There is something buzzing beneath her skin, something robust and heady. Sakura does her best to ignore the feeling as she has for the past week. It is akin in some ways to an excess of chakra, but different somehow.
She feels energized, alive.
Sakura shivers, forcing her attention back to the documents on her desk. In the years since the war, Tsunade-shishou gradually unyoked herself from her duties at the hospital until Sakura ran it alone. Sakura is proud of it, proud of her proven abilities at the tender age of 21. Still, there is a tedium associated with the hospital that Sakura hadn’t expected.
Honestly, she does more paperwork than the Hokage!
Sakura sighs, skirting around her real thoughts, even in the privacy of her office. Recently there has been something about the hospital that leaves her teeth on edge and her blood singing. It isn’t the normal adrenaline rush that comes of high-stress situations. No, it’s something…more.
“Haruno-sama,” one of the interns calls from her doorway as he knocks. “The hunter-nin have brought in a body for you to examine.”
Sakura sighs, sealing the documents on her desk with a cipher of her own making that only a Nara could possibly crack before heading out after the intern. They head into the bowels of the hospital, past sterile rooms and immaculate surroundings. Sakura feels something bloom within her darkly as they head closer to the morgue. Behind her eyes, a bone-white flower seems to twist and unfold.
Sakura is jolted from the odd thought as the intern presses open the door for her before scurrying off in a different direction, cowed by the death that clings as cobwebs to morgue, sticky and entrapping. Sakura spares a brief shake of her head for the folly of superstition, strong even in the face of science as she enters the room.
There are a pair of hunter-nin, their masks porcelain and garments dark. Sakura recognizes them by their postures and chakra signatures, dampened as they are. However, her gaze and her gut are drawn to the other in the room.
She approaches the dead nin, taking in the brilliant green that runs beneath his veins starting at the hollow of his neck. “I see the new poison did well,” she comments, lifting the nin’s hands with gloved fingers. There is no necrotic damage; the poison did its job of preserving the man in as near a living state as possible. “Report.”
“Wei Daisuke, Iwa missing nin, aged 34, infamously known by the moniker ‘Rabid Dog,’” one says. “We tracked him across the borders of Kumo into Kiri.”
“We put him down like the dog he is,” the other says. “Two days ago, at 19:34.”
“Impressive,” Sakura says, brows going up. Aside from the color running beneath his skin, the “Rabid Dog” could be asleep. “You are dismissed. Report to Hokage-sama. I’ll have an autopsy ready for you in a few days.”
There is a spike of chakra and the others are gone, leaving Sakura with her quarry. Her mouth begins to water and Sakura roughly shakes herself. What is wrong with her?
Her thoughts scatter to the wind as the nin’s limbs begin to twitch. Sakura immediately presses a hand to his chest, feeling for any signs of life.
There are none.
Yet still his body jerks about, grotesque and wrong in a way Sakura is unused to. Something about it reminds her of Sasori and Chiyo’s puppetry yet it’s still different.
There are no strings attached after all.
She watches, wary but not afraid as the dead man sits up and opens his eyes in her direction. There is no light within his eyes, only a glassy green sheen of film over them. Sakura fills power surge through her, clenching her in the lungs, demanding her breath.
This is her.
The nin turns his face her way and, though no words are said, Sakura can feel his anger and hatred. He doesn’t want to be here.
Sakura will not release him, not yet. She studies him intently, poking and prodding at his limbs and organs, figuring out his range of motion and how far her control extends over him. With both, the answer is absolute.
There is a vicious, violent tinge to Sakura’s triumph as she presses the nin back to lay down. “Sleep,” she commands and watches with unabashed interest as her power leaves him. Somewhere, distantly, Sakura knows that she should be worried about this newfound ability. However, there is a hunger that holds her in its grips.
Sakura stumbles back from the gurney, doing her best to shake away the thrall. It clings to her as silky cobwebs, sticky and tacky, refusing to let her go.
Sakura turns tail and flees, assigning a different doctor to do the autopsy.
She doesn’t trust herself right now.
Sand stuck to her in places she didn’t want to mention, gritty and rubbing with friction as she continued to move. It had been a long trip in Suna and Sakura was ready to be home. She blinked at the oasis that wavered into existence before her, the heat making her dizzy. Was this place real?
Sakura paused, uneasy but with the sun beating down across her neck, prickling and searing at her skin. With a sigh, Sakura made her way forward, stepping up close to the bubbling spring. She placed her hands into it, washing away the dirt and grit in relief. As she splashed water onto her neck, she realized that there was a building beyond the spring.
It was poor craftsmanship, leaning in a way that made it look as if it’d fall over in the wind. However, as Sakura looked beyond the open door, the interior looked dark and cool and inviting.
Sakura concentrated, searching out the chakra signatures inside. There were a few, insignificant signatures that fluctuated with life as they puttered around within the shelter. With the heat beating down upon her, Sakura decided to take the risk and take a small detour.
Sakura entered the building, blinking to try to adjust to the sudden lack of light. As she did so, Sakura realized that this was a tavern. Sakura grabbed a seat in a corner, surveilling the room. There were about five people in the room, including the bartender. All sat alone, keeping to themselves as they kept away from the oppressive heat of midday. She gestured and the bartender came running.
“How may I help?” he asked, clothes surprisingly sand-free.
“A water please,” Sakura replied. “And whatever is the house special.”
The bartender nodded, bowing and walking away. Something niggled at Sakura and she looked around, trying to find the cause. She found herself staring at one man in particular.
He was older, face craggy and worn, and dressed in faded, muted tones. He was watching her and there was something about the way his chakra, small as it was, spiraled around that was far too familiar. Sakura glared at him, flaring her chakra ever so slightly to warn him off.
No one else in the room reacted but the man smiled, smirked really.
Sakura was broken from her concentration as the bartender brought her a glass of water and a tall pitcher for refills as well as a glass full of dark purple liquid that gave off a little smoke.
“House special,” the bartender said. “Burns as it’s going down.”
Sakura nodded, watching as he turned his back. Discretely, Sakura checked all the beverages for poisons by running her hand over the glasses. All came back clean.
Sakura took a bracing gulp of the house special and grinned as it went down smooth. She glanced up, meeting the eyes of the man across the room again.
His eyes flickered red.
The hospital is a graveyard, full of shouting pleas and inventive curses.
Sakura’s hands shake as she fiddles with the compound beneath the microscope. There has recently been a demand for more poisons and antidotes made with her signature flair and Sakura is happy for the challenge. She is ever so close…
“Mommy! Mommy why is it so dark?” a thin, reedy voice wails.
Sakura’s hands jerk and the compound is ruined. Sakura sighs, pushing away from the desk as she tries to block out the prayers and supplications that cling to her like grime. She won’t be answering them. She cannot answer them. Besides, they are not addressed to her anyway.
She is no god.
There are people who would disagree. She thinks to Orochimaru, yellow eyes feverish with grasping ambition. How would he respond to her powers?
Sakura feels sick.
Sakura listens to the child’s voice, heart squeezing at her plaintive cries. She bristles as another voice joins the first, a macabre duet of unanswered, unfulfilled questions.
Sakura shucks her gloves, lab coat, and goggles, unlocking her laboratory and heading down the hall. She brushes past the interns and medic-nin, face pale and wan. The voices grow louder, pleading, bargaining, threatening.
Sakura ignores it all and steps outside of the hospital, sighing in relief as the voices grow faint and fade completely into obscurity. Sakura’s stomach drops as she realizes that the hospital is no longer a viable option. Anxiety still claws itself, high and hard in her stomach as she wonders how exactly she will tell Tsunade-shishou.
Who will take her place?
Sakura fell into the all too familiar world of Tsukuyomi and found herself face to face with a smirking Itachi. She was tied to a cross, but she played nonchalant, looking him over impassively.
“Impressive,” Sakura said. “How did you manage to disguise your chakra like that?”
“I have many tricks up my sleeve,” he said, sauntering around her.
Sakura’s skin prickled beneath his attention, but she ignored the sensation. This wasn’t the first time Itachi had accosted her. Nearly every mission spent outside of Konoha he found a way to weasel his way into her presence, pressing, testing, teasing.
Sakura knew that this was his way of vetting Sasuke’s teammates, that he’d done the same thing to Kakashi and Naruto, but he’d relented on them. The only one he kept coming after was her.
Which meant she’d yet to impress.
Sakura scowled, wishing she had the ability to move away from him. “Still haven’t redecorated?” Sakura asked. “The red and the black are very drab; traditional Uchiha.”
“You’ll find that I’m anything but traditional,” he replied.
Sakura realized he was about to start…well, whatever the test was today. It always changed, always varied, and sometimes there wasn’t even a test. They just…talked.
“Why me?” she asked abruptly.
Itachi blinked at her, the only signal of his surprise, red eyes intent. “You?”
“Why do you keep testing me? What’ll it take for me to pass? You leave Naruto alone, Kakashi too. How am I still not good enough to be Sasuke’s teammate?”
“Test?” He huffed and Sakura felt the heat of his breath curling against her ear. She repressed a shiver. “No, I do not do this to test you. Not in the way you think at least. You…intrigue me.”
“Really?” Sakura asked. “I intrigue you?”
Sakura felt the curve of his smile against her neck before he moved in front of her once more. He leaned forward, drawing his fingertips across her cheek before tucking them under her chin.
“Indeed,” Itachi said. “Let’s have some fun.”
His eyes flashed and began to spin and a cool weapon was pressed against Sakura’s throat.
She glared up at him, feeling the frustration of impotence cloud her mind. Something sharp and hot pulsed right behind her left eye and Sakura was surprised to see the sky of Tsukuyomi shift, flaring with green.
Sakura saw Itachi’s face shift to actual, bona fide shock before the world tilted sideways and green.
Sakura pauses in her training, ignoring her teammates as she looks up into the sky, where the voices seem to emerge.
“Whatcha looking for, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asks, watching her with bright, eager eyes.
Sometimes (oftentimes) it is difficult to remember that this man carries the weight of the village on his shoulders. “Nothing,” Sakura replies with a wry twist of her lips, the one that warns against pressing further. “Just enjoying the sun.”
She ignores the way Yamato and Kakashi fix their gazes on her, instead turning back to her sparring partner.
“You ready, Ugly?” Sai asks, expressionless but somehow taunting all the same.
Sakura cracks her knuckles, ignoring the wisps of conversations that she can still hear as she approaches Sai with a thunderous look. She is gratified in the way he pales and flinches away as her fists light with chakra.
They quickly fall into the dangerous dance that is their sparring. Sakura appreciates the way she can vent some of this excess energy that drags down against her skin. She knows that she is being far more aggressive and brutal than usual as Sai’s eyes blow wide. Sakura thinks briefly that she should care but it is so vindicating to let go, to channel her surplus into something productive and meaningful. There is something so satisfying about physical activity, the burn and the tear of muscles, the sweat against her neck.
“Sakura-chan,” Naruto calls nervously, voice high.
Sakura ignores him, dodging around an ink tiger to grab its tail and slam it back in Sai’s direction. Nothing can get to her now, she is in the zone, she is focused, no voices can reach her now.
Sakura pauses, heedless of the way one of Sai’s ink birds careens into her. Sakura keeps her feet planted as the ink bird splatters all over her, panic spiking in her system.
Why have the voices stopped?
Sakura looks around, eyes wild. Her teammates, who were so worried about her brutality only moments ago, are focused on something else now.
Three…they can only be called things make their way towards them, shambling and crawling across the uneven ground. They are in various stages of decomposition and all reek with the overwhelming stench of death. Peripherally, Sakura recognizes the way her teammates tense and prepare to attack, but all she hears is a low, wheedling, warbling moan.
Sakura blinks as she realizes that it comes from her.
She can feel their eyes, their soulless, dead, green filmy eyes, slink across her body. She swallows back bile as they make their way to her, bowed over in supplication, completely submissive.
What a joke.
She doesn’t control these things, she doesn’t understand them. She doesn’t want this.
“Sakura,” Kakashi begins and his voice is off and Sakura knows that he is judging, judging, judging—
Sakura flinches as a hand touches her shoulder softly, gripping the wrist of the person warningly. Naruto’s bones creak beneath her hard grip but he doesn’t cringe away. He just watches her with wide, gentle eyes, accepting. “Sakura-chan—”
Sakura shoves him away, eyes burning. No one can accept this, not really. It’s unnatural, freakish, abnormal. As she looks across the faces of her teammates, she can see their wariness, their apprehension. They don’t trust her.
She doesn’t trust herself.
Sakura turns and flees.
“What have you done?”
Sakura had never seen Itachi so unkempt and she found something about his wide eyes and mussed hair very satisfying. She sat up, rubbing her wrists. She was free.
Sakura looked around, surprised at how changed the mindscape was. The sky was a bright green and the ground beneath them flourished with life. On a raised dais, there was a black coffin. The area where it laid was dead and twisted; dark in a way that didn’t seem to belong here. There were strands of flowers attached to the coffin, but they seemed to be fraying, withering.
“This is our domain, Uchiha.”
Sakura and Itachi turned to the voice and Sakura was confronted with a mirrored image of herself.
“Inner,” Sakura murmured. “I thought you disappeared after the chunin exams.”
“Just dormant,” Inner Sakura replied, a sneer curling her lips. “That Yamanaka has some pretty, flashy tricks, but they are just that. Nothing could keep me away for long.”
“What are you?” Itachi asked, pretty pinwheel eyes scrutinizing them both. “You have no kekkei genkai; you have no clan titles. How is this possible?”
“There are realms and powers far beyond your understanding,” Inner said, sauntering up beside Sakura and glaring down at Itachi. Sakura realized that he was now bound and chained in what appeared to be flowery daisy chains. “Just because you are a Uchiha and possess those lovely red eyes, it does not mean you know all that there is to the world.”
“What is this place?” Sakura asked, looking around.
“This is your birthright,” Inner said, taking Sakura’s hand. Sakura felt sparks race up her arm, leaving her bones vibrating and setting her teeth of edge. “You are a Haruno.”
Sakura nodded. “I know. We’re a merchant family.”
“You’re so much more than that,” Inner said, tucking Sakura’s hand into the crook of her arm. She was oddly insubstantial, form shifting and trailing with smoke as she walked with Sakura. “The Haruno clan serves the most ancient of powers, one long forgotten but forever restless and at work.”
“Powers?” Sakura asked, stopping in her tracks. “What do you mean?”
“You know your clan symbol,” Inner said. “The unbroken, unyielding circle. Life and death are meaningless if you have the blood of a Haruno running in your veins. The circle of life is your domain; it is within your control.”
“What do you mean?” Sakura said, suddenly realizing that Inner had led her to the coffin.
Embossed upon the glossy surface was the Haruno symbol, starkly white against the dark wood of the coffin. Dark energy pulsed beneath the surface and Sakura could tell it was older than chakra, something ancient, something primal. Sakura was drawn to it, something in her soul crying out to her.
“This is your birthright,” Inner repeated.
Sakura didn’t—couldn’t—resist as Inner grabbed her hand and pressed it against the coffin. She pressed the lip of the coffin back and that dark energy pulsed once more, this time within Sakura herself. All the flowers, all the life, withered away into black.
Sakura heard a shout as if from far away and the world went dark.
And something new was born.
It wasn’t all that difficult to convince Tsunade-shishou to let her leave the village. Her teammates hadn’t yet told anyone of what happened on the training grounds, perhaps because she ran to the Tower in the fleeting moments after that disastrous encounter.
There is something akin to pity in Tsunade-shishou’s eyes as she lets her leave, all gentle words and soothing noises. She knows something is going on, something terrible, but Tsunade-shishou, forever her pseudo-mother, lets her leave on a cushy excursion to the Land of Tea.
Sakura doesn’t even reach the border of Fire before Itachi accosts her, a warm hand wrapping around her bicep. Sakura fearlessly meets his eyes, remembering their last encounter all too well.
Itachi’s eyes are slate and somehow it makes him seem…less; more ordinary.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Sakura says, taunting, testing, wanting to press him to the breaking point.
His mouth tightens but he just watches her.
“What did you do to me?” Sakura hisses, snaking her hand around so that she is clutching at his bicep instead. She squeezes, a warning in her fingers. “What sort of test is this?”
“It was not I who committed that trickery,” Itachi sneers. “What sort of genjutsu was it? How did you overcome the Sharingan?”
“Your Sharingan is what did this to me!”
“Did what?” Itachi asks.
“I can hear the dead,” Sakura replies. “I can raise the dead.” Her face twists. “Though most of the time it isn’t on purpose.”
Because she is staring at him, Sakura sees the way his face pales and he draws his tongue across his bottom lip, a nervous habit. Then his eyes narrow.
“I don’t believe you,” Itachi says. “Raising the dead…such a thing is impossible.”
“Orochimaru accomplished it,” Sakura replies. “Or, at least, an imperfect form of it. Much is possible with chakra. Though what I do…it’s beyond that; before that.”
“Show me,” he says.
Sakura looks at him, takes in the interest that lights his eyes. There is a reddish sheen to it and she knows he is struggling with controlling his Sharingan. He does not look fearful, not like her teammates did. She pulls him in close with her other hand, oblivious to the way his eyes flare wide as they disappear in a cloud of leaves.
Itachi stumbles away from her as they land, glancing around. They are at a mausoleum, large and sprawling, made of marble shot through with purple veins. The gardens before the building are unkempt and overgrown, ivy twisting and climbing up the sides of the crypt.
“The Uchiha mausoleum?” Itachi demands, glaring at her.
“There’s no one around here for miles,” Sakura replies, stepping up the steps of the mausoleum. “This is the best location for…well, this.”
Itachi frowns, but he moves alongside her, a hair too close for comfort as they make their way to the heavy door. Itachi bites his thumb, rubbing it along the frame of the door and smearing blood across it in streaks. He lines his eye up with the eye upon the door itself and lets the eye spin with pinwheels.
The door creaks open.
Sakura steps inside and finds herself lit with a vibrancy that only comes when she is around death. She inhales the stale scent of decay and earth and finds herself energized.
She walks down row after row of coffins, following the trail lit behind her eyes. There is one person she is here for. Sakura pauses at a bone white coffin, one without any engravings, and tugs the lid free.
Itachi balks and he makes an aborted gesture to stop her before he falls silent once more.
Sakura reaches deep, gathering that energy that is separate from her chakra but just as innately her; perhaps even more so. She looks at the body, dressed in pristine rich clothing. It is little more than bones now, with sunken flesh hanging loosely from its structure.
Sakura feels something growing within her as the body twitches to life. Sakura can see a spirit overlaying the body, a beautiful woman with soft features who, surprisingly, doesn’t pay attention to her. No, her attention is on her companion.
“Itachi-chan,” the spirit calls, reaching out a clacking hand in his direction.
“Oka-san,” Itachi murmurs, clearly able to hear the spirit. He falls to his knees, bowed over himself before her. “I am so sorry.”
Sakura watches, not controlling the woman as Itachi bends over himself before her, muttering apologies as the woman—his mother—places her hands over his back and speaks words of forgiveness. Sakura finds herself caught up in her surroundings, feeling the thrum of so many dead echo throughout her bones. The overwhelming sense of power is electric and makes her dizzy.
She blinks as Itachi grasps her elbow, guiding her out of the tomb and away from the stifling, heady scent of death. Sakura takes a seat within the garden, staring unseeing at the clump of roses. They are being choked out by the ivy and the dearth of the flowers is somehow beautiful. Slowly she centers herself and stares up into Itachi’s grey, tear-reddened eyes.
He holds both of her shoulders and squeezes as he bows his head and says, “Thank you.”
“I didn’t realize that was your mother,” Sakura replies. “It—she called to me.”
Something in Itachi’s expression lightens as he smiles and Sakura finds her heart lifting before pattering into overdrive. “Then it was meant to be,” Itachi says.
Sakura swallows. “How do I make it stop?” she asks.
“Stop?” he laughs and it is a beautiful and terrible thing. “This won’t stop. It’s a gift. It’s as natural to you as breathing; as Sharingan is to me.”
“No,” Sakura says, backing away. “No, no, no.”
Itachi pulls her in close, searching her eyes thoroughly before pulling her into a crushing embrace. “There is no way to stop this. This is your birthright.”
Sakura stares unseeingly past Itachi’s head, eyes on the roses. Like them, she is trapped within the grips of the ivy, being choked out by it. Itachi’s arms encircle her and she is pulled against his warm chest and she can hear his heart beating a staccato pattern.
Like the ivy, she is trapped within a cage.