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The Shinobi Princess

Chapter Text

The loud cheers from the remaining shinobi ring in Sakura's ears as she stood, holding up her injured sensei, staring down at the two prone forms of her teammates, listening quietly to them talk. They are smiling, laughing - albeit painfully - and bleeding profusely from the holes in their bodies where their arms used to be. Each one now missing an arm. Yet they can still laugh and smile at one another as if no one else in the world mattered at that moment.

In some ways, Sakura was beyond happy that they had finally finally settled their differences and Sasuke would finally come home after so long of being away, but at the same time, the pit in her stomach that seemed to always be there whenever the situations involved Sasuke and Naruto seemed to deepen. They were a team, all four of them, but whenever something seems to involve Sasuke coming home, or really getting through to the Uchiha, it was only Naruto that could do it. Sakura, and even Kakashi, were always brushed aside. They just couldn't get through to him like Naruto could.

And in the same breath, Sasuke seems to be the only person alive that can drive Naruto to such unbelievable extremes. Naruto is willing to sacrifice just about everything for Sasuke, and while Sakura's sure that he would do so much for her too, it's not the same. No matter how hard Sakura tried, it seemed like she could never bust through this barrier that surrounded them. She would never be fast enough, or strong enough, or smart enough. Nothing she did would ultimately be enough to get her to the place where both of them were. There was a bond there that could never be severed, no matter how hard Sasuke tried to sever it. But he was able to cut ties to Sakura with a simple flick of the wrist.

When Sakura was finally ready to give up on Sasuke, telling Naruto that he didn't have to uphold the promise to her anymore, he shot her down. Sasuke was his friend and he'd never go back on his word. In a way, Sakura began to wonder if that was Naruto's vain attempt to keep Sakura part of the reason to bring Sasuke home. It was a promise to Sakura to bring him back.

But while that may have been the case in the beginning, it didn't feel so much so after a while. Sakura almost felt like his promise to her was a way of justifying his intense desire to save Sasuke and while that isn't a bad thing, it opened Sakura's eyes to the fact that neither of them would ever be hers. Forever and always, it would be about Sasuke and Naruto. Two wayward rivals-turned-friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends again finally being reunited. Two brother spirits that finally found each other and peace.

Since the beginning it's always been about them. They were the important ones. They were the ones that always mattered. Sakura was just one of the lucky ones to be part of their stories. A means to an end.

The more she thought about it, the more cruel her thoughts became. When she searched deeply into her soul, she couldn't really see anything important. Anything that someone would cling to and see as amazing or awe inspiring. She wasn't something that people strived to be with or become. She was just... just... Tsunade's student. She was just Kakashi's student. She was just Naruto's and Sasuke's female teammate.

Naruto and Sasuke were children of destiny. They were saviors.

In the end, Sakura helped them defeat Kaguya, but she can hear the people cheering the two names of the two boys in front of her. She tried to help as much as they did. But she didn't have a godly optic nor an endless amount of vitality. She was just... average.

"Sakura," Kakashi's voice pulls her from her pity party. She glances up at his now two black eyes. "Naruto and Sasuke need your help. They'll bleed out with the rate their going, dumbasses. Can you help them?"

Sakura nods mutely, pulling away from her sensei, waiting a moment to make sure he doesn't collapse before jumping down into the crater that her two teammates made and dropping down between them, putting a hand over both of the two missing appendages and sending healing chakra into them.

"We messed up, huh, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks through a pain grimace, but that smile never left his face.

"Royally," Sakura says with a touch of forced mirth. "I don't know what to do. Your arms were more likely obliterated in that attack rather than just blown off. I can't repair a limb that no longer exists," Sakura says slowly, frowning deeply. In her mind's eye, she's studying the charging boys armed with a Rasengan and a Chidori, slamming into each other. But she couldn't tell if their arms survived the attack. She looks around to see if maybe she could see them. If they did survive and were in better shape than the rest of Naruto and Sasuke, she may be able to reattach them.

"That sucks," Sasuke mutters, coughing up a bit of blood. He turns his head away from Naruto and Sakura and spits it out.

"Our bad," Naruto says jokingly.

"You mean 'Our fault'," Sasuke corrects, looking over at him.

Naruto lets out a pained laugh. "That too."

Some of the tension leaves Sakura. "Idiots," she mutters.

"I'm getting a little light headed," Naruto says through delirious giggles, forcing Sakura to focus on healing the holes in their bodies.

"That's because you're dying," Sasuke grumbles, blinking quickly as if to keep himself awake.

"Hold on, morons," Tsunade commands, walking over to them. She peers down at them with a pair of analytical brown eyes before coming up with some kind of conclusion, nodding to herself. "Sakura, seal up those wounds. We need to bring them back to the medical tents for emergency surgery."

"What are you going to do, granny?" Naruto asks, looking at her through one squinted eye. Tsunade turns around and calls over some more people to come and help out before turning and looking back at Naruto, arms crossing over her busty chest.

"I'm going to recreate arms for you two, now shut up and stay awake," Tsunade says, all business, but after a split second she offers him a kind, loving smile. "But aside from that, good job today. For everyone. We won. Congratulations!"

That brings back the cheers, louder than before, and Naruto blushes with a boyish giggle. "Gee thanks, granny."

"Yeah..." Sasuke says, blinking slowly.

People come forward, and pick up Naruto to move him toward the medical tents. Sakura was about to help them pick up and move Sasuke when he physically pulled away from her touch. At first, she thought it was an accident and reached for him again when he pulled away, again.

"Sasuke..?" Sakura says softly, eyebrows pulling together. "What... what are you doing?"

"Just heal me," Sasuke says, pulling away from everyone else that reached for him. "I don't need another arm. Just close up the hole in my arm."

Sakura starts to shake her head, unable to believe what she was hearing. Why was he turning down the opportunity to get another arm? She moves around his body to his side, so she can look into his eyes - one being pitch black and the other being his own version of the Rinnegan - and waits for him to begrudgingly stare back at her before asking, "What? Why? Lady Tsunade said-"

"I heard her," Sasuke says stiffly, grunting a bit in pain as he shifted.

"Then why don't you just-" Sakura tries again.

"Because I don't want to," Sasuke says, staring at her levelly, despite the pain he must be feeling.

"But-" Sakura tries once more, only to be interrupted again.

"Sakura," Sasuke says sharply, making her jaw snap shut immediately. Once he's sure that she won't say anything more, he continues, "I don't want it. Respect my wishes for once and give me this."

His words stung, but instead of letting it show, she just nodded, looking over at one of the medical ninja. "Let L-Lady Tsunade know of Sasuke-kun's decision. I'm going to take him to the medical tent to heal his wounds per his request. I'll be there if she needs me." She hopes no one heard her vocal slip up. She really hadn't been expecting Sasuke to say that to her.

The medical ninja around Sasuke and Sakura bow in submission and disappear. Sakura can't even raise her eyes to Sasuke's as she walks him over to his tent, since he had no interest in being carried. Naruto seeming blissfully alright with finally being allowed to be off his feet, but Sasuke appeared to want nothing to do with that. Even though Sakura can't even fathom why Sasuke didn't want Tsunade to make him an arm, she knew he would only end up hating her more for trying to force him into this.

While healing him, Sakura couldn't help but think about his words. She respected his wishes, didn't she? Well, the only one she can think of not respecting could be about his desire to leave the village, but how can he expect her to just nod and go along with that? He was freaking betraying their home and he wanted her to just hold the door open for him and wish him luck? He would have to be insane to think that she would have done that. But other than being completely against him leaving Konoha, she can't imagine another time she purposefully went against what he wanted.

He had said it often whilst still in the village and once more before he left, but his words returned to her at that moment. Annoying. He thought she was just plain annoying. And while in some aspects, she could begrudgingly accept that because she even annoyed herself at points, but there was just one thing that she just couldn't wrap her mind around.

Naruto was more against him leaving Konoha. Fought harder to bring him back and was far more annoying than her. So, why was she the enemy? How did she suddenly become the bad guy? To be honest, Sakura loves Naruto. When she told him she loved him, it was the truth, but just not the way that he maybe wanted at one point in his life.

When Sakura was younger, she loved Sasuke and had the hugest crush on him. Lee and Naruto both had crushes on her, as far as she knew. She would have had of to been blind not to notice, but she knew who she wanted. She wanted Sasuke because he was the strong, cool boy that she was always encouraged by her mother to go for. And she did grow to like him. Love him even. She was willing to sacrifice her life and live as a rouge with him when he was leaving. She begged him to let her go with, which was probably the stupidest thing she has ever done. Konoha was her home and she was willing to leave it for a boy that didn't even have the slightest bit of love for her.

As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Sakura knew the truth. It wasn't that Sasuke didn't love her. He didn't like her at all. Telling her that she annoyed him was - in some ways - his nice way of saying not a snowball's chance in hell, sweetie. And it took until just now for her to realize it. Had everyone always known that was how he felt? Did they all just pity her and think, he might grow to like her, we'd never know and just hope for the best? Were they too embarrassed to say anything on her behalf?

"Sakura-sama..?" A voice calls out to her. "Sakura-sama, are you okay?"

Sakura blinks into reality, realizing that she had paused healing Sasuke's arm somewhere in the middle of her thoughts. She looks down at Sasuke, whose pallor is nothing favorable, to see him staring forward vacantly, too deep in his own thoughts to even notice that he was practically still bleeding out. Sakura's hands, hovering over his stump, start to shake a bit at her realization.

"Sakura-sama?" the medic next to her steps closer. "Are you alright? You're trembling... do you..." she hesitates. Sasuke seems to suddenly realize he's dying because he looks down at his stump before looking up at Sakura.

"What's wrong...?" he asks slowly.

"I..." Sakura started, not wanting to say what was on her mind. She didn't want to admit that she had finally acknowledged her rejection from two years ago. And instead forces herself to swallow the pain coiling up in her chest like an angry snake. Which is a really unsuitable term at this point. Sakura looks down at Sasuke for a split second - unable to look over at him a moment longer - before looking over at the medical ninja. "Um no... I'm okay..." She's a professional. Her job right now has to be Sasuke's safety. She has to make her Sasuke - her patient - lives.

"Okay..." the medical ninja from Kumo says doubtfully but steps back, given them space. Sakura doesn't miss the other woman watching a little closer now.

Sakura tries to force everything away so that she can focus. She manages to ignore the medical ninja and silence her thoughts, but she was painfully aware of the tightness in her chest and the unease in her gut. That, she couldn't ignore. It was almost like it was mocking her, daring her to reach out and touch the thing - the person - that would never be hers. Daring her to try and continue to be as blindly ignorant as she had been since the beginning. It was the bitterest pill Sakura has ever had to swallow.

Once Sasuke's life was out of danger and the healing needed was something that someone else could have managed, Sakura couldn't have ran out of there fast enough, claiming that she was low on chakra and needed to rest a bit. Which thankfully wasn't a complete lie.

Sakura felt bitter and low down. She didn't want to be around everyone who was blindly celebrating their victory and setting up camps to begin recuperating before the long trek home was to begin. Sakura wanted to talk to someone - anyone! - about her woes, but no one she could talk to about it would like to hear about her problems. Ino, being her primary choice, had just lost her father, and Hinata and Tenten had lost Neji. Sakura's love life was at the bottom of everyone's list of things to worry about, yet it was at the top of her own.

And it pissed her off.

She was suppose to be different now. Better than this. She wanted so badly to show everyone that she changed. That she was better, and stronger than before. That she was able to stand side-by-side with Sasuke and Naruto. But she didn't feel that way now. She felt no more significant than the dirt they stand on. Even though she wanted to complain and cry about how shitty her love life has been up to this point, in her rational mind, she knew where she was needed and went there despite what she wanted.

"Hey Ino," Sakura says, stopping beside the remainder of Team 10. The blond looks up at Sakura, smiling wanly, obviously trying to be festive, despite having just experienced a tragic loss.

"Hey," Ino says. "We sure kicked ass out there, huh? I mean, I knew we would win, it was just a matter of time, but it was... it was still pretty awesome how we... how we... did..." she trails off lamely, as if she didn't really know what to say. Thankfully Shikamaru and Choji were too engrossed in their own conversation, probably about anything other than Shikamaru's own lost father if Sakura knows the Shirker as well as she thinks she does, to jab at the blond in their usual friendly banter. While it is a time for celebration, too much has been lost for actual jubilation.

Sakura lowers to the dirt next to her best friend and without saying anything, she puts her arm around the tall blond's shoulders and pulls her close. It was all the blond needed to break down and cry, burying her face into Sakura's neck and shoulder, letting it all out. Tired and heartbroken, Sakura knew this was the right choice. As depressed as she was right now in regards to Sasuke, she would of ended up hating herself if she had let Ino go through this alone. This was her best friend. Sure they fought - and over Sasuke of all people, go figure - but they would always look out for one another and protect one another from as much of the painful shin in the world as they could.

Sakura was needed here, with Ino. For now, that could be enough. Sakura could be useful here, with her best friend.

 

Sakura managed to calm Ino down, get some food in their bellies, then get a few hours of sleep - albeit restless sleep - before heading back to the medical tents to see how Naruto's surgery went. She decided that until she got over the overly dramatic hurt she was feeling, probably fueled by the lack of sleep and low chakra levels which only serving to make her feel more vulnerable and moody, she would stay away from Sasuke.

No, scratch that. If she needed to be by him for a professional reason, then she would. All business, no pleasure. But not Naruto. She could go see him. She's come to realize that no matter what happens, she could never hate the goofy blond. It was just impossible for her. And she doesn't feel bad about not being able to. Besides, he's a big kami-damned hero. She needed to congratulate him still. Hopefully he would be awake, it was still nighttime. He could be sleeping, she wouldn't mind, she would find solace in his light breathing and occasional jutsu-yelling, and even more occasional jutsu creating. Hopefully he'll be so out of chakra that he won't be doing anything but sleeping.

As Sakura approaches his tent, she reaches out and touches the door flap only to stop when she hears voices inside.

"Stop grinning at me like that, idiot," Sasuke grunts.

There is a little giggle from Naruto before he says, "You look super stupid with just one arm, Sasuke."

"Well," Sasuke says in his condescending tone Sakura knows well, "at lease all of my body has the same skin pigment. That arm looks like it's been devoid of sunlight since the beginning of time."

"Sasuke," Naruto says, obviously still in a chipper mood, "you look like you've been devoid of sunlight since the beginning of time."

There was a long pause where Sakura couldn't imagine was going on before there was a strange noise from inside the tent. It took a lot longer than it should have been possible before Sakura could finally identify the noise. It was laughter. Sasuke and Naruto, both laughing together. Sakura slowly retracts her hand from the tent flap, unable to ignore the deepening pit in her stomach. She doesn't want to make a scene, though. She was beyond that. She'll just quietly retreat from the tent and act like she was none the wiser about their late at night conversations.

"I must be really high on their painkillers if I thought that was funny," Sasuke says breathlessly through his laughs.

"I know what you're saying," Naruto says, still giggling. "Kurama practically absorbs everything that enters my body, even the good shit that makes me not feel pain, and while I'm in great pain, he's high off his ass, it's hilarious."

Sasuke chuckles at that. It a soft, soothing sound that makes Sakura's heart melt a bit at the sound of it. "That must be hilarious to see."

"Trust me, it is," Naruto laughs.

Sakura steps back and away from the tent, figuring she wouldn't be able to face them feeling the way she does now. Maybe once she's well rested and the stress of the war is over, she'll be able to hold a good conversation with them, but for now, she can't trust herself and heads back to work, not sure she'll be able to sleep otherwise. Let exhaustion take her, instead.

It's early morning when Sakura heads to the tent Ino and her were sharing. She stumbles in to see the blond curled up into a ball on her side, eyes puffy from more crying, but otherwise sleeping peacefully in a pool of silky blond hair. Sakura takes off her battle garbs and shoes and quickly changes into a large t-shirt to go over her battle shorts and lays down on her sleeping bag, rolling onto her side, facing Ino, staring at the back of her head for a long moment before closing her eyes and letting exhaustion take her.

There was a flash of red and a spinning sharingan behind her eyelids, before it fades away into blackness.

"Princess?"

Sakura's head is pounding. Her entire body is cold and shaking. Her clothes are heavy and wet, clinging to her form like a second skin. When she tries to move it's like her muscles are concrete, not wanting to move at all. She knows her body well enough to know that she's been in the same position for a long time but her brain has been completely active. She must have been dreaming so vividly that her sleep wasn't restful at all. Again. Shit.

Sakura tries to open her eyes but they feel like an Akimichi is sitting on both eye lids, keeping them closed. An unintentional groan escapes her followed by a whoosh of breath.

"Princess? Can you open your eyes for me?" A soft voice asks.

As much as she didn't want to, she opens her eyes. She wanted nothing more than to just keep sleeping, forget the world for a bit - they should be able to handle the injuries without her for a while - but if duty called, then it called. Tsunade would crush her for trying to get out of saving lives because she wanted to catch up on her beauty sleep.

Sakura's eyes are blurry and crusted closed. She puts her arms beneath herself and sits up slowly, her arms feel so painfully weak. It takes a lot longer than she would like to finally push herself into a sitting position, rubbing her throbbing temples, squinting through the darkness. It was at the noise of footsteps around her that made her realize she wasn't alone. Her protective shinobi instincts feel hampered, but by looking around in the darkness Sakura now notices that she is no longer in her tent with Ino.

She is in some kind of large, dark, dank, cave. There was a lot of people walking around and the strong smell of blood surrounded them. Sakura feels all of the blood drain from her face as she looks around, trying to locate the blond of her best friend's hair.

"Woah, Princess, it's okay," a soft voice says, trying to calm Sakura down, but it was a foreign voice, standing right next to her so it only served to raise the hairs on the back of her neck. She can see the figure in the darkness, shifting a bit back and forth on his hunches just a foot away from her.

Sakura quickly scrambles back, putting as much distance between them as possible. He reaches out toward her with a "oh, wait!" but only manages to grab at air as Sakura got out of his range, before her right hand lands in a puddle of warm water, making her freeze. Her mind said it was water, but her instincts said something else entirely.

Sakura pulls up her hand, looking down at the dark liquid coating her hand in the dim light. The tang of iron hits her nose and while the shinobi side of Sakura's brain is forced into immediate danger medic mode, the bigger, more prominent part of her brain - a strange part that never existed before this day - just shut down. Sakura knew what it was immediately, her body just went into complete shock, for practically no reason. She knew it was blood and was able to calmly process the information, but her body seized up.

The figure shifts closer, but thankfully doesn't touch Sakura yet. "Princess?" He says. "I know this may all seem like a shock to your right now, but I need you to trust me, alright? Your father hired us to come and get you. You were kidnapped from a friend's home almost a month ago. Do you remember that?"

Sakura's eyebrows pull together, her hand, along with her entire body, started to shake. "Wh-what..?" Sakura rasps, voice strained from disuse. "No... I... I don't remember any of that... where... where am I..?"

"A cave outside of Reicone province in the Land of Lightning," another voice says. This one was sterner, but painfully familiar.

It was Madara Uchiha.

Sakura's entire body cycled passed shock and all the way to panic. Her rational mind took that moment to shut down and all that was left was the flight instinct. She flew to her feet, stumbling from the force and from the cold of the cave sinking through her wet clothes all the way to her bones. She stumbles backward, bare feet scraping against the uneven rock floor. After a few steps there was a sudden drop but before she fell, the man lunged forward and grabbed her arm, holding her in place.

"Princess," the soft voice says again, "please relax. There is nothing to be afraid of now, you're safe."

"Ino... Naruto... Sasuke..." Sakura mutters, sprouting panicked nonsense before her brain can compute what it is really saying. All she can see is Madara, slaughtering the Shinobi Alliance as if they were nothing as he made his way to Obito.

"Are those your friends?" the man asks. "I'm sure they are alright. You were the only one that was taken."

"M-Madara..." Sakura gasps, wanting to pull away from the gentler man's hand, but the warmth from his body was seeping into hers, reminding her of how much she was shivering.

"Madara?" The man echoes. His form shifts slightly toward the dark figure next to him. "Do you two know each other?"

"Nope," Madara says simply. "At least, not that I remember."

The man holding Sakura's hand lets out a little laugh. "Well, my bad, Madara. That could mean anything!"

Madara's form shrugs. "Well, we should hurry it up. Weren't you the one who was worried about her getting sick? I'm sure that shaking isn't from the over abundance of heat."

The man turns back to Sakura. "Oh right. Princess, may I carry you out of here? It's sort of a strange climb down here - and out, I suppose - if you aren't a shinobi."

But Sakura was a shinobi. Even if her entire body and mind didn't really feel like it. Sakura wanted to slap the person's hand away, demand that someone explain to her what Madara-fucking-Uchiha was doing alive. Again. Why she was in this deep dark cave? Where her friends were? And even who are these people that "saved" her from kidnappers. None of this made any sense to her.

The man pauses for only a moment before stepping closer and scooping her up into his arms. She could feel his body heat surround her, enveloping her in his warmth to deliciously, she started to fall asleep almost immediately afterward. Sakura could feel her heavy, wet clothes seeping into the man holder her. He doesn't seem to mind as he carries her easily through the dark cave. Somehow, he was able to see where she could not. Her regular shinobi senses should have allowed her to see enough of the colors and shapes in the darkness, but she can't see anything.

What was going on with her?

As much as she wanted to send chakra to her eyes to give her the boost she needed to see, she couldn't. Not with her head pounding as violently as it was. Even though Madara was there, there was something relaxing about this other man. His soft voice, joking nature, it was all appealing to Sakura. It reminded her of Naruto a bit and that disarming feeling she gets from him could be the death of her. She'd be stupid to trust these strangers, but she was becoming aware of the fever that she must have had before this.

"What..." Sakura rasps, closing her eyes, unable to form another coherent thought.

"Shh, Princess," the man says soothingly. "You were under a very powerful jutsu. Madara had to use his Sharingan to break it. Don't worry, your head will be in a fog for a little while, but I'll take a look once we are out of the cave and you're in warmer clothes."

Sakura's arm is awkwardly pinned between her body and his, but she didn't have the strength to move it. She suddenly felt like a limp noodle. What was going on with her? Sakura's eyes droop closed. It may be stupid to trust this person blindly, but at this moment, she has no choice. She's too weak to protect herself right now and has to believe that if these strange people would go out of their way to "save" her, that they wouldn't just suddenly turn on her. Those bodies in that cave - and something in Sakura's gut told her that they weren't her friends - were people that stole her away from her friends.

But why? Why her? And how did they sneak passed the rest of the alliance?

Sakura's head hurts too much. She has to get warm and get over this fever. She'll figure out what's going on once that is all said and done.

The sunlight hits Sakura's eyes, making her turn her face into the man's shoulder for a moment to block it out before realizing that this was her chance to at least see the person who was with Madara Uchiha. When she squinted up at the man holding her, she didn't expect who looked back down at her, smiling reassuringly.

It was Hashirama Senju.

"Don't worry, Princess," he says kindly, "I'll protect you."

Chapter Text

Sakura doesn't remember much else after that, she must have blacked out. She felt someone gently shaking her shoulder, pulling her from her dreamless sleep to a fever induced haze. She groans softly in pain but opens her eyes through sheer force of will alone. She's on someone's back, but they are standing around, softly arguing about something with someone else.

"You can't just change her, she's a woman! And a Princess!" the person holding her hisses.

"What else are we suppose to do? She's not going to start getting better until we get her out of those wet clothes and I didn't bring any female clansmen with me. My bad. I didn't know she would be in this position," the other says.

There is a sigh. "It's not your fault, Madara."

"I never said it was," the other retorts. "Look, she's already waking up."

There is a shifting in front of her. Her vision clears enough to see a large brown eye peaking at her over his shoulder. "Are you feeling alright, Princess? You're like a fireball on my back."

"Fever..." Sakura murmurs, laying her head back down on his shoulder, wanting to fall back asleep, but can only focus on the hot and cold flashes going through her. She doesn't want to, but she has to pull away, something to escape this heat.

"Oh, wait, wait!" The man says, lowering onto a knee and slowly lowering Sakura to the ground behind him. Sakura tugs at the uncomfortable damp kimono, forcing her vision to clear. The man kneels in front of Sakura, his image coming in clearer, it's the First Hokage. He looks exactly as she remembered from the war - except for being, well, alive! - and with perhaps more youth than she recalled. A vibrancy to his skin and face. But without a doubt, he was the First Hokage.

Sakura opens her mouth, about to ask how he was here with her right now, but this horrible croaking noise came out instead and clawed at her throat, making her flinch in pain. The First blinks rapidly in alarm before looking around his person for a moment frantically before pulling off his water pouch and unclasping the top and bringing it to Sakura's lips. At this moment he could have offered her barbeque souse and she'd drink it just to get this dryness off the back of her throat. She drinks greedily, putting her hand over his so he doesn't pull it away until she's done.

Once she has to stop to breath she releases his hand and wheezes a bit, the cool water clearing up her mind a bit.

"Where... am I?" Sakura asks, finally, her voice thick from disuse and fever.

"The Land of Lightning," Madara Uchiha says, staring down at Sakura through the bangs obscuring most of his face. Sakura stares up at him like a fish out of water and yet again something strange happened. She registered it being Madara Uchiha. She knew him, saw him slaughtering her fellow shinobi like they were nothing, and even fought him herself. She knew to fear him greatly, yet for some odd reason, she couldn't summon the fear. She couldn't summon her natural shinobi instincts to protect herself from a dangerous opponent. But she couldn't. It was almost as if it was no longer there.

That sent a shiver of fear through Sakura. What was happening to her? Could she have such a high fever that she couldn't react correctly? Perhaps, but she had never faced an incident like that before, so this would be a first.

But by not panicking, it gave Sakura the moments she needed to analyze the situation. Madara was here, but so was the First Hokage. And they obviously were dead. So... did that mean that she was?

"Am... am I dead?" Sakura rasps, looking between the two shinobi, vaguely noticing other people branded with the Uchiha fan on their backs, setting up camp around them, clearing out sticks and branches and patrolling the lands for traps. She pulls her attention back to the two men.

"No, Princess," the First says kindly. "You were under a very powerful genjustu, your confusion is understandable. An Uchiha clansmen ran to a nearby village to grab you a change in clothes. Unfortunately it won't be anything luxurious, but it should be better than what you are wearing now."

"But..." Sakura says slowly, eyebrows pulling together, "aren't you dead? Both of you?" Sakura glances over at Madara, whose eyebrows shot up at that. "And Uchiha clansmen? I thought Sasuke, Obito and Itachi were the only ones left." She scratches her head, then flinches at the crustiness of it, feeling herself be repulsed by that. She's suddenly aware of how dirty and disgusting she is.

"Us, dead?" Madara asks incredulously. "What a laugh." Then his eyes narrow. "And my clan is fine."

"Madara," the First says warningly. Madara's posture relaxes.

"My lady," he says simply, without any actual respect. The First sighs before looking over at Sakura.

"Whatever rumors you hear, Princess, they are not true. Both the Uchiha and the Senju clans are alive and healthy. We've agreed to a peace treaty. Our war is over," he says proudly, beaming.

"So... you're founding the village?" Sakura asks blankly, trying to get her timeline correct. Madara and Hashirama stare at her blankly, before looking at each other, then looking back over at her. "What?" Sakura asks softly, rubbing her dirty forehead, trying to suppress a shiver.

"You thought we were all dead, yet you knew that we were planning to form a village?" Madara asks suspiciously. "Can you explain that line of thought?"

"I..." Sakura blinks, realizing her mistake. She blinks a few times, trying to force the haze away from her befuddled mind. "I... thought... Oh man..."

"Wait," the First says slowly, "what is the last thing you remember, Princess?"

Sakura rubs her forehead harder, trying to clear her mind and figure out what was going on. "I was healing the injured of the Fourth Great Ninja War, then went to my tent with Ino and fell asleep. When I awoke... I was with you guys." Her eyebrows pull together. Her entire statement felt wrong.

Madara and Hashirama stare at her. Madara's eyebrows are pulled together in confusion while Hashirama's are in worry.

"'Fourth Great Ninja War'," Madara echoes. "What the hell kind of genjutsu did they put you under?"

"It's not a genjutsu," Sakura snaps, defending her family and friends. "It's just... a different... time..." As soon as the words left her lips, Sakura realized her mistake. She was in another time. Somewhere around the founding of Konohagakure no Sato. There haven't been any wars yet. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Sakura royally fucked up.

Before she can trip over her words in an attempt to try and cover her slip, Hashirama says, "Princess, you aren't from a different time. You were in a powerful genjutsu..." he shifts closer, reaching out to take her hands and hold them. "Whatever you are talking about, none of that happened. I'm sorry. Genjustu of the caliber used on you, with the length in which I suspect you were under, is enough to misconstrue one's concept of reality."

"It's not fake!" Sakura snaps, the fire in her belly over them brushing off her important people is enough to beat out rational thought. "And I'm not some damn Princess, so stop calling me that!" Her voice echoes off the trees, making all the Uchiha peaks over at them in curiosity, but one sharp look from Madara in their direction made all of them turn away as if nothing was happening.

Hashirama looks surprised, brown eyes wide, before he looks away for a moment, trying to think through something. When his eyes turn back to her, he tentatively, asks, "Do you know what your name is?"

"Yes," Sakura says softer, that burst of anger somehow took up all of her strength. "My name is Sakura Haruno."

Madara frowns deeply at that. "That's not correct," he says.

"Could we have the wrong person?" Hashirama asks helplessly, looking up at the standing black haired man.

Madara crosses his arms over his red armored chest. "No," he snaps. "She fits the description perfectly." His eyebrows pull together tightly and he frowns even deeper. "Damn it. I think those idiots immersed her into the genjutsu for too long. It might have wiped her memory of her life and replaced it with the genjutsu's reality."

"Oh no," Hashirama says, looking down at Sakura.

"No, you're wrong," Sakura says, looking up at the Uchiha patriarch. "No, I'm... I'm from the village. After your village is formed. I know it's not smart to talk about the future to the people of the past. I-I have to get back home. My people need me."

Hashirama looks up at Madara helplessly. "How do we convince her that this is reality? A genjutsu as powerful as that, for as long as that one had been active, would make it impossible for anyone to be able to tell what is real and what was the genjutsu. Even you needed your Mangekyo to pull her from it."

Madara sighs, turning away for a moment as both Sakura and Hashirama stare after him helplessly. This horribly scary idea is crawling into the back of Sakura's head, wondering if there was some legitimacy. But if Madara can't somehow convince her, then she will do everything to return to what she knows is her home. Even if it's a genjutsu - no! It's not a genjutsu. It's her home.

What is happening to her?

Madara turns to look at Sakura. "Do you remember your childhood?"

Sakura's eyebrows pull together. "What?"

"Your childhood from the time you remember, do you remember it?" Madara asks, staring down at her with intense black eyes.

"Well yeah-"

"All of it?" Madara asks, cutting her off.

Sakura tilts her head a bit, wishing she was a bit more lucid. That way she may be able to be more alert and conscious of where she is and what she's doing. But his question has brought her through the haze a bit. It perked her interest.

"Well," she says slowly. "I mean, not everything. How can someone remember all of their childhood? That's... it's not logical, right?" Her eyebrows pull together, not so sure of the answer herself. "Right..?"

"No, but does everything you remember seem relevant to what was going on as you remembered it?" Madara asks.

Sakura's immediate reaction was to say no, and she opened her mouth to do just that, when a thought occurred to her. There was a lot about her youth that she didn't remember, but what she did remember... did have something to do with the times she remembered it. But... that's just coincidence. The human mind just remembers when it makes connections from then present memories to past ones.

It was a logical reasoning in Sakura's mind, but in the pit of her stomach a horrible feeling settled there. And the horrible thought what if it really was all a lie kept crossing her mind no matter how many times she dismissed it.

Sakura's eyebrows pull together and she closes her mouth, looking meekly up at the man that she thought was her enemy, but now wasn't so sure. Her mind and her instincts were tugging her in two totally different directions. If she was a shinobi, then logically she should be listening to what she knows is her instincts, but they don't seem to exist in this body. Which means... that she's not a shinobi... then all of her life, all of what she thought was her life, was a lie.

All of her hardships, all of her trials, all of her accomplishments, all of her friends and family and everyone she has ever met and loved, Naruto and Sasuke and Kakashi and Tsunade and Ino and her parents... All lies.

"It's all a lie...?" Sakura croaks, tears welling up in her eyes. "Everything? My parents? My friends? My team? My village? My... My... everything?"

Hashirama bows his head, eyes closing as if he actually - genuinely - felt her pain. And was sad that her happiness was sucked away. Truly a kind man. It's almost as if he could feel her heartache and was reacting to it too.

She closes her eyes, forcing the tears back. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and throw a fit and bury her head in the sand until everything returned to the way she remembered it, but she's too tired and sick and sad to have the strength to do any of those.

"My life..." She whispers, not caring how pitiful she sounded. "It's all gone..."

"I'm sorry, Princess," Madara says sounding almost genuine, it's hard to tell with his monotone voice, at least now it's a little softer.

"Ah," Hashirama says, but Sakura doesn't open her eyes, she's trying to rein in her emotions. Her head is pounding and starting to cry isn't helping anything. "Princess?" Hashirama says softly.

Sakura finally opens her eyes to see a pretty sky blue kimono being transferred from an Uchiha's hands to Hashirama's. Sakura takes a moment to stare at it, and it's cloud design before looking up at the First Hokage.

"There is a warm river nearby, Princess," he says softly. "Would you like to get cleaned up before you change into this?"

Sakura nods numbly, reaching out slowly and takes his hand, letting him pull her to her feet. He even doesn't seem to mind her weight leaning against him. Sakura is so down, both emotionally and physically, that she can't even bring herself to care that she's probably the grossest smelling human being, along with the dirtiest, in the Land of Fire.

Hashirama folded the kimono neatly on a nearby rock next to the warm river before turning to leave, only to hesitate. He turns slightly to look back at Sakura. "My lady?"

"Yes..?" Sakura says, looking down at her blurry, obscured reflection in the water.

"I know it's inappropriate and if we had any kunoichi they would be here, but we have to stay close, just to make sure no one tries anything funny. We will be professional and -" Hashirama tries to explain quickly but Sakura turns toward her.

"It's okay," Sakura says softly. "I remembering being a kunoichi. I know what it's like. It's okay."

Hashirama's jaw snaps shut and his eyebrows pull together slightly. He nods glumly. "Yes," he says, as if needing to say something to fill the silence. "I am sorry. I just... didn't... um, okay. I'll let you go." He turns around and disappears into the darkness of the forest. It's approaching early evening and Sakura is absolutely exhausted. She takes a moment to set down the bar of soap one of the Uchiha gave her, and strips off the stiff, damp kimono. The cool air feels nice against her hot skin. She's surprised she was able to be up and about this long.

She wades waist deep into the river and quickly and efficiently cleans herself, making sure to scrub her skin until every speck of dirt is washed away. She then began to clean her hair with the soap until it was nothing more than a sliver. Sakura felt a little better after cleaning herself up but she was weak and tired and had to get out, less she pass out and have to be pulled naked from the lake.

Sakura finally made her way out of the water and over to the blue kimono. She pulls it on, tying the obi tight around her waist, suddenly wishing that she had tape to wrap up her breasts and underwear. While she didn't have breasts like Lady Tsunade, or Hinata, or even Ino, she still had them and didn't like not having something covering them, but it was just something she was going to have to deal with until she got...

Home?

The word left a sour taste in her mouth. Reality or a genjutsu, the Hidden Leaf will always be her home. No matter where this person she's suppose to be lived, Sakura already hated it and has already forsaken it. If she had the choice, she would give anything to try and connect with the life she thought - and hopes deeply in her heart still has somehow - then go wherever the person who lived here will go.

Sakura bends down to slip her feet into the sandals that the Uchiha had also brought her and when she straightens up, her entire vision goes black as the blood rushes to her head. Sakura teeters back and forth before having to sit down on the rock next to her, unable to stand anymore. She lowers her head to her hands and closes her eyes, letting her fingers weave through her long hair.

She doesn't know what she looks like anymore. Does she still have pink hair? She was too focused on cleaning it to notice the color. Does she still have green eyes? She doesn't know. But her hair is a lot longer than she had ever had it before. It goes past her waist and just to the top of her thighs. Now that it was clean, she could tell that it was thick and layered, but that's it. Pulling her fingers forward, Sakura opens her eyes and waits a moment for her vision to clean before the strands of her hair weaved through her fingers comes into view. They are a dark pink color, still soaked.

For some reason the simple fact that her hair was the same color that she remembered, made her feel a little bit better. So not everything was a lie. There was some things that transferred to this life. Just nothing extremely important to her, so far.

"Princess?" Hashirama says, leaning into her vision with a gentle smile on his face. "You look wonderful, my lady. Beautiful, if I may say without over stepping my boundaries."

Sakura smiles a bit, releasing the strands and looking up at Hashirama. He straightens and smiles a little broader down at her. "Thank you," Sakura says softly before smiling the most genuine smile she could muster. "I feel a bit better, but the fever is still prevalent and I'm exhausted and hungry."

Hashirama nods, offering his elbow for her to take. She does, grabbing it, and being pulled to her feet. They walk back toward camp slowly. Hashirama wordlessly accepting all of her weight and holding her up. They don't talk much other than a few mumbled apologies from Sakura when she stumbles and has to hold on tightly to the brown haired man to keep standing. His response was to place his hand over the one she has clutching his elbow and keep his eyes forward.

They make it back to camp to see a fire pit built up and lit and sleeping bangs laid out along with protective traps. Hashirama lifts Sakura up easily over a trip wire, hands on her waist, before placing her on the other side and stepping over it himself. He walks her over to fire pit and helps her sit down before grabbing a blanket and wrapping it around her shoulders.

"Thank you," Sakura says softly, holding it closed in front of her.

"My lady," the Uchiha cooking broth in front of her tips his head a bit in greeting. "The broth will be finished soon, please wait a moment."

Sakura nods, feeling herself slump a bit. "Thank you."

"I'll be right back," Hashirama says, smiling down at her faintly before turning and heading out of the camp, stopping only once to speak with an Uchiha who nods off in a direction. Hashirama pats his shoulder before heading that way.

Sakura turns back toward the fire and brings up her knees, turning her head and resting it on her knees. Her eyes slip closed and she falls asleep faster than she thought possible.

"My Lady?" Someone says softly, shaking her shoulder lightly. "The foods done..."

Sakura opens her eyes and raises her head, rotating her neck a bit to work out the kinks for falling asleep in a weird position. She takes the bowl and spoon offered to her and blows lightly on the hot broth. Her head was pounding and she felt sick and didn't have much of an appetite, but she knew she had to eat. She had to give her body the nutriance and sustenance that it needed to get healthy again.

Sakura sips at the broth a bit, trying to devour as much of it as she can before she just can't anymore. She manages to get about half of it down before she hands the bowl back to the Uchiha, thanking him for the broth before laying her head back down on her knees.

"Princess," the Uchiha says before she can close her eyes. She lifts her head and looks at him.

"Yeah?"

"Um, Lord Hashirama put out that sleeping bag for you," he gestures over to one a few feet away. "He said to apologize for not having a tent for you to sleep in. Something about Lord Madara never coming prepared..." The Uchiha says, then looks horrified. "Um, please don't tell him I said that."

"Your secret is safe with me," Sakura says. She smile before standing up and walking over to the sleeping bag. The shinobi side of her mind tells her that she should be weary about falling asleep being surrounded by strange shinobi but Sakura knew that she wouldn't be able to stay awake and alert any longer. She just didn't have the strength.

If she recalled correctly, after she woke up, Hashirama said something about it being a month since she was "kidnapped". If that's true, and she doesn't really doubt it since she just finished cleaning a lot of dirt and grime from her body that felt like a month's worth so she's inclined to believe.

But Sakura also knows that prolonged exposure to a genjutsu could construe someone's perceptions beyond the genjutsu. The point of a genjutsu is to capture someone in a reality that isn't their own, a trap of the mind and senses. A successful capture is when the mind is tricked into believing that the genjutsu is reality but in the back of the mind the truth still exists, but over exposure can start tricking the brain into erasing memories because it begins to think those are fake and make room for the new ones being created by the genjutsu.

And a month seems like it would be long enough for the mind to start going through that.

Sakura lets out a long breath before curling onto her side on the sleeping bag, laying the blanket on top of the sleeping bag cover and lays her head down. She blacks out almost immediately.

Sakura dreams about Konoha. She dreams about walking down the busy streets, weaving through the bustling civilians moving about from one place to another. She would wave at shinobi jumping on the rooftops. She stopped by shops and picked up groceries. She carries them home in silence, taking a route she has taken for as long as she can remember. No one is home when she gets there and she puts all the food away herself before leaving again. It was early afternoon and the natural Konoha heat is glaring down at her.

But it was nice, Sakura was used to this. She didn't mind all the bodies, she didn't mind the heat. She was just happy for her normal, plain, everyday life on repeat. Her new destination is the hospital, her passion. In her mind's eye she can see a list of all her patients, their needs, what she needs to do for them and if there is anything going on today that could bring in more people. Things she usually thinks about on her way to work.

Sakura stops in front of the hospital, looking up at the large white building. There was a sudden worried feeling. There was no one coming in or out of the hospital and the glass doors in front of her are fogged up and hard to see through. Which is unusual.

Sakura steps closer, activating the automatic doors opening, and they do, revealing darkness inside. She inches closer and closer until a blinding white light jerks her into awareness.

Sakura looks around dazedly, feeling a warm rag being pulled off of her forehead and the sound of it being put into water, rung out and then placed back onto her forehead. She looks around blinking away the blurriness in her eyes and locking onto Hashirama's face as he looks down at her.

"How are you feeling, Princess?" he asks softly.

"Tired," Sakura replies raspy, taking a moment to yawn. Once she's done, she asks, "How long have I been asleep?"

"About a day," Hashirama says. "We moved you but you didn't wake up. Thankfully your fever is going down. It's very slight now."

Sakura nods, smiling faintly. "I guess I sleep like a rock, huh?"

Hashirama smiles. "It's alright. You just weren't feeling well. It's understandable. You've been through a lot."

Sakura doesn't say anything right away, taking a moment to look up at the handsome face of the future First Hokage. The strands of long brown hair hanging between them as he's slightly leaned over her. He shifts slightly and a lot of his hair spills over his left shoulder. Sakura closes her eyes for a moment, trying to hide her embarrassment at having the young, handsome grandfather of her Master leaning over her-

No. Tsunade doesn't exist. She may never exist. She may have very well been a person created by the genjutsu. And that hurts. So much. She can see in her mind's eye, the woman who took a big role in making Sakura into the person she is today. Without Tsunade and her guidance, Sakura wouldn't be half the woman she thought she was.

She may no longer be able to salvage that person her Master made her into and that breaks her heart. When she gets better, she has to figure out everything. If the life she knows is fake, then she is going to figure out what is real and try and bring Sakura Haruno, into the Founding of the Villages' era. Not matter what.

"Sleep now, Princess," Hashirama says softly. "You deserve a rest."

Sakura obeyed the future First Hokage, like a good little Leaf ninja.

Chapter Text

On Sakura's first day in the Founding Villages' era, she lost consciousness.

On the second day, she lost her reality. It was stripped away from her as easily as water falling through her fingers.

On the third day, she didn't want to believe her life wasn't what she thought and denied it at every chance. Theories upon theories piled on top of one another. Some way to see if this world really was her own. Every time she tried to rationalize her being there, that there was some way for her to return to the feature, it too slips away.

On the fourth day, Sakura learned her name. No longer is she Sakura Haruno. But she was now a Shirakawa. Sakura Shirakawa. It didn't have the same ring that her original name did. No matter if her body and blood was royalty - and Hashirama and Madara have insisted enough times that it is - she knew that her soul was not. Nor would it ever be. Her soul was that of a Hidden Leaf Village kunoichi. Nothing royal about that. She spent the whole day walking toward the Land of Fire, surrounded by the Uchiha force of ten, Madara and Hashirama, thinking about that new name.

And hating it.

In her heart, she would always be Sakura Haruno. Or, at least she hoped. She spent a good portion of the fourth day worried that while the memories are fresh now, somehow they will slip away from her too. When she could, she would have to write it all down, everything that she could. Hold it dear and keep it close. It would be all that she would have. Memories were flimsy. Good, bad, embarrassing and happy, all of it had to be put somewhere safe. Somewhere she could never lose it or it could get destroyed. So she could keep it forever.

On the fifth day, Sakura was racked with hopelessness. She refused to eat, or move. All she could think about was how everything she had known, everyone she loved, was gone. She couldn't see a point in living any longer. She was a shinobi, deep deep within her soul, but her body no longer knew what that meant. Had it truly all been a genjutsu? Could all of that hardship, heartache and achievement really all have been a lie?

This wasn't the life she wanted. She refused to live her life as a pampered princess. That wasn't who she was, not deep down. But at every turn people were doing things for her, insisting that she just step aside and let them handle everything. She couldn't do anything, and when she asked if she could do something, she was politely turned away, and when she insisted they clammed up and gave her a menial task that needn't be done right away or right at all. Or she was sent to Hashirama and Madara to do something and it burned her.

She knows that she was worrying them when she didn't eat at all that day, refusing everything and even slapping Hashirama's hand away when he reached to check if she still had a fever. She felt bad for disrespecting the First, but she was bitter. Why should she care? She was no longer a shinobi. She didn't have to obey the laws of a Leaf Shinobi to obey the Hokage. And if she really was the daughter of the Fire Daimyo, then she was considered higher rank than him by Imperial standers.

Such a thought didn't make her feel any better. In fact, if anything, it made her feel worse.

Sakura had grown so bitter and unhappy about the way her life had turned out that she began to turn her back on all of them. No matter what any of them said or did for her, she would just ignore them or tell them she didn't need it. She knew Madara, fiery and stern, was growing tired of her lack of respect and courtesy that he stood firm on just ignoring her too, unless directly spoken to, which she didn't. His standoffish attitude with her suited Sakura fine. She didn't much want to talk to him anyway.

But the final straw with Madara, was probably when Hashirama offered to help her with something trivial, and she blithely said, "Leave me alone," without understanding the severity of her words. Hashirama looked shocked, then like he didn't know what to do with himself. That's when Madara snapped.

"Princess," he hisses, turning sharply toward her. He opens his mouth, about to continue, but then realizes who he's talking to and takes a moment to relax his voice, even if it has a flat undertone, before continuing, "Princess, you need to be more thoughtful of your words. You are our Princess and we are your subjects, so your word is our law. You say it and we will obey. You are not a shinobi, we do not outrank you, nor can we tell you what to do. If you wish to be left alone, so be it, we will obey, but we must stay close. You are making a simple trek back to the Fire Capitol a lot more difficult than it has to be. Please be mindful of our position - and your own."

Sakura was in shock, not having expected to be chastised like that. She apologized to Hashirama, bowed her head and kept walking.

On the sixth day, Sakura stopped talking all together. She stopped asking if she could do things, or somehow be helpful and became the opposite. She didn't even get up to walk, forcing Hashirama to carry her on his back, and even then she said, and did, nothing. Stuck in an endless loop of feeling bad and feeling mad. For so long Sakura had been trying to be helpful and useful, be someone to the world. Be able to help people; especially her family, friends and village, but before any of that was even possible, it was stripped away from her.

Her hopelessness was swallowing her whole, and Sakura didn't know how to escape it alive.

On the seventh day, Sakura cried. All of her pain and suffering, her bitterness and rage over how her life turned out became too much. It wasn't loud or obnoxious crying like she was known for. It was soft, pitiful weeping into the back of Hashirama's shoulder as he carried her to the home she didn't want to live in and the people she didn't want to see. Everything she knew, people, places, experiences, was all fabricated by someone else. All the things that she thought made her a stronger person were just for someone else's amusement.

None of it was real.

Sakura was coming to accept this as reality and couldn't stop crying because of it. No one acknowledged her tears, or her quiet cries. Which she was okay with. She wasn't looking for comfort. Just a way to relieve the pain in her heart and the tension in her chest. But Hashirama, a "bleeding heart" as Madara had called in a few days earlier, tightened his grip on her legs, where he was holding her up. Not enough to hurt her, but to let her try and absorb any sort of solace she could from the action.

In the most minutest way possible; it did make her feel a tiny bit better.

On the eighth day, Sakura was too weak, both hungry and thirsty to refuse when Hashirama persuaded her to eat. Even if there was no point in living anymore, Sakura lacked the will power to just end it. They had made it into the Land of Fire and it was hot, too hot to cry and too hot to not be drinking any fluids.

No matter what she went through, Sakura was always weak, and it appeared as though she was going to stay that way. It was a horrible throwback to her pretend gennin days. Rinse, lather, repeat. A horrible, painful cycle.

But, on the ninth day something different happened. Something wonderful, in Sakura's opinion. On the ninth day, Sakura found her fire.

They were walking down the road, having slowed down to a walk after a full two days of running since Sakura stopped walking on her own. It was getting into the evening and the Land of Fire was cooling down when they came over a hill to see an overturned caravan. The first sign of civilian life that Sakura has seen since waking up.

She didn't know what happened - what overtook her - but she wiggled out of Hashirama's arms and ran around him toward the overturned caravan, the ox pulling them were all killed. The caravans - there is two, one if further down in a ditch probably brought down there by the ox in a panic - their cargo littering the road and grass. Papers, clothes and boxes strewn about.

"My lady!" Hashirama calls. "Don't go near that! It's not safe!"

Sakura ignores him, feeling a strange bubbling feeling in her chest. Something that felt like it's been a lifetime since she felt: her protective shinobi instincts. She hasn't needed to heal anyone or treat any injuries since waking up and feared that everything about herself was gone, but without realizing it, her body was moving, searching through the wreckage for bodies.

Someone seizes her right arm, pulling her back toward them. She looks over her shoulder to see Madara. "You're going to get yourself killed, Princess," he growls, unhappily.

"I don't care," Sakura snarls, yanking her hand back. "If someone is hurt, I have to help them."

Madara's grip on her arm tightens. "Princess, there is nothing you can do. You are not a shinobi, nor are you a healer. These people - should any live - need a help that you can not offer them. I understand that it is hard to accept this strange reality as your own, but you must. You are quickly becoming a burden to my clansmen, Hashirama and myself. Be good for once and listen."

His words hurt, really they did. And of course, he had to say the one word Sakura could go the rest of her life never hearing again - especially in correlation to the pink haired girl. Burden. But Sakura couldn't fight this fire welling up in her belly. This is the most Haruno she's felt since she first woke up. There is no way she can let this moment go unexplored.

She didn't know what came over her, but instead of shrinking with the sting of Madara's words, she rolled her shoulders back, look up into his one revealed black eye and say, firmly, "I am your Princess, yes?"

Surprised momentarily, Madara's eyes widen slightly. "Uh..."

"I don't believe myself a princess. I believe myself a shinobi. A medical shinobi. And medical shinobi help people, much like these people here. I may not be able to do anything but I will stay here and do what I can. The knowledge is still here and I will use it. If I am a Princess of the Land of Fire, then these people are my own. If I cannot do anything to try and help them, rather to just leave them to die, then why would I ever expect anyone to serve me?" Sakura asks, rhetorically, not caring for an answer.

Madara stares at her, slightly stupefied.

Right as he was about to find himself again, Sakura continues, narrowing her eyes, "I will help these people. With or without your help. If I really am your Princess, then you cannot stop me. If you do, I will know all of what you said to be a lie. So, either way, I win. Now," she raises up on her tip toes, getting as close to eye level as she can. Her voice is a nasty growl, fueled by the fire in her belly. The loss of innocent life urging her on. "stop me, I fucking dare you."

In this era, such language is unbecoming of a woman, especially a Lady, which is painted across the face of the Uchiha clan leader. And in his surprise, his grip on her arm loosens enough for her to yank her arm away and stomp past him.

The first person she spotted, she ran to, dropping down to her knees next to him and checking his pulse. He's dead. She frowns deeply but stands up, moving to the next body, dropping down next to him. He's an older gentleman, probably in his forties with a graying beard. His face is contorted in a look of pain and a hand is over a bloody hole in his gut.

He must have heard Sakura settle next to him, for he cracks one eye open, delirious from pain and blood loss.

"Tsunemabi..?" He croaks weakly.

"Shh," Sakura says, moving his hand to the side to inspect the wound. It's bad and the bleeding is slowing down. If Sakura wanted to keep him alive, she had to move fast. "I need help over here!" Sakura calls, turning around to surprisingly see the Uchiha fanning out around the immediate area, locating injured and dead and keeping an eye out for any dangers. Hashirama was two steps away from her.

He closes the gape quickly and stoops down, large kind brown eyes already scanning the injury.

"Do you know how to encourage cellular growth?" Sakura asks.

Hashirama blinks in confusion, bring his eyes back to her. "Huh? Oh, um, sort of." Sakura gave him a bland look, not liking his indecisiveness with this. "Um, yes. I can," he quickly amends. "Not quickly, though."

Sakura shakes her head, grabbing on of his hands and brining it over the wound. "We can work with that. Focus on sealing up the sliced up organs and severed veins and encourage the skin to heal quickly to protect itself. In that order. We want to stop the internal bleeding as quickly as possible."

Hashirama nods, hands glowing. It gave Sakura a moment of pause. Her healing chakra took on a light green hue, Hashirama's was a dark forest green. Even with an untrained eye, someone would be able to tell that he was healing the wound on such a level that would require all of Sakura's focus. Whether it was as seamless as the perfectionist in Sakura would like it, she doesn't know, but the level of potency in his chakra was astounding.

Exhausted and pained, the man closes his eye again and slumps again. Sakura puts her fingers to his neck, feeling his pulse. It's surprisingly strong, straining to pump blood throughout his entire body. Confident that he would survive, Sakura moves on to the next person. An unconscious young woman, probably in her early twenties not ten feet from the old man.

Her breathing is shallow and there is a gash on her forehead bleeding heavily along with bumps and bruises from what appears to be from being thrown from the caravan in the attack somehow. Her leg is twisted strangely beneath her and she cries out in her sleep when Sakura attempts to shift her left arm. Her wrist is swelling up like a balloon and turning purple. Sakura is quick to set her leg, quietly trying to sooth the girl's whimpers of pain, quickly making a splint for it to stop it from sustaining any more damage.

She looks around for something to use to hold it together when she noticed one of the Uchiha holding out bandage to her. Sakura smiles gratefully and takes it, nodding her thanks before securing the splint around her leg and turning to her wrist. There wasn't much that she could do right now, especially without the ability to used her chakra and the girl being unconscious. She begrudgingly had to leave it for now before turning to the gash on her forehead.

"Do you have any water?" Sakura asks the Uchiha next to her. He nods and pulls out his water pouch, handing it to her. Sakura sprinkles a bit onto the girl's forehead before cleaning up the wound with her sleeve, not caring that blood and dirt was staining the kimono. Once it was clean, the Uchiha helped hold up the woman while Sakura wrapped up her head. Once Sakura was done, the Uchiha moved her toward the road with the others until they can be moved somewhere safer.

Sakura wipes the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, the sun is beating down on her back and neck, making her sweat. Of course today had to be the day it is unseasonably hot. Sakura was a fool to think it would be anything but that.

She takes a moment to look around the area, trying to find something to do with herself. It was so hot and she was feeling a little bit dizzy, but she had to keep going. She hadn't done anything but weep and moan since she got to this era - er, since she woke up. She wanted so badly to be someone in her life that when she thought that it was all taken away from her, she almost literally lost her mind. She had worked so hard, sacrificed so much and even gained much to get to that point that learning all of it was a lie made her fall deep into hopelessness.

While she's not certain she's crawled out of the dark pit this new reality has dropped her into when she got here, she does know that it eases the pain a bit doing something very much like her old self. She's not sure what Princess Sakura would be doing in this situation, but she takes great comfort in knowing exactly what Shinobi Sakura would be doing at this moment. In this situation.

Shinobi Sakura would be doing anything and everything she could to save lives. And that's what she's going to do. If she can no longer be Shinobi Sakura, then she sure as hell going to live up to her own expectations of the life she thought she had. Even if she is some kind of Princess - which is still such a strange thought for her to have, who would have thought Sakura of all people would be a Princess? - it doesn't mean that she has to be a stereotypical Princess that even she's dealt with. She can still be herself.

Sakura Haruno isn't dead. She's just hiding, sneaky devil.

With renewed vigor, Sakura continued her search, heading toward the next person she saw.

It was an hour later, Sakura was sweating and tired but there was so many people here. Twenty so far, and thankfully most of them were still alive, but unfortunately all of them were badly hurt one way or another. A lot of Sakura's time was helping with the people that they found rather than making sure that they found everyone, which wasn't smart.

Especially since Hashirama was wrist deep in a man's stomach, who is screaming, yelling orders for people to find herbs in the forest when Madara comes through the thicket carrying a sobbing child. He was probably five years old and his sobbing was strained, pained and shallow. Sakura walks over to them quickly, eyes scanning him for injuries. Other than cuts and bruises, there wasn't anything obviously wrong. That is, until she followed her instincts and pulled open his dirty, ripped kimono top to reveal a nasty purpling mark on his stomach.

Madara frowns deeply at the mar on his belly before lowering him into the grass and kneeling next to him. Sakura drops to her knees on his other side, maneuvering her top off his shoulders. Thankfully Madara didn't need to be asked to help, he just did. Sakura's glad that he didn't end up stopping her and instead began helping out. She knows that they aren't exactly going to be best friends, but she'd like to get to know the person that the First was desperately calling out to in the Fourth Great Ninja War. Or, as bad as the people who put her in the genjutsu wanted to make him out to be. He couldn't be that bad, could he?

Sakura was beginning to wonder that. But now wasn't the time to think about it in depth. That was something for later. For now, she has a job she's got to do.

Sakura, as gently as she can, probes at his discolored stomach, but with barely any pressure, he cries out in pain and Sakura knows it's worse than she fears. She puts her hand over his stomach, ready to survey the damage with her chakra only to curse under her breath and lightly run her hand across his stomach, trying to feel for bulges or anything out of the ordinary that could help her figure out what was going on with him. It's obvious that there is some internal bleeding, if the discoloring is anything to go off of.

Sakura's green eyes flicker up to Madara, hoping he was too engrossing in the whimpering little boy rather than her to miss her slip up, but he was staring at her through the part in his fringe. Sakura flushes in embarrassment.

"Please don't say it," Sakura mutters, cheeks burning.

"You just attempted to do medical ninjutsu," Madara says plainly, making Sakura flinch. "Just like Hashirama," he adds as an afterthought.

"Yeah, I know," Sakura grumbles. "You don't need to say anything, it was... it was reflex."

There is a pause, a long one, and Sakura thought Madara was going to let it go, but the fates weren't so kind. A moment after thinking that, he asks, "You didn't really do anything."

Sakura glares at him, annoyed. "I got that. Thanks. I know I can't do ninjutsu."

Instead of looking cheeky, like Sakura for some reason expected, Madara instead just stared at her expressionless. "That's not what I meant," he says unapologetically. "What I meant is that all you did was move your hand over his body. You didn't even try to do anything."

Sakura stares at him now, surprised. "Wh...what?"

"I'm... curious," he admits. "You know medical arts, I've watched you taking care of people. You know what you're doing. I doubt you knew any of that before you were kidnapped. They instilled you with that knowledge."

Sakura's sure that what he's trying to insinuate is simple, but she couldn't stop staring at him dumbly, not sure what to think. "I... I suppose. I..." she looks away, blinking a few times. "I guess I don't know what you're getting at."

Madara sighs like he's dealing with a naïve child, making Sakura glare at him. "Try healing him," Madara says sternly.

Considering she has been nothing but a brat to him since she woke up, Sakura's immediate reaction was to tell him to fuck off to parts unknown, but then a weird feeling crept up her spine and lodged itself in the back of her mind. Sakura hasn't tried to use her chakra since she woke up. She had just bitched and moaned about no longer having it without ever really checking herself to see for certain it was gone.

It gave her a flicker of hope. But the evil voice in the back of her mind made her aware of the emptiness in her body that she never actually acknowledged yet. In the back of her mind, the little voice reminded her of the absents of chakra in her body.

No, that wasn't right. There is chakra in all living beings. Even Sakura has chakra. She's always had chakra. Both as Sakura Haruno and Sakura Shirakawa. Even if the later didn't ever use it, she always had it.

The flicker returns with a bit more strength. But Sakura doesn't dare get her hopes up too high. She brings her hand out over the boy's belly. She turns her gaze toward the discoloration, trying to ignore the shaking of her hand. She's nervous, she's trying not to be, but she wants to get her hopes up. She wants to hold her hand over this boy's stomach and feel it with her chakra - something she's done thousands of times - and heal him - like she's done thousands of times. She doesn't want now to be the moment she can't.

Sakura's been a wreck when all she can think of is being unable to, but to get real proof, to learn that everything Tsunade taught her is definitely gone...

It would break Sakura. This was like a last chance. If this doesn't work, then everything really was gone.

And Sakura is scared. Her heat is pounding in her ears and she has to close her eyes to keep the tears in. She's never been so scared in her whole life. Childishly, she almost didn't want to try it. She wanted to prolong the feared inevitable for as long as she could. She was fragile enough as it is - as much as she begrudgingly doesn't want to think so - she's not sure what she would do if she had undeniable proof of everything being gone.

The boy whimpers, pulling Sakura from her thoughts, making her freeze. She steels herself. He doesn't look good and she can't waste any more time on herself. Even without chakra, she has to do everything she can to save this boy. She has to. If nothing else good comes of this day Sakura has to do this.

She has to save this little boy.

Her eyes open to a focused narrow, shaking right hand hovering over the boy steadies and she turns her attention inward. She tries to move the chakra in her body - ignoring the emptiness - the way she's done thousands of times. Pushing the healing chakra to her right hands, further... further.

Nothing. Her hand just hovers.

She falters, hand shaking a little. She takes a shaky breath before forcing herself still and tries again, pulling the chakra to her hand once more. Pushing, again and again and again. But there's nothing. Nothing's happening.

Angry, fearful tears begin to well up in her eyes but she forces it away again. She can't have anything obscuring her vision. She has to save this boy.

"Hashirama," Madara calls, probably giving up hope on her. "Hashirama, we need you over here."

"I got this!" Sakura snaps, the nails of her left hand biting pale white crescents into her palm. "I can do this!"

"This boy is bleeding internally," Madara says.

"I can do this!" Sakura insists.

"I'm coming!" Hashirama calls.

In a moment of deep desperation Sakura pulls her chakra to her hand with all her might. She has to do this. She has to be the one to save this boy. She has to use her chakra to do it. This isn't it. This isn't the end. She can save people's lives and she can use the power her master gave her to do it. She can do it. She can do it. She can do it!

Sakura felt something inside of her snap, like a rubberband and the chakra appeared around her hand, glowing a bright green. Madara's eyes widen in shock, almost as wide as Sakura's eyes. It took a moment longer than she should have, but she relished in the feeling of her chakra moving in her body before focusing once more at the task at hand.

She had to heal this boy. She had to.

And she did.

Chapter Text

Once Sakura was done healing the little boy, she froze, watching as the little boy opens his eyes slowly and looks around. The look of pain on his face ebbs away as he relaxes. Sakura holds her breath as the little boy's eyes hone in on her face and focus. After a few moments of the two of them just staring at one another, the little boy finally smiles, cutely.

"You saved me, onee-chan!" the little boy giggles, seemingly oblivious to what had just happened to him and the rest of the caravan he was with. "Thank you!"

Sakura's shoulders slump, her hands dropping onto the ground on either side of her knees. She raises her eyes to Madara's, to see his wide in shock and awe. Somewhere in the back of Sakura's mind, she wanted to gloat. Jump up into the air and point a finger in the Uchiha Patriarch's face and dance around him rubbing in his face how he was wrong and she was right. She was a shinobi. Or, if she wasn't physically, she was spiritually. Sakura Haruno does exist, within this new Princess form. She wanted him to bow his head and apologize sincerely for doubting her.

But at the same time, Sakura was glad she didn't have the strength to do any of that. Because this was a happy moment. This wasn't about any of that. This is about making sure as many people survive in this otherwise horrible situation as possible. And now Sakura has the power to do just that.

Sakura's eyes fill with tears as she cries happily. She pulls the little boy into her arms and hugs him tight. "You're welcome! You're welcome!" She gives him one last squeeze before letting him go and standing up quickly to see Hashirama staring at her, a few feet behind her with wide, impressed eyes. His mouth is slightly hanging open, as if ready to say something - though it appears he doesn't seem to remember what he wanted to say - for his mouth closes and breaks out into a huge, blinding smile.

There is genuine surprise, and happiness, written across his face and in his eyes, that makes Sakura happy too. She quickly wipes the tears from her eyes and looks down at the little boy.

"Listen to this nice man here, sweetie," she says, gesturing to Madara. "I'm going to go and see if I can help anyone else out, alright?"

"Thank you, onee-chan!" The little boy beams.

Sakura smiles back at him before turning away and heading back toward the girl from earlier. She drops down next to her, now up on the road next to the older man from before. Sakura puts her hands over her left wrist and focuses her healing chakra. As she's healing the strained wrist, Sakura makes notes of the sluggish flow of her chakra. She has her chakra, all of it, by the feel of her coils, but it's weak. It's like a muscle that hasn't been used in a long time. It's tired and worn out, but not impossible to train up again.

It does kind of suck to have to train up the flow of chakra again, but at least it's better than completely starting over from the beginning. Starting over from nothing would just be heartbreaking. And a hell of a lot harder on this. This, she could do. It would take a couple of days to retrain her chakra network to work properly, but her body is a different story. Years of conditioning under her belt is gone. Thankfully, it was only two years. Two years of real conditioning under Tsunade. So at least it wasn't like ten years, but it's still a little daunting, thinking about how she was going to retrain her body - or train it for the first time, she supposes.

She'll figure it out. She always has.

Sakura manages to sooth the sprain and lower the swelling before she deems that being all that she can do before letting the girl sleep. She does a primary look over of the other people to see most of their injuries are taken care of already, which while a bit disappointing seeing as she wanted to do it herself, was also a relief. She was already tired from using a muscle this body wasn't used to using.

It sucks, not being able to do everything that she's been able to do right away, but at least she can find solace in knowing that a day will come where she can. It gives her all kinds of hope for the future now. She's even a bit embarrassed with how she was before. Sakura isn't that weak of a person, she's not sure why she thought she had to change.

Once everyone was collected and people started waking up, Sakura sat herself next to the little boy, who was also brought up to the road and smiled at him while Hashirama was speaking to the oldest man there. The one who called her Tsunemabi. Sakura had to wonder if that was someone here. She hoped whomever this girl was, she was among the survivors.

"Where are your parents?" Sakura asks the little boy.

He looks around before pointing at the oldest gentleman. "That's my grandfather, onee-chan."

Sakura looks over at the old man, who was holding Hashirama's hands tightly between his own, probably thanking him profusely. Hashirama, living up to Sakura's expectations, looks humbled by the man's praise and thanks. But then he did something that Sakura didn't suspect. After saying a few things, he looks over at Sakura. The man's gaze follows Hashirama's and lands on Sakura, who was curiously staring back.

 

"Please sit up," Sakura says, laying her hands on the bowing man's shoulders. She can take seeing this older man on his knees bowing as low as he can get. She keeps lightly tugging on his shoulders until he finally listens and sits up.

"Princess," the man says, "we had heard of your kidnapping and feared the worst for your safety. And then you save us! Oh Princess, forgive our ignorance!"

Sakura shakes her head and leans closer, taking his hands into her own. "You owe me nothing, sir. And I didn't insist that we stop because I wished for praise or for you to beg for forgiveness. I did it because it was the right thing to do. You all needed our help and we had the power to offer it to you." Sakura smiles at him kindly, watching his dark eyes widen in wonder. "Focus your strength now on healing for yourself and for the rest of your companions."

The man bows his head again. "You are much too gracious for us, Princess. We are forever in your debt."

Sakura squeezes his hands. "You can repay me by taking better care while you're on the road."

The smiles wearily. "Thank you, Princess, but I don't think we will be going on the road any time soon. Not just minding the injuries, but all of our supplies and goods were taken when we were robbed. I'm not sure how we will be able to pick ourselves back up after this."

"Don't think like that," Hashirama says kindly. "I'm sure there is something that cane be done." He glances over at Madara.

The man was finishing starting the fire and was sitting back on his hunches, appearing to having not been listening to them, but he surprises Sakura when he looks up at the old man with impossibly black eyes and says, simply, "We can get your possessions back." His words surprised Sakura, the old man, and Hashirama, making all of them gape at him. "What?" Madara says, glaring at Hashirama. "Am I wrong?"

"No," Hashirama says quickly. "I just didn't think you would be the one to offer," he admits before turning to the other man, "but he's not wrong, sir. If you'd like, we can get your possessions back for you."

The man looks over at Sakura, who shrugs. "They can," she says without a hint of doubt. "They are powerful shinobi, sir." There is a moment of pause, and then, a thought occurred to Sakura. "Perhaps there is a way to make a deal out of this..." Her eyes widen slightly.

"What?" the old man asks, looking around worriedly.

"Nothing to be worried about," Sakura says easily before turning toward Hashirama and Madara. "Remember what I told you about my... umm... well... village? About how we were able to make money selling services performed by shinobi?"

Hashirama, who looked a little worried by the idea of somehow making this man pay after already being robbed, nods slowly. "I do. But what does that have to do with this...?"

Sakura looks over at the man. "What sort of goods do you transport?"

The man shrugs a single shoulder. "Anything, really."

Sakura then looks at Hashirama. "And you guys are still building your village, right?"

Hashirama blinks a few times in confusions, still a bit worried. "Yes..?"

Madara's eyes flash in understanding. He looks over at the man. "We will get your possessions back for you. In return, help provide for our village by becoming a trade partner for a discounted price and protection." At the man's confused look, Madara elaborates, "If you trade to us discounted, as in bring supplies that we need to build up our village, we will get back your possessions lost here and open a contract with you to protect you and your caravan on the roads here in the Land of Fire."

The man brightens at that. "You would do that?"

Hashirama, finally understanding, nods happily. "Sure!" He looks over at Sakura, brown eyes flashing in happiness. "Wonderful idea, Princess!"

Sakura blushes and looks over at the other fire pit where the rest of the people are gathered. The Uchiha are walking around protectively, watching the forest and roads for unwanted guests. It's nearing nightfall and everyone is finally awake. Tsunemabi, the little boy Sakura saved - whose name is Hotaru - was the woman with the swollen wrist. She was up with an arm around Hotaru's shoulders and talking softly into his hair.

"I never got your name," Sakura says, looking back over at the old man.

"Oh!" He says, surprised. "I am Hakakuyu, Princess. Forgive my rudeness."

Sakura waves her hand in dismissal. "Don't worry about it. Tell me, is that something that is possible?" She asks Madara and Hashirama.

Madara nods. "I wouldn't have suggested we get the possessions if it wasn't possible."

Hashirama beams. "Is that alright with you, Hakahuyu-san?"

"I..." Hakakuyu says softly, looking around at them as if he didn't know what he was seeing. "I'm not sure what we did to deserve such kindness."

"All those that believe in the will of fire are connected by an invisible thread, over time the thread becomes more powerful as more people believe in it. That thread becomes unbreakable so long as a single person is willing to believe in the goodness of others and instead of looking at a man and seeing an enemy, he sees a friend instead. As an adamant believer in the will of fire, I see it only as my duty and privilege to pass on both my assistance and a hand in friendship," Sakura says softly, smiling down at the old man. "It is the will of fire that helps me strive toward a unified and harmonious future."

Hakakuyu stares at her with wide eyes, absorbing her words like he was a thirsty man in a dry desert and her words were water. Madara looks away with an unreadable look on his face while Hashirama is staring at Sakura like she was some kind of enigmatic being that descended onto the Earth from the Heavens. It was both flattering and a little creepy.

"Whoever these people are, they sure as hell wanted to make sure you got on Hashirama's good side," Madara says to himself, but Sakura heard him, wondering just how true that was. In her history - or genjutsu? - Hashirama was praised as a God among Shinobi. A man of great honor and power. A man willing to sacrifice the love of a man he thought as a brother for the safety of the world and his home. A man that was by her side as she fought what she thought to be the true threat of the story.

Pain and his Akatsuki, then Obito, then Madara and finally Kaguya.

If all of that really was part of a genjutsu, then Madara is right. Throughout the entire genjutsu, it's done nothing but sing praises to Hashirama and his ideals and beliefs. It raised him onto a pedestal that... well, he ultimately lived up to. Sakura was in awe at his prowess, and since she's gotten here, his kindness too. He is, without a doubt, a gentle and kind soul. Sakura can understand why he was - or will be - able to gather up the clans to form the Leaf Village.

It's... kind of hard to get her mind around all of this. It's hard to not think about this as the past. Especially now that she has her chakra, either it really is the past and Sakura is somehow in the place of a Princess of this time that she never heard of, or that really was a genjutsu and somehow they were able to train Sakura in how to be a shinobi. Or, at least her chakra. She has a lot of chakra. More than a civilian with no training should. There has to be a reason for this. There has to be more to the story.

"Yes," Sakura says softly in agreement. "I learned many good things about Lord-um. I mean, Hashirama..." Sakura says slowly, glancing over at Hashirama. Who smiles kindly back. "And next to nothing good about you," Sakura says honestly to Madara. The man snorts, obviously insulted, but Sakura wasn't finished. "And yes, I did think you were kind of an asshole, Madara, but..." Sakura smiles when Madara glares, annoyed at her. "After today... I don't think you're nearly as bad as people want to make you out to be."

Madara blinks in surprise, obviously not expecting Sakura to say that. While Hashirama looks positively jubilant. "Isn't that great, Madara? You are starting to fool people!" He says teasingly.

Madara glares at him, muttering something under his breath in annoyance and looking away. Sakura laughs while Hakakuyu looks around confused but figures it wasn't important enough to ask about. Smart man.

After a few minutes of looking into the fire, Madara stands up. "When morning comes, Hashirama, lead them to the nearest village. I'll take Tetsu with me to get these possessions and then track you down if we aren't back before you leave," he says simply, dusting off his battle armor.

Hashirama stands up. "Maybe I should go with-"

"No," Madara says, looking over at the brown eyed man. "You are needed here. No one can sneak up on you in a forest. All I need it Tetsu to track these bandits for me. I can take care of them. Or do you doubt me?"

Hashirama holds up his hands in surrender. "Peace, brother. I wasn't questioning your ability in battle. I know better than anyone else how good you are. It's just that you never know what could happen."

"True," Madara says, and the touch of hostility in his voice earlier is sated, "but I'll be fine. And if you really insist, then I'll take Koto with me too."

Hashirama smiles boyishly, betraying his worry. "I would like that, thanks."

Madara rolls his eyes the looks down at the old man. "Any issues with that?"

Hakakuyu shakes his head. "No, my lord. We appreciate everything you've done thus far."

"Good. Don't wait up, Hashirama. Koto, Tetsu, pack up, we're going. Everyone else, obey Hashirama in my absence." All of the Uchiha pause what they are doing and bow obediently to their clan leader. After a few minutes, Madara and the two other Uchiha are gone.

 

Sakura opens her eyes slowly to Hashirama shifting his weight from one leg to the other and a stick beneath it creaking. His back was to her as he stared off into the forest. It's dark now and Sakura can barely make out the top of the Senju patriarch's head. Sakura doesn't remember falling asleep. The forest is loud with crickets and cicada chirping and singing.

Sakura sits up slowly, looking around dazedly. She smooths down her messy hair to see all of the survivors nestled together near the other fire, sleeping soundly while surrounded by the vigilant Uchiha. Their quiet but their presence is comforting. It's kind of strange. Sakura was young when the Uchiha clan in the genjutsu were killed so she doesn't really know what it was like having so many of them around, but with every Uchiha she's met in the genjutsu... well, either these people think that the stars shine out of their asses, or they really are as powerful as perceived.

She rolls her shoulders back and sighs, scratching the back of her head before looking up at Hashirama. "I don't remember falling sleep," she admits.

Hashirama turns away from the forest and walks over to Sakura, sitting down next to her with his legs crossed. "It's alright, Princess. You've had a long day. Feel free to be a bit selfish." He smiles kindly, yet Sakura blanched at his words.

"I think I've filled my quota on selfishness for the year, thank you very much, but I appreciate the sentiment," she says, smiling weakly. There is a comfortable silence between them for a few minutes, both of them staring into the darkness of the forest beyond the fire pit. Finally, Sakura looks back over at Hashirama and says, "I'm sorry about the way I've been acting since you guys rescued me. You've been more than generous with me. I appreciate it."

Hashirama smiles genuinely. "You've been through a lot, Princess. I can understand that it'd be hard to acclimate right away, and that's fine. Besides, you're strong. Stronger than I would have been under the same circumstances." Sakura opens her mouth, about to call him out on his bullshit, and he must have sensed that, because he quickly hurries on, "I can't imagine what it's like having this entire life that you've lived. People you've loved, hated, lost, saved and all the hardship, accomplishment and failures all stripped away from you. All fabricated by someone else. It's... it's almost like being betrayed."

Sakura's eyebrows shoot up. "What do you mean by that?"

Hashirama turns to look at Sakura, half his face illuminated by the fire while the other side is bathed in shadows. "While you loved and hated the people and events in your life, it's like a story book being written as you've lived it. All you thoughts and feels, the events and people all making up the story. But once you finally got to the end of your life, or the story, as we woke you up, you learned that all of it was a lie. It's almost like the reality you knew and believed in, lied to you." Hashirama closes his eyes, as if physically pained by this. "I feel so bad for you."

Sakura didn't know what to say right away, so she didn't say anything. In some ways, his words made great sense to her. They weren't something that she could just brush of as sympathies. It seems like he's given this a lot of thought. But there was still something that's been bothering her.

"If all of that really was a genjutsu, then how am I able to use my chakra? Knowing remedies and herbs is one thing, all of that can be implanted, but my chakra is real. And it's significantly more chakra than I had at the... um, beginning of the genjutsu. How do you explain that?"

Hashirama rubs his chin in thought. "That's interesting, and while I haven't met you before you were kidnapped, it's only a theory but you could have had that much chakra before you were kidnapped, or maybe they were feeding you something that encouraged chakra grown while you slept, I'm not sure, but I know what you're thinking, Princess. I promise you, this isn't your past. You are a Princess, and while you futuristic ideals may be plausible and exceedingly helpful while at the same time graciously appreciated, they were also placed there by someone else."

Sakura pulls her knees up to her chest, and sighs, wrapping her arms around her knees. She rests her head on her knees and stares up at the brown eyed man. "As soon as we get to the capitol... you guys are going to leave me alone in this strange world."

Hashirama appears shocked. "No, oh Princess, no we would never just drop you like that. We will do whatever we can to help you acclimate! If we have to, we can explain what happened to your parents and -"

Sakura shakes her head, cutting him off. "That will make it impossible for the daimyo to ever put any backing behind a shinobi village, which is what you'll need to make... well, just that." She shakes her head again and lets out a winded sigh. "We can't do that."

Hashirama doesn't respond right away, but when he does, his words are soft, "You owe us nothing, Princess. You don't have to worry about the village. We'll make it work out somehow. You've already helped us enough to repay any debt you may think that you've accumulated. There is no need to worry."

Sakura raises her head and looks over at Hashirama, trying to read his expression but finds it difficult. Just as softly, as if to not be heard over the din from the forest and the soft whispers of the Uchiha, she says, "I have a selfish request."

Hashirama looks over at her. "Yes?"

"I want to see it. Your village, I mean. I want to see it grow and thrive. I want to help it become something even more wonderful than the one in my... genjutsu," Sakura says, closing her eyes.

"You're sweet," Hashirama says kindly. "And it's not selfish. In fact, it's understandable. I would love it if you came to oversee and even help us." His smile is very gentle.

Sakura blushes, smiling back at him, glad that he didn't immediately shoot her down. "Thank you, Ha-Hashirama." She gives a meek shrug at Hashirama's amused huff of air. "That'll take some getting used to."

Hashirama smiles boyishly again. "I'm sure you are up to the challenge, Princess. I have great faith in you." Sakura rolls her eyes, making an indignant sound unbecoming of a princess. Hashirama's smile broadens into a full on grin. "You are very different from any princess I've ever met, Princess. If I may."

Sakura smiles at him. "That's a good thing. I'm not like your old run-of-the-mil princess. I'm on a whole level. I'm like... like..." Sakura took a moment to really look for the right words to describe how she felt. How she viewed herself. There was a war inside her. How would Princess-Sakura react at this moment? How would she feel? How would Shinobi-Sakura react at this moment? How would she feel? When the most simple way to describe herself was right there. "I'm a shinobi princess. One of a kind."

Hashirama's smile turns gentle. "Yes," he says softly. "You certainly are."

 

Madara and the two other Uchiha found them again about an hour into their journey to the nearest town. They didn't appear to be ruffled in any sort of way, or somehow injured, much to Hashirama's relief. Madara handed over two storage scrolls to Hakakuyu with a simple explanation on how to used them and off-handed commented that he didn't want them back so to not worry about trying to return them. He appeared uncomfortable when Hakakuyu too his hand and shook is gleefully, but thankfully the Uchiha clan leader did nothing in retaliation.

Hashirama seemed to visibly enjoy Madara's discomfort and offered no way for the other man to escape it and so he had to keep accepting Hakakuyu's thanks over and over again until the old man found it adequate to stop. Madara stayed far away after that, much to Hashirama's mirth. Hashirama took that time to talk to Hakakuyu about their agreement from the night before.

Sakura spent the time holding one of Hotaru's hands while Tsunemabi held the other. She was a frail woman with purple hair cut short in the back and jaw length in the front and a frame that made her look like a harsh wind would take her away. She was soft spoken, much like Hinata, but looked at Hotaru, who blabbed on unabashedly, with overwhelming love and affection.

There wasn't a topic that Hotaru wouldn't talk about, or stay on long, as he chatted about anything and everything. Tsunemabi would make humming noises in response most of the time while Sakura would occasionally throw in her own input for the next hour and a half it took them to reach the closest village, through a short-cut in the woods they wouldn't have taken had their caravan survived.

Once at the village gates, they said their farewells.

Before they depart, Hotaru looks up at Sakura and asks, "Is it true that you are some sort of princess, onee-chan?"

Sakura blinks in surprise, wondering if he had overheard her talking with Hakakuyu, Madara and Hashirama the night before. Or if someone else had said something to him.

"Hotaru!" Tsunemabi says softly, but her voice has a hint of sharpness to it.

"It's alright," Sakura says to the frail woman before looking down at Hotaru. "It is. Why?"

"What is a princess doing helping us? Daddy used to always say the royalty doesn't care for people like us," he asks innocently. Tsunemabi looks like she wants to sink into the ground, worried Sakura would somehow find offense to her son's words and bring the wrath of the Fire Country down on them.

"Maybe that's true in some cases," Sakura says softly, not wanting to think about why Hotaru's father is no longer with him and Tsunemabi, "but not all. There are kind people all over the place, you just got to keep your eyes wide open so that you can spot them. Never give up on people. There are some bad people out there, like those that stole from you and your family, but there is also good people who will help you out when you need them. Does that make sense?"

Hotaru shrugs, and then nods, giving Sakura the impression that he didn't really understand, but it made Sakura smile regardless.

"Well," she says simply, grinning down at him, "the best part about all of this is that you are young with a full life ahead of you and don't have to worry about it now."

"Thank you for everything, Princess," Tsunemabi says softly. "We can never properly thank you."

Sakura shakes her head. "Don't worry about that. Just take care of yourselves. And if ever we are in the shinobi village at the same time, let's meet up. Okay?" She grins and winks at them.

"Of course," Tsunemabi says kindly while Hotaru is jumping up and down excited.

"Yeah! Shinobi are so cool!"

Sakura laughs, putting her hands on her hips and grins down at him. "I couldn't agree more, Hotaru. I couldn't agree more."

"Princess!" Hashirama calls, pulling Sakura's attention from the mother-son duo toward the group of Uchiha and the Senju clan leader waiting for her. "We still have a ways to go," he continues, "we best try to cover as much ground as we can."

Sakura nods and runs over to them, stopping once she's next to Hashirama to look back at the travelers. "Goodbye! Good luck! Take care of yourselves!" She yells, waving briskly.

They all start waving back and yelling the same, glowing and happy, despite the horrible ordeal they went through.

Yes, Sakura did it. She found her fire. Her reason for living even though everything seemed to be going wrong. These moments were worth living for. Worth seeing and keeping with her forever. She'll never forget about the little boy who gave her back her fire.

Chapter Text

Sakura woke up early the next morning feeling untouchable. She had managed to pick up some more clothes at the town that they dropped off Hotaru and his family at the day before. Sakura felt bad for having to bum money off of them, but they didn't seem to mind. She promised to pay them back once they got to the Capitol, which she's been dreading.

But she got up early, feeling anxious and full of energy. There was Uchiha already awake and patrolling around and Sakura waved at them as she snuck into the forest. She knew someone would follow her but she didn't mind. She needed to start getting her body back. When she was younger, she wanted to make sure she stayed thin with long, pretty hair, and beautiful, healthy skin. She didn't care much about being a shinobi. Now, as a seventeen year old princess, she's got the body she wanted back then.

Her arms and legs are thin, like sticks, her stomach is flat and she doesn't have any butt and barely any boobs to show for her age. Sakura knew this all attributed to her fast metabolism and the lack of proper movement for the past month has made her muscles weak and wither a bit. Sakura doubted that she had much muscles density to begin with, being a pampered princess, she lost whatever muscles she built up just from doing regular everyday movements.

Sakura knew she had to start training this body if she wanted to get some more of Sakura Haruno back. Because the person Sakura Haruno became, didn't want a paper thin body, pretty hair and beautiful skin. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to be powerful. She wanted to be useful. She - hopefully - became those things nearing the end of her time in the... the genjutsu. She became who she wanted and then lost it. But not completely. Out of all the horrible things those people who kidnapped her probably did, allowing her to keep the ability to be a shinobi almost makes up for all of it completely.

So, Sakura goes through a very light version of her work out. Some cardio, push-ups and curl ups. Things to work on flexibility and start building up muscles and endurance. She managed to complete the work out that she wanted to, even though she knows she's going to be in a world of pain the next few days. She felt accomplished, even stronger than before, even though logically she knew that there wasn't a difference to be noted yet. Just the fact that she was able to complete the work out she set out to do, makes her feel stronger. Makes her feel more capable.

Makes her feel like Sakura Haruno.

As soon as she's done with her work out and her cool down, she's able to take a bath. Colder than she would have liked, but it was something that would ultimately help her muscles a bit. She cleaned herself off and her hair, before changing into a new kimono, this one is red with a big flower at the bottom. Sakura's not sure what kind of flower, but reminds her of Ino.

Sakura misses her best friend. If Ino were here right now, then her and Sakura would be able to work through this entire thing together, Sakura's sure of it. Even with all this messed up shit going on, at least they would be together. At least there would be someone here with Sakura who would fully be able to understand what she's going through.

Hashirama has been a saint. Obviously he doesn't understand what she's going through, but it makes her feel a hell of a lot better knowing that he is at least trying to understand what's happening to her. Even if it does all sound crazy, at least he's trying hard to make her feel like she's not going completely insane - even though sometimes she feels like she is. It's nice that he's trying to help her through this.

Sakura walks back to camp. Once she gets there, Sakura spots Madara and Hashirama immediately. If Sakura recalled correctly, she didn't see them earlier. They must have gone out to patrol early in the morning and plan out the rest of their journey or at least talk about what has gone on so far. Either way, they probably used the time this morning to get their ducks in a row.

"Good morning," Sakura says, walking over to them.

Hashirama and Madara turn toward her, amidst everyone around them cleaning up. Hashirama beams at the sight of her. "Good morning, princess! I see that you are up early and in a good mood this morning!"

Sakura beams back at him. "Yeah. I feel good this morning. I managed to get through a morning regiment this morning. I'm proud of myself."

"You trained this morning?" Madara asks, eyebrow raised.

Sakura shrug her shoulders. "I wouldn't say trained. This body is too weak right now, both from a lavished lifestyle and from muscle breakdown over the last month without any sort of physical activity to keep the body in shape. So, it was more like a bit of rehabilitation rather than training." Sakura looks between the two men, noting their blank looks. "Uh, sorry. I'm just trying to get stronger in a more natural sense. I don't have any shinobi build or training under my belt yet. It's just to make myself more durable." She smiles.

"That's nice," Hashirama says, folding his hands neatly behind himself. "I'm glad you are in a good mood this morning."

"Thank you," Sakura says. "I know this seems weird, since I'm some kind of princess and it looks like I'm trying to play shinobi, but that's not the case. I know what I'm doing. I know what I want."

Madara lets out a slow breath - which shows Sakura that was exactly what he was thinking - but Hashirama looks pleased.

"That's good," Hashirama says. "I think if you were gifted with these abilities, you deserve the right to be able to use them. No need to over think it. And ignore Madara. He's old fashioned."

Sakura glances over at Madara, curiously. "How so?"

Madara turns his head away, keeping tight lipped. It's Hashirama who answers, "He thinks that children born outside of clan families aren't as powerful as children born within clans."

"Oh," Sakura says. "He's right."

Madara and Hashirama look at her, surprised. Sakura smiles a bit. They probably expected her to defend herself and others like her. Children who are becoming shinobi even though they aren't from a shinobi family. While it isn't as common as... well, in the genjutsu's future, it's still something that happens. But Sakura is a logical enough thinker to know that what Madara assumes is true.

"Children born outside of clans that learn to control their chakra will usually always have significantly less chakra and overall skills that clan children are usually born with, that is merely a fact. But it's not always the case. There are those with an unusually high affinity for shinobi life that aren't from a clan. And there is even clan children that don't possess the amazing powers of a shinobi in them. It's all about genetics, circumstance and determination," Sakura says sagely. "That genjutsu had to be based enough on reality on the most fundamental levels because a lot of what was real makes sense."

Hashirama gives Madara a playful shoulder bump, which earns him an annoyed look.

"Well," Madara says, "I'm glad we are at least in agreement with that. Although I can't dispute that you are capable of performing medical ninjutsu. It is without a doubt that you have abilities I'm sure you didn't have before. I am not denying that you have abilities and while I believe that since you have these abilities that you should use them, but you don't have to be a shinobi to use them."

Sakura shakes her head. "I don't want to be a medic. I want to be a medical shinobi, because I want to be able to protect the people I'm healing. I know I don't have to be a shinobi, but I will be." She smiles. It's not coy, or mocking, it's genuine. "I may be a princess of the body, but that's not who I am. I am a shinobi. Maybe not the best or strongest, but I am a shinobi in my heart, in my mind and in my soul. My body will just have to catch up."

Madara looks up at the bluing sky as the sun rises. It's mid morning and the air is already starting to heat up around them. Today is going to be a hot one, even though it's getting close to fall. It won't be getting really cold until closer to winter. Sakura is kind of looking forward to it. While trying to retrain her body, it's better that she not get a heat stroke before she's powerful enough to heal it.

"I think you can do it, Princess," Hashirama says, ignoring the droll look Madara sends his way. "If you want, I can help you."

Sakura smiles up at the future-First. "Thank you, Hashirama. I really appreciate it. Thankfully I was a horrible shinobi for a good portion of my life, so only two years of real training is gone. They were hard core, but..." Sakura flinches, recalling all of the sports equipment that her master had sent flying at her at blinding speeds, before shaking her head before continuing, "But I should be able to replicate it as closely as I can. I would appreciate some help."

Hashirama beams.

"How do you think the Daimyo is going to react to this?" Madara asks bluntly. "It's bad enough that she lost her memory but if she's suddenly keyed up on becoming a shinobi. I'm sure this isn't going to look favorable on us or shinobi in general."

For a split second, Sakura was annoyed. She wanted to tell him to stop raining on her parade, that she was going to do what she wanted and that he was just over reacting, but then the realization hit her hard. He was right. Sakura doesn't claim to remember anything about her supposed parents. But Sakura has to admit that does sound suspicious. Her parents are royals, who probably don't see shinobi as anything other than warring families without honor - or at least the honor that is praised upon the samurai - and would probably take this entire thing as a way to somehow tip the balance one way or another.

Madara is right, if they knew, it would only make Sakura's dream impossible to uphold. She wants Konoha. She wants Konoha but more powerful, more peaceful than the one in her genjutsu.

"You're right," Sakura says, looking up into Madara's eyes. He looks down at her, dark eyes wide and bottomless. "It would look bad if they thought that. So, I just won't say anything." Sakura shrugs her shoulders. "I'm going to focus on getting a handle on this life and getting a grip on... on what I thought was my past life. I thank you both, and the rest of the Uchiha here," Sakura says, making a little gesture toward the camp around them, "for everything you all have done for me thus far and until the end of our journey to the capitol."

Sakura bows her head respectfully.

"Princess," Madara says, reaching up and rubbing the back of his head.

"Wait, Princess, please raise your head," Hashirama says. "There is no need to bow to us! We didn't do anything worthy for such respect!" Hashirama waves his hands around wildly, obviously embarrassed by the attention he's getting.

Sakura straightens up and smiles brightly at the two embarrassed clan leaders. "As your princess, I think I'll be the judge of that." She winks before turning toward the direction of the Fire Capitol and takes a few steps in that direction before glancing at them from over her shoulder. "Well? What are you waiting for? Let's get going!"

 

It's late afternoon when they stopped for a rest. Sakura needed it. She has been walking on her own and is breathless and hot. She waves her hand around in front of her face, fanning herself.

They all take a moment to catch their breath and cool off. It's not just Sakura that's roasting beneath the summer sun. Sakura sits down on a nearby rock and closes her eyes. Now is as good of time as any to practice a bit more with her chakra. Just as she suspected, even though she knows what it means to move her chakra and in her mind's eye she knows how her chakra is suppose to move and flow, she just can't do it. No, she can move her chakra, just not easily.

Just like an untrained muscle. Well, that's what she's doing now. Training.

Sakura slowly runs through the basic hand signs, remembering her sensei in school teaching her alongside her class what they all mean and how the chakra is suppose to flow with each hand sign. Sakura slowly moves from hand sign to hand sign, forcing her chakra to flow the correct way for each hand sign before moving on. Their entire hour long break is dedicated to just the hand signs and chakra movement.

Even though it wasn't much, Sakura is tired afterward. It's strange how much training, however minute, she had done as a kid in school, was taken for granted. Even though this is one of the very basics, it has left her tired. But Sakura's not going to give up. Nearing the end of the hour Sakura is noticing a bit of an ease when moving her chakra that she didn't have earlier.

Sakura reaches up and wipes away some sweat that has built up on her brow. She drops her hand back onto her lap and lets out a long winded sigh. Her arms are not used to being held up like that and ache because of it. She was definitely a very pampered princess.

Even though she's tired, Sakura is also happy. Now that she's got a clear goal in mind, she's going to keep on pushing forward, no matter how hard or disheartening it's going to be. She's going to have to keep pushing on. Even if everything in the genjutsu was something fabricated in the sick mind of someone else, Sakura is going make just one thing a reality. She is going to be strong. She is going to be a shinobi. Even if it isn't something that is Sakura Shirakawa's future, it was definitely in Sakura Haruno.

And the pink haired princess definitely likes Sakura Haruno better than Sakura Shirakawa.

"Princess?"

Sakura blinks out of her thoughts and looks up to see Hashirama standing over her, head tilted to the side, long brown hair falling over one shoulder. He was looking at her curiously, but when her eyes land on him, he smiles.

"Hashirama," Sakura says, standing up. "Is everything okay?"

Hashirama holds up his hands. "It's alright, Princess. I didn't mean to startle you. I couldn't help myself. I've been watching you from over there," he makes a vague gesture behind himself. Sakura glances over his shoulder but doesn't really see anything he could be gesturing to. She looks back over at him as he continues, "And I must say, that genjutsu didn't skim over any details. Your hand signs were perfect and the movement of your chakra, while sluggish, was also perfect."

Sakura blushes, sitting back down. "I wouldn't say perfect. I still have a long way to go before I can do all the movements on reflex without thinking about it." She shrugs her shoulders.

Hashirama crosses his arms over his chest and shakes his head. "I won't let you down-play this, Princess. Madara may be right about how your parents will react by you having gained shinobi abilities, but I am happy to see that you are working hard. You had a rough first few days. I'm glad you are finding purpose at last." His smile is genuine.

Sakura nods. "I am too, thanks. I still feel bad for how I treated you all. Thank you for not giving up on me. I really appreciate it."

Hashirama waves his hand dismissively. "There is no need to thank us, Princess. You pulled yourself from that slump. No one can blame you for how you were acting. You did just go through a life-altering event and shouldn't be expected to just get over it. Madara may be callous," Hashirama pauses a moment to glance over at his friend, who was talking with two other Uchiha, who were nodding their heads at everything he was saying, before turning back to Sakura and continues, "but he does mean well. He just doesn't like the idea of giving people false hope."

Sakura tilts her head to the side. "What do you mean by that?"

Hashirama leans on one hip, crossing his arms over his chest. "Madara is a lot like my little brother. He thinks through things, maybe a little too much like Tobirama does, but he thinks through things in such depth that he sees a lot of negativity and the more that he thinks about it, the more he worries about the other persons feelings if those negative things become reality. People don't think Madara is sensitive. But they are wrong. He really is sensitive to other people but he's not all that good at showing it, thus making him appear more stoic and rude than he is."

Hashirama glances over at Madara, as if to see if he was looking their way only to see that he wasn't, before he turns back to Sakura and steps forward a bit and lowers his voice a bit, "I'm sorry about the way he's been treating you, but trust me, he just wants to make sure you get home safe and sound to your family. And he is a little peeved about the genjutsu you were put under. If this wasn't their intention, than that means that they are ignorant of their abilities and the way that genjutsu works and that drives Madara crazy." Hashirama grins a bit. "He's kind of a freak like that."

"He might have a mild case of OCD," Sakura says simply.

Hashirama tilts his head. "What's that?"

"Obsessive compulsive disorder. He has to have things a certain way or he gets aggravated or irritated. Like that," Sakura says.

Hashirama barks a laugh, throwing his head back in the action. "That is definitely Madara!"

"Hashirama!" Madara snaps, making the Hashirama jump and swallow the remainder of his laugh. He looks over at Madara with wide brown eyes, looking completely alarmed, like he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Yes, Madara!" He calls back, eyes still wide.

Madara glares back at him, annoyed. "We've rested long enough. Let's go."

Hashirama relaxes, sending he Uchiha patriarch double thumbs up and a wink. "Yessir!" He flinches back immediately as if burned at the withering look Madara sends his way after that.

"Sensitive, right?" Sakura asks, mirthfully.

Hashirama gives her a droll look. "He's good sometimes, I swear."

Sakura laughs, standing back up. "I'm sure."

 

"You can do it."

"I'm scared."

"I'm not going to drop you."

Sakura holds onto Hashirama's arm, looking up at him. "I want to be a shinobi and I am getting used to my chakra again, but my control isn't where it needs to be yet for this. I'm scared."

Hashirama holds onto her elbows, looking down at her. "It'll be fine, Princess, I'm not going to let you fall."

It's about two days later and it's late at night when Hashirama decided that he wanted to help her get further in her chakra control training by taking her tree walking. He's standing on the tree, holding Sakura's hands, trying to coxed her into stepping up onto the trunk with him. She can hear the fire behind them crackling and the eyes of the gathered Uchiha watching her.

Even though it's only been a few days since Sakura got back to her routine, she's already feeling stronger then she was when she woke up. But her chakra control isn't where she would want it to be before doing things like this.

"Come on, I won't drop you, promise," Hashirama says, smiling. "Trust me."

Sakura grimaces, looking up at him. "I trust you."

She hesitates for another moment before lifting her right foot and putting it on the tree trunk, pushing chakra to her feet to hold her in place. She puts some weight on that foot and pushes up a bit, she's held in place. Her eyes flicker up to a beaming Hashirama, before back to her feet. She puts the other one on the trunk and straightens up a bit. Okay, maybe her control was a little better than she thought and she's just a perfectionist - which she undoubtedly was.

Slowly, with tiny baby steps, Sakura and Hashirama walk up the tree trunk. Hashirama just kept smiling at her, long brown hair dangling in the air between them as he back-stepped all his way up to the middle of the tree. Sakura's control, while better than she thought, still wasn't perfect and about half way up the tree, her sandal didn't actually grip onto the bark and slipped out from under her.

Sakura gasps and grips Hashirama's arm tightly while her leg was left dangling behind her. Sakura's heart jumps in her chest and she stars up at Hashirama with wide eyes, forcing herself to not scream and remain calm. Sakura is not weak, she doesn't need to scream and cry. She just needs to relax and keep practicing. She's trying to be a shinobi after all and that work is pain.

Rationally, Sakura knew that Hashirama wasn't going to let her fall and get hurt. He didn't seem like that sort of person to just let someone get hurt, but also, she was his charge and it's never a good thing to let them hurt themselves. Sakura's sure that they must be getting paid an arm and a leg to save the Daimyo's daughter from unknown assailants. They'll return her in hopefully better shape than they got her if they're smart.

This is before the Hidden Villages' mission ranking system. Before it's a set number based on how the village is doing. A deal that the First and Second made with their Capitol city was that they got a slight discount getting missions from their Hidden Villages. It was just one of the many things they agreed upon in order to make this alliance work.

So her father must have paid something hefty for the Uchiha and... Hashirama to go and fetch Sakura. Now that Sakura's thinking about it, why is Hashirama with the group of Uchiha, being led by Madara on the rescue mission for her? Not that she doesn't appreciate it, but it's still odd. Yes, they are in an alliance with the Uchiha, but it's still odd that the team would be made up of all Uchiha, including it's clan leader, and the Senju clan leader.

Why hasn't she thought to ask them about that yet?

Sakura shakes her head. Now is definitely not the time.

"Don't worry," Hashirama says, keeping tight grip of her arms. "I've got you. I won't let you fall."

Sakura nods, pressing her foot back against the bark and adding a bit of weight onto it to make sure that her chakra's got a good grip on the bark again. It does. So Sakura continues slowly climbing up the tree. She keeps watching her feet, making sure that she doesn't misstep again. Hashirama side steps up onto a thick branch and helps pull Sakura up to it along side him.

Sakura glances down at the ground. She can see a bunch of the Uchiha's heads upturned toward her, watching them curiously. The Princess part of Sakura's mind is absolutely terrified by the heights and is feeling a bit of vertigo, but the shinobi part of Sakura's mind, knew she had to stay relaxed. Panic and fear of heights isn't going to help her at all.

Sakura takes a few deep breaths before forcing her shoulders to relax. She turns to look at Hashirama and smiles. Hashirama, still holding tightly to her arms, smiles back down at her. They both stare at each other for a moment, before looking straight up, through the tree branches and the leaves to see the bright, beautiful full moon shining up above them.

"When this is all over," Sakura says slowly, "are you really not going to just leave me at the capitol when the mission is said and done? That won't be the end?"

Hashirama looks down at her. "Yes, Princess. I promise I'll come back to visit. And once our new home is up on it's feet, you are more than welcome to visit any time you like."

Sakura lowers her gaze a bit to Hashirama's dark eyes, face mostly obscured by the shadow of the trees. "You promise? It won't be a burden on you?"

Hashirama nods. "I promise it won't be. We'd be happy to have you come visit, Princess."

Sakura's shoulders drop in relief. "Thank you, Hashirama. I know I'm not really part of the Hidden Leaf, but to be able to see it become the village that I grew to know and love... I would give anything for it." Sakura smiles. "If you mean it, by letting me see that, than I will do everything I can to also make it so."

Hashirama beams. "Then it's a deal, Princess."

 

It was another week after that that Sakura and her protectors finally made it to the Capitol city. It was large and luxurious and Sakura had to wonder if she ever saw the city in what she had thought was her reality. But this place was breath taking. It was one of the largest cities in the Land of Fire. But it was definitely one of the most populated cities Sakura's ever been to.

It's early evening and the sun is starting to set, bathing the world shades of red, yellow and orange like an exploding starburst of fire in the sky. Even though the sun is setting, the city is still lively. Shops are still open, people are still milling about in the streets. Samurai are posted all around the city, watchfully looking out for any possible dangers to the peace and prosperity of the city.

Living the life of a shinobi, or thinking that she was living the life of a shinobi, made Sakura slightly worried, watching them. But she is in an entirely different situation now than in the genjutsu. Sakura isn't just some ninja, someone who exists as the polar opposite of the samurai who live honor-bound and shinobi live in the way of the shadows, she's not that person now. She's not a shinobi. Not yet. She's a princess. Above all others, the samurai are suppose to be her first and last line of defense.

While Sakura and her team never had any issues with the samurai there was always this unspoken thing between them. Shinobi and samurai are like night and day, it's strange to think that for her time here, they are going to be the ones to protect her. At least until she's strong enough to protect herself. This life is going to be different than the one she live through in the illusion. She's going to be stronger than ever before. She is finally going to make a difference. She is going to help and save people.

Sakura unconsciously steps closer to Hashirama, suddenly feeling claustrophobic in these dense streets. They are a lot more populated than the streets in genjutsu-Konoha. Sakura looks around at all the unfamiliar faces of the people, wishing that somehow one of them wouldn't just be an indistinguishing face in the crowd. Sakura wished that some fragment of her life here would come to her. But no matter how much she tried to find some sort of memory in her brain of this home, all she could think about was the one in Konoha.

Sakura literally had nothing here. While Hashirama promised that this wouldn't be the end. That he wouldn't just leave her alone in this strange reality where she knows no one and nothing, Sakura can't help but fear that life will get ahead of them and Sakura won't be able to deal with never having some sort of connection to Konoha. It would kill her.

"Nervous?" Hashirama asks, pulling her from her thoughts. Sakura nods, not pulling her eyes away from the strange faces of the people of her new home city. Hashirama puts a hand on her shoulder, keeping it there until she finally looks over at him. "How about we take to the roof tops?" He glances over his shoulder at Madara and shrugs. "Yeah?"

Madara pauses for a moment, looking around the crowded streets before nodding. "Yeah."

Hashirama pulls Sakura into his arms, easily scooping her up and leaping up onto the rooftops, shocking the people around them. Madara and the Uchiha are quick to follow after. They head toward the palace in the center of the city. Sakura wraps her arms around Hashirama's neck and closes her eyes. This is it. The moment of truth. She has to be able to convince her royal parents that she's their daughter, that shinobi aren't evil and Konoha should be formed. That her family, the Daimyo should endorse the formation of a shinobi nation.

No matter what. That must be the one thing that comes true. Konoha must become real. It must.

Chapter Text

They stopped outside the long stairway leading up to the palace where a large, rodiron gate and four guards are stationed. They didn't react right away after the group of shinobi dropped right in front of them, but when they realized that they weren't average people, their hands reached down to the swords strapped to their sides, eyes narrowed in confusion and caution at the strangers.

"Peace, samurai," Madara says evenly, reaching into his sleeve and pulling out a scroll branded with the Imperial symbol for the Land of Fire: a dragon with it's monstrous wings outspread wide, breathing fire into the air. "We were hired by the Daimyo to rescue the Princess. We are here to complete our mission."

Sakura, who was still in Hashirama's arms, looks over at them and gives a little, awkward wave. "Hey..."

Their eyes lock onto her, first her face, then her signature pink hair before they release their grip on their swords and bow deeply at the waist.

"Princess," the first one to the left says, "forgive us for our ignorance. We have been eagerly awaiting your safe return home. Lord Daimyo and Lady Rizai will be over-joyed by your return. Welcome home, Princess Sakura." He's obviously of higher rank than the others. He's wearing the standard armor of the samurai but his chest has the dragon branded on the front.

"Welcome home, Princess Sakura," the other three samurai say in unison, still bent heavily at the waist.

Sakura looks deeply uncomfortable, looking over at Hashirama, who smiles softly. His right hand, which is settled on her ribs, squeezes a bit in an act of comfort. Sakura smiles back thinly.

"Thank you," she says, looking back over at the samurai. "It's... um, good to be back..." Her jaw snaps shut, realizing how hesitant she sounds. She hopes no one noticed.

Madara glances over at her, showing that her hopes were in vein, but thankfully keeps whatever he was thinking to himself. Hashirama even pulled her a bit closer and gave her another comforting squeeze.

There is a pause, where no one moves. Sakura looks at the unmoving samurai, who have yet to raise from their bow before she feels Hashirama's lips against the shell of her ear and whispers, "You must tell them to rise, Princess."

Sakura jolts, both from the realization that that happened to be what they were waiting for and from Hashirama's hot breath against her ear and the skin of her neck, making her shiver a bit. "You may rise," Sakura says slowly, not sure how she felt about those words coming from her mouth. This was just the beginning. These were just some samurai guards who probably only knew her through reputation and she was already hitting road bumps.

Her grip on Hashirama's shoulder tightens and she bites her lip, mentally cursing herself as the samurai raise from their bow, thanking Sakura before opening the gate for them to pass. Thankfully Hashirama and Madara saw it wise not to stick around so they both rush through, the rest of the Uchiha following quickly after. With their speed they were able to climb the stairs up to the next set of guards in less than ten seconds when it would have taken a regular person two or three minutes to do it.

They went through the same thing again. The two guards bowed to Sakura, who was still in Hashirama's arms, and welcomed her home. This time Sakura remembered to tell them to rise and thank them for the words. They opened the doors into the garden and from there, Sakura was put down and she walked through it to get to the palace on the opposite side.

The garden was breath-taking. Everything was manicured and bright and beautiful. It was primarily green with so many other beautiful colors added in that Sakura was momentarily hypnotized by it. Ino would have loved it here. No doubt able to name off all the flowers used here, whereas Sakura could only name off those with medical properties. It was wide and appeared to stretch around the perimeter of the palace, disappearing along the sides of the large extravagant building. It was like any other castle Sakura ever saw but it somehow felt different because it wasn't someone else's home. It was suppose to be hers.

Sakura walks along the stone pathway that wraps around a fountain of the dragon spitting fire - er water - while running her fingers against the rough fountain bowl before walking up to the doors. Two more samurai are stationed there. Upon seeing Sakura approach, followed leasurely by the Uchiha and their clan leader along with the Senju clan leader, they bow deeply. Being the first to outright recognize Sakura.

"Princess!" The one on the right says. "Thank Kami for your safe return!"

"Thank you," Sakura says for the third time. "Please rise."

"Yes, Princess," they both say. "Welcome home!"

Sakura smiles a bit, but it's wane, and nods. "Thank you," she says again.

They both open one of the double doors and step aside, tipping their heads once more and allowing her to pass through. Sakura hesitates a moment before doing just that. She interlaces her fingers together and holds them in front of her as she walks into the palace to see a fancy grand entry with a double staircase and a chandelier overhead. Directly in front of the door is one way out, then to Sakura's left and right are two other ways further into the palace. It's less like a palace when she first walked in and more like a mansion.

There is a maid right inside the door. She was right under the stairs, cleaning a mirror, when she looked over at Sakura. She blinked once in confusion, and then once more, then one final time before rushing over to Sakura, hands out as if to grab hold of her but she doesn't. She looks Sakura up and down quickly, blue eyes blown wide.

"Princess! Y-You... you're here! Thank Kami for returning you to us!" She turns and runs between the two staircases. "I'll be back, Princess! Just wait for me!"

Sakura doesn't move. She just watched the maid go. Sakura waits a moment before turning to see Hashirama and Madara sneaking into the palace behind her, the other Uchiha peaking in after them. They must not have received their mission at the palace. They must have gotten it from a third person, or were met somewhere else.

Sakura moved away from the door so that everyone could pile into the foyer. Sakura shifted a little bit closer to Hashirama, not so sure she wants to stay here. Yes, this is where their mission ends, but still. Sakura didn't want to separate from Hashirama. She didn't want to be away from the people that were familiar to her, not yet. She knew that she would have to, she knew that they were needed back in the future Konoha - er, whatever they're going to call it - and that staying with her was just not going to happen.

At least, not for much longer.

Sakura, tentatively, makes her way further into the palace, following after the maid down the hall between the two staircases. It opens up into a large room, lined with pillars on either side with a large throne at the very end. It was elegant and decked out in gems that sparkle from the five different chandeliers hanging between it and Sakura. There is a smaller, but equally as elegant throne next to it - presumably for the Daimyo's wife, Sakura's mother - that looks slightly out of place. Almost like it hadn't always been there.

Sakura took a few steps in, looking around in awe at all of the elegant vases curtains that hang over the windows high up on the walls, more for letting light in than looking out of. Not that looking in from those windows would be something difficult for someone with shinobi training. But that wasn't important! All of this was part of her home? It was all so surreal.

In some ways, Sakura has almost been waiting for Hashirama to poke her in the side, laughing at her for buying this whole "Princess of the Land of Fire" nonsense and tell her to just wake up from this long, painful, yet slightly amusing dream she's been having and be back in her tent, sleeping next to her broken-hearted best friend still mourning the loss of her father.

But no, they were here. At the palace of the Daimyo. Her father.

"Princess!" Sakura's eyes flicker over to one of the halls entering the large throne room from the right, two samurai are in front of it, staring at Sakura - how had she not noticed them? She really had lost her touch - but didn't move from their post. A plump woman, older than Sakura, probably in her mid forties, came running toward the pink haired girl, having to hike up her disheveled kimono so that she doesn't trip. Her brown hair pulled up into a loose bun on the back of her head is coming loose.

The maid from earlier stops by the pillars, eyes wide with a large smile on her face.

Sakura's eyes return to the older woman in time to open her arms up to welcome the strange woman, who didn't appear planning on stopping until she reached her, into her arms. Sakura stumbles back a few steps but managed to keep her footing - definitely something to attest to her shinobi conditioning and chakra she pushed into her feet to keep the woman from barreling her over.

The larger woman was able to easily wrap herself around Sakura. She smelled nice, like lemons. Her hugs were tight and warm. Very nonthreatening. Sakura slowly places her hands onto the woman's sides in a small gesture to return the hug even though she doesn't recall this woman. Definitely not a double from the genjutsu, but she had to be close to Sakura if she was able to be this impersonal to her princess.

Surely this woman isn't her mother.

Sakura didn't know what to think about that. This woman seemed nice enough. Mebuki Haruno was anything but soft and loving. Her and Sakura fought like cats and dogs all Sakura's life. She loved her mom, really she did, but they just saw the world in two totally different ways. She wouldn't trade her mom for the world, but Sakura could get used to these warm, loving hugs.

The woman is crying, profusely thanking Hashirama, Madara and the other Uchiha with them.

"Thank you, my lords, thank you so much for returning her to us safe and sound, I can not thank you enough," the woman sobs, squeezing Sakura tighter.

"It is alright," Hashirama says kindly. "There is no need to thank us, miss..?"

"Oh!" The woman pulls back from Sakura, offering a loving smile before wiping off her face and bowing to Hashirama. "I am Len, my lord. I am a servant of the house. I was Princess Sakura's wet nurse and later her maid once she was old enough not to need me." She smiles, tears still building up in her eyes. "I was... I was suppose to be with her, the night she was kidnapped but I was ill and bless my angel princess's heart, she let me stay home for the night." She brings a hand to her lips and lets out a little sob. "Had I been there...?"

"Oh no, don't say that," Hashirama says, eyebrows pulled together. "Nothing could have prevent what happened from happening. Kind woman, such as yourself, would have done anything to protect the princess. I can just tell. I'm good at reading people. You would have tried to protect her and gotten hurt yourself. That would have made the princess sad, I'm sure." Hashirama puts a hand on the woman's shoulder and coaxes her into straightening up.

Len's eyes flicker over to Sakura, who nods.

"The last thing I would ever want is for someone to get hurt because of me," Sakura says. Len's eyes water again and she pulls Sakura back into her arms and hugs her tight again before pulling back.

"I'm sorry, Princess, I've just missed you so much," Len says, wiping the tears from her eyes and patting her thighs before straightening up. "I'm sorry, my lords," she says to Madara and Hashirama, "I'm just a little emotional."

"Forgiveness isn't necessary," Hashirama says kindly. "It's refreshing to see that someone is so genuine. There is no need to be sorry for that."

Len blushes. "Thank you..."

Madara stares at her for a moment before his eyes flicker at something over Sakura's shoulder. Sakura stares at him for a moment before following his eyes to see the most elegant looking woman walking toward them. The maid and both of the samurai standing at the door behind her, are all bowing low at the waist. The woman, decked out in long elegant robes and with undoubtedly expensive jewelry hanging around her neck, dangling from her ears and weaved into her hair, walks closer to them. Her makeup is thick and perfectly made, bringing out more of her almost ethereal beauty.

She's gorgeous with her stark blond hair pulled up into a complex twist on the top of her head. It's the same color as Ino's hair. It reminds Sakura of her best friend once again. It's been so long since Sakura last saw Ino, and she misses her greatly.

"My lady," Len says, pulling Sakura from her observation of the approaching woman. Len bows deeply to her.

The woman ignores her and walks right over to Sakura, looking her up and down with this... weird look on her face. Her eyebrows are pulled together a bit and her lips are pressed together slightly. Her blue eyes, surrounded by long, thick dark lashes, take in her cheap kimono and shoes, the dirt on her feet that was kicked up on the trek to the capitol. Her hair is down and messy and her face is smooth and makeup-less.

Sakura didn't think she looked all that bad. Sure, she was a little rough around the edges, smelled it too, she's sure, but when the woman was done giving Sakura a slow once over, her eyes raise until they lock with Sakura's and the pink haired Princess immediately knew what the slightly - and by slightly, she means slightly - older woman was thinking.

Sakura was nothing better than the dirt she had dusted on her feet. The intrigued look on Sakura's face melts into an unreadable expression. So, the Daimyo's wife was that kind of person.

"Princess Sakura," the lady says, reaching out, almost as if she was going to push a loose strand of pink hair away from Sakura's hand but decides against it, looking slightly repulsed. "I'm glad that you've finally returned. Your father and I have been worried sick." She sounded like she was reciting something from a textbook rather than anything from the heart. Sakura didn't know what to say to that. She sounded anything but genuine.

"Thank you..." Sakura says slowly, stepping back a bit and away from the older woman.

"Sakura!" a man's voice calls out, pulling Sakura's eyes away to a hall on the opposite side. Two Honor Guards, decked out in fancy golden armor and helmets, round the corner and step aside to open the way for a man to come jogging out of the hallway dressed up in even more elegant robes than the woman in front of Sakura, with a face that Sakura recognized immediately.

She couldn't believe who was running toward her, his face nearly splitting in half with absolute joy and relief. His arms are spread out wide for Sakura as he draws near. Sakura had a moment of pause not sure she was seeing who she thought she was seeing, until he spoke again, using a pet name that he used to always call her. "My princess!"

It wasn't her title, he called her by. But the name given to a daughter from her doting father.

"Dad!" Sakura croaks, pushing past the elegant woman to run toward the man approaching her. Her father. Kizashi Haruno looks exactly as Sakura had remembered him, the last time she saw her father before she went to war to protect their world. The same slightly tanned complexion and blue eyes and crazy light purple hair styled like a cherry blossom.

Sakura flew into Kizashi's arms, feeling the most normal she has ever since she woke up. Her father wasn't some prim and proper and distant royal, like Sakura imaged most Princess's fathers were like. No, he was Kizashi Haruno - er, Shirakawa - through and through. He was jubilant, happy, and like a beacon of light in the center of her dark universe. Sakura presses herself as close as she can to Kizashi, relishing in his familiarity.

Sakura closes her eyes and presses close to her father, feeling him wrap his arms around her. He kisses the top of her head and gives her a loving squeeze. He doesn't care how she looks or how she smells - and while she's sure she's smelled worse in her life, at least her shinobi one, she's also sure that she's smelled better too - but he doesn't seem to mind. All Kizashi cares about, all he's ever cared about, was Sakura and her safety. It's refreshing and relaxing to know that that hasn't change.

At least the genjutsu was able to give her a father that she could adore unconditionally and allow her to keep it in her new reality. Her mother may not be the same, but Kizashi was. One out of two isn't bad. While she would give anything to have both of her parents back, she's so glad that she has her father here with her. And not some stranger, cold and detached and royal. No, this was her father. She would accept no one else.

"My princess," Kizashi says, kissing the top of her head again, "thank Kami that you are here! I was so worried." He pulls back a bit to look at Sakura's face, scanning it for any injuries or bruises. Her body has pretty much healed up after she woke up. Her medical prowess awakening and their slow trek here has been enough time to completely heal all of the injuries Sakura's sustained and she's almost gained back all of the weight she's assuming that she lost.

"Thank you," Sakura says softly, feeling tears prickle at the corners of her eyes. She blinks rapidly trying to clear her vision. She's not going to cry here, in front of all these people.

Kizashi kisses the top of Sakura's head before looking toward the bowing shinobi force that brought Sakura home. They had all dropped down to a knee out of respect for Sakura's father - her goofy, never made it past genin, father! - and he takes a moment to scan each and every one of them before grinning broadly.

"Come, friends! Rise, everyone! This isn't a moment for formality! This is a moment for rejoice!" Kizashi beams. "Stand! Stand!"

Everyone, excluding Sakura and her mother, who were down on one knee, stand up. He kisses Sakura's head again before stepping over to Hashirama, who was the closest of any of the shinobi and shakes his hand. Hashirama looks bashful at the attention. Madara does too, when it's his turn to shake Kizashi's hand, and the rest of the Uchiha look completely awestruck and intimidated when he gets to them.

"Come, friends, come." Kizashi puts his arm around Sakura's shoulder and waves for them to follow him further into the palace. "I must insist that you stay for dinner before your trip home. Come, come."

"Dad," Sakura says softly, looking up at her father. He was a lot more finely dressed, but still her father. "There is something we've got to talk about..."

 

Kizashi sits at the head of the table, staring at Sakura with wide eyes. He looks over at Hashirama, then Madara, then back to Sakura. Across from Sakura was her mother, who was looking at her over the napkin she has pressed to her lips. There is something strange about her large blue eyes staring at Sakura. Whomever this woman was, she wasn't Mebuki Haruno. She wasn't Sakura's mother. She refused to acknowledge this woman as anything more than what she appeared to be to Sakura.

Obviously she was too young to be the pink haired girl's birth mother. She was someone else. She was a step mother. And a bitchy one at that. Sakura could already tell. This woman wasn't all that heart broken that Sakura was gone and didn't appear to be all that happy that she was back and Sakura immediately knew why.

Sakura was the center of Kizashi's world. She could tell by the way that the woman stared at her father, as if trying to get him to pay attention to her, but he was so focused on Sakura and the bombshell that she dropped onto him.

"I have amnesia," Sakura had said, stopping them in the middle of their dinner.

"I can't believe this," Kizashi says, pulling Sakura from her thoughts, eyebrows pulled together tightly. "I can't believe something like that is able to happen." He looks over at Hashirama, who is to Sakura's right. "You are a famous um..." He waves his hand around, trying to find the word. "Um... a healer, right?"

"A medical shinobi," Hashirama says softly, trying not to sound like he's correcting the Daimyo, but Kizashi doesn't seem to be insulted by his words.

"Yes!" He says, nodding toward Hashirama. "Isn't that like a healer?"

"In a manner of speaking," Hashirama says softly still, deciding not to get into the semantics of it all. Now wasn't the time or place, if Sakura's father would even be able to understand the difference like Sakura and Hashirama did.

"Can you do something to help her?" Kizashi asks, eyes wide. "Isn't there something you can do?"

Hashirama's eyes flicker over to Madara, something being share between them with just their eyes, before he looks back over at Kizashi genuinely remorseful. "I am sorry, my lord. I wish there was something that I could do. Unfortunately, the damage done to Princess Sakura's memory is something that I've never dealt with before. She was put into a..." he hesitates.

Genjutsu, on his lips, but that's not something that would mean anything to the royals excluding Sakura, so he goes with a different approach, "She was put into an illusion that mimics the real world. She was trapped in it for so long that it replaced her memories with false ones. Although, some elements, like people and places, were the same. Which is how she remembered you. But most everything else is gone. It may come back with time, while she's around things that are familiar to her, but there is nothing I can do about it. My deepest apologies, my lord."

Kizashi looks unhappy by that. "So, that's it then? There is nothing that can be done?" His shoulders slump.

Hashirama's chin falls to his chest, looking genuinely remorseful. He's such a good, nice man. He's been wonderful through this entire thing, Sakura can't believe she got so lucky. Even now, everything about him is completely genuine and kind.

"I'm sorry, my lord. Truly I am, we didn't get to her fast enough."

Kizashi shakes is head, sighing. "I shouldn't have waited so long to ask for help. I shouldn't have let you talk me into waiting, Kohana," Kizashi says, finally looking over at the woman across from Sakura. This entire time she has been waiting to be noticed by him, shifting in her seat and clearing her throat, but now that he's looking at her, she looks like she wants to sink into the ground.

Sakura's eyebrow quirks a bit. Logically, Sakura would start assuming, just from that, that her step mother had something to do with her kidnapping. But Sakura took a moment to stare at her step mother and immediately knew that her mother wasn't the one responsible. Sakura was the Princess. Her mother, Kohana, looks like she was probably a spoilt princess herself, expecting a lavished lifestyle when she married Sakura's father. She must have been used to being the center of attention and thought hat would remain the same when she married the Daimyo, but that's not the case.

Sakura was what was important and while Kohana is a little put off by no longer being the center of the universe, but she doesn't look like she's the type to think of having something happen to Sakura. If she was killed that might be one thing, but she was left alive and put into a genjutsu where, while hard and with many of unfortunately twist and turns, she was ultimately happy.

Kohana stares at Kizashi with wide eyes, probably thinking that everyone suspected her of being involved. "I didn't mean it maliciously, love, I thought that they would send a ransom letter or something. I didn't know it wouldn't happen! I didn't know that she would lose her memory! I don't know anything about ninja or the ninja things they do." She looks horrified that the samurai will just up and haul her out of the palace and string her up for the capitol to see, by her toes.

Madara scoffs, shaking his head. He didn't appear to appreciate her words at all. "Ninja things" is a very broad term for a lifestyle. It's almost like she's calling it a hobby, and while Hashirama looks like he can overlook her ignorance as that, Madara is slightly insulted. He's proud of who he is and what he is. The ignorance of others is what makes him as sunny a person as he is.

Sakura was a little annoyed by her words too, but wasn't about to let that be known. She had a reputation she had to start remembering or upholding. For now, so long as she has no idea about how to really be a princess in this world, she's going to have to play it as safely as humanly possible. She doesn't have a stable grip on this place yet and just has to be careful. No reaction to Kohana's words.

"It's alright," Hashirama says, placatingly. "It's fine that you don't know, my lady. But we don't think you were responsible. Don't worry."

Kohana looks over at Hashirama for a moment, as if she's not sure to believe him. Wearily, she says, "Really? You think I'm innocent?"

"Innocent is a strong word," Madara mutters, then jolts in pain when Hashirama elbowed him hard in the ribs from beneath the table. Madara lets out a slow breath from between his clenched teeth. Hashirama doesn't even look at his fellow clan leader, his eyes still focused on Kohana.

"The life of a shinobi is one of deception," Hashirama says smoothly, his smile is thin. "My apologies, my lady, but either you are an expert at lying, or you're scared out of your mind because your innocent. You aren't a good liar, my lady. Yes, I believe you had nothing to do with this."

Kohana looks slightly relieved. "Thank you," she mumbles, she bows her head, now determined to no longer be seen for the rest of the meal. Sakura can't blame her. What a thing to hang in the air, surround in the grand dinning room by a bunch of Honor Guards, armed and dangerous. One word is all they need.

Kizashi stares at her for a moment with an unreadable look on his face. He turns to look over at Sakura before reaching out and taking her hand in his. "I'm so sorry that has happened to you, Sakura. I am so sorry that you were hurt. I should have put more guards on you or something. Anything to prevent this."

Sakura reaches out and puts her other hand on her father's, cocooning his hand between both of hers, smiling thinly. "I'm okay, dad. My memories may come back, they may not, but I can adjust. I can move on. I am happy to be here." There is a moment of hesitation before she closes her hand around Kizashi's tightly. "The Uchiha, Lord Madara and Lord Hashirama have been so kind to me, dad. They have been helping me adjust as best they can. I owe them a lot."

Kizashi blinks a few times, almost like he forgot that they had guests. He smiles a bit. "I'm sorry," he says to them. "I hate to bring this family drama into our business deal. Stay for remainder of dinner, I insist, and I'll pay you afterward." He smiles more genuinely.

Hashirama smiles kindly, glancing over at Madara for a moment, before nodding. "We would greatly appreciate it, my lord, but please know, our job isn't finished yet. We still haven't found out who is responsible for the kidnapping. There is no need to feel like you have to pay us. I heard from my brother yesterday morning, and they are still chasing leads."

Kizashi waves his hand around dismissively. "Yes, yes. I appreciate that you are trying not to under mind us and out agreement. The most important thing to me, is that my daughter is now safe by my side. The people who did this will come around again, I know it." He nods. "I have a newfound respect for you, Hashirama-san, Madara-san, thank you for bringing my daughter back to me. How can I ever repay you two? I know money runs the world... but it just doesn't feel enough to me."

Sakura smiles, suddenly, seeing the chance dropping onto her lap like a delicious morsel after days without eating. "Well, dad," she glances over at a doe eyed Hashirama and curious Madara, "Hashirama and Madara have been telling me about their alliance..."

Kizashi tilts his head to the side. "Yes...?"

"You know," Sakura says, looking back over at her father, "they are trying to create a village. They were telling me all about their great idea. Have you heard about it, yet?"

"No," Kizashi says, eyes wide. "What about it?" He looks over at Hashirama and Madara, genuinely intrigued. "Would you tell me about it?"

Hashirama's brown eyes light up and Madara's chin drops a bit, looking slightly embarrassed.

"If you permit it, my lord," Hashirama says softly.

Kizashi smiles. "Let me hear it!" Sakura leans back and closes her eyes, listening to Hashirama explain a foreign concept to her father.

The Will of Fire.

Chapter Text

Sakura stares at the strange person standing in front of her. No matter how many times she sees this person, she can't get used to them. It was just too strange to see them. If she looks hard enough, beneath the surface she can see signs of someone that she once knew, or perhaps thought she knew, but the moment she unfocused that person fades away and the stranger takes their place. The features are similar to a degree, but they look like they attached to someone that Sakura has never seen before. Or perhaps, someone that Sakura has tried to never see.

"Princess?" Len says, stepping up next to Sakura, appearing next to the stranger across from her. "You're staying at your reflection again, princess?"

Sakura's eyes lock onto her signature pink hair pulled up into an intricate bun on the top of her head with a beautiful comb with a cherry blossom design holding it together. Even her fringe was pulled back tight out of her face. It was a strange look on Sakura and it really made her forehead - which she is thankfully starting to finally grow into now that she's an adult - stand out even more than it usually does. Her eyes are the same shade of green that they have always been, but they are strange to Sakura.

They hold new horrors rather than old ones. They hold the horrors of her life in the genjutsu, but not of any sort of hard life before her kidnapping. Her difficulties probably extend to just that kidnapping. Ever since she's returned, she hasn't had much issue with anyone in the castle. All of the maids and butlers and samurai have been kind and respectful and her step-mother has wisely kept to herself, but sometimes people stare. They whisper when they don't think she's around or that she can hear them so it's usually not done maliciously, but it always gets Sakura thinking.

This isn't her. This princess staring back at her isn't who she is. Or maybe it is, but it's not who she wants to be. Every night before she goes to sleep Sakura wishes that this would be the night that she woke up in that tent next to her long time best friend and childhood savior. Every morning afterward, she was sorely disappointed. She was surrounded by people she didn't know, and didn't want to know. She was given a position she didn't want filled with expectations she wasn't sure she could meet and she didn't want any of it.

She didn't want to be a princess. She didn't want to be the daughter of the Daimyo. She didn't want to be the future of the Land of Fire. She didn't want to be Sakura Shirakawa.

She wanted to be Sakura Haruno.

Sakura's shoulders slump a bit as she lets out a little sigh, finally pulling her eyes away from the stranger in front of her to Len who was standing next to her. She is smiling sadly up at Sakura. The pink haired girl forces a smile before laying her hands on Len's shoulders. Ever since Sakura was returned to her hell - er, home - in the capital, she's had very few people that she's comfortable around. Everyone is strangers, even Len. But somehow, on some kind of spiritual level, after a conversation or two, Sakura felt a connection to this woman.

Len was kind, motherly, in a way that Sakura wasn't used to with her own mother, and Sakura couldn't stop herself from trusting this woman. There is a lot of times that have come these last few weeks since she was returned to the capital, that Sakura was on the verge of breaking down or making an ass of herself in front of important people, and Len has been there. Always. She never complained and at first she respected the distance Sakura wanted between them. She may have been raised by this woman but she didn't remember it and as a shinobi in spirit, it was hard to just trust her right off the bat.

But eventually, the walls between Sakura and Len began to fall away and soon, the older woman became like a confidant to Sakura. Some solace in the shit that has become her life. Sakura didn't realize it when she first met this woman, that the older woman would become an invaluable friend to her.

"I can't get used to her," Sakura says, knowing that she didn't have to specify who she was referring to.

Len smiles understandingly. She reaches up and takes Sakura's hands and cradles them lovingly between her own. "It's you, my beautiful child. She may seem strange to you, but she is absolutely gorgeous and you and her are the same. I know that it's strange, but you will get used to it, Sakura-chan. I promise you that eventually you will get better." Her smile turns hopeful.

Sakura wasn't so sure she believed that, especially after weeks of being in her old environment, she hasn't had even the slightest flicker of remembrance, she wasn't certain that any of her memories would ever return. Whomever kidnapped her and put her in that genjutsu probably wiped the slate clean permanently. Sakura doubted that any of those memories would ever come back. But she wasn't going to say that to Len. The kind woman deserved to have hope. She was the one that Sakura had to trust so fully in both lives.

As Sakura Shirakawa and Sakura Haruno.

"Thank you, Len," Sakura says softly, offering a little smile. Sakura takes a moment to lift up her sleeves to see the clear, pale skin of her arm, now definitely more defined then when she first woke up. She has been working hard, especially once she was given her own room and a slew of privacy, and has been using that private time to get herself back into shape. She's had a lot to think about these last few weeks and working out while doing it has really lowered her stress level quite a bit compared to how it could have been.

It's still weird to be a princess. Sakura still didn't answer right away when people called her that. She still didn't really know how to react to people or in certain situations. It was good that Len could stay by her side and her father and "mother" understood what was going on with her, so they tried hard to cover for her with guests that couldn't be avoided.

Sakura has managed to keep her "friends" away as well. Always with the excuse that she is trying hard to recover from her ordeal and just needs space. Thankfully being a princess, she doesn't have to say that herself. She can just tell samurai or maids or even Len to do it for her, but Sakura isn't naïve enough to think that she will be able to avoid them forever. At some point she's going have to meet with these people and tell them about... well, whatever. Sakura didn't really know. She knew it couldn't be the truth, but she had to say something.

She couldn't just avoid Sakura Shirakawa's life. She was in it now. She had to find some way to adjust, though she can't imagine it's going to get much easier as time goes on, perhaps just more bearable. Sakura can't imagine ever getting used to the life of politics. She knows a bit on how to play the game by watching her master in action, but she was never the one that had to make any decisions, so she could never get it wrong and she respected Lady Tsunade too much to speak out against her while others were around or do anything that could make it appear as though her lady and staff were not all on the same page.

This is different. As a Princess herself, she has to make some kinds of decisions that would reflect well on herself, her father and her nation. It was taxing and gave Sakura even more to think about above all else.

The life of a Princess, while a luxurious one to a degree, was not something to take lightly, as Sakura has come to learn in the few weeks she has spent in the palace as the official Princess of the Land of Fire.

During the dinner when Sakura returned to her home, Sakura initiated the conversation between her father, Hashirama and Madara about the formation of what she hoped would one day become Konoha. It may have been a genjutsu she was put under, but that doesn't mean she can't hope that it becomes a reality someday. If there is anything that she can do to make her dream a reality, then she will.

Her father, Hashirama and Madara spent many hours talking about the village. Her father seemed very interested in the idea of having a village filled with shinobi who are actually loyal to the Land of Fire. While he doesn't appear to actually grasp the real power of a shinobi, Sakura thinks it is wiser that way, anyhow. Her father my come to fear them without bounds if he knew.

To a normal human, a shinobi is like a god. And to a shinobi the two men that sat at Sakura's side were considered god amongst shinobi. Sakura was even a bit intimidated while sitting next to them and she knew what they could do. She can imagine what would go through her father's mind if he knew the full extent of the power within the two men next to her.

Thankfully Madara and Hashirama found it wise to keep that a secret as well.

After the discussion was over, Madara and Hashirama insisted on leaving to join up with Tobirama and continue the search for information as to who Sakura's abductors are. At this point, Sakura has mixed feelings. She wasn't so certain she cared much for the people who abducted her. She knew it was probably important, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She wondered if they would have any information to give her - on what, she didn't really know. Maybe why they took her, why they put her in that genjutsu, what they wanted, but she wasn't really sure - and figured it might be important, but at the same time, at the time, Sakura cares more about finding her place in the world again and get over what happened to her.

It's easier said than done, it seems.

But since Madara and Hashirama left to continue to see their mission through to the end. Her father wanted these people brought to justice, while his main concern was Sakura returning home, now that she is and has amnesia, he wants them to really pay for their crimes. Sakura's not sure she really minds one way or another. In some ways, she's a bit thankful to them for giving her these wonderful memories of who she thought to be her friends and family. But at the same time, in the deepest, darkest parts of her mind, Sakura wonders if sometimes she's better off.

"Princess?"

Sakura blinks out of her thoughts and looks over at another maid waiting at the door, her head bowed low.

"Yes?" Sakura says slowly.

"The shinobi from the Uchiha and Senju families are here to speak with the Lord, but he is currently preoccupied with a meeting and will be for a while yet, would you be able to entertain them?"

Sakura nods, a smile creeping across her face. Now these guests, she wouldn't mind seeing to. A good distraction from all of her worries right now. Besides, she's kind of missed being around shinobi. Samurai are too stuck up and duty-bound for her. She can't even really say that they are nice to be around, because none of them would talk to her as equals. It was against their code.

Sakura kind of likes the impersonal feeling she gets when with shinobi. She'll overlook the maid's ignorance. They aren't just families. They are clans. But Sakura wouldn't expect the maid to know that. In fact, she'd have been surprised otherwise.

"I'll see to them now," Sakura says. "Are they in the foyer?"

The maid nods. "Yes, Princess."

"Thank you," Sakura says, trying to keep her voice even and her footsteps slow and purposeful, less they betray her excitement at once again being around something and someone - someones - familiar.

Sakura stops at the top of the stairs overlooking the foyer, not at all surprised to see all of the shinobi looking up at her. Now it's a nice mixture of both Uchiha and Senju clan members. As Sakura suspected - hoped is more like it - Hashirama and Madara stood in the center of the group. Madara's hands are hidden in his kimono sleeves while Hashirama is waving happily up at her.

"Princess, hello!" Hashirama calls, grinning jubilantly.

Sakura smiles, descending the stairs with a bit more haste and less finesse. As soon as she reaches the bottom step, Hashirama is there to greet her with a big smile, Sakura couldn't help herself, she steps into his arms and hugs him tightly, like an old friend. She's not sure if he expected it or not, but if he wasn't, he was able to adapt quick enough for her not to have noticed his hesitation.

The pink haired girl pulls back and smiles up at him brightly. "I'm happy to see you again, Hashirama," Sakura says, feeling silly with the large grin on her face.

"Not as happy as I, Princess," Hashirama beams back.

Sakura glances past him at Madara, offering him a smile as well. Despite their differences, Sakura is beginning to suspect the crotchety Uchiha patriarch is growing on her. And despite anything she'll say aloud, she missed him too. He was yet another reminder of the place she wanted to call home. And she missed that place greatly.

"Madara," Sakura says, tipping her head a bit, figuring he wouldn't appreciate a hug nearly as much as Hashirama did.

Madara tips his head a bit lower. "My Princess, I hope you have been fairing well since the last we spoke."

Sakura nods. "I have been. It's good to see you again."

"You as well," Madara says, raising his head.

"Princess," Hashirama says, making a sweeping gesture. "I would like to introduce you to someone." She follows him just past Madara and over to a man standing back politely. "This is -"

Sakura's eyes widen. "Tobirama," she says, surprising herself with how impersonal she sounded.

Madara, Hashirama and then Tobirama looked slightly surprised as well. Perhaps it could also stem from the fact that she knew his name without introduction as well.

"I'm sorry," Sakura says quickly. "I just... I've... seen you before. Forgive me."

Tobirama's razor sharp red eyes narrow slightly. "Ahh, yes, in the genjutsu."

Hashirama's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "Tobi was in the genjutsu as well?"

Sakura nods. "Yes, Hashirama. He was the Second Hokage of your village," Sakura says, reaching up and tucking a bit of her fringe behind her ear. "And I'm not sure how much you've told him," Sakura says, sending Tobirama a half glance, "but I actually had the pleasure of meeting him briefly during the Fourth Great Ninja war. But that is the extent of my interaction with him from within the genjutsu."

Sakura shrugs her shoulders, blushing. "Forgive me, Tobirama-sa... um, Tobirama, if I'm being too impersonal," Sakura says shyly. It's a little strange this way around. Madara and Hashirama had to basically beat the shinobi in-bred respect for the hierarchy out of her with them. With Tobirama, it's sort of sudden. In her mind's eye, she can still see him as the Second Hokage.

Tobirama bows at the waist a bit. "Princess, there is no need for an apology. My brother and Madara have explained the situation to me well. I can't imagine how you must be adjusting."

"Slowly," Sakura admits, "with a trip and a tumble along the way."

Hashirama smiles. "That is to be expected, unfortunately."

Sakura hesitates for a moment before jumping. "Oh, forgive me. You may rise, Tobirama. Please, don't feel like you must be so formal. I'm afraid my manners are a bit lacking."

Tobirama straightens up. "I thank you for that, my lady, but I think that-"

Sakura holds her hands up, respectfully stopping him from continuing, and smiles. "I insist. Please."

"I... shall try," Tobirama says slowly, his voice promising that such a thing may not be the case. Something tells Sakura that she shouldn't be surprised by such a thing. He does seem like a very formal person. It's just something in the way he's standing, she supposes.

"And I would like to introduce you to someone as well," Madara says, gesturing to the Uchiha next to him. "This is my little brother, Izuna."

Sakura's eyebrows shoot to her hairline. Now this was something that she didn't know. Something that she didn't have any sort of former knowledge of. If Sakura thought about it logically, it wasn't that far out of the realm of possibilities for Madara to have his own siblings, and now that she's thinking about. Sakura remembered learning for Lady Tsunade that Sasuke's and Itachi's family line actually came from Madara's younger brother, rather than Madara himself. As far as Sakura knew, Madara never had children and his little brother had a single child before passing, therefore his line became the main branch when Madara and Hashirama had their fall out and the Uchiha clan basically kicked him out.

Weird, Sakura thought, as she stepped closer to Izuna.

The Uchiha, Izuna, who was probably a year or two older than her, bows deep at the waist. "My lady."

Sakura tips her head a bit. "Izuna Uchiha, please rise."

Izuna obeys and it shocks Sakura, now having a good look at his face, this guy looks exactly like Sasuke. His hair is parted the same way and the same shade of dark blue. His face is shaped the same and even has the same shaped eyes. He has lines under his eyes more similar to Itachi. Not as deep and long, but Sakura never got a good enough look at the older brother to be able to see all of the similarities, but Sakura does vaguely remember that he and Sasuke looked a lot alike. So that must be the same with them and Izuna.

Er, if the genjutsu was real. But since it's not, Itachi and Sasuke were just a figment of someone else's imagination. They weren't real.

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, my lady," Izuna says, offering a small smile that looks so much like Sasuke's. The very few times he showed it when they were younger. Er, in the genjutsu.

Sakura smiles back at him faintly. "You too, Izuna. Are you taking care of your stubborn big brother?"

Izuna's eyes light up in shock as his smile spreads, taking up most of his face. Madara grunts and works hard not to glare at Sakura, though she can tell he wants to, as a bark of laughter escapes the younger brother. "Yes, my lady. I'm looking after him." He looks over at Madara. "You only spent a few days with Princess Sakura and she's already got you pegged, aniki."

Madara actually growls at Izuna, but his face remains... well, Madara-like. As far as Sakura's seen, Madara's always had a harder look on his face, like he's constantly battling something internally. Sakura shudders to think of what that could be.

"Izuna..." Madara growls lowly, narrowing his eyes.

Izuna's smile turns taunting, "Yes, brother? Is something wrong?"

Madara's eyes narrow more, but he doesn't respond, opting to just glare at his little brother before letting out a tired sigh.

Sakura takes a moment to stare in amazement. There was definitely something very different about Madara. They way he holds himself is a bit different. Like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Did something happen? Is it because Izuna is there with them? Sakura didn't know anything about Madara's little brother, but in the short time she's seen them together, they appear to be close.

Sakura turns to the other Uchiha who were gathered around. She scans their faces recognizing a few of them from the group that saved her. "Hello again, some of you. I recognize a few faces. How are you all?"

There is respectful murmurs and dips of the head. But they all meet her eyes respectfully and offer small smiles of their own. Sakura turns her eyes over to the Senju side.

"Hello, everyone. How are you all?" More respectful murmurs and smiles.

Sakura turns back to the clan leaders and their heirs. "I'm sorry that my father is busy with a meeting right now. Why don't we all go and get some tea and wait for him?"

"We would like that," Hashirama says happily. "Thank you, Princess."

"You are welcome to come along," Sakura says, looking at the remainder of the two clans, before turning and leading the way to the dining room. She goes and sits in her usual spot, smiling up at Len who runs off to start the tea. Sakura looks over at the samurai that line the room and waves her hand around for a moment. They clear the room almost immediately.

"What brings you guys out here?" Sakura asks, as everyone settles in around the long table. Hashirama finding a seat right next to her while Madara and Izuna across from him, leaving the space across from Sakura open for her "mother" and the head of the table for her father, when they joined them.

"First off," Hashirama says, smiling down at her. "How are you, Princess?"

Sakura sighs. "I'm okay," Sakura says slowly. "I'm tired and feel like I'm a tripping my way through this, but I'm trying hard. I'm keeping my attention on things that I can control, but I'm afraid to admit that I am avoiding certain aspects of my life because it's too foreign. I know I'm going to have to face them but..." Sakura sighs again. "But, well, I'm still building up the courage, I suppose."

Hashirama's smile is sympathetically. He reaches out and puts a delicate hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, princess. I can understand your hesitancy. Your situation is unique. No one wants to just force you into adjusting. That is something that you can only do on your own, all we can do is help you. Take your time. I know you probably don't want to hear this..." he hesitates.

Sakura looks up at him. "You can say it."

Hashirama sighs. "Some of the aspects of your life may never return to you. Because of the genjutsu you've become wired a different way than before. It's not your fault and it's nothing that you can prevent. It's all about adjusting and pushing through." He frowns, pushing some of the hair that fell over his shoulder back onto his back. "I'm sorry that this has happened to you, Princess. I'm sorry that this has made your life so much harder than it should have been."

Sakura feels a bit better about it, knowing that Hashirama was one hundred percent on her side.

"Thank you, Hashirama, it means a lot that you would say that." Sakura offers him a little smile.

"You're welcome," Hashirama says. "Now, on to business." He interlaces his fingers together and settles them on his lap. "I'm sorry to inform you of this, Princess, amongst all of the other problems in you life, but our trail ran cold. I'm sorry, Princess."

Sakura rolls her shoulder back a bit. "So, you guys don't know who did this to me?"

"Unfortunately no," Tobirama says, crossing his arms over his chest. "There is something really strange going on."

"Tobirama," Madara says warning, peaking Sakura's interest. Sakura looks between them, curiously.

"She deserves to know the truth," Tobirama says flatly.

"You shouldn't be filling the Princess's plate with groundless theories. She shouldn't have to worry about that," Madara says sternly, glaring at Tobirama.

"No, brother," Izuna says, shaking his head. "I have to agree with Tobirama. The Princess needs to know what's going on. Or at least our theories. At this point we have no idea who can be trusted and as far as the Princess is concerned; we are the only ones. Everyone is suspicious. She deserves to know that?"

"So that she can fear the entire world?" Madara asks, turning his glare to his little brother.

Sakura's eyebrow shoot toward her hairline. This is all very interesting. Sakura was curious as to what they were talking about but also about Madara's odd stance on all of this. This felt more like a Hashirama stance, yet Madara was taking it and Hashirama just sat by quietly, looking between them with wide, keen brown eyes that belies his usual joy and happiness for the seriousness of the situation.

"Yes," Tobirama says. "She is a princess, it is only smart for her to be weary, and even scared of the world around her. It'll help keep her vigilant."

"Or paranoid," Madara snaps. "Our goal shouldn't be to scare her, Tobirama, Izuna, it should be to alert her of the situation but not terrify her. No one can take being alone in the world feeling like they are trapped and in constant danger. It'll drive anyone mad."

"I'm not saying that we terrify her and walk away," Tobirama defends himself. "We will find a way to help her."

"What's going on..?" Sakura asks slowly, not sure she wanted to interrupt. There was something interesting going on. She wanted to see what else they would say, but figured she needed to get to the point and make sure it's something that can be said in front of her dad.

Madara shakes his head and looks over at Hashirama. "Talk some sense into your little brother, please."

Hashirama lets out a long, slow sigh. "I'm torn," he admits. "On one hand, we should tell her the truth because she deserves to know but I don't believe you will deliver such news delicately. Or at least some more tact than what I'm sure you're capable of." He smiles at the droll look sent his way by his little brother.

"The people who did this... they are someone from the capital, right?" Sakura asks, looking between the two sets of brothers, noting that the other Uchiha and Senju have their heads bowed, as if trying not to be part of this conversation at all. "I suppose I'm not so surprised by that..."

"No, princess, it's a bit more than that," Hashirama says, looking down at her. "It's...well, we have some suspicions..."

"Without any proof," Madara says, crossing his arms over his chest. "They believe that the scene was cleaned up too well. That the reason we're hitting a dead end is because there is many different people involved. And they fear it goes up high in the social standing, such as royalty or even someone within your own home." Madara's dark eyes settle on Sakura. "They believe especially now, in this castle, you are in danger."

Sakura's stomach falls to the floor. "What?"

"The place you were kidnapped from, the people who were around you, all of them have been tampered with," Tobirama says slowly. "Izuna and I have been working hard these last few weeks trying to figure out what exactly happened but they were all under a really powerful genjutsu for so long-"

"-They confuse the genjutsu for reality," Sakura says softly, eyes wide.

"I've never met anyone who can do genjutsu like this," Izuna says. "There is some in the Uchiha clan that can perform really powerful genjutsu that even I find greatly impressive, but this is something else entirely. This is on a magnitude that I've never seen before. Princess, I fear that this entire thing isn't over. I understand where my brother comes from," Izuna says, glancing over at his brother for a moment before looking back over at Sakura, "and he's right. We don't want to scare you or make you believe the world is out to get you, but you need to know that you very well might still be in danger."

Sakura stands up and starts pacing the length of the room, wringing her hands out in front of her. Her brain, like in most situations since she's awakened, is split in two. Her shinobi side isn't all that shocked by this information. Naturally the situation has met with it's natural conclusion. They haven't caught the head honcho in charge yet, so it shouldn't be over. The first, insignificant battle shouldn't have been the last one. There had to be more at play. Sakura was a princess in the Land of Fire, one of the largest Lands, other than the Wind and Earth. And they were wealthy too. It had to involve a lot of people because it was such a big job.

But the princess side of Sakura's brain was appalled and shocked by this entire thing. She should be safe in her home and with her friends. She was a fucking princess for crying out loud! There shouldn't be a moment in time where she didn't feel safe! Now she can't even live in her own home without fear until this entire thing has been settled? Her life is going to consist of always looking over her shoulder and worrying about who's coming after her, what they want and when they're going to strike?

Is that really the way she wants to live her life?

The room is quiet other than Sakura's shoes slapping against the floor as she walks back and forth from one side of the room to the other. She wants to be calm and think through this all rationally - because thankfully, nearing the end of the genjutsu Sakura became a pretty logically thinker, rather than an emotional one - but her brain is still so wacked out by the two clashing personalities, she can't really decipher which is stronger. She feels like she's being pulled one way or another by her own emotions.

Sakura gives her entire body a full shake, trying to dislodge those conflicting emotions. She takes a few moments to collect herself before turning back to the Senju and Uchiha who waited patiently for her to sort herself out before she says, softly, "Okay. I... thank you all for your honesty and concern. So..." Sakura hesitates, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, from her princess brain, washing over her. "What now?" Her voice is thick, alerting herself of her own worry. Or the Princess's side's worry.

Sakura is regaining her strength, her abilities, but she's no where near ready enough to take on a powerful genjutsu specialist and who knows who else! Or how many.

"Well," Hashirama says, standing up and walking over to Sakura. He takes her hands and holds onto them tightly. It's only then that she realized they were shaking. She forces the Princess side of her brain to quiet down and let her shinobi training relax her a bit. It would do her no good to just suddenly start panicking now. She had to relax and think things through calmly.

"It was actually Madara's idea," Hashirama says, smiling over at his friend. Madara lets out an annoyed huff and turns his head away, his dark fringe obscures his face from her vision.

"What is it?" Sakura asks, her shoulders drooping a bit in relief. At least they are already planning ahead.

"He wants you to come live with us," Hashirama says, smiling kindly down at Sakura. "And I have to say, I second that."

The door behind Sakura opens and Len bounces in, happy and oblivious to the uneasy atmosphere filling the room. "Tea's ready!" She looks around happily before seeing all of the somber looks on everyone else's faces. "Uh... oh... what's wrong, Princess? Princess?"