her balance and fell forward onto her hands and knees. Exasperated she turned and looked behind her. He was smirking.

“Get up. Again.” He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for her to rise to her feet. His Uncle could touch her and kiss her all he wanted, but when she was with him, Gaara, he wanted her to be with, him.

Sakura moved into position again, spreading her feet out just like he had shown her, adjusting her weight more comfortably against the alignment of her shoulders and bam...she fell forward onto her hands and knees again because Gaara had kicked her foot out from underneath her, again.

Sakura sprang to her feet, twisted and stepped into the punch barely grazing his cheek. She smirked at the widening of his eyes, she had surprised him. She had grazed him...

“Again.” She growled, her green eyes darkening and narrowing to slits.

A low rumble escaped his lips, as he growled back at her. “As you wish.”

He stepped in close to her, under her arm, pulled her forward by the front of her shirt, pulled her body past his, twisted her body at the waist with an arm and flipped her onto her back, over his knee, pinning her to the ground and laying on top of her to prevent her from rising again.

“Don’t challenge me again. Sakura.” His nose grazed her neck and she felt the slightest pressure of what she was sure were his teeth that sent a shiver down her spine.

“Ga Gaara.” Sakura stammered and squired underneath him, her breath hot on his own neck as he leaned into her.

“Stop moving.” He growled again, biting down gently to still her struggling.

“Let me up Gaara.” Sakura lowered her voice, it was a command, there was no mistake.

Gaara licked his lips, his tongue swiping across the sensitive skin by her ear as he hesitated. He didn’t want to let her up but...his Uncle might be watching. “Of course.”

He rose to his feet, his eyes blank and schooled to show none of the want or need that he felt at that moment, as he extended his hand to her. Sakura took his hand and he helped her to stand.

“Again.” Gaara moved behind her like before and she dropped into the stance once more as though nothing had just happened between them...because nothing had.

Her thoughts betrayed her again as her mind began to wander. Gaara’s touch reminded her of another red head. She could still feel the heat of Sasori’s touch on her hips where he had pulled her to him after he had shown her to her room the night before. She had been exhausted, had barely been able to keep her eyes open after dinner, at the Kazekage manse.

Introductions to the staff had been a blur, dinner had been long and she had fallen asleep at the table much to her embarrassment. She had woken up in Sasori’s arms as he carried her to her room. He had shut the door behind him and had laid her on her bed kissing her goodnight. She knew he had meant to leave her after that, to go to his own room for the night but she had reached out for him and he had complied, crawling into bed with her...and pulling her into his embrace by her hips.

They had woken up in the same position. His hands running gently up and down her arms as he whispered sweet things into her ear. Sakura had turned in his arms and had buried her embarrassed face in his chest, felt the vibrations of his laughter against her forehead, and had looked up into clear beautifully gold speckled amber eyes in the morning light.

“Sakura.” Gaara’s voice brought her back to her sense right before he kicked her legs out from under her...again, and she fell to the ground on her hands and knees.

“Damn it.” Sakura spit out a mouthful of sand and glared behind her at the smirking redhead.

“Where is your head?” He asked her casually. “It isn’t here.”

“I.” She blushed, it was in her bedroom, with Sasori. “I’m sorry Gaara. I’ll do better.”

“You asked me to teach you...remember...if you don’t want to learn…I have other things I could be doing.” He said flatly, a knowing glint in his eyes, a cold flicker to the manse behind them, to his Uncle’s office window.

He knew….Sakura groaned. Of course he knew. “I’m sorry Gaara. From now on, when I’m with you...I will be with you and no one else.”

Gaara’s heart skipped in his chest. Did she know? How could she know? Did it matter, it was what he wanted… “Very well, get up, let’s try again.” Did she mean it, he wondered…

Gaara ran her through two more stances pleased with her progress once she had decided to actually focus on his instructions.

“You learn quickly.” He complimented her as they walked back into the manse from the outside patio. “Once you decide to focus on what you're doing.”

“Sorry Gaara, it was, there was a lot that happened yesterday.” Sakura tried to smile. “I promise to concentrate more from now on.”

“There are a few things I need to take care of before lunch.” He bowed politely to her. He had no desire to discuss her physical relationship with his Uncle. He needed to distance himself from her, before he did something...foolish. It was becoming harder and harder for him to control himself around her.

“Thank you Gaara, for teaching me.” She called after him.

“I will collect you from your room tomorrow morning, same time.” He turned back round and walked down a different hallway than the one she was standing in.

Sakura made her way to her room and shut the door behind her. Sasori had told her she would be starting her schooling with his grandmother next week so she had time to make herself familiar with her new surroundings. He told her she could explore Suna as much as she liked but if she left the manse to take either Gaara or Kankuro with her.

She decided to take a quick shower, then see if she could find Kankuro since Gaara said he would be busy. She hadn’t spent much time in the man’s company but thought now was as good a time as any to get to know him. If she was going to be staying with Sasori, they needed to get along.

Sasori drummed his fingers against the marble of his desk in his office. His nephew had spent the entire morning showing Sakura stances and then correcting her form. She had picked it up quickly, he had been surprised. She learned faster than Gaara, once she concentrated on the task. Book smart didn’t always equate to understanding in other forms, but with Sakura, it apparently did. She was a natural.

He had noticed his nephew had been a bit rough with her but he couldn’t blame the boy, clearly her head had been elsewhere the first half of her lesson. He smirked. Had she been thinking of him like he had been thinking of her? His fingers twitched on the cool marble of his desk and curled into themselves quite unconsciously. He wanted to kiss her, he wanted to touch her again. Perhaps it was he, who needed to focus.

The woman had absolutely no idea how very tempted he had been to take her last night, and he could have...she had wanted him, he knew when a woman wanted him. He had felt the heat of her body, had felt her move against him in her sleep longing for his touch. Sasori stood and turned to look out the window, his hands behind his back, his red hair falling over his hooded eyes.

There was time. He didn’t wish to rush her, not after what she had been through, not after Madara Uchiha. He wanted her to know she was more than that to him. Sasori cared for her. He could get a body to warm his bed from anywhere, have anyone, but just anyone wouldn’t do. He wanted her. Sakura. He wanted her to come to him, to tell him she wanted him.

Sasori turned back to his desk, he needed to concentrate, he had a lot to do today and it was nearly noon. Sitting down he pulled Danzo’s briefcase to him and opened it. Taking out the papers he stole on Orochimaru’s research, the continuation of Sakura’s parents research, he set them aside. Drawing out the rest of the papers from the case, he set the now empty vessel on the floor beside his desk, and began to read.

An hour later had him tapping each small pile of now organized paperwork. Danzo had been busy in the past year...very busy. He wondered if Sakura knew of the Uchiha’s connection to the man, of his...human sex trafficking. He nearly laughed. Madara had been grooming the woman to take over the Uchiha clan and had thought that...this...was a good idea? Sasori’s opinion of the man was falling at an alarmingly rapid pace.

As disgusting as it was, no matter how lucrative, Sasori had no interest in such things. His nephew Gaara however, would be perfect to overlook this aspect of their new acquisition. Sasori tapped the papers once more. The contracts were right there and he didn’t even have to pay for them. Yes, Gaara would be perfect. His reputation was well known, the perfect threat to keep the ‘women’ in line.

Sasori picked his desk phone up and dialed his nephew's extension.

“I am giving you full control, this will be your project, your company.” Sasori told his nephew. “All profits will be yours. I want no hand in it. You’ve earned it.”

Gaara blinked down at the contracts in his hands. His Uncle was...giving him a company, no...human commodities, slaves to sell...kidnapped women. He understood. His eyes rose to meet his Uncles. His Uncle didn’t want to have anything to do with this kind of business, as profitable as it was, because of Sakura. If she ever found out...she would never forgive him. If she found out Gaara had a hand in it...she would never forgive him either. He had been very careful to control his urges since he had met her..since he had decided he wanted her and only her.

“Thank you Uncle. You flatter me, however, I decline.” Gaara set the contracts back on his Uncle’s desk and held his gaze.

Sasori’s eye twitched. Gaara had never declined...anything he had offered him before, particularly women.

“Why is that?” He asked his nephew, suspicious of his intent behind his refusal.

“If Sakura found out that either of us had any part in something like this, she would leave and never look back, we can not afford to...alienate her now, not when we are so close to earning her complete trust, Uncle.” Gaara refused to look away, to look away meant death, to look away meant confirmation to his Uncle for all the feelings he had kept from him.

Sasori nodded slowly. “Of course. Dispose of the merchandise for a decent price then, you may keep the profit for your foresight.”

Gaara inclined his head to his Uncle in thanks and rose from his seat.

“Gaara. It seems I have nothing more to teach you but...make no mistake who is the Kazekage here.” For the first time...Sasori saw his nephew as a threat and it did not sit well with him.

Gaara bowed. “I am well aware Uncle, thank you.”

Gaara walked out of his Uncle’s office, back straight…’I am also part of the royal family Uncle, the crown could just as easily be mine as it is yours’, Gaara hummed to himself as he walked down the halls of the Kazekage’s manse to his room, contracts in hand.

“Sakura stop! Oh kami, my Uncle is going to kill me.” Kankuro ran after the woman yet again as she disappeared in the crowded masses of the Suna market. “She’s like a freaking little kid in a candy shop!” He groaned.

“Wow! That is so cool!” Sakura clapped her hands together as a street performer smiled at her praise.

“How do you do that?” Sakura bent over the charred stick and poked at it gingerly.

“Family secret mam.” The man winked at her and grinned around the ash on his lips from swallowing the fire.

“I want to learn, can you do it again?” Sakura handed him a few bills for his time and his talent.

“Anything for a lady as beautiful as you.” The man took her bills from her fingers with a flourish and a bow, spinning on his heels until his forehead touched the ground at her feet making her giggle and flush with embarrassment. No one could learn his trade, just from watching, he smirked...this was easy money.

Sakura’s eye lit up as the man lit his baton, twirled it beautifully in his fingers, arched his back and swallowed the flame. Her eyes followed the movement of his throat and realized...he had something else in there, other than his spit to coat his throat. Her eyes traveled down to the sand and found it. Aloe. He had a large aloe plant beside his small makeshift stand and several packs of dry ice.

Her eyes narrowed as the man slowly removed the extinguished baton from his mouth and noticed that now that the flame was gone, the charred wood never touched his lips, his throat flexed to swallow the aloe and the embers together to be fully sated by the fluids of his stomach. Charcoal, a simple and harmless agent.

There was no sign of a fuel or an additive, no starchy compound to aid in the diffusion. She understood.

“One more time?” Sakura smiled widely and held out three bills to the man who blinked at her request.

“Of course my lady, but I must say I have never met a foreigner so interested in my art before.” With a smile less grand and one of pure sincerity for her interest he lit the baton once more, taking time to take a sip from his ‘water’ jug first.

Kankuro stepped up beside Sakura, he had been watching her from behind another stand, observing her observe the performer. Interesting, he mused. She was analyzing the man’s technique and literally buying his family's secret right out from under him without him being the wiser. She was dangerous, like his Uncle.

Sakura clapped her hands once more as the man swallowed his flame and bowed low to his new number one fan, his eyes rising with delight, then fear as they fell onto the man beside her, the Kazekage’s nephew, lord Kankuro.

“My lord.” The man bowed low falling to his knees before them, his forehead touching the ground.

“You may rise.” Kankuro said in a bored sort of detached voice, ignoring the look of surprise from Sakura. Clearly his Uncle hadn’t properly explained their position in Suna to the woman.

“You knew we were royalty, right? I thought my Uncle told you, or the maid did back in Konoha.” Kankuro ignored the choking sounds coming from the street performer who had just realized his number one fan was with the Kazekage’s nephew.

“Madara Uchiha was the one to tell me actually, Sasori just showed me his crown.” She said as she looked over the fire eater’s wares with a clever eye. She too ignored the man’s choking.

“Same thing.” Kankuro shrugged and looked back at the fire eater who still hadn’t risen from his prostrate form on the ground before them. “I told you to get up idiot.” Kankuro kicked him roughly with his foot annoyed at the man.

“Hey! Don’t kick him asshole.” Sakura hit Kankuro on the arm who shrugged again and rolled his eyes. “Whatever, are you done? I’m hungry and I want to get something to eat.”

“Just a sec.” Sakura turned back to the fire eater. “How much so i can try?” She asked him as he rose to his feet again.

“So you can try? You want to try to eat fire?” The man’s eyes grew wide, this was a horrible idea. If she got hurt, the Prince would kill him. Clearly she was close to the family, she had hit lord Kankuro like a brother. “I am not sure that is safe Princess.”

“Princess? I’m not a…” Sakura started to protest.

“Let her.” Kankuro cut them both off and gave the man a stern look.

Sakura could see the man tremble before them and wondered, was this the reputation of the family, was this because they were royalty or because they were killers…

“If the Princess were to get hurt my lord I would be…” The man tried.

Kankuro looked at Sakura, his eyes narrowed in speculation. “I don’t think we have to worry about that. Do we Sakura?”

Sakura smiled a wide smile of appreciation at Kankuro. “Nope!” She reached for the baton in the fire eater’s hand and the jug of aloe juice behind him.

“How did you know?” The man stuttered.

“Why do you think she kept paying you to do the same thing over and over idiot, she was learning.” Kankuro crossed his arms over his chest and watched as Sakura lit the baton with a lighter.

Sakura massaged her throat with one hand and then lowered the flaming baton into her mouth with the other, closed her lips with her eyes shut, and slowly withdrew the now extinguished batton from her mouth without touching it to her lips.

“I did it!” She hopped up and down laughing into the faces of both the fire eater and Kankuro.

“Fucking hell...she’s a genius, just like my fucking Uncle, no wonder he’s so head over heels in love with her.” Kankuro rubbed his face with his hands, fucking hell...

Chapter Text

“You were gone for quite a long time my dear. Your cheeks are flushed, are you well?” Sasori placed his palm on her forehead and frowned. He wanted to discuss the files he had taken from Danzo but if she wasn’t feeling well...perhaps he ought to wait until later. “You’re warm, too warm.”

Sasori turned to glare at his nephew. “Where did you take her?” He demanded of Kankuro who blanched at his Uncle’s direct gaze.

“I’m fine Sasori.” Sakura pushed his hand from her head and grinned. “I learned how to eat fire today.” She smiled at the redhead whose head whipped back to his nephew. He had let her what?

“She what?” He hissed at Kankuro who looked like he was staring his own death in the face.

“I wanted to, let me show you. Do you have a stick I can set on fire?” Sakura looked around the room for a stick while Sasori looked at her as though she had sprouted a second head.

“Perhaps later dear.” Sasori coughed politely. “I was looking for you because I have something rather...extraordinary to show you.”

Sasori reached out and took Sakura by the hand, pulled her arm through his, and led her down the hallway to his private office. “Please have a seat, Sakura.” Sasori pulled the chair out for her.

“As you know Danzo Shimura is dead but...do you know who Danzo Shimura was dear?” Sasori asked her, sharp eye watching her reaction to his every word.

The air in the office seemed to change rather abruptly making Sakura straighten up in her seat. Sasori reminded her of Madara right now, of Itachi at times...the change was unexpected because they were alone but she realized...he was about to tell her something very important. Well, she had asked for the truth…

“No, I’ve never heard of him.” Sakura licked her top lip and looked back at Sasori boldly. She was ready for anything he had to tell her.

Amber eyes noticed the stiffening of her spine, the steel in her eyes...she knew, she was preparing herself, so be it…

“Danzo Shimura had, shall we say, less than dignified business arrangements with the Uchiha. Human trafficking, sex trade dear, mostly women, some men and some children.” Sasori let his words sink in for a moment before continuing.

Sakura went rigid in her seat. No…

“I have taken over those contracts. When Gaara killed Danzo Shimura, they became the property of Akasuna Acquisitions. However, I assure you, I have no part nor do I want part, in that sort of business. I have given the contracts to Gaara, who plans on selling them as soon as he can. My nephew does not want a part in such...disgusting matters anymore than I do.” Sasori assured her.

“We do not need to stoop so low for profit.” Sasori added quietly.

“Itachi did he, um...did he deal in such things do you know?” Sakura asked, almost fearfully, terrified of the answer.

Sasori clenched his fist in his lap under the cover of his desk. Did she still harbor feelings for that man…

“I do not know.” Sasori said with a practiced calm. “Madara arranged the contracts between Shimura and the other buyers.”

“I see.” Sakura replied.

“Do you?” Sasori held her eyes with his own...did she really understand what kind of man Madara was, or did she only see the surface?

“Yes.” Sakura said with resolve. “Please, I can tell there is something else you wish to tell me, tell me Sasori, please.”

“I plan to. Understand that...I only know as much as you do. I looked into your background when I first, when you first caught my eye...but it was a dead end, or of no consequence.” He began.

“Dead end?” Sakura asked, a bit confused.

“Erased dear. Someone went to great lengths and expense to erase your history before the age of twelve years old. I do not know if it was the Uchiha or...your parents though.” He answered her question before she could ask it.

Sakura took in his words, her avid mind began to piece together the facts, the questions and what she knew of the world around her. “You said you only know as much as I do.” She looked up at him, her green eyes focused and alert.

“Yes, after I show you something very, very interesting and disturbing my dear...we will both know as much as one another. I stole something, but I don’t consider it theft because I am giving it to you, the person who, if anyone has a right to own them, it is you Sakura.” Sasori pulled a stack of papers to him, a few folders and a white envelope.

For the first time since she had met him...Sasori looked genuinely...uneasy.

“I want you to know...I had no idea. I didn’t know anything about...what your parents did to you.” Sasori pushed the folders to her. “I’m sorry.”

He’s sorry? Sakura looked at the small pile of papers and folders in front of her, then back up at Sasori. He looked apologetic, sincerely apologetic and, what was it...saddened?

“Sasori, what...are you okay?” Sakura asked him, concern rippling through her. She hadn’t realized how much she had relied on his strength, of how sure he was of himself and everything around him before now. His apprehension, his uncertainty...terrified her.

“I.” Sasori choked a bit, then cleared his throat, looking down at the papers in front of her. “Yes dear...I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.” He said quietly, nudging the papers toward her, making her eyes go wide.

“It is important for you to know, to remember...I knew nothing of this. I have no ulterior motives and that...I could have kept this from you. If I’m honest, I thought of keeping it from you but...you have a right to know where you come from and what...kind of people your parents were.” His eyes darkened...anger...it was anger that she saw in his eyes, could feel radiating off of him. He was angry at...her parents?

Sakura pulled the first files from the top of the stack and opened it. Her picture was clipped to the inside of the folder...a picture of her when she was just a baby. Sakura looked back up to see Sasori watching her closely. He said he didn't have to tell her, that he had thought of keeping this from her...and he had made a point, no, stressed to her that he had nothing to do with this and that he hadn’t known about it. Sakura looked back down at the folder and began to read.

For three hours Sasori sat there with her, watched the display of emotions cross over her features, saw the horror, the fear, the anger and the surprise that she was feeling as she read, then re read each paper, looked at each picture and analyzed each file and medical report. When she had finally placed the last paper on top of the stack she sat back, closed her eyes and focused on her breathing.

Her pulse jumped in her veins, her headache with the pressure of contained knowledge that couldn’t seem to settle in her mind, then her eyes snapped open and she looked into clear...emotional...amber.

“I understand why you told me that you didn’t know.” She said quietly. “I acknowledge all that you have done for me...before this...revelation…”

Sasori nodded, unsure of what to say. The breath that he hadn’t known he was holding was released slowly from his lungs through his nose...she didn’t blame him, thank kami.

“This isn’t all of it is it, there is more but…” Shit, she gasped. The files Madara had given her, the files she had left behind...in her stupidity…”Madara knows, doesn’t he?”

“I don’t know how much he knows but I am willing to bet that he knows something.” Sasori inclined his head acknowledging her train of thought.

“This man, this Orochimaru, is he, can I talk to him?” Sakura asked.

“He’s dead. Danzo killed him, that is the only reason he had these files and I do not believe he even knew what they were. He was auctioning them off, to the Uchiha and the Senju. I ‘heard’ of the auction and...took them.” He told her honestly. “For you.”

‘For her.’ She was beginning to understand a few more things, things she felt she ought to have known...she had been so foolish.

Sakura stared at him only now realizing the depths he had gone to for her. “That’s where you went to in such a hurry, when Gaara came to find you.” She said as if to herself but Sasori nodded.

“Still, I never thought that you were, that they would reveal..this.” He waved his hand at the files before them, in between them on the desk. “I knew you were special but this is...something, more.”

Sakura laughed, an ugly laugh that startled Sasori a bit.

“More, yes I would say this is definitely, something more.” Sakura clenched her fists in her lap. “How could they do this to me?”

He knew she wasn’t talking to him, there was no need to answer her. He had asked himself the same question though when he had read through the papers. What kind of parents would...experiment on their own child, there had been no guarantee of success. How horrible.

“Sakura, if there is anything I can do, if you need anything please…” Sasori offered, an uncharacteristic empathy to his voice.

“I, no. Thank you Sasori, you are...you’ve done so much already I...thank you.” Sakura rose from her seat, took the stack of papers and left his office.

Sasori watched her leave, made no move to stop her. No doubt she needed time alone to process...all of this.

Itachi sat on Sakura’s rock, in the woods, past the main house, by the river and closed his eyes. She was alive, with Akasuna and...he opened his eyes and sighed. Mebuki and Kizashi Haruno...had used her as their final test subject, their own daughter and he had never known.

Minato and Kushina must have known and had died for the knowing. Did Naruto know? No, he told himself, Sakura didn’t know why would he? He knew Sasuke didn’t know...Madara knew, clearly. Tobirama knew he had been the one to tell Shisui and him. Did Sakura herself know?

Akasuna had the papers now, would he tell her? Itachi knew he should assume she knew going forward. He frowned, knowing, would not endear her to the Uchiha, for if she knew, she would know Madara knew and would assume that the rest of them knew as well. Is that what the files were, the ones Madara had given Sakura that night...if so, where were they now?

No wonder she had gotten so upset and fled to Sasori...he couldn’t blame her. He blamed himself. How could he have been so oblivious?

That wasn’t the question in the forefront of Itachi’s mind though. The real question he wanted answered, the one he couldn't stop thinking about was...would Sasori use her, when he found out, would he use her as a weapon, force her into servitude after reading the files? Could he if she was that...superior?

Itachi thought back to every interaction he had ever witnessed between the man and the woman. No, Akasuna wouldn’t, by all accounts he really did seem to...care for her. Also, Itachi reminded himself, Sasori had just acquired the papers on Orochimaru’s research...he didn't know about her...special qualities. He could only have wanted her for himself, because of herself.

Itachi relaxed a little on the rock. Was it so bad then? Not if Sakura was happy he supposed. He didn’t deserve her and Madara sure as hell didn’t deserve her.

A piercing shriek broke Itachi from his thoughts, making him look up, to see two hawks flying in tandem through the sky. Then one broke form and swooped, then flew back up to it’s partner, who dropped down a bit, then glided up and over turning in the air, like graceful dancers stepping and leaping through the sky.

Itachi sighed. He had told Shisui maybe it was time they stopped underestimating Sakura. Maybe it was time they let her...out of her cage and stopped...trying to keep her with them. Had she ever been her own person? She wasn’t an Uchiha...he had never realized they had taken control over so much of her life before now. She wasn’t an Uchiha, but they had all treated her as one, had all...controlled her as one, but she wasn’t one of them...was she?

Long legs stretched out before him, his hands folded behind his head as he leaned back, and watched the hawks overhead. Maybe it was time to let her go…

Gaara set the phone back on the receiver. It was done. He was no longer in possession of...humans. Tapping the contracts into a neat pile he folded them into threes and stuffed them into an envelope. Pressing the intercom button on his desk phone he hoped his brother was in his office.

“Yeah Gaara?” Kankuro’s voice came over the intercom.

“Come pick up a delivery in my office. Leave immediately. I want it hand delivered.” Gaara sealed the envelope and set it on the edge of his desk. “It’s on the edge of my desk.”

“Right, and who do I deliver it to?” Kankuro asked.

“The warehouse on fifth. Stay until each addressed individual opens their corresponding letter and leaves. The instructions are in the envelope.” Gaara rose from his desk and walked out of his office and down the hall, he had just received word that their things from the estate had arrived. He knew Sakura would want her books.

The voice in his head was loud and had been increasing in volume since he had finished his calls. It did not approve of his choice, it demanded blood, it demanded he sate it’s lust. He couldn’t do that though, he reminded it, Sakura would never forgive him. ‘Then sate our lust with her’, it cooed. ‘No’, Gaara growled, no I will not do that to her, I love her...he told the voice. It didn’t respond. Satisfied, he continued down the hall, to Sakura’s room.

She was laying on her bed when he knocked and pushed her door open. She didn’t even bother to lift her head and acknowledge him. Gaara moved soundlessly into her room and sat on the end of her bed. “Your boxes from the estate are here. I could help you unpack them, if you like?”

Sakura grunted at him in response. He took that for compliance.

“I’ll have them sent up.” Gaara rose from the end of her bed and walked to her door to leave.

“Gaara, what did you do with those contracts Sasori gave you? The ones with the women sex slaves?” She turned her head to look at him, then sat up to stare at him, he looked...afraid.

“I gave them back.” He said quietly, moving to leave. His eyes averted.

Sakura bounded off of her bed and ran to her door, shutting it before he could escape into the hall. “What do you mean gave them back? Danzo is dead, do you mean you gave them to Madara?”

“No.” Gaara lifted his hand to his head, the voice was screaming at him again, he didn’t know who to listen to...Sakura or the voice.

Sakura saw his toil and took two deep breaths. “Gaara. Who did you give the uh contracts to? You said give so, does that mean you didn’t sell them?” She asked more gently.

Gaara shook his head and reached for the handle of her door, he had to leave, he had to get away from her...the voice was mad that he had given the contracts away, was mad that he hadn’t forced Sakura into bed with him, was mad that he hadn’t taken what he had...Gaara slammed his head against the wall. He just wanted the voice to stop, he had to think properly, he didn’t want to hurt her.

“Gaara.” Sakura wrapped her arms around her friend to help calm him. She didn’t like seeing him like this.

“Get away from me, please. I don’t want to...hurt you...please Sakura…” His voice was low, he was nearly growling, almost pleading with her.

“I promised you remember, that whenever you needed a hug, that I would be there for you.” She pulled him closer to her and tightened her arms around him, placing her cheek against the back of his shoulders.

“Sa kura.” Gaara groaned, turned in her arms and kissed her forcefully, backing her up fast.

Her legs hit her bed and she stumbled backward, falling onto the bed. Gaara followed her, his mouth covering her protests, his hands pulling at her shirt.

Sakura pushed against him, her arms snaking up between their bodies trying to push him off of her but he was too strong, wild with intent, almost animalistic as he ground his hardness into her and pushing her arms out of his way.

His hands ran along her sides, his elbows pinning her arms down by her joints, his hands grasping at her breasts under her torn shirt.

“I love you.” He kept mumbling over and over as he bit down on her neck, pushing his knee in between her legs, rubbing his hardened member between her spread legs against the outside of her pants where their bodies joined.

“Sakura please I love you, I want, I want …” He groaned into the side of her neck, his fingers pulling at her nipples under her bra. “I love you so much I…”

“Gaara.” Sakura said quietly, no longer pushing against him. “Gaara, this isn’t love Gaara. Please stop. I know you don’t want to do this, please stop Gaara.”

Her voice was calm, even and...sympathetic? It startled him. She wasn’t screaming, she wasn’t trying to hit him...she wasn’t afraid of him...

Gaara froze. What was he doing…

“Sakura...I…” Slowly, he released her arms, slowly...he slid off of her body and stood next to the bed looking down at her.

Her hair was messed, her shirt torn, there was blood trickling down the side of her neck where he had bitten her…

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled as he backed away, I’m sorry…” He turned and ran from her room.

Sakura pulled her ruined shirt over and off her head, moved to her dresser, and pulled a new one on. He hadn’t meant to, she told herself, he tried to stop himself, she brushed her hair. He had tried to leave but she had forced him to stay...it was her fault as much as it was his.

Sasori...could never know, he wouldn’t understand...and he would kill him.

Sakura set her hair brush down on her dresser and walked to her connected bathroom. Wiping the blood from her neck, she looked through the cabinets until she found a small bandage, pulling the tabs apart she covered the obvious bite mark. Sasori would notice the bandage...there was nothing she could do about that, but hopefully, if she distracted him enough, he wouldn’t press her.

Gaara had told her he loved her, that he wanted her...part of her had already known, she ...had just ignored it.

Sakura looked at herself in the mirror. Green eyes met green eyes. There was too much at stake, it was time she accepted who she was...no more mistakes...

Chapter Text

Madara looked down at his phone, he couldn’t believe it...the monster had...given the women their contracts, their lives, their freedom...and there was nothing he could do about it. He laughed out loud. He hadn’t expected that, but he should have. It seemed Sasori and his nephew would do anything to keep the woman. Sometimes it paid to put tails on the lackeys, Kankuro had just arrived at the warehouse on fifth and was giving the women their contracts. Madara shook his head, only she could change a monster like Sasori’s nephew.

Pein held the small blue vial up against the light of the window and smiled. For years he had been trying to get his hands on Akasuna’s prized chemical weapon. For years he had hunted down each and every one of Akasuna’s scientists and had killed them one by one gaining as much information from them as he could before they died.

Finally, he had found it. Mebuki had been looking for it for years prior to passing the incomplete task onto Pein. The task that had cost them both Nagato’s and Mebuki’s life. Now all he needed, was Sakura.

‘It is the key to true peace’, she had told them.

‘It’s a weapon though Mebuki Sama, how will this bring about peace?’, Konan hadn’t understood.

‘Weapon, is just a word Konan dear, a word used to label something foul or something useful. What does it mean to be a good person, Konan?’, Mebuki turned to the girl and smiled at her fondly.

‘Um, to be helpful, unselfish?’, the girl said with uncertainty. She didn’t understand why she was being asked this question. They had been talking about a weapon.

‘To help others, to be content with what you have’, Yahiko piped up, coming to his sister’s rescue.

Mebuki smiled at the boy and rubbed the top of his head, messing up his hair, as the girl beside him giggled.

‘To be a good person means to find peace within one’s soul, within yourself, to be happy with who you are, for the good of others’, Nagato said quietly from behind his book in the corner of the room watching his siblings crowd their mother.

‘Yes’, Mebuki Haruno smiled down at her two children holding her hands, the shyest of the three, in the corner of the room. ‘All of your are correct’

‘Then’, Konan looked at her siblings… ‘How will a weapon bring about peace and make everyone think...like that’, the girl asked.

‘Through irreversible change’, Mebuki rubbed her tummy where her baby had just kicked out at her. ‘My voice can not change the world, I’ve tried, but that weapon can, and the best part is...the creator, doesn’t even know it!’ Mebuki’s eyes shone bright and sparkling.

‘You see, I changed the formula on him, when he was just a boy! So you see, it can’t even be traced back to me...my daughter won’t be blamed.’ Mebuki giggled. ‘He’s just like his grandmother, it was almost too easy.’ She sighed.

‘Madara Uchiha will regret the day he turned his back on Suna’, Mebuki laughed out loud.

‘This one’, she will be the beginning and the end of all things. She is the key, you must promise me, to protect her at all costs.’, Mebuki looked up at her children, her eyes imploring.

‘We promise Mebuki Sama’, they said quietly.

Pein set the vial in it’s padded holder and rested his head in his hands as he continued to look at it. They hadn’t been able to keep their word. The Uchiha had adopted Sakura before he had even filled out the paperwork to adopt her himself. He knew now though, that it wouldn’t have mattered. In Konoha, the Uchiha were the law, judge and jury.

Pein smiled again. He and Konan had done everything she had asked them to do, even after her death last year, they had finally found the final piece of the puzzle...and Sakura was no longer with the Uchiha.

Pein frowned. Why hadn’t Sakura contacted them yet. Did she not get his message? Deidara had reported that the estate had been cleared, that all of her things had been removed to Suna along with the rest of the household. He had expected her to call him by now.

She had been through a lot...maybe she just needed a little more time. Pein sat back in his desk chair and picked up the photo he had pulled out earlier that day. Green eyes looked out at the camera from behind a mass of pink curls. Sakura hadn’t known he had been watching her. She hadn’t seen him take her picture as she laughed with her friend Ino Yamanaka before their Senior Prom.

She didn’t look like her mother or her father at first glance, but Pein could see the same outline of nose and chin...if he looked hard enough. Yes, he sighed, if you looked hard enough, it was there...they hadn’t altered everything about the girl, only...the most vital. Altered wasn’t exactly the right word...magnified, intensified...enhanced perhaps. Her parents had naturally provided her with a strong base and then they had expanded upon the original, and made it into something...greater.

Pein got up from his desk, a small smile still curved the edges of his mouth, not even that snake Orochimaru knew the truth of it, and he had dedicated years to their research. Geniuses, that’s what the Haruno’s were, only...Mebuki was...in a class of her own.

If Sakura didn’t contact him within the next three days...he would go to Suna himself and find her. They had all waited long enough. Now that he had their weapon, there was no reason to wait other than that Mebuki asked that Sakura be the one to use the vial. Pein knew now, that only Sakura could use the vial. Mebuki, at the time of her death, hadn’t been completely sure of her own results. Her dying request, as Nagato held her in his arms, before Orochimaru had shot them both in the back of the head...Pein had been listening, had heard both of their final breaths...before the radio had gone dead.

One by one Sakura watched her boxes from the estate come into her room. One servant left as another entered, each one new, each one she had never seen before, and she wondered how many servants worked here in the Kazekage’s mansion. As the last servant left her room she smiled and thanked them, only to have him give her an odd sort of look and a timid nod of his head.

“Are they all scared of him, or is it Gaara perhaps?” She shook her head and began to unpack her boxes. “It feels like I just did this.” She laughed to herself.

Box after box was opened and unpacked. Her bedroom here at the manse was much larger than her bedroom at the estate had been. There was no secret sitting room because her bedroom was large enough to encompass its own sitting area, complete with table, chairs, a mini bar and a small couch.

Bookcases lined one of the walls by the sitting area and Sakura began to organize her books once more on the bookshelves in much the same order as she had them at the estate. As she opened the last box of books a small 3x5 photo fell out. Bending over Sakura picked the photo up and gasped. Looking out at her were the same faces of the children in the envelope of pictures that Madara had given her, only...they weren’t children anymore, they were adults.

Her eyes drank in the small figure of her mother, who stood in between the two men, one with red hair, the other orange, and then the woman on the end, a beautiful woman...with blue-ish purple hair. Sakura stared at the photo for several more minutes before turning it over.

‘Konan, Mebuki, Yahiko and Nagato’, Sakura gasped at the date. It had been taken only a year ago. It must have been right before her mother’s death.

Sakura walked over to the dresser where she had left the files Sasori had given her, the files Danzo had taken from Orochimaru, that Sasori had killed Danzo for...to give them to her. Her fingers riffled through the files and folders until they found what she was looking for. The list of test subjects and their experimental injections, the results and their reactions and changes.

Sakura spread each portfolio out on the bed in front of her, then set the picture down next to their portfolios. She had already realized when she was looking through the files in Sasori’s office for the first time that they were incomplete. She knew that the other folder Madara had given her must contain the missing information and she almost kicked herself for her stupidity in leaving them behind.

Sakura looked down at the papers on her bed, then to the photo, and back at the files. She was missing something, she could feel it...what was she missing, there was a connection to be made here. These weren’t just regular test subjects, it was like they were, friends or...her eyes went back to the picture...family.

Obito tapped repeatedly on his phone until he found what he was looking for. He plugged his phone into his laptop and pulled the pictures of the files he had taken. It was time Sakura knew the truth, all of it. Moving his mouse to the top he hit ‘Print All’, and sat back in his chair satisfied.

It had been difficult for him over the years, remaining quiet, staying in the background while their story played out. Too many times he had almost given up, had almost given in...but Rin, would never let him. He owed it to her, to all of them to...see this through. So he had stayed, he had served Madara and done his bidding, all the while bidding his time, watching, waiting for the right time.

Sakura was in Suna...with her...family now. Now, was the right time to come out from the shadows.

Obito pulled the prints from the top of his printer and stuffed them into the envelope with the rest of the files he had hidden away over the years. Some had more blood on them than others, but...it would all be worth it in the end, even if he died with the others...he had promised her, he had promised Rin...and he would keep his word. It was all he had left in the world. After all, if he died...how could he meet her, assuming he went to heaven, how could he look Rin in the eye and tell her he had done everything he could for Mebuki and her daughter...if he truly didn’t do everything he could?

Obito sealed the thick envelope with brown packing tape, he didn’t want anything to be lost, at least...until it made it to Sakura. Tucking the envelope under his arm he left Kakashi sleeping on the couch and walked toward the door, pausing before a picture, the only picture on Kakashi’s wall of them when they were kids. Obito to the right, Kakashi to the left and Rin in the middle, a protective hand on each of their shoulders.

“You were always watching over me Rin, and when you needed me most...I wasn’t there. I hope…” He choked on his words.

“I hope this…” He patted the envelope under his arm. “...will help make up for it. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of Rin but, maybe it will be okay, maybe I’ll still be able to see you...when this is all over.”

With a single nod to the smiling woman in the photo, he opened, then closed the door behind him as he left.

Kakashi cracked an eye open from his couch and sighed. So, it was time...finally, he didn’t want to be here anymore. Once this was all over he could go find a nice secluded cabin in the woods, get a few dogs and die alone, peacefully alone.

“Tobi?”, Hashirama knocked and stuck his head inside his brother’s room. He hadn’t come home the previous night which wasn’t highly unusual. Sometimes Tobirama spent the night in his office if he had a lot of work to do.

Tobirama looked up from the papers he was reading to find his brother looking at him with those annoying puppy dog eyes of his. What the hell did the man want now? “Yes?”

Hashirama could tell that his brother was already annoyed with the interruption and wasn’t sure how he would react to his...question. “I was wondering if you wanted to have lunch with me, you know here at the penthouse?”

Tobirama blinked. They always ate out, neither one of them had cooked together since, well since their father had died and Tobirama had been forced to take over the Senju’s clandestine affairs. Neither one of them ever had time for things like that anymore, but it seemed Hashirama had made time, now...so...

Tobirama looked over the files he had spread out around him on his bed, the nightstand and the dresser. It might do him some good to take a break. He had been looking through Sakura’s parent’s research for hours now and he was starting to get a headache.

“Sure, we can do that. What do you want to make?” Tobirama set the papers down that he had in his hands and got up from his bed to follow his brother out into their kitchen.

Two hours later, and full of grilled salmon, Tobirama shared a smile with his brother. A break had done him some good. He hadn’t known he missed making lunch with his brother so much. Their little time together reminded him that sometimes it was the little things in life that mattered the most, like lunch with your brother, conversations with a pink haired women on your couch and grilled salmon.

“I've been thinking Tobi, all this drama with Madara, you know his little brother Izuna is dead now?” Hashirama asked, his eyes wide.

“I know, I was at the Akasuna estate when it happened.” Tobirama sighed, his peaceful moment gone, evaporated, never to return.

“Oh. I didn’t know. You didn’t tell me.” Hashirama looked defeated.

“Why would I tell you?” They have had this conversation before. “It wasn’t something you needed to know, it isn’t part of your world.”

Hashirama nodded, he hadn’t meant to aggravate Tobi. “Maybe it shouldn’t be a part of either of our worlds.” He said looking at his brother, his eyes sad.

“I can’t do that, you know that I would if I could, but it isn’t the right time. Men like Akasuna would take advantage of it and only become even more powerful, even more ruthless and bloody.” Tobirama crossed his arms across his chest. Why were they even having this conversation?

“What if, Akasuna promised not to?” Hashirama watched his brother jerk in his seat.

“That’s just...he would never do that, the possibility is just ludicrous!” Tobirama had enough of his brother’s nonsense, the man was a surgeon, he had no idea what went on in the underground and Tobirama was going to keep it that way. “If you’re quite through.”

Tobirama rose from his seat, set his dishes in the sink and walked back to his room to read the files on Sakura’s parent’s research again.

“The ridiculous one here is you brother. You can’t seem to see the forest through the trees.” Hashirama sat back in his chair and pulled his phone out from his pocket.

Sakura was looking at a photo when he walked into her room through her open door.

“What are you looking at dear?” Sasori came up beside her and looked down at the photo. He recognized the people in the photo from the files he had given her. “Where did you get that?”

Sakura turned to look at Sasori. “I found it, while I was unpacking my boxes.”

“Did you.” Sasori narrowed his eyes at the photo. Someone had planted that photo in her possessions...who?

“I think I, remember them.” Sakura looked at the children’s faces in their portfolios. “I think I might have gone to the beach with them before.”

“I’m not sure though, I think it must have been a really long time ago.” She set the photo down on the bed beside the portfolios.

Sakura turned to Sasori. “I want you to teach me martial arts. I know that you said Gaara would teach me until I got better but now that we know what...I mean, who I am, I want to learn from you.” She said confidently.

Sasori eyed her speculatively. Something had changed or happened, either way…”Why?” He asked her.

“You’re the better of the two I can tell. I don’t want to waste my time.” She said seriously, watching him watch her.

“Why do you have a bandage on your neck?” He reached a finger up to trace the outline of the small bandage, his eyes narrowing. She hadn’t been wearing it before, when she was in his office.

“It’s nothing.” Sakura took his fingers from her neck and pulled him over to her couch.

“Will you teach me, please?” She asked him again.

Sasori’s eyes went to her bandage again but he nodded. “If you like. Gaara will be disappointed.” He rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “I confess, I did not enjoy watching him pin you to the ground my dear. Yes, perhaps it is better if I teach you.”

Leaning forward, he pressed his lips gently to hers. “In fact, I don’t think I will tolerate such a thing again.” His voice was low. He didn’t blame her or Gaara but...it had made him uneasy seeing her under his nephew, knowing that the man liked to...

“I wasn’t paying attention.” Sakura bit her bottom lip, he knew...how did he know...he knew, damn it he knew and he was going to...what was he going to do…

“A dangerous mistake my dear.” Sasori pulled her to him, folding her into his embrace and kissed her roughly. “I thought I had made my intentions clear to you.”

“Did I not make mine clear to you?” Sakura raised an eyebrow at his roughness, challenging him back word for word, kiss for kiss. She grabbed the front of his shirt, tangled her fingers into the fabric and pulled him to her mouth, kissing him just as roughly as he had just kissed her.

“You really are the perfect woman.” Sasori ran his hands up her back, into her hair and nuzzled her neck, the side without the bandage on it.

‘He doesn’t know’, she moved suggestively against his chest, her legs rubbing up against his.

“Perfect for you.” She gasped as he bit down on her neck in the exact place Gaara had bitten her, only on the other side.

Chapter Text

Madara was waiting for them by the limo. “Is everyone ready?” Madara looked from Itachi to Obito who nodded.

“I just buried my brother, the last of our clan that I truly cared for and respected, let’s not make his sacrifice worthless shall we?” Madara got into the back seat, leaving the door open for Itachi who slid in beside him, closing the door.

“It won’t be worthless.” Obito said quietly as he opened the driver’s door and started the engine.

“It’s a shame Shisui couldn’t join us Itachi. He was needed at the station. Fugaku, your father is so useless. It’s any wonder to me that he managed to spawn you. Of course, you are half Mikoto.” Madara said callously to his nephew, who ignored him, and continued to look out the window.

“Sasuke however, seems to favor your father in both ambition and intelligence.” Madara laughed out loud.

“Your brother’s funeral seems to have addled your brain Uncle. I suggest you take a moment to gather yourself before you say something...foolish.” Itachi turned from the window to look at his Uncle.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself Itachi. Just because I allow you to come with me to get that whore back doesn’t mean I have forgiven you. You will still be punished.” Madara narrowed his eyes at his nephew.

“Sakura is not a whore.” Itachi averted his eyes and looked back out the window, not like Matsuri. “...and if you really thought of her like that, we wouldn’t be on our way to Suna to get her back.”

Madara laughed again, just as loudly as before, just as crassly. “I suppose you’re right.” He couldn’t deny the truth of his nephew’s words.

Sakura ran her fingers through Sasori’s hair, tugging slightly on the ends as he pulled at the button of her jeans with one hand, and held the back of her head while he kissed her with the other.

“Sasori I, wait please.” Sakura moved her hand downward to stop him from unzipping her pants. “Can we...slow down a little?”

“Of course.” Sasori immediately brought his hands back up to cup her face and gently ran his tongue over her bottom lip. “As slow as you want dear, just tell me to stop, if you change your mind.”

Sakura nodded and closed her eyes. “Thank you, Sasori.”

Sasori looked down at the woman in his arms. She wasn’t telling him no, she wasn’t pushing him away...she had asked him to go slow...he would make this as memorable for her as possible. “It might be easier if we had more room.” Sasori picked her up in his arms.

“Shall we go to my bedroom dear? Your bed is a bit cluttered.” He smirked as her eyes flew open, but smiled a genuine smile, as she nodded her head and laid it against his shoulder as he carried her out of her room and down the hall.

Sasori pushed his bedroom door open with his knee and walked them into his room. It looked very much like Sakura’s room which surprised her a bit. She had expected him to have a much more extravagant room, something more befitting a Prince of Suna, but his room was so...normal. Big, and decorated expensively, but...bland and functional.

Large, heavy wooden bookcases lined the left wall from floor to ceiling, parted only by his large bed, there were even books lining the wall above his headboard up to the ceiling. Along the wall opposite from his bed were shelves, from floor to ceiling each shelf only a foot apart, parted only by the fireplace. Unlike the wall with his bed, there was only one shelf above the fireplace’s granite mantel piece, adorned with a small, hand crafted wooden puppet which stood roughly two feet in height.

There was of course the same mini bar, sitting area with a table, chairs and couch, but on the wall that held the door to his bedroom...were panels, many, many panels of monitors for all of his cameras.

“Wow.” Sakura craned her neck around to look at the wall of monitors. “I don’t think I have ever seen so many cameras being monitored before.”

“Those are just for the Kazekage manse and the gate to Suna. Kankuro has the village cameras and the government building camera monitors in his office as well as a backup for the...private cameras in the manse, which he doesn’t view.” Sasori laid her down on his bed and kissed her nose.

“Private cameras?” Sakura turned her head to the wall of monitors again.

“Do not worry my dear, I am the only one who can view the cameras in your bedroom. I would never trust anyone else to observe you so intimately.” He bent his head and nuzzled her neck as he climbed up onto his bed with her.

“It makes me rather uncomfortable that you have cameras in my bedroom Sasori.” Sakura said slowly, distracted by his hands that were busy tangling themselves in her hair as he kissed and licked the corner of her mouth.

“A precaution only my dear, I do not watch them unless I have to, unless something were to happen.” He assured her, his hands moving from her hair to her shirt, inching the fabric up a little at a time.

“Do you have cameras in Gaara’s rooms, or Temari’s or Kankuro’s?” She asked, pulling her shirt off over her head as he ran his mouth down the side of her breast.

“Yes, of course, like yours, as a precaution.” Sasori took her chin in his hand and covered her mouth fully, pressing his tongue against the seam of her lips, asking for permission.

With a quick intake of her breath she opened her mouth to him, closing her eyes as his tongue swept languidly over hers. She had never kissed anyone like this before, had never let anyone touch her like he was touching her and she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do...what he was expecting of her.

Propping his weight up alongside her, Sasori continued to kiss her, one hand on the side of her face, his thumb moving over her cheek, his other hand touching her lightly, skimming down the side of her chest and hip, unbuttoning her pants, then moving back up to cup her face again.

She had told him to go slow. He was trying to go slow, to give her time to understand this wasn’t just about touch, to touch her in a way she would know exactly how he felt about her. Sasori could wait if that was what she wanted of him, but he also wanted to show her how pleasurable it could be to be loved so completely, to own and be owned by someone she could trust and in time, love.

Sasori knew she didn’t love him, but he loved her and it was time she understood exactly how much he loved her.

Sakura had her doubts and her fears about her situation but she had made up her mind about several points in her life recently. Sasori was one of them. She had decided to trust him, to see where their relationship could go. The man obviously cared about her, that much was clear and she started to relax a bit under his touch.

He had unbuttoned her pants, but hadn’t made a move to take them off, or to touch her there yet. She understood, he was going slow, just like she had requested. His hands felt good on her skin, in her hair, on her face...his mouth was...skilled, he clearly knew what he was doing and that...bothered her. Why should it bother her…

“How many women have you slept with Sasori?” Sakura broke their kiss and looked up at him with curious green eyes.

“I have not had the desire to touch a woman before you. I have had the opportunity but...I felt myself above such...instincts. Besides, they were...expendable nuisances.” He looked down at her, his words measured and slow...he was...embarrassed?

“Oh.” Sakura hadn’t expected that answer, she had assumed that he had...experience. “...but you’re such a good kisser.” She accused him.

Sasori chuckled softly. “I have not lain with a woman, but I have kissed one before.”

“One?” Sakura asked, her eyes wide.

“One.” Sasori bent his head and kissed her again, slowly, pulling her bottom lip into his mouth and sucking on it gently. “You.”

Sakura gasped. “You mean um.”

He nodded. “I told you, I have never been interested in any woman before you. I’m a fast learner, I do what I think feels good and what will feel good for you. I see no reason to lower my standards to fulfill simple bodily needs. I wouldn’t subject myself to the trauma.” He said seriously.

Sakura laughed, he was completely serious…”Thank you.” She kissed him on the nose like he had kissed her.

Sasori looked down at her and smiled. “Nothing to thank me for Sakura. Loyalty is hard won dear. When we laid together, I didn’t want to come to you with a memory of another woman in my head or on the tips of my fingers.” He bent his head and kissed her again. “Or on my lips.”

Sakura sighed, pleased with his answer, and much less nervous about what he might expect from her now. “I haven’t um…”

“I know.” Sasori smiled, unclasping her bra and sliding the straps down her shoulders, following the elastic with kisses until it fell away from her body.

Sakura moved her hands down to her pants and unzipped them, little by little moving them off of her hips and down her legs to kick them to the floor.

“You said you would be gentle.” She whispered into the side of his neck, his hands sliding her panties off of her to follow her pants to the floor.

“I also said I would move slowly. I can stop if you’re not ready at any time, even after we are...joined, if you need me to.” Sasori drew back to look into her eyes. He wanted her to see the truth, he would not force her, he wouldn’t continue if she didn’t want to.

“No I...want you Sasori.” Sakura bit her bottom lip but said the words with her eyes on his.

She saw the emotion moving in his eyes and closed hers. It was too much, he was too intense, too honest and too...she could see it now, what she hadn’t seen before...he was so in love with her he could barely stand it. “I want to show you how much I...how I feel about you.”

Sasori closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes to see little fingers plucking at the buttons of his shirt, one by one they were undone and he shucked the shirt from his shoulders and onto the floor. He unbuttoned his own pants, and removed them with his under garment, his eyes never leaving hers.

“Can we, um, can we just lay together for a bit, like this naked I mean, but not uh…” Sakura blushed, her eyes looking at the puppet above his fireplace for a distraction.

“We can, and if that is all we do, that is more than I could expect.” He laid down beside her, his hand moving slowly up and down her body.

Sakura sighed at his touch, her skin tingling at his touch, her pulse racing. “Kiss me Sasori.” Her hands reached out for him, wrapping around his neck and drawing him over, on top of her.

There was a desire in her that she wanted to test. His kiss was different from the kiss Gaara had given her. She blushed at the thought. She hadn’t wanted to kiss Gaara, perhaps that was why, but she wanted to kiss Sasori and she wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him to...Sakura licked her lips after drawing back from his kiss.

“I’m ready...just, could you go slow, just uh, maybe a little at a time?” Sakura tightened her arms around his neck in her nervousness when he nodded.

She had no idea if he was well endowed or not, she had nothing to compare it to, but she had looked down when he had taken his pants off and had her doubts as to weather or not it would fit into her smaller body.

Sasori couldn’t speak, his mouth had gone dry when she had told him she wanted him, that she was willing and ready for him to, try…he nodded again, kissing her deeply, moving over her body, resting his weight on his right arm once more he moved the weight of his sex in between her legs...his swollen tip resting against her entrance as her kissed her for a few more moments before letting his left hand drift along the side of her body, down to her inner thigh, then back up again to cup her warmly in between her legs.

Her breath caught in her throat when his fingers pushed the lips to her virgin entrance aside, one finger slipped inside of her slick very slowly, his thumb rubbing back and forth over the sensitive nerves just above his penetrating finger.

She moaned into his kiss, she had never felt anything like it. There was a tingly cold feeling shooting down her legs that made her toes curl and flex in a most exciting way. She felt like she couldn’t breath when he pushed another finger into her and curled them upward, gripping her heat to his palm, she sucked air into her lungs she didn’t know it could feel like this.

“Sasori.” She whispered, half choked. “I, it feels so, ungh.” She was panting into his mouth as he continued to move his fingers inside of her, stretching her, curling and twisting inside of her pushing up against her walls.

She could feel her wet running down the inside of her leg and hoped he wasn't repulsed. It made her feel a little dirty, a little more than wanton...she arched her back as an unfamiliar swooping of her stomach took over her fragile mental state. There was a pressure building up inside of her, she didn’t know what to do so she gripped his hair in her hands and panted more forcefully into his kiss that was becoming more and more sloppy by the second as she bucked up into his hand.

“Please…” She begged him but she didn’t know what she was begging him for until…”Sa sori ugnh!” Her eyes closed shut, she held her breath and pulled his head back forcefully making him grunt with his own pleasure at pushing her over the edge for her first time, their first time.

“Sakura, are you alright dear? I didn’t hurt you did I?” Sasori was worried, she had sounded so strangled like he had hurt her or had done something that might have. His eyes darted back and forth over her face, he pushed himself up over her body and looked down between them, drawing his soaked hand from between her legs.

“Oh.” He said, pleased. A smirk forming on his face. “I made you come dear.”

He was smirking, but she didn’t care. He could be proud of himself, it had felt wonderful. Sakura stretched her toes out and flexed her fingers, wrapping her hands back up in his hair and pulling him back down into a slow sultry kiss. “I think you did. Make me come again Sasori.”

His eyes snapped to hers, he had never heard anything so sexy before in his life. “I plan to.” He growled and pulled her closer, crushing her smaller form with his own.

“Move your legs apart a bit.” Sasori nudged her legs with his knee and pressed his hips into her thigh. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Sakura nodded, her eyes opening and closing in intervals as his mouth and hands moved continuously over her skin. She opened her legs to him, his hands came up immediately and pushed them farther apart much to her embarrassment. “Sasori I.”

“Trust me.” He kissed her, then ducked his head to see what he was doing. “I promised.” He reminded her.

Sasori lined his swollen and dripping member up to her similarly wet entrance and slowly pushed his head into her. Sakura mewled and squirmed a bit underneath him making him press into her a little more without meaning to. Her body stiffened and froze, he looked back up to her face to assure her he wouldn’t go any further, until she was ready, but she didn’t look frightened she looked...confused.

“Isn’t it...supposed to hurt?” She asked him.

“Well, yes, but I am not in very far, perhaps if I keep going?” He closed his eyes as the walls of her inner sanctum flexed and pulled at his head. “Fuck, that feels so good.”

Sakura giggled a little, dislodging him from her body completely. Sasori moved his hand back to his cock and lined it up again, pressing into her softness a little more, a little farther, then looking up to judge her reaction. “Should I…” He thought maybe it was best if he just did it, thrust all the way in, but he didn’t want to scare her.

Sakura had her eyes screwed up tight and her fists were tugging on his hair on his head. “Do it, please just get it over with and push all the way in Sasori.”

“Are you sure?” He wanted to make sure, if he hurt her without her permission, it would ruin everything he had worked for, he would lose her trust and her trust was more important to him than...this...no matter how good it felt, and it did feel good, really fucking good.

“Do it!” Sakura almost snapped at him.

It was instinct he thought, but he wasn’t sure. She had snapped ‘Do it!’, so he did. With one quick thrust he snapped his hips up, pushed past her proof of virginity and almost cried out in the pleasure it had brought him. She...had no such reservations. Sakura cried out loudly, her hips coming up to meet his, her fingers left his hair to scratch bloody ribbons down his back and her ankles locked with his, making him collapse on top of her, knocking the wind out of her.

“Fuck me.” Sakura moaned into his neck before he could lift himself from her.

Sasori chuckled at her enthusiasm. “It didn’t hurt?” He asked pushing up from her, balancing his weight on his forearms.

“A little but not as much as my friend told me it would.” Sakura blushed, realizing he was still inside of her. She winced a little but it really didn’t hurt too bad. She could feel the walls of her body flex and move, making the adjustments to his size and length. “I’m okay.” She brought her head up from the pillow and kissed him.

He was glad. He had been a little more than worried she would want to stop. He felt her shift her weight, dig in with her heels into the bed and push up against him, he moaned as she drew him into her, deeper...with force.

“Sakura…” He began.

“Move Sasori, move in me.” She breathed out, her voice a seductive plea, want dripping for each syllable.

Sasori slid one arm under her back and another under her thigh and pulled her up into his hard cock roughly. She squeaked but didn’t protest at his rough handling. He bowed his head as pleasure shot through his groin into his abdomen. “Sakura.” He moaned, drawing his head out of her, then pushing back in hard.

“Ah...Sasori yes, please.” Again, she briefly wondered what it was she was pleading for, but then he moved again, pulling out of her to the tip of his cock and pushing back into her hard. She couldn’t tell who was grunting or moaning the other’s name more but she didn’t care. Over and over he took her, pushing her, moving her beyond...until she felt that pressure again, low and deep inside of her body.

“Sasori I think...I’m close to...it’s so good and…” Sakura couldn’t complete her sentences, she couldn’t focus because all she could see, smell and taste, was Sasori. All she could feel was him on top of her, inside of her, pulsating in side her and she couldn’t bring herself to care about anything else as her head rolled from side to side, her hair catching in the moisture of her open mouth, her cry, her plea soundlessly calling out to him.

“I love you Sakura.” Sasori’s movements were less fluid and more jerky, as if he were barely able to control the movements of his body as his member pulsed and throbbed within her. He could feel the pull of her walls, the tightening of muscles she didn’t even know she had until he had touched them, and then like an explosion of light in the back of his head, he came, thrusting hard and fast into her, biting down on her neck drawing blood.

“Mine.” He moaned. “Forever.” He promised her.

Sakura tightened her grip on her lover, her nails digging into his back, blood running down the sides dripping onto her and soaking into the sheets. She felt a pain somewhere deep inside, a place she had never known existed until that moment he had come inside of her, until he had made it his place, theirs...together.

“I love you.” The words came out of her mouth before she had ever realized she had said them.

Chapter Text

Obito watched Itachi shift in his seat in the rear view. ‘Was the man going to...oh shit he was.’, Obito groaned. This was not how he had wanted this to go, he hadn’t planned on Itachi Uchiha, doing...this.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing Itachi?” Madara stared down the barrel of the gun his eldest nephew had pointing at him in the back of his limo.

“Bringing Sakura back when she clearly doesn't want to come back to the Uchiha is wrong and I am not going to let you force her, to come back or to have sex with you.” Itachi said evenly, calmly, his hand steady, the safety off on his gun.

Madara didn’t look over his shoulder at Obito, his eyes narrowed. “So, Obito told you, did he? Two traitors to their blood. I admit, I am...disappointed in both of you.” He sighed, as if he were the one holding the gun and not the one who had the gun pointed at his face.

“Tobirama Senju told me, he was there, when Izuna died, remember Madara?” Itachi continued their conversation as though he were discussing the weather. “Obito told me nothing.”

“Tobirama? Why would Tobirama be talking to you about such things...oh I see.” Madara smiled a condescending smile at Itachi.

“He’s using you to get to me is he? I would have expected you to see through a manipulating Senju but I suppose my previous statement holds false. You really are more like your dimwitted useless father aren’t you...Itachi.” Madara taunted. “Well, go ahead Itachi, pull the trigger, you have me where you want me don’t you?”

Obito slid his hand into his suit coat and laid his pistol on his lap. Itachi was fast, but Obito had been with Madara for the past ten years and knew...Madara was faster. Much faster.

“I knew Tobirama was using me. Madara. His hatred for the Uchiha is legendary, so I, in turn, used him.” Itachi cleared his throat.

“Where are the files Sakura left at your home, the ones on the research her parents had, and about the medical experiments they conducted on her without her knowing?” Itachi asked.

Madara narrowed his eyes...it happened so fast. Itachi blinked. Madara took his gun from his hand, raised the gun to Itachi’s face and pulled the trigger.

BANG!

“Shit!” Itachi clutched the fabric of his shirt in his fists as he slowly released them to pat himself down. Where was he shot? He must be in shock, he couldn’t feel the wound...why wasn't he dead? Madara had the gun pointed at his face...

Madara’s grin was wild and grotesque, blood poured from his unresistant lips, fell down the front of his suit coat and pooled in his lap. Madara Uchiha, was dead, shot through the neck by Obito Uchiha, who had one hand on the wheel and the other on the gun he had used to shoot Madara before he could shoot Itachi.

“You’re going to help me dig his grave, you know.” Obito pulled off to the side of the road and leaned back over the seat to look Itachi in the eye.

“Don’t look so surprised. I have been planning his death for years, you just almost ruined it, but now I know I can trust you...enough I suppose. I’m glad, I didn’t want to kill you Itachi, but I would have, if you had gotten in my way.” Obito grinned at him.

“You.” Itachi pushed the now slumped over body of Madara Uchiha off of his legs and opened the car door to move into the front passenger’s seat.

“Me.” Obito winked at the younger man. “Come on, I already have the shovels in the trunk and a space picked out for him.”

“Right.” Itachi pulled the elastic from his low ponytail and ran his hands through his hair. “Let’s go.”

Kankuro tapped the code into the pad for the garage and pulled his car in. It was good to be back in Suna. He had been annoyed when his brother had sent him back to Konoha right when they had just returned home but now...he had other things on his mind like...why the fuck would Gaara give the contracts back to the slaves and free them. Why didn’t he keep them for himself? Or at least a few of them...

It didn’t make any sense to him. Kankuro was just about to push the thought from his mind when he saw his brother leaning up against the inside of the garage in the dark. Gaara hadn’t seen him yet, so he ducked behind a bunch of old car covers and old cleaning supplies to watch him.

Gaara was pacing, holding his head and mumbling...an apology? Kankuro had seen his brother do some really cruel and fucked up things before, but he had never seen him...apologize to anything or anyone before. He had never seen him so distressed either.

His head snapped up, he had heard a name…

“Sakura, oh kami, what have I done...she’ll never forgive me but Uncle, he’ll...he’ll…I’ve been trying so hard, trying to be a better man for her...trying...” Gaara, pulled on his hair and walked back and forth, back and forth completely at war with himself.

Kankuro leaned back against the wall and processed what his brother had just said. He had done something to Sakura...and their Uncle would kill him for it?

“Oh shit.” Had he...no impossible...he would be dead by now, his Uncle would have found that out right away, the woman would have told him...so…unless she was already dead.

Gaara kicked the side of the wall in his frustration and left the garage, his head still in his hand mumbling to himself.

Kankuro needed to find out what had happened, it wouldn’t be easy but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t done before. It was what had kept him and Temari alive this long around his brother and his Uncle. Sometimes it paid to know how to break codes. He would simply look at the tapes from his brother and Sakura’s rooms. They hadn’t been home that long and it clearly had just happened.

Looking back and forth to make sure Gaara was gone, he opened the side door to the garage and made his way to the manse undetected.

An hour later Kankuro clicked off the screens in his office and sat back in his chair. “Oh shit.”

Gaara had attacked Sakura and she had...calmly told him to stop and he...had stopped. Kankuro looked back up at the now black monitor and rubbed his chin with one hand, then his face with both hands. Gaara had told her that he loved her and had stopped when she had told him to stop…

What was more was the woman hadn’t seemed scared or repulsed only...sympathetic as though she understood Gaara. No one understood Gaara, no one but Sasori had ever had the power to control Gaara and make him stop when he was in a fit of passion or anger or...lust and his brother had clearly wanted the woman but had backed off...when she asked him to.

This was a monumental moment, as far as Kankuro was concerned, this meant something. Maybe his brother could be saved, maybe this woman could help them...be a family again. Kankuro brought the video feed back up on the screen, erased the feed after Gaara had told Sakura he would have her boxes sent up, and looped it back to when Sakura was organizing her paperwork on her bed. His Uncle would never know, could never know.

Sakura smiled as Sasori held her. “That was nice.” She sighed.

“It was.” He agreed, kissing her neck lightly, just above her bandage. He had let the issue lay for the time but he could no longer ignore an injury, not now after they had been so intimate together. He had a right to know now. “Sakura, tell me what happened to your neck.”

“It’s nothing Sasori , just silliness.” She snuggled closer to his chest burying her face against his soft skin.

“Sakura, I would like to know what happened and I want to know why you won’t tell me.” Sasori drew back from her and tilted her face up with the back of his hand so he could judge her reaction to his words. Why would she keep something like this from him?

“Sasori.” Sakura knew to look away meant guilt and to keep denying him prompted more suspicion. She sighed and reached up to pull the bandage from her neck, and waited.

Sasori watched the bandage come away from her flawless skin and blinked. “What is it?” He asked her, lifting his own hand from her chin to trace an invisible X over the skin that had been covered by the bandage.

Sakura looked up at him, willing herself not to burst out in a frantic explanation or a plea for Gaara’s safety...and saw nothing but confusion in Sasori’s beautiful amber eyes as he traced the outline of where the bandage used to be.

“There’s nothing there.” He looked back into her eyes questioning her with a look.

“Are you sure?” Sakura pulled away from him and moved off the bed to the mirror over his dresser, turned her head to the side and gasped. There was nothing there. Gaara’s bite mark had completely disappeared. “It’s gone…”

Sasori had followed her, naked across the room and stood behind her, his arms crossed in front of her, holding her around the waist. “What was there? What happened?” He asked her, watching her in the mirror.

“A reaction, nothing more but it shouldn’t be gone not yet, do you think it is because of the experiments because of what, who I am?” She turned in his arms, her naked breasts pressing up against his bare chest. She blushed. She had forgotten they were still naked she had panicked momentarily when he had pressured her about her injury.

“It’s possible and I would say likely.” Sasori didn’t know if she was purposefully trying to change the subject or if she was being completely sincere. “I don’t want you to hide things from me Sakura, not now. We are connected now you understand, in a way only a man can be connected to one woman and she to him.”

“I’m sorry Sasori. I wasn’t really trying to hide it from you, it just, wasn’t a big deal.” Sakura felt guilty, but to tell him meant telling him Gaara had attacked her and that meant...death for the man. She could help Gaara, she knew she could, he listened to her. If she had told Sasori what he had done...there would be no help for him.

“There is more to this I can tell. I do not know why you feel the need to keep the whole truth from me but I will let you come to me when you are ready, providing you do come to me eventually. You’re not hurt, the mark is gone, but I know something was there and you will tell me what it was...in time.” Sasori kissed her gently on the corner of her mouth. “There can be no secrets in this marriage.”

“Marriage?” Sakura squeaked. “We’re not married, Sasori.”

“Yes we are.” Sasori looked down at her. “You, didn’t know.” He said quietly. Smirking at the wideness of her eyes.

“Know what?” She pulled away from him, moving back toward his bed and pulling the covers up over her nakedness.

“I’m the Prince and there is no contender, once I marry I officially become the sole ruling body, and once I lie with a woman, she becomes my wife. We’re married now.” He climbed into bed with her, smoothing her hair down around her face. “I thought you knew of our customs.”

“You were a virgin and…” He paused. “Do you regret sleeping with me now? You told me you loved me, was that just in the moment or do you really love me Sakura because I really do love you.”

Sakura looked at the man beside her, naked and marked with their shared passion. The blood she had drawn from his body while they had coupled was dried now and flaking off of his smooth skin but it was evidence of their connection and she couldn’t deny what she had said to him. The way she felt about him was more than friendship, more than...curiosity.

“I do love you Sasori, but isn’t it too soon. Marriage is…we just started so see where this would go.” She protested.

“Forever. I thought I had made my feelings for you clear. This was never anything temporary for me Sakura.” He waited for her to respond. Would she accept this, him and everything that came with it...or would she run.

“So, that’s what you meant when you told me to think about it. To tell you later if I was really willing to accept everything you had to offer me.” She understood now.

“I love you, there will never be anyone else for me, but you.” He continued to wait, reaching out his hand to her.

Sakura licked her bottom lip, then took it in between her teeth and chewed nervously. Was she ready for this? Could she tie herself down to this man after she had finally found her freedom from the Uchiha? “One condition.” She met his eyes.

“Condition?” Sasori frowned at her. His love for her was unconditional.

“A request then.” Sakura smiled, more confidently.

“Changing the word does not necessarily change the meaning dear.” Sasori wasn’t sure he was going to like this request.

“I want to help Gaara control his insanity.” She said seriously.

“No.” He didn’t like this at all. How did she know, she didn’t know. He squeezed her hand. “What do you know of his insanity?”

“I know he is trying and has been trying to control it. It’s hard for him. I think that killing for you and lack of interaction with others has stunted him emotionally.” She tried to explain the feelings behind her request. She had read about it in the many books she has received over the years from Madara. She was confident that she understood what was going on in his head.

“No, that is, a bad idea.” Sasori knew the boy couldn’t be cured of his...desires and urges…. It was something he had been born with.

“I want to try.” Sakura insisted.

Sasori sighed and leaned back against his headboard, her hand still in his and really thought about her request. Gaara’s issues weren’t like a bad habit, they were deeply ingrained in the boy’s psyche. However, Gaara had refused the contracts he had given them. He had sent Kankuro with the contracts and had freed the women from their slavery. Perhaps he was trying to change. “I will think about it.”

“...and I will think about marrying you.” Sakura smiled.

“We are married, there is nothing to think about.” Sasori pulled her on top of him by the arm and settled her over his middle, his hands clasped behind her back as she straddled him.

“Do I need to take you to bed again to prove it to you?” He smirked, rocking upward and kissing the soft spot in between her breasts.

Sakura laughed, leaned forward and kissed him. “Maybe.” She winked at him playfully, canting her hips back and forth over his rapidly hardening member.

Itachi leaned against the shovel while Obito threw the last of the dirt over top of the newly dug grave. It wasn’t as deep as it should have been but it was only a temporarily resting spot for the former clan leader. They would come back and dig him up later once all the chaos settled down.

“Ready to tell the family?” Obito used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow and ginned at Itachi.

“There has never been better news to tell them.” Itachi took Obito’s shovel and threw it in the trunk with his own and got into the passenger seat.

“Let’s just get this over with.” Obito said. “Sakura might need us soon. I want things settled at home in case we need to go to Suna.”

“Do you think she’s in trouble?” Itachi was pretty sure Sasori wouldn’t hurt her, but he wasn’t sure about his nephew. Did Obito know?

“Naw, it isn’t that. I mean, Akasuna won’t hurt her, she belongs there and all. She’ll be happy there ya know, with her family.” Obito grinned as he stepped on the gas. “I mean, there is going to be a lot of questions from Naruto and Sasuke. It’s about time Naruto found out what kinda shit his parents were involved in and why they died too.”

“Ah.” Itachi said thoughtfully. “You know about Sakura and…”

“More than you. Like I said, it’s about time everyone knows huh.” Obito sped down the road back to Konoha. “This conflict never needed to happen but at least one good thing came from it. The Senju and the Uchiha alliance. It’s time to set the other one in motion as well. Akasuna was never our enemy, Madara made him the enemy.” Obito refused to say more but Itachi thought he understood.

He knew that Akasuna had reached out to Madara near on seven years ago and had requested to meet to discuss an alliance but Madara had refused. Given the recent events, Itachi couldn’t help but wonder if...the man had made the gesture for Sakura. Akasuna was known for his foresight. Itachi laughed at himself internally, there’s no way the man could have planned this, not that far back. He couldn’t possibly have known all this would happen, what Sakura was or how things would play out.

No one was that good...Itachi watched the trees fly by...no one.

Hashirama looked down at his phone, the man hadn’t called him back and he couldn’t help but wonder why. He had always called him back promptly, just as interested in an alliance between the families as Hashirama was. Brown eyes rose to look out the window of his office. It had been nearly seven years since their father had died, seven years since Tobirama had turned down the requested alliance.

Madara hadn’t returned his call from earlier that day either, but Hashirama knew he had buried his brother that morning and wasn’t worried. Madara would call him when he was able. Hashirama wanted peace. He didn’t want to die with regrets like his father and he didn’t want Tobirama to die with regrets either. Mostly, if he was honest though, he didn’t want his best friend since his childhood to die with more regrets than he already had.

Hashirama knew Madara. Something wasn’t right about him. This woman, this Sakura had become a gross obsession for him. Hashirama could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice, his friend was slowly going mad. Tobirama wouldn’t listen to him, wouldn’t take the steps that needed to be taken for peace. So he had. Hashirama had reached out his hand with the olive branch and the man had accepted it, gingerly...and with conditions.

One of the conditions being that Tobirama Senju return the files he had stolen from the Suna Medical Research Center, over six years ago.

Hashirama wasn’t worried about some old research papers, he was worried about what Madara would say or do once he found out that he, Hashirama, had instigated this alliance. Would he break the alliance with the Senju? Hashirama wasn’t sure. He used to be able to tell what Madara would do, he used to be able to see his true soul...but now, no...he had no idea what Madara would do when he found out his best friend had reached out to seek an alliance with his greatest enemy.

“Oh shit.” Hashirama slammed his head against the surface of his desk. “What will Tobirama do?”

“What will Tobirama do about what?” Tobirama looked at his brother suspiciously from the door to his office that he had just opened and caught his brother unawares.

“Um.” Hashirama lifted his head from his desk and blinked at his brother who had suddenly appeared before him.

“Hashirama, what have you done?” Tobirama crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at his sputtering older brother in dismay.

Chapter Text

“You did what!” Tobirama’s deep voice filled the room. He wasn’t sure he had heard his brother correctly...he hoped he hadn’t heard him correctly.

“It is what is best for everyone, don’t you see Tobirama? This could work, it really could, just think about it! If we form an alliance with Akasuna then...” Hashirama had his hands up in front of himself, waving them back and forth as though erecting an invisible force field in front of himself, to protect himself from his younger brother’s ire.

Tobirama’s eye twitched. He had heard him correctly.

“Have you lost your damn mind? How dare you get involved in things you do not understand.” Tobirama would have shot him, if Hashirama hadn’t been his brother...he would be dead, right now, dead.

“No, Tobi. It’s you who doesn’t understand. Peace is what’s needed.” Hashirama said to his brother, his eyes watery and imploringly large. He was serious. “You said you wanted peace but that it wasn’t possible, this will make it possible.” Hashirama insisted.

“Madara Uchiha will die before he makes peace with Suna, have you not heard anything that has been going on since you seem to think yourself capable of making decisions like this in the name of the family. Do you know that Madara Uchiha has vowed to kill Sasori of the Red Sand and his entire family? How the hell will it bring about peace if the Senju reach out for an alliance with the Akasuna? It won’t! It will bring Madara Uchiha down on us like the mad lunatic he is and end the alliance we have barely held for the last six years!”

His brother knew nothing. Hashirama had no idea how hard it had been to maintain civility between the clans for the last six years. There had been skirmishes, close calls and blatant insubordination on both ends. The alliance had barely survived, was barely surviving and now his hair brained elder brother goes and does something like this...like this without even consulting him...of all the...urgh.

Tobirama couldn’t believe his brother’s stupidity. The man was single handedly going to throw the entire underground into another bloody war, perhaps even more bloody than the one that had just ended in the not so distant past, and it wouldn’t only be the Uchiha that took exception to the Senju aligning themselves with Akasuna.

The long standing peace between the Inuzuka would be threatened, between the Hyuuga and the Sarutobi clan, but had Hashirama thought of that? No, because he simply didn’t understand what went on in his world, Tobirama’s world, not Hashirama’s world...

Tobirama’s phone rang but he ignored it to continue glaring at his brother. He would make him understand.

“Madara wants peace. I know it.” Hashirama said meekly under his brother’s heated gaze. It had been their dream since they had been children. Universal peace between all of the clans.

“No he doesn’t. He wants Akasuna’s head on a pole in his front yard.” Tobirama bit back his anger, his phone had started ringing again. “This isn’t over.” He told his brother, pulling his phone from his pocket.

“What?” Tobirama growled into his phone. His eyes narrowed and he began to tap his foot.

“Are you sure?” His voice changed suddenly at whatever the person on the other end of the line had told him, making Hashirama scoot around his desk to stand beside him, something had happened. Something important.

Tobirama listened to the person on the other end of the line for a few more minutes, nodding every once in a while. The brief look of surprise that had crossed his face was being replaced with one of concentration and calculation. “I want a man over there, we need proof of this development, proof do you understand?”

Hashirama watched his brother end his call and carefully slide his phone back into his pocket. He wouldn’t look at him. “Tobi? What is it?” He asked him.

Tobirama didn’t want to respond rashly, he would have liked to have had more time to think about his answer but…if what his scout had told him was true then...well, it changed everything, for all of them. It was a bold statement to make, claiming that Madara Uchiha was dead, his scout wouldn’t have called him if he hadn’t already been sure.

Tobirama looked at his brother, did he know...no, he would have tried to stop them. This couldn’t be a coincidence though, it seemed too well thought out, too easy, too orchestrated...could Sasori have...impossible. Tobirama scoffed at his own line of thinking. He was giving the man too much credit.

”Make the alliance with Akasuna, Hashirama. I will stand with you.” His hand came up and rested momentarily on his elder brother’s shoulder. Perhaps it was a sign...that it was time for peace after all.

“They want the research papers that you stole back, the ones from the Suna Medical Research Center, Tobi.” Hashirama turned to watch his brother move toward his office door quickly, then stop at his words. What had made Tobi change his mind, he wondered. What was so important about those papers that they were a contingency to peace? “What did you steal from them Tobi, what was the research on?”

“Does he.” Tobirama almost laughed, Hashirama didn’t need to know, it wasn’t any of his business. “Of course he does, to give to her no doubt.”

“Her?” Hashirama didn’t understand. He watched as Tobirama shook himself, as though coming to a conclusion or a decision of some sort.

“Yes.” Was all his younger brother said to him before turning his back to him.

Tobirama opened the door and left his brother in his office to ponder his cryptic words, he had so much more to do now, than he had before stopping in to see his brother. What was the difference between one devil and another? They were simply trading Madara for Akasuna in Tobirama’s opinion, but at least there would be one less devil among them, if it was true.

Overall, this might be the best possible outcome, Tobirama thought.

Hashirama continued to look at the door to his office. His brother was gone. Tobirama had told him to make the alliance...with Akasuna. He thought he would have to convince him more, this seemed...too easy. It was because of the phone call Tobirama had gotten he was sure of it. Hashirama pulled his desk phone closer to him, hesitating only briefly before quickly punching in the numbers.

Sakura told him that she wanted to help his nephew control his emotions. Did she really understand what that meant, the possible danger involved with such a request? He thought not but...Gaara had been acting differently lately. His eyes weren’t as cold, he didn’t disappear for hours at a time but read in his room instead, could be accounted for, and clearly he liked Sakura enough to talk to her openly...well more openly than he had seen the boy talk to anyone before her.

Gaara was his nephew, perhaps he owed him the opportunity to become something more. The boy had shown great promise and wisdom when he had turned down Sasori’s offer. The man had been thinking ahead and had made a good call.

He and Sakura were married now, whether she had understood the Suna custom or not, it would be good for the man to learn how to function in society safely. Sasori knew once he and Sakura were married that he would have to close down some of his less than legal companies. She wouldn’t approve of many of them. He had plenty of money and land, he really didn’t need half of the companies he had acquired or taken over, he and Sakura could still live comfortably without his holdings in Oto for example, or Konoha if he were honest.

Sasori chuckled. He had only moved into Oto to push Madara Uchiha out. The man had insulted him by rudely denying his alliance proposal. A proposal he had only offered to get closer to Sakura, to have an excuse to talk to her openly, for her to get to know him better. Now that he had her...he didn’t need those holdings anymore.

Sasori rose from his desk. He had left Sakura in her bedroom after they had showered together. She had wanted to go over her parent’s research papers again before dinner. He would go speak with his nephew, tell him his plan, and see if the man was receptive to the idea. Gaara would stay here in Suna while she started her studies under his grandmother, Lady Chiyo. Meanwhile, Sasori would go personally to Oto and close down all of his holdings.

Before he could leave his office however, his phone rang. “Yes?” Sasori answered his phone.

“Mr. Tobirama Senju is on line one Uncle.” Temari’s voice came through the receiver.

“Put him through.” Sasori sat on the edge of his desk and waited for the line to click over. “To what do I owe the pleasure Senju?”

“Akasuna. I heard my brother reached out to you with an alliance proposal.” Tobirama began shortly.

“He did, and?” Sasori smirked into the receiver. “Are you calling to tell me you’re not willing to break your alliance with the Uchiha to join in an alliance with me? I said as much to your brother but he seems to think Madara will have a change of heart for peace.” Sasori said sarcastically.

“Madara Uchiha is dead. I have had a man tailing him since he stepped foot back in the Land of Fire and he just told me that Madara Uchiha was shot and killed, buried and left to rot in the woods by his driver Obito Uchiha and Itachi Uchiha.” Tobirama deadpanned.

Sasori stood up abruptly. “Dead?”

“Dead.” Tobirama agreed.

“Your proof?” Sasori asked much more casually than he felt. His heart pounded in his chest. Madara Uchiha was dead, Sakura was safe, and the elder Senju was offering them an alliance...he of course, was immediately suspicious. This seemed too good to be true.

“I hold in my hand, his mother’s ring, pulled from his dead lifeless fingers by my tail as well as a picture of the man buried face down in the dirt of an unmarked grave.” Tobirama replied.

“Interesting. I, of course, will need proof of my own. Coordinates?” Sasori narrowed his eyes. That wasn’t proof enough for him, but it was a start. “The alliance?”

Tobirama paused. “I will give them to you with the understanding that the body is not...abused in any way. In his time Madara was a worthy adversary.” He said clearly.

“You have my word Senju.” Sasori hummed to himself. Admirable.

“It is my understanding you want the papers I stole from Suna several years back is that right?” Tobirama asked, his voice tight.

“It is.” Sasori smirked into the line again, he could tell that the man didn’t want to give them up and he couldn’t quite blame him, but they didn’t belong to him. They belonged to Sakura.

“For Sakura I assume?” Tobirama’s voice had grown icy, something that had not gone unnoticed by Sasori.

“Of course. She deserves to have everything her parents left her, don’t you agree?” Sasori met him tone for tone.

“I will give them to her, in person.” Tobirama agreed, the papers were hers. She deserved to have them in her possession, he had meant to give them to her before she had left only he hadn’t had the opportunity. “In exchange, you will close your holdings in Konoha.”

The line went silent. “No.”

“No you will not close your foothold in Konoha, or no you do not wish for me to give Sakura the papers in person?” Tobirama was getting annoyed.

“No you can not give them to her in person, there is no need. I will send my eldest nephew Kankuro to pick them up from you and then he will close both MedCore Financial in Konoha and all of my medical facilities research and non.” Sasori countered.

“No. I insist on giving the papers to Sakura in person for two reasons. Firstly, I want her to know I had them and am willingly giving them to her. Secondly, I want to see her with my own eyes to know she is with you of her own free will, that she is safe and happy.” Tobirama said with a little force. This was important to him, he wouldn’t let this go. He still wasn’t completely convinced she was with him willingly even if she had waved to him from the helicopter.

Besides, now that Madara Uchiha was dead...he thought she might want to come back home, to Konoha where she belonged. She could take his brother up on his internship and finish her schooling, maybe work at the Konoha Hospital. Akasuna’s arrogant voice brought him out of his thoughts.

“...and if I refuse?” Sasori’s voice was bored, but Tobirama could detect the slightest edge to it. The man was angry that he wanted to see Sakura..that he thought he had a right to see her.

“If you refuse my more than reasonable terms...I will refuse to adhere to the terms of the alliance, no matter what my brother and you agree upon. I am the leader of the Senju syndicate, Hashirama might be the eldest, but I run our family businesses in the underground. Hashirama had no right to contact you and make any proposals to you.” Tobirama said flatly.

Sasori tapped his finger against his knee thinking. A shallow chuckle escaped his lips. “Sakura certainly does choose her allies wisely, clever girl. Fine. In two weeks. See you when you get to Suna...Senju San.” Sasori hung up his phone, this was getting...interesting.

Madara Uchiha was dead was he? He would speak to Gaara, then find his other nephew Kankuro. He wanted proof of his own. This could work out to his advantage. He would close down his holdings in both Oto and Konoha. Sakura would be in Suna finishing her degree, then in a year they could start a family. He could stay in Suna with his wife, there would be nothing to take him away from her side. Sasori smiled to himself as he walked down the hall, then the stairs, to Gaara’s room.

“Gaara? Can I talk to you?” Kankuro stuck his head in through the open door of his brother’s room and saw Gaara sitting in one of the chairs by his window reading.

Gaara nodded, setting his book down on the small table provided and looked at his older brother who had walked across his room and had sat down in the chair opposite him.

“I erased the video of, uh you know. You and Sakura. Uncle doesn’t need to know okay?” Kankuro flinched as Gaara quickly rose to his feet and took an aggressive step toward him.

“Sakura?” Gaara asked, his eyes narrowed on his brother.

“When you attacked her, in her room...uh on accident.” Kankuro added the last part quickly as his brother began to rise from his chair again.

“Why?” Gaara had stopped, his fist dropping to his side, sitting back down in his chair and looking at his brother with great suspicion. “Why would you do that for me?”

Shit, he was going to hit me, Kankuro swallowed hard and tried to smile a little. “I see that you're getting better, you’re, you know, not as cruel and I think...you could keep going, you know?”

Gaara blinked. “Keep going?” Kankuro was...trying to help him, he had confidence in him?

Kankuro was terribly nervous. His brother and him had never talked like this, maybe it was a testament to how much Sakura had already begun to change him he wasn’t sure but it was worth it in the end if she succeeded. He and Temari would have their brother back.

“Yeah you know. Try for what you want, what you need, you know what I mean?” Kankuro said quickly.

Gaara still didn’t fully understand why his brother was doing this, had done this for him. He knew that both of them, both Kankuro and Temari were terrified of him, hated him. So why, why do this for him?

“I want Sakura.” Gaara said clearly.

“I know, I uh saw, you really, love her huh?” Kankuro smiled when his brother nodded. “What about Uncle though?”

“She doesn’t love him.” Gaara said quietly.

“Right, well that’s good then but uh, he has it in his head to have her too you know right? I don’t know what to do about that but uh, look I just want you to have your fair chance. I think she likes you.” Kankuro rose from his seat. “Just think about it okay?”

Gaara nodded. “Okay.”

Sakura liked him, was that just something Kankuro was saying to give him hope or...did she really like him?

‘She didn’t scream or cry for you to let her go. She must like you.’ The voice in his head insisted.

Maybe. Gaara licked his lips and picked his book back up, trying to read as the voice continued to coo all of his wants and desires in his head. He continued to read, he didn’t want to hurt her, he truly cared about her. She was the only person to treat him like he was...someone.

Sasori saw Kankuro exiting his brother’s room as he drew near. How odd, Sasori had never known Gaara and Kankuro to converse casually before. The man was terrified of his younger brother. What would bring him to his room? “Kankuro.” Sasori stopped him in his tracks with a word.

“Uncle.” Kankuro bowed politely to his Uncle. His eye twitched.

“What were you doing in Gaara’s room?” Sasori cocked his head to the side, the man was clearly nervous, his eye was twitching. Was it from talking to his brother or was he hiding something…

“Oh, uh we were just you know, talking and stuff.” Kankuro laughed and ruffled the hair on the back of his head. “We never really talk but Gaara is, I don’t know, changing isn’t he?” Kankuro looked up and met his Uncle’s eyes briefly before looking down at the floor again.

“Indeed.” So, it was hope. Kankuro wanted his little brother back. Interesting, Sasori thought, but there were more important things to focus on at the moment. Sasori cleared his throat.

“I want you to go to the coordinates I sent you. Bring me back proof of Madara Uchiha’s death.” Sasori brushed past the brown haired man without another word and walked the few remaining paces to his youngest nephew’s room. He could hear Kankuro’s choke of surprise but ignored him, looking around the room for his youngest nephew.

Gaara was reading a book when Sasori entered, but immediately set it down, and stood politely to greet his Uncle inclining his head. “Uncle.” He greeted the other man, his voice calm and deep.

“I am considering an alliance with the Senju. Madara Uchiha has been reported dead. Kankuro has just left to get me proof.” Sasori watched his nephew who merely looked back at him per usual, his eyes slightly unfocused as though he were thinking of something else.

“Are you listening to me Gaara?” Sasori frowned. The boy seemed out of focus, distracted. In their line of business, distraction could get you killed.

“Of course Uncle.” Gaara inclined his head again, his eyes more alert, more focused.

Sasori nodded, good. “I will be leaving tomorrow for Oto. I am closing all of the Akasuna holding there and bringing back the residents that worked there under our name.” Sasori told his nephew. “I will be gone no more than a week at most.”

“Of course Uncle. I will be ready to leave in the morning.” He assumed his Uncle wanted him t o go with him as always but his Uncle stopped his thoughts with a raised hand.

“I would like you to stay here. To watch over Sakura for me.” Sasori saw the surprise in the younger man’s face, before he had time to school his face into the usual safe blank. “We are married now. She will need your protection.”

“Married?” Gaara’s voice cracked, catching Sasori’s attention, before he had fully turned to leave the room.

“Yes. As of two hours ago.” Sasori turned then and left Gaara’s room.

Gaara allowed himself to choke after he was sure his Uncle was far enough away. His hand coming to his head. “No.” he moaned. “Married?” He didn’t understand, already? It was too soon, married? To his Uncle? No… “No…” he fell to the ground holding his head. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

Did his Uncle force her? No, he wouldn’t, so she...when, after...he had kissed her, she had...kissed his Uncle and had let him...when she had stopped him from, but...damn it…

“It’s okay. Friends. We’re friends. It’s okay.” He told himself, he just wanted her friendship, that’s all he needed, he was fine, it was fine. He loved her as a friend, that’s all. It was okay.

“It’s okay.” He told himself over and over again, ignoring the screaming in his head.

Chapter Text

“Gaara? Can I talk to you?” Kankuro was looking into his room at him with a nervous twitch in his eye. What could his brother want...he never initiated conversation with him. Gaara set his book down and nodded for his brother to enter and sit in the chair across from him.

“I erased the video of, uh you know. You and Sakura. Uncle doesn’t need to know okay?” Kankuro said haltingly, then flinched as Gaara rose from his seat to punch his brother in the face.

How did he know, how did he...did he watch the video feed, was he spying on him? Gaara was furious. Furious that Kankuro would dare spy on him, furious that he had seen Sakura in a compromising position, he had seen the way his brother looked at the woman and he didn’t like it. He knew what kinds of thoughts men had about women who looked like Sakura, only he was allowed to think of her that way. Him and his Uncle... He almost growled at the thought of Kankuro entertaining such ludicrous thoughts.

No, he tried to calm himself, that wasn’t it. Why would his brother, who knew him well enough to know he would kill him for any slight, reveal something like that to him. Surely the man had seen his interest in the woman. Gaara made no effort to hide it from Kankuro, there was no need. Only his Uncle was unaware of his true feelings for Sakura.

“Sakura?” Gaara asked, his eyes narrowed on his brother.

“When you attacked her, in her room…” Kankuro looked petrified and Gaara wondered why he was telling him this. Clearly he had been watching the cameras in Sakura’s room, something he was not authorized to do, something he himself took pleasure in...but Kankuro...was on dangerous ground with this admission and would be punished.

Gaara began to rise from his chair, he would make it hurt, his brother needed to remember his place.

“...uh on accident.” Kankuro added quickly, panic in his eyes. Panic and...something else...

Gaara stopped, dropping his raised fist back down to his side as he narrowed his eyes at his brother. ‘On accident’, Kankuro had said, so his brother thought, knew that...did he know he hadn’t meant to attack her?

“Why?” Gaara asked, sitting back down in his chair and looking at his brother with great suspicion. “Why would you do that for me?”

Kankuro had never done anything but cower, run and hide from him. Why would he...help him like this, it didn’t make any sense to Gaara. Was he trying to...protect him from their Uncle? Impossible, Kankuro hated him, he wouldn’t do that.

“I see that you're getting better, you’re, you know, not as cruel and I think...you could keep going, you know?” His brother smiled nervously at him.

What? His brother...had noticed and did this to...help him? This was unexpected.

“Keep going?” He wanted him to keep trying, his brother...cared about him, after everything he had done, after what he had become over the years, his brother still...memories of them as children flashed through his head making it hurt.

He remembered playing in the huge sandbox in the inner manse court with his siblings when they were kids, when Kankuro and Temari weren’t scared of him, before they had started to distance themselves from him, when they still...loved him. Could Kankuro still…

“Yeah you know. Try for what you want, what you need, you know what I mean?” Kankuro said quickly.

Gaara hesitated. He had learned over the years that the only person he could trust was Uncle. He had learned the only strong person he could respect was Uncle...but here was his older brother, sitting in front of him, licking his lips in his nervousness, obviously terrified at his own actions but still, trying, reaching out for...him, for his little brother, for…

“I want Sakura.” Gaara said clearly. I need her, he said silently to himself.

“Same thing boy’, the voice in his head laughed at him. Was it, Gaara wondered, no...he didn’t think it was.

Love though, that wasn’t the same thing...as though Kankuro had read his mind...

“I know, I uh saw, you really, love her huh?” Kankuro smiled when his brother nodded slowly. “What about Uncle though?”

What about Uncle though, those were the same words he had been asking himself over and over. Yes, Gaara loved Sakura but he wasn’t sure what kind of love it was yet. In the books he read they talked of love frequently, he knew there were different kinds of love, he knew the love he had for her wasn’t healthy but…it could be, if he could control it...if she returned it.

‘You can’t control it’, the voice in his head cooed. ‘You want her, you want to own her, rip her, bleed her’, Gaara frowned, no...he didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted to take care of her, to talk with her and learn more about her, to enjoy the simple things like a walk in the gardens with her, to…’Kiss her and bite her and force her into submission. It’s what she wants too boy, she wants you to dominate her, she is strong willed, it thrills her’, Gaara didn’t understand how the voice in his head could think that.

‘She isn’t the meek woman everyone thought she was. Remember the car ride, how thrilled she was, the passion and excitement in her eyes? The same excitement in her eyes when you backed her up against the bed and forced her into your hand’, the voice taunted him with the memory of his hands on her skin, the taste of her mouth when he took it with his, the smell of her blood when he had bitten her…

Was there excitement in her eyes, he couldn’t remember. All he could remember was the taste of her sweet blood on his lips.

‘She wants you’, the voice insisted. ‘If she wanted your Uncle, she would have told you then, when you had your hands up her shirt, when you had your hands on her body, your fists in her hair...but she didn’t...did she’, the voice sang loudly in his head.

“She doesn’t love him.” Gaara said quietly. The voice was right, she had only told him to stop because...because he hadn’t asked? ...because he had been too fast, too sudden perhaps?

“Right, well that’s good then but uh, he has it in his head to have her too you know right? I don’t know what to do about that but uh, look I just want you to have your fair chance. I think she likes you.” Kankuro rose from his seat. “Just think about it okay?”

Think about it...what was there to think about that he hadn’t already considered. Yes, his Uncle had claimed her but he hadn’t slept with her yet, she was still free to make her own choices. She was still free to choose him if...his Uncle would never allow it. His Uncle had chosen the woman, she couldn’t say no. His Uncle always got what he wanted and he had wanted Sakura for a very long time.

He had known from the start, from the first time she had reached out to him and touched his face, that it was a losing battle but...he had never wanted anything or anyone like he had wanted her before and it wasn’t just the physical pull he felt toward her no, Sakura was a very beautiful woman...but it wasn’t just her beauty that he had been attracted to.

She was special in a way that was easily overlooked. Her sharpness of mind was hidden underneath that fly away candy floss hair, behind those sparkling green eyes. If you only looked at her and took her for face value, you would never see it. No, her real beauty lay within.

She was empathetic but not weak. She judged without being judgmental.

Gaara thought that it might be because she herself was so often underestimated that she knew not to make the same mistakes with others, that she had taught herself to see what couldn’t be seen, to hear what wasn’t said and to feel what others felt without asking, without...having to offend but by just being there, observing.

Like she had done and was doing with him. She had told him to stop, so he had. It was simple. She had his respect.

Gaara nodded. “Okay.”

Kankuro said that he wanted Gaara to have his fair chance...okay, fair chance...something he had never had before, and his brother...wanted him to have it. Kankuro gained nothing from this, he couldn’t possibly have an ulterior motive, there was no reason to put himself at risk for something so...trivial.

Gaara was surprised...Kankuro knew, he understood what this meant to Gaara, he had seen without seeing, without being told how Sakura made him feel? Gaara couldn’t be sure, but it was clear...Kankuro had just gone against their Uncle, someone he feared and with good reason. His Uncle had killed almost all of their family, members who had foolishly opposed him, members who had gone against him just like Kankuro was doing now.

This meant something…Kankuro wasn’t doing this out of fear of Gaara, he was doing it for Gaara out of, out of...what?

“Thank you.” Gaara whispered quietly, so quietly he was sure his brother hadn’t heard him. He didn’t know what else to say, he wasn’t sure how he felt right now. The voice in his head was protesting his feelings, his reasoning, the voice was trying to convince him that his brother was doing this for his own selfish gain. There was none though, Gaara told the voice. He can only be doing this for...him, for Gaara, because he cared about him.

‘Fool’, the voice said, half heartedly. ‘You’ll see. No one loves you, no one cares about you, not even that woman. She may think she cares, she may be trying to help you and sincerely care now, but you’ll see...she’s just like everyone else. Once she finds out who you really are...she will run, she will scream...she will hate you. Just. Like.. Everyone. Else.’, the voice taunted him.

“You’re wrong.” Gaara said viciously. Sakura wasn’t like that. Gaara picked the book up that he had been reading before his brother had come into his room to talk to him. “You’re wrong.” He said again and the voice fell silent.

Shortly after his brother had left his room Gaara could hear voices in the hall, his Uncle was speaking to his brother. Did his Uncle know, had he been listening to them talk...was his...brother in danger? Should he...no, he told himself, what did he care if his Uncle killed his brother.

...but he realized, he did care. Gaara swallowed. Pointless, he told himself. Just because his brother had gone out of his way to do something for him didn’t mean Gaara should go out of his way to do something pointless for his brother in return...but Sakura, she would disagree wouldn’t she. Gaara rose to his feet, setting his book down. Perhaps he should…

No. He sat back down. It wasn’t any of his business. He picked his book back up and began to read again as his Uncle entered his room. Gaara rose to his feet, inclining his head politely to his Uncle. “Uncle.” He set his book down, once again and gave his full attention to Sasori.

“I am considering an alliance with the Senju. Madara Uchiha has been reported dead. Kankuro has just left to get me proof.” Sasori said abruptly.

The Senju...allies of the Uchiha, the ones who had tried to control Sakura. Madara Uchiha had yet to pay for his crimes against the woman...Gaara wondered what this would mean for Sakura, what it would mean to Sakura if they allied themselves with the Senju and in turn with the Uchiha by association to the other clan. He didn’t think this was a good idea. Sakura wouldn’t like it.

“Are you listening to me Gaara?” Sasori frowned at him and he realized a bit belatedly he had gotten lost in his own train of thought. Something he had never done before while in the audience of his Uncle, something he would need to be careful to never do again. It would raise suspicion and cast doubt upon his character. His Uncle was an observant man, he couldn’t allow himself to show such weaknesses, it was dangerous.

“Of course Uncle.” Gaara inclined his head to his Uncle, giving him his full attention once more.

“I will be leaving tomorrow for Oto. I am closing all of the Akasuna holdings there and bringing back the residents that worked there under our name.” Sasori said. “I will be gone no more than a week at most.”

A week, Gaara wasn’t happy with this. He didn’t want to be away from Sakura for that long. They had just gotten to Suna, she didn’t know anyone there but them. Had his Uncle told her yet? Had he told her they would be leaving her alone with strangers for a week, and Oto, why was his Uncle closing their Oto holdings, they were profitable, they were flourishing. It didn’t make sense.

What had changed, what had happened to make his Uncle want to close their businesses in Oto. Sakura didn’t know about them, she wouldn’t be in Oto to see them, why would he feel the need to close such profitable branches of their enterprise? Did it really matter though, no.

“Of course Uncle. I will be ready to leave in the morning.” He didn’t want to leave Sakura alone but his place was by his Uncle’s side, for now…he would speak with Kankuro before he left. His brother would watch over the woman for him while he was away with his Uncle.
Sasori stopped his thoughts with a raised hand. “I would like you to stay here. To watch over Sakura for me.” Sasori said slowly. “We are married now. She will need your protection.”
“Married?” Gaara heard his voice crack, adrenaline rushing through his veins.

Sasori stood in his doorway, an odd expression on his face as he looked back at his nephew. “Yes. As of two hours ago.”

Gaara tried to calm his rapid breathing, willing back the choking noises in the back of his throat until he was sure his Uncle had walked far enough away and down the hall before closing his eyes and began choking on his labored breath.

‘Married, looks like you’re too late, he’s already fucked her then huh. He probably forced her, took her right out from underneath you didn’t he’, the voice taunted.

‘Right after you confessed your love to her, he took her from you. You’re weak, you’re so weak boy. If you had listened to me, if you had followed through with it, had taken her there before him, she would be married to you, not him right now wouldn’t she? You have just as much of a claim to the title Kazekage as your Uncle does. Fool’, the voice berated him relentlessly, taunting him with the words he had thought over so many times.

That’s not how I wanted her, I didn’t want to force her. I wanted her to choose me like she chose to touch me, of her own will, of her own desire, she...she cares about me, I know it! Gaara screamed at the voice in his head, willing it to shut up, to let him think. He needed to stay calm, he needed to relax.

“It’s okay. Friends. We’re friends. It’s okay.” He said to himself, muttering while holding the side of his head with one hand. “It’s okay.” He told himself over and over again.

“We have time. We will figure it out, we have time.” He said again and sat down in his reading chair. His Uncle was leaving tomorrow, in the morning and Sakura would be here with him, alone. “It will be okay.” He said again, to no one.

Kankuro’s thoughts wandered as he drove down the empty road to the marked location on his phone’s GPS. Madara Uchiha was dead. Kankuro never thought he would hear those words. The man had always been so formidable, so untouchable and elusive. He wondered who finally got him in the end. Who killed Madara Uchiha and who had told his Uncle the man was dead...

Proof, that’s what his Uncle had wanted. So, there was a possibility that it wasn’t really Madara Uchiha? No, his Uncle would have sent someone else if he thought it was a hoax or a bad lead. As much as their Uncle liked to downplay their existence or importance in his life Kankuro knew otherwise. He knew that his Uncle valued them.

Kankuro wasn’t fool enough to think that their Uncle cared about them, no, never...because it wasn’t true. Sasori did however value them as useful tools. That’s why he had sent Kankuro to check on the validity of the Uchiha clan head’s demise. He knew Kankuro would know what to look for and what Sasori was looking for.

Kankuro wasn’t Gaara, no one was as good of a killer, as loyal to Sasori as his brother was...had been, but Kankuro and Temari were good at what they did for their Uncle. There were only a few family members left in Suna. His Uncle may not show it but blood ties were important to him.

He doubted that Gaara knew the truth of their story, how Temari and him had both stayed, both pledged their loyalty to Sasori...because of him, because of their little brother. They had stayed, to protect him. It was clear to them that Gaara had chosen their Uncle instead of death and they had followed him.

It was clear that Gaara idolized the man from a very young age, but Kankuro thought that admiration was misplaced affection. It was because of the praise and attention their Uncle gave their younger brother, praise and attention their father had never given him, them...that Gaara had chosen to serve their Uncle.

...and Kankuro didn’t blame him, not really.

For many years now Kankuro and Temari had thought their brother was lost, unsalvageable...but then Sakura Haruno had come along and had given them all something they hadn’t had since their mother had been alive. Hope.

Hope that the future held more than blood, more than death for all of them. Kankuro had seen his brother smile again and wanted to see more of it. He had seen the light shine in his sister’s eyes when she looked from the woman to their brother, she saw it too, she knew. She hoped.

Kankuro frowned. Their Uncle would never give the woman up, they all knew that. Gaara had admitted that he wanted her, that he loved her but...did Gaara even know what that meant...Kankuro wasn’t sure. He had seen him with his victims, had seen his little brother demand they tell him they loved him and then he would kill them, cave the kanji for love into them sometimes, or cut them in a most disfiguring manner.

No. He wasn’t sure about anything as he pulled up to a dense overgrowth of forest on the outskirts of Fire and SouthWind country.

Kankuro looked down at his phone, a slight down turn of his mouth as he saw the radar on his GPS. “Looks like I'm walking here.”

Madara Uchiha had better be dead, this wasn’t going to be fun, Kankuro hated walking through woods and it looked like it was about to rain...