"Beware the crows," they whisper. "And beware the girl who walks with them."
They say crows never forget faces, that they pass on to other crows which faces can be trusted, and which faces cannot.
In the sleepy town of Konoha, they say something else:
The crows are Sakura's, and she is the crows'.
Sakura wakes up to the phantom feeling of hands caressing her in that peaceful time between sleep and wake. She drifts and simply feels. They're always so sweet, so gentle, that Sakura almost doesn't want to open her eyes.
Tap tap tap
Sakura's eyes open, the final push from dreaming to awareness. The phantom hands are gone.
Tap tap tap
Sakura feels her body sit up, her legs dropping down to the floor. She stands and walks toward the window.
A crow greets her, beady red eyes glinting through the glass. Sakura opens up the latch with a soft click, and the crow drops a ring into her open palm and then hops back. Watching, waiting.
Sakura lifts up the ring and the moonlight glints off the diamonds inlaid in it. It’s beautiful, obviously expensive, and Sakura’s breath leaves her as it shines.
Sakura slips it on her finger, a perfect fit, and the crow ducks its head, cawing slightly. Its red eyes glint for a moment, a reflection maybe of the moon or the streetlamp down below. She reaches out to gently stroke a finger down its head and it preens.
It nips at her finger, and Sakura hisses at the bright pinprick of pain as it draws blood. It flies off.
“It’s custom for human lovers to give rings to express their intent to marry, yes?”
“And if they accept the ring, they accept the proposal.”
“Well. Technically, yes.”
“Then we are engaged.”
"Honey…" Kizashi whispers, his grip tight on her arm. He says nothing else. He doesn't need to. Mebuki sees it too.
Their daughter is swathed in shadows, little sleepy giggles escaping her as the shapeless darkness writhes around her. Green glints at them from behind the shadows. They don't worry, it's their baby's eyes. But then red joins in, and for the first time, they feel fear.
But true love drives out fear, and so it is with unsteady steps that Mebuki walks into Sakura's nursery.
The mass of shadows still, and with aching gentleness, they drop Sakura back into her crib. They hear whispers. None that they can understand. None in a human tongue. And then the shadows leave, a final caress of Sakura's hair. Sakura makes a small mournful sound, chubby hands chasing after the shadows.
Light fills the room, and they remember now that it's the middle of the day.
At 6 years old, Sakura climbs a tree.
At 6, plenty of little children climb trees. Sakura is not any different.
But other children don't have crows with red eyes that watch over them as they climb. Other children don't have shadows that reach out and right them as they ascend, shadows that make sure they don't fall. And other children don't climb and climb, only for it to get darker and darker, until there is nothing but darkness and silence, their breathing the only sound in the still forest, loud and labored until it starts. The Whispers. The murmured praise that other children can't, won't, will never understand.
But. Other children aren't Sakura, of course.
"She's taken," they warn him.
"I don't see no one," he scoffs. He leers at the girl who's smiling and laughing with her friends, unique pink hair, and the most beautiful green eyes he's ever seen. He wants her. Who doesn't?
"You're new in town, aren't you?" They ask. There's pity in their gazes. They've don't stop him as he swaggers up to the girl with pink hair. Aggressive. Predatory. He touches her and she slaps his hand away, her face morphing into a scowl.
They feel it then. The shadows around them start to writhe angrily, the lights in the bar darkening to nothing. An oppressive, thick weight accompanied by harsh, angry whispers.
They hold their breath.
When the shadows disappear and the lights return, the man is gone. The only evidence is the smoky darkness pooling at the girl's feet, lovingly caressing her ankles.
(And tomorrow, they'll find the crows feasting on his dead body.)
They look away. They had warned him. He hadn't listened.
At 9 years old, a group of little girls pushes Sakura around.
Forehead! They jeer and laugh until Sakura cries.
At 9, plenty of little children are bullied for things they can and cannot control. Sakura is not any different.
But other children don't have crows dropping familiar eyes on her windowsill, the blood still fresh and bright. Other children don't come to school the next day to find their bullies mysteriously missing, appearing weeks later with their eyes sewed shut. Other bullies don't wake up screaming in the night, choked by heavy shadows and terrifying, bloody dreams filled with red. Other children don't hear them.
"No one will hurt you again," comes the sweet promise.
"They will pay," a hiss from the dark.
Other children don't get oaths and offerings of the blood and tears of their enemies.
But. Other children aren't Sakura, of course.
"Ours," the shadows whisper.
"Yours," Sakura whispers back, just before she closes her eyes, and falls into Morpheus' arms.
At only a few months old, Sakura gets sick.
Plenty of little children get sick. Plenty of little children die.
But other children's parents don't bring them to the old Uchiha Temple. Other children's parents don't offer up anything, everything, just for the healing of their sweet, baby girl.
(And oh, they should have known that when they offered anything, and everything, the shadows and the crows would take, and take, and take.)
(They should have known that the Uchiha would hear anything, lay eyes on their daughter, and decide.)
"She's taken," they warn.
"I know," he answers. His eyes flash red.
There's something about him that evades description, something that makes the back of their minds tickle. "Are you new in town?" they ask, and sharp teeth glints at them as the man--the men? They can't tell, his form shifts in and out, they don’t know how many they're talking to--smiles.
They don't stop him as he approaches the girl with pink hair. All they do is watch as her face turns blank with surprise before she smiles, slow and sweet.
"Of course. We promised."
"Is she the one?" they whisper. Sakura of the crows. Sakura of the darkness.
"Yes," another responds. Their eyes follow her, the girl with pink hair and crows on her shoulders. Her shadow trails behind her, lifelike in a way that is distinctly inhuman.
She steps into the shadow of a lamp and disappears.