Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole
Sakura had always loved nature. It spoke to her – as in literally spoke to her. She’d always been able to hear the voices of trees, and she loved the slow songs they sang when waking to the sunlight. They were ancient, right down to their roots, and they whispered to her of happenings long past. It was part of the reason she loved history, and not just the history of shinobi that was taught at the academy. The wood on her desk whispered to her too, distracting her whenever she was in class, telling her of students long gone, whispers of a boy with bright yellow hair and how he’d adored a redhead. It also mentioned that their progeny was in her class and told her what he held deep inside him. Nobody ever seemed to notice it, but the wood was always watching, even if it had no eyes with which to see things. Wood kept secrets. Secrets it told Sakura. It warned her of bad men, of blank white masks who would come and snatch her away if they knew what she was capable of… if they knew the true depth of her knowledge and secrets shared between them.
She kept her head down, careful not to reveal anything, even if it meant she had to break off her budding friendship with the Yamanaka Heir. Ino could easily go into her mind, and most likely pick up on her body language if she stuck too close by for too long. Rivalry was easier with her, so rivalry it was. Over a boy of all things. She could safely admit he was cute, but the wood had whispered to her about how harsh a shinobi’s life could be. There was no time to worry about romance. Not when she was just starting off on the path. Perhaps later, she told herself, keeping her physical scores low, and her test scores high. Let them write you off as a paper ninja, the trees whispered, making her chuckle. Paper came from trees, and she had an affinity for those.
In hindsight, she really shouldn’t have been so surprised when Kakashi tested their elemental affinities shortly after their graduation. Not when she’d had an affinity for nature since her birth. She held the paper in one hand, blinking as it crumbled to dirt.
“An earth affinity,” Kakashi said, nodding quietly at her, Sasuke’s lightning and Naruto’s wind affinities taking up more of his attention. She wouldn’t deny the small strum of jealously which flickered through her.
Try again, the trees whispered, your other hand and then both.
“Kakashi-sensei, could I have two more slips?” she asked, her eyes pleading with him silently until he relented, turning his back on her as he focused on his two other students.
She held the paper in her other hand, sending chakra shooting through it, blinking as it collapsed in a soggy heap.
“Ne, ne, Sakura-chan has two affinities?” Naruto peered over at her, eyes shining.
Kakashi turned to her, curiosity written across his face. Even Sasuke looked intrigued – if slightly jealous with his sole lightning affinity. Sakura resisted the urge to sneer like he always did to her. “Earth and water?” He tilted his head. “Congratulations, Sakura-chan… not many shinobi have two affinities right off the bat…”
You’re not done yet, the trees murmured, and Sakura clenched the final sheet between both hands, her chakra surging forwards. Paper swirled, brown bark replacing white paper, reaching up and branching out as the miniature tree formed in her hands.
She grinned, teeth bared. “How’s that, Kakashi-sensei?”
He swallowed, looking at her wide eyed along with Sasuke. Naruto merely blinked blankly. “Ne, sensei… why are you looking at the tree like that?”
“Dobe, that’s mokuton!” Sasuke hissed, elbowing him sharply.
“How thick can you get?” the Uchiha grumbled, sighing deeply. “The First Hokage is the only other person who’s had that bloodline ability!”
“Oh, so Sakura-chan is kinda awesome?” Naruto grinned. “That’s so cool!”
It wasn’t that cool though.
Not with the amount of DNA and other kinds of tests she was put through.
She wasn’t related to any Senju, so it was a mystery as to where her mokuton came from. They’d tested her DNA extensively, but there were no clues as to where her affinity with nature came from. Animals loved her, the Nara Forests welcomed her, and birds sang whenever she walked by. It was wonderful, even if none of her teammates seemed to appreciate the beauty of it. Nobody else seemed to. It made her feel different – special like she’d always wanted to be – but different wasn’t always the best thing to be. She felt disjointed. Disconnected.
Like she was an anomaly… like she wasn’t supposed to be there.
It was only made that much more obvious once the war began. Hard dried out dirt became grassy under her feet, flowers blooming wherever she walked, and if she was completely honest, it got in the way. Her companions agreed, silently pleading with her to turn it off, but there was no stopping it. Something was building inside her. She just didn’t know what.
So she ignored the warning signs. She ignored the instincts drilled into her over her four short years of her shinobi career. A fatal mistake. Though it wasn’t as fatal as it could’ve been.
Madara had just been revived, his eyes had crumbled, and she saw her opening. A gap in his iron tight guard. It was a risk, a leap of faith of sorts, and Sakura took it. She wasn’t just the designated medic of the team. She was that and so much more. It was just unfortunate it wasn’t only her thinking that. She probably would’ve just been happy with being the medic otherwise.
“You who doesn’t belong… I think it’s time you came home…”
The voice that rang out was both unexpected and frightening – not least because it echoed in everyone’s minds. Ground crumbled under her feet for the first time in her life, her eyes widening as she realised just who the voice was referring to. How could she not? She yelped, arms latching blindly onto the nearest object for support, before that too gave way.
“SAKURA-CHAN!” Naruto’s shout came too late, as did his attempted rescue. She fell down through the earth, the darkness almost instantly consuming her sight before she realised that whatever she was still blindly clutching onto as she descended was most definitely warm and most definitely human.
Her heart pounded in her chest, the light of the surface growing ever further away, and before she could even think about doing something to stop her descent, her eyes slammed shut, blissful sleep claiming her in an instant, and Sakura knew no more.
Birdsong woke her.
It wasn’t an unusual occurrence, up until the war had begun. Then the birds had to be quiet around her, else risking her being discovered by the enemy and taken just like Yamato-sensei. Sakura rolled over – or attempted to. Her legs were stuck, something hard and unyielding wrapped around them, and her eyes snapped open. Had she been caught by the enemy? She stared down at her legs, trapped in the roots of a tree. It was like they’d grown around her whilst she’d slept, but that was impossible. She hadn’t asked the trees to grow, nor had she slept long enough for the tree to grow naturally. She was fairly sure she’d have died of old age by then if that’d been the case.
Birds sounded again, chirping in their nests, and Sakura blinked once again. Where was she? She didn’t recognise her surroundings in the slightest, and the trees were different. They didn’t sing the same way the trees she remembered did, and it wasn’t because they were a different species. They felt older, infinitely more wiser, and that much more unyielding.
Sakura swallowed, gently tugging her legs free from the ancient roots, not wanting to disturb the resting trees from their sleep. The destruction of their roots would do just that. “Right,” she mumbled, her voice musical and ringing like a bell, the unfamiliar syllables flowing from her tongue. They were foreign, and yet so familiar. “Stay calm… figure out the situation,” she reminded herself, all of Kakashi’s teachings flooding her brain. Though she doubted he thought they’d ever be used for a situation quite like this one.
She stood soundlessly, blinking at the shortness. Were the trees bigger? she mused, tilting her head, stepping forwards with one chakra coated foot – stealth was important when in an unknown land – only to freeze in horror when she realised something.
Her chakra was gone.
Not muted, sealed, or unable to be used. It was gone. Ripped out. Like it had never existed. In its place was something completely different. A light in her core. One that refused to budge an inch under her clumsy, frantic grasp.
“Not good…” she muttered, summing up her situation in an instant. “Dammit.”
Rustling in the bushes had her spinning around to face the incoming threat, hands curling into fists no matter how weak her blows would be without chakra. She wasn’t useless though, and if it turned out to be an enemy coming towards her, she’d beat them up as best she could. Her eyes narrowed, coughing breaking her silence as long strands of pink hair slapped into her face in the building wind. Sakura didn’t like this. She didn’t like it one bit.
Rather than any sort of dangerous enemy though, it was a boy who stepped out of the nearby bushes, dark grey eyes fixed on her own. They looked like storm clouds, and there were slight bags underneath his bright eyes. He wore a black high collared shirt, his pants a dark brown, his spiky black hair reaching his waist. He looked oddly familiar, she realised with a start, but she’d never seen the kid before. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old, and there’d been no children that young in the war.
“You,” he spat, and Sakura flinched at the venom lining his voice. “You’re that pink-haired medic, aren’t you?”
She blinked in confusion. How did he know about that? “What’s it to you?” she fired back, folding her arms as she glared stoutly at him. Sakura didn’t like him one bit, and she was fairly sure the feelings were mutual, if the answering glare was anything to go by.
“You’re the one who dragged me along with you.”
She blinked again, freezing as she remembered grabbing onto something when she started falling. That something had been human-shaped, and warm. She swallowed. “I didn’t grab onto some kid,” she said, stumbling away from him.
“Are you really that thick?” he asked, a mocking drawl in his voice… and it was very familiar… it almost reminded her of her Uchiha teammate, but this child was no Sasuke. He didn’t look like anyone familiar, at least not from her childhood.
“Don’t call me that!” she hissed, her hands curling into fists. She really wanted to hit him. Preferably somewhere it’d hurt, even without her chakra augmented strength.
“But you are,” he said simply. “You couldn’t even recognise me – Uchiha Madara.”
Sakura blinked yet again, a snort escaping her lips as she stared at the child. “You-You’re—pfft—Uchiha Madara?” she asked, sniggering even as she realised he was exactly who he’d said he was. He’d just been shrunk. The scourge of the Five Elemental Nations had been shrunk and forced into the body of a child. She pointed a finger at him, cackling gleefully. “You’re a child!”
He merely folded his arms, eyebrows raised sceptically, walking up until he was standing right in front of her, and Sakura had the most horrible dawning realisation. “At least I’m not an immature toddler,” he said, staring down at her.
She was shorter than him. Shorter than their greatest enemy who looked about eight years old. Her eyes flickered down to her hands and feet, finally noting how tiny they were. Baby fat clung to her wrists, her hands still slightly pudgy, and she knew her face was far more round and squishy than it ought to be. Madara proved that much by grabbing said cheeks and pinching them as his glare only darkened.
“But since you’re the only clue I have as to how we ended up here, then I guess I’ll have to bear with an annoying toddler,” he said, smirking at her disgruntled expression. “Come on.”
Sakura slapped at his hands. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
Madara pinched the bridge of his nose. “You haven’t got a choice in the matter,” he said, grabbing her wrist instead. “Now, are you going to walk, or do I have to carry you?”
She stomped her foot, scowling at how little damage it did to the ground. “I’d like to see you try!”
He did, and he did so very successfully, not that there was much of her to lift.
Chapter 2: Disagreements and Fights
She lost count of the amount of screaming they both did at each other, determined not to be the losers of their little shouting match in the middle of nowhere. They were lost, cold, and they both had tempers to match. When it all boiled down, Sakura had no desire to wander around with Madara – the man behind the war her shishou and the other kage were desperately trying to stop – and Madara had no desire to put up with all her complaints or her snarky little comments about his methods and motivations for his grand scheme.
“Sure thing, Mr-I-Want-Peace-So-I-Started-A-War,” Sakura growled, squirming frantically from her position tucked under his armpit. “What kind of twisted logic was that?”
“You’re naïve,” he spat back, trudging through yet more unknown shrubbery, heedless of her writhing. “The Infinite Tsukuyomi is the only path to true peace. It’s hardly my fault if all of you can’t see that. You’re all blind to the truth.”
“And you’re somehow the only one who can see it?” She scoffed. “If that’s not the infamous Uchiha arrogance, I don’t know what is!”
“I’m doing what’s necessary—”
“No. You’re doing what you think is necessary—”
“Shut up already, brat,” Madara hissed. “There’s no point in arguing about this until I get back and save the shinobi world once and for all.”
“Sure, because trapping the entire world – most of whom don’t believe in your stupid idea of peace – in a giant genjutsu is totally saving it,” she said, rolling her eyes. He was even more stupid and bull-headed than Sasuke and considering said Uchiha had run off with a paedophile of a snake who’d given him a cursed hickey just for that reason… well, it definitely spoke volumes about his intelligence levels. “You’re an idiot.”
“Quiet,” Madara spoke, command rolling off from his bell-like voice that rang through the air all around them. “I spent years in that cave thinking things through. Seventy odd years consolidating my plans and putting them into action. If you’d lived as long as I did, you’d understand better… you’re not like that idiot friend of yours… you’d be smart enough to realise the truth, even if it took you a hundred years or so.”
“What the hell is your fixation on this truth?” she grumbled, ignoring the odd backhanded compliment… or whatever the hell that actually was. “I don’t understand you at all. You talk as if you’re the only one who’s ever thought about a lasting peace!” She glared up at him mulishly. “Don’t you think that’s I don’t know… a bit arrogant?” Green clashed with cold dark grey, and Sakura shivered. She could feel the intensity of his stare, and it was nothing like what she’d ever felt before. She could remember everything the trees had ever told her about the man-turned-boy holding her. “What makes you so different from the rest of the world? What makes you so sure of yourself?”
“Enough,” he snapped. “We won’t talk about this any longer. We’re enemies, and as soon as we get back to the battlefield, we’ll be fighting each other again. The only reason I’m with you right now is because you’re the biggest clue I have in getting myself back to where I need to be. This is a temporary alliance. One of convenience. Nothing more. So just shut up and stop trying to talk me out of saving the world. Don’t think I won’t kill you if you get in my way once we return.”
Sakura laughed bitterly. “And you’re supposed to be the saviour of the shinobi world… You’re nothing more than a bloodthirsty warmonger seeking revenge for Izuna.”
She felt him stiffen at the name, it was impossible not to, considering he was carrying her. “And how,” he began slowly, voice as cold as ice, “do you know that name?” he asked, stopping in his walking, glaring at her sharply as he set her down in front of him. His grip on her wrist was iron tight, face set in barely concealed fury and hurt.
“The trees talk to me,” she said, wiggling her wrist to no avail. “Their roots are deep, they’ve lived long, and they see everything. They’ve whispered tales to me all my life, Uchiha. No matter what you think, I’m not some naïve little girl. I know many things, many secrets, and now I’ve had a taste of the war you’ve started. Don’t think I’m clueless. I’m anything but…”
“Nonsense.” Madara scoffed, not loosening his grasp in the slightest. “Hashirama never mentioned anything about that with his mokuton. You probably just read that up in the history books… That Senju bastard must’ve written at least one thing about the boy he killed.”
“You know, you never denied seeking revenge,” she pointed out, ignoring all the instincts inside her which screamed at her to shut her mouth and keep it that way. But she couldn’t. Not when the trees had seen everything. Not when they told her what Zetsu’s plans were… they’d told her about it after the war had begun – woven tales explaining everything. Told her more horrifying secrets about a world long past, and the machinations of a will that wanted to return to its ‘mother’. Told her of a giant tree that drained the life from the world… No matter how much of a monster Uchiha Madara was he deserved to know the truth. He deserved to know he was being played like a damned fiddle. She just had to find a way to nail the idea into his skull while they were still children and far away from wherever the battleground was.
“Of course I want to make that white-haired bastard hurt,” Madara spat. “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m trying to undo everything Hashirama’s Legacy has wrought upon the world. If I hadn’t done anything, the five great nations would probably already be at war again… Fear, hatred, resentment… these things never subside. People can’t show one another their true feelings—”
“And that gives you the right to shove them into a fake world that’ll destroy humanity,” Sakura muttered bitterly, turning away from him, scowling darkly at the blackening sky. Stars twinkled high in the sky above them, the soft whispering of the sleepy trees about her making her sigh. Of everybody she could’ve grabbed when she fell, why did it have to be him?
The light in her core buzzed with irritation and unchecked anger, and in the darkness she finally noticed something eerie. Something which pulled her attention away from the annoyance bubbling like boiling hot magma in her belly. Something weird about both her and the idiotic Uchiha behind her. Without any other sources of light around it was rather hard to miss the new fact.
They were both glowing, as if starlight had been put inside their bodies and was radiating outwards. She stared down at her hands, inspecting her clear unblemished skin. Truly, it was remarkable. Beautiful. She’d never been her own personal glowstick before, and judging by his bemused expression, neither had Madara.
“We’re… glowing,” she said, pulling the thin clothes she wore closer around herself, ignoring the feeling of loneliness and fear. Those were the worries of a child talking, and she wasn’t a child. She was an adult, and she’d been one since she was twelve.
Madara snorted mockingly. “What an astute observation…”
She bit her lip. “You know, I think everything would be a lot smoother if you stopped making little comments like that,” she said, fighting back the urge to slap him a couple. It wasn’t like she could punch him all that hard… though maybe a nice hit to the balls would shut him up for a short while…
“Comments like what?” he questioned, stepping closer to her yet again, sneering at her with that trademark Uchiha look. “The truth…?”
“Oh har har,” she spat, silently wishing she was taller and could pinch his puffy cheeks painfully in retort – seeing as that was probably one of the most painful things she could do to him with her weakened form. “Tch. Why is so hard for you to consider the possibility that you’re wrong…? That the black ‘will’ you created might not really be your own…”
“What the hell are you babbling about now?”
“The truth, you big dummy!” she yelled, throat hurting at the sheer volume she was reaching with that high-pitched voice of hers. God dammit, why couldn’t he just understand? “The trees tell me everything, and you’re wrong! Everything your doing is wrong! You’re just being played like the big stupid idiot you are!”
“Again with that stupid nonsense!” Madara screeched back, stepping towards her, using his extra few inches of height to glare down at her. “Hashirama told me about his own mokuton, and trees can’t talk, you stupid little girl! I think I would've noticed since I have it too now. You’re just imagining things.”
“BULLSHIT!” she screamed, on the verge of tearing out her pink locks. “Trees can talk – they can talk to me, and they’ve told me everything about you and everyone else. You always used to suck at skipping stones… you used to discuss your plans for peace on top of the cliff together… you broke your friendship with Hashirama when you learnt he was from your rival clan… your brother tore out his own eyes and begged you to take them—”
Her head snapped to the side, cheek stinging, eyes burning with unshed tears as she looked at the idiot of an Uchiha in front of her. His hand was still raised, but his slap had already finished. Salty tears rolled down her cheeks before she could even think about trying to hold them back, hatred burning deep inside her as the bastard made her cry. Like a child. Her body was that of a stupid child who couldn’t control simple things like tears. How embarrassing… how irritating… Her lips pulled back in a snarl. What right did he have to slap her across the face? She was just telling the truth. How dare the bastard slap her… Laughter burst from her lips, mocking and pitiful. “What was that meant to be?” she asked, glaring at him venomously with those acrid green eyes of hers. “A slap? Really?” she spat, ignoring the coppery taste in her mouth from where her teeth had cut into her cheek. “Was that the best you could do, bastard?”
“Don’t speak of things you know nothing about. It’s none of your business, you stupid little brat,” he said, spitting the words out with just as much venom as she did.
“Oh, so I’m the brat who doesn’t understand…” she hissed. “Take a fucking look in the mirror sometime, because I can see the exact same thing looking at me right now.”
“You’re just an immature—”
Her hands curled into fists, the last vestiges of her self-control and restraint snapping like a dry twig. “SCREW YOU!” she screamed in his face, stomping away from the imbecile who couldn’t listen to reason without a second thought. Her tiny feet pounded the earth, the grass beneath her feet soft as she hurried away. He could go screw himself. She punched the nearest tree as she walked by, whimpering at the pain that throbbed through her. Oh right, she didn’t have any damned chakra to soften the blow. “Stupid… idiotic… halfwit… foolish… unreasonable…” she muttered viciously, her brain conjuring up as many words to describe the annoyance that was Uchiha Madara.
She didn’t need him, or his irritating company, and apparently he’d decided he didn’t need hers either – judging by the lack of pursuit behind her. But that was fine. She had no desire to be near him and his idiocy. Her mother had once said it was contagious.
Scowling, she hurried on through the forest, shivering slightly at the cool air and the fear building in the pit of her stomach. She was all alone now… and she was no closer to figuring out how to get home, nor how she’d ended up in the strange seemingly never-ending woods.
But at least she had her peace and quiet now.
No matter how lonely it was.
Chapter 3: Misery Loves Company
Sakura refused to regret her decision to leave the bastard behind. It was a good decision – it had to be… even if she’d ended up captured by some locals. She’d lasted a single day before they’d found her. They were a curious, and utterly terrifying sight if she were completely honest with herself. Though that might’ve had something to do with the fact they were at least three times taller than her, and probably three times as wide too. She was a small child with no weapons nor chakra to her name. Trying to fight her way out was pointless, so Sakura plotted instead. Her new body needed lesser amounts of sleep than the native’s ones. That was a handy fact to note. As was their apparent fascination with the colour of her hair. At least she was assuming it was the colouring, given all of them seemed to have grizzled dark hair.
There were three of them, three men, and five other small children in a similar state to her own as rain poured down on them from above. It was oddly fitting for the grim mood as the adults attempted to get a fire going. Dimly, she wondered how Madara was doing on his lonesome. Probably no better than her, she thought darkly. The idiotic bastard couldn’t be doing any better than her in their strange new environment. Wind howled, the darkening sky and setting sun making the shadows look that much longer. She was thankful for the dark cloak draped over her shoulders too, since her skin was already taking on that luminous tinge as she sat there around the attempts of a campfire.
Closing her eyes, Sakura frowned, pulling the light inside the very core of her new being back as far as she could. Imagine a bubble, she told herself, shivering slightly as she slowly learnt how to hide the light from view. Even if it made her feel that much more vulnerable… even if it meant she couldn’t hear the trees or feel nature just as well as she used to. Besides, if the choice was between feeling slightly less relaxed and acting as her own personal glowstick, the shinobi in her would always choose the former. Acting as one’s own torch was literally lighting a beacon to one’s enemies… and Sakura was on foreign ground – in enemy territory.
Wincing slightly, she pulled at the thick cord tying her wrists together, gritting her teeth as they dug into her baby soft skin. If only she hadn’t been turned into a child again… maybe then she’d have had the strength to break free.
‘That bastard is probably in a worse situation, Shannaro!’
Sakura blinked. Apparently her Inner hadn’t vanished in their little trip through what she assumed to be dimension and space. A smile stole over her face. At least there were still a couple of things constant – the other being that Uchiha Madara was still a complete raging arsehole.
‘Damn right, girl! You tell him!’
She smirked. It had been so tempting when they’d argued to say that and numerous other things, but somewhere in her brain she remembered he was Uchiha Madara, and no matter how much of a git he was, he was strong enough to mop the floor with her. The only reason he hadn’t was because they’d been shoved into children’s bodies and she was the only clue he had to getting home.
But was that place really home?
Her eyes narrowed. The sensation – that niggling feeling – which told her she didn’t belong had vanished the instant she stepped into this strange new world. “You who doesn’t belong… I think it’s time you came home…” The words echoed around her brain. It was clear someone had brought her there. Someone with a lot of power, and it’d likely take their abilities to get back to the Elemental Nations. At least there she’d be in an adult body, and she’d have her chakra to protect herself. She shut her eyes, pulling that core of light further in, shielding it within herself as best as she could. It was an unknown, and she had no idea how to use it. She didn’t even know if anyone could use it against her either, or whether it pinged on anybody’s sensor if there was indeed sensing of some ability in the strange world.
Large brown eyes stared at her from the log they sat on, a hushed whisper in a language she couldn’t understand for the life of her making her brow furrow. Were there different languages in the strange world? Even the tongue she could speak was completely different to that of the sole language of the Elemental Nations. Seemingly it’d been hardwired over that, and that thought scared her. Because the one who’d brought them over had to be responsible for that, and if they could mess with their minds, then that was a power to be scared of.
The children next to her whispered again, their tone demanding, their words harsh as they glanced between her and the men who’d captured them. Louder voices of the men had them all tense, their glares boring into her as the man chuckled something in that unknown language. Sakura didn’t like it. She didn’t like it one bit. Especially not when they edged closer, seemingly egged on by the jeering of the adults. Spittle flew in her face, and Sakura shuffled back, confused. Why was the damned kid so angry at her?
‘The little brat!’
She clenched her teeth. She was an adult, she wouldn’t rise to the bait. It was beneath her. Her brow twitched, irritation pouring off of her. Fuck it. Her temper flared, teeth clamping shut. “Would you shut up already, brat?” she grumbled, knowing full well they’d be very unlikely to understand a single word she said. “I can’t understand you, so stop spitting in my face.”
Sakura glared at the dumbfounded expression on the brat’s face, snorting derisively. Idiot. She froze. Why the hell did she sound like Uchiha Madara now? She shook her head, clearing that thought from her mind. She bleached it from her brain. She was nothing like that bastard.
A touch at her head made her freeze, eyes widening when she realised how much of a terrible shinobi she was. She blamed the regression into a child’s body. Her attention span was that of a goldfish. One of the big men was in front of her, confusion and dawning horror written on his face as he stared at her, and all three of them were looking intently at her… head? Hair? Sakura blinked, feeling her pink hair being lifted away from her… ear? What did her ears have to do with anything?
Her hair fell back over her strangely sensitive ear in a matter of seconds, a round of hushed whisperings taking place between the adults as Sakura squirmed where she sat. What was going on? She swallowed the bile rising in her throat. Why couldn’t anyone speak her damned language? Why couldn’t she understand their damned language?
But as soon as the whispers began, they were just as quickly cut off. A flicker of black raced across her vision, a splatter of blood and a wet gurgle following, the three adults falling like dominos, and the kids next to her started throwing up, even as their binds were cut. One by one all of them were set free, and when her rescuer stood in front of her, she sorely wished she was anywhere but there in that moment.
Uchiha Madara flicked the blood off his stolen blade, eyes of the darkest grey glaring down into her green ones with something akin to disgust. What was he doing there?
One eyebrow rose. “Having fun over here, I see?”
“Piss off,” she snarled, hackles rising as she glared up at him. “I had everything under control!”
“So that’s why you’re tied up,” he drawled, the obnoxious Uchiha smirk on his lips, and Sakura sorely wished her hands were freed so she could do something violent to him. Though it probably wouldn’t hurt all that much with her meaty toddler fists.
“Shut up!” she yelled, blinking as he commanded the other kids away with a point of his fist and some angry-sounding words. They scattered like rats.
“Well, if you had it handled, then by all means get out of those ropes already.” He folded his arms, knife gleaming in the dying light. “Go on,” he urged, grin wide and mocking, “do it.”
Her cheeks puffed out, and her wrists strained at the ropes. No way was she dislocating anything when she couldn’t use chakra to heal them and ensure they healed properly. She bit the inside of her cheek, refusing the urge to pout as her futile struggles continued. A flush rose on her face, ears burning as she felt his smug stare boring into her. “Lend me the knife?” she asked, glaring at him and all his smugness.
Madara simply smiled. “No.”
Sakura blinked, squirming as she found herself in a position that was becoming all too familiar all too soon – slung over his shoulder like a sack of flour. “Put me down!” she snarled, thrashing about determinedly. “Put me down and untie me, dammit!”
“No can do. We’ve got better things to be doing, and none of them involve me chasing after you. They don’t involve rescuing you either, if you really want to know.”
“I will murder you in your sleep!”
Madara snorted. “And you wonder why I’m leaving your hands tied… not that you’d be able to do it. Stopping you would be a hassle though.”
“Screw it,” she muttered, finding the nearest fleshy part of him that she could, sinking her teeth down into his soft skin. “PUT. ME. DOWN,” she hissed, smiling as she tasted the coppery tang of blood.
“You little brat!” Madara snarled, letting go of her, uncaring at the hard tumble she took as she rolled off his shoulder and down onto the squishy dirt.
Sakura snapped her teeth at him in answer.
“Tch. Don’t blame me for not being gentle,” he said, grabbing her ankle, deftly avoiding all her attempts to kick him as he pulled her along – uncaring of all the tree roots, twigs, and branches littering the forest floor.
“Bastard! Untie me right this instant!” she yelped, scowling as her long pink locks were dragged through the dirt. “I’ll walk OK! Just untie my bloody hands!” She wriggled, spitting out curses one after the other when he didn’t stop. “Dammit, Uchiha!” She thrashed like a fish on land, wincing when sticks and brambles dug into her back and her hands. “I can walk! Stop dragging me already!” Her lips pulled back in a snarl. “LISTEN TO ME ALREADY!”
Madara had the audacity to hum.
Chapter 4: Fool Proof Plans
“I hate you.”
“You’ve said that already.”
“I really really really hate you…”
“Again. You’ve already said that,” Madara muttered, glaring at the crackling campfire they’d made in a sheltered little cluster of rocks and dense trees. He’d done most of the heavy lifting and log-hunting, but Sakura had helped find some flint and kindling. She puffed up at the thought. She was very useful in the wild. She was hardly helpless, unlike what the git thought. They were in no danger of setting themselves on fire, nor were they in danger of being seen, unless there were dangerous creatures that could fly. Sakura sorely hoped there weren’t any. They were knee deep in the unknown with only their wits and each other to rely on. “And seeing as you’re not going to be doing anything about that, shut up.”
Sakura snarled, scowling at him from where she sat – the furthest possible distance he let her get. Thankfully he’d untied her hands after they’d reached their makeshift campsite and started their preparations. He’d watched her like a damned hawk, not taking his eyes off her for a second as soon as she was free. “Just you wait!”
“I’m your best hope of survival here, so keep your pointless yapping to yourself,” he said, chewing on the cooked rabbit they’d hunted. She’d startled the rabbit out of hiding, so there was no shame in eating it. It wasn’t as if Madara had done everything. She had survival skills too. “The one time you gallivanted off on your lonesome you wound up captured. That should speak volumes about your ability to survive here.”
“I don’t want to be lectured by some guy who thinks reflecting his eye off the moon is a plan for peace,” she spat, cheeks stuffed full of their dinner. “You’re an idiot. A big fat idiot. The stupidest of the lot!”
“It’s a well thought-out plan that will bring eternal peace to the world and end the countless conflicts. You’re the stupid one who can’t see that.”
“Please… you’re reflecting an eyeball off the moon… why? Because a tablet told you it’d be the salvation of the Uchiha… Honestly, what is it with Uchiha and eyeballs…?”
“Be quiet, foolish brat. Just wait and see.”
Sakura folded her arms. “Yeah, no. You’re an idiot who’s getting fooled by Black Zetsu.”
Madara pinched the bridge of his nose, childish face screwed up in annoyance. “How many times do I have to tell to stop going on about that?”
“I won’t stop until you realise I’m telling the truth, idiot,” she grumbled, looking at the trees. Even then she could hear their whispers. They were faint, the trees sleeping and unable to answer her call even if she wished it so… not that she’d be able to use her mokuton without her chakra. “I can hear them even now, though they’re all asleep for some reason.”
“You’re insane. You’re hearing things.”
“And you just don’t want to admit there’s a possibility I’m right, scaredy cat!” she yelled, sticking out her tongue, blowing a raspberry at him. “Clearly I just have a superior mokuton. You can’t prove me wrong on that count. There’s no evidence contrary.”
Madara snorted. “As if.” He looked over at her. “You’re just delusional. Your weak mokuton has nothing on Hashirama’s.”
Her hands curled into fists. “Well maybe my mokuton wasn’t made for there,” she said, huffing as she crossed her legs. “Maybe it was made for here… you heard what that voice said… I didn’t belong there.”
“Shut it,” Madara snapped, scowling darkly. “Of course you belonged back in the Elemental Nations. You were born there, why wouldn’t you be.”
“OK, snappy, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” she said, blinking at the sharper tone his voice had taken. It was like poking a lion, and Sakura did have some survival instincts. She could leave him alone until he slept. She’d go off on her own. She didn’t need him. Not in the slightest. She would’ve totally been able to escape her captors by herself, she just needed a little more time. That was right, if she’d had a little more time she would’ve broken free.
“Now, let’s get off that topic and onto a more important one – of what exactly we’ve learnt since our arrival here. You want to go first or should I?” he questioned, staring levelly at her with those dark grey eyes of his.
“There are lots of trees?” she offered.
Madara sighed. Deeply. “Of all the people I could’ve been stuck with… ugh. I’d take Tobirama over you. At least he’d understand logic… at least he’d be able to make simple observations,” he muttered, stomping over to where she sat. “Well then, stupid, let me tell you exactly what I’ve pieced together since our arrival here.”
“Go ahead, Mr-I’m-So-Damned-Smart… and yet am still getting tricked into reviving a plant monster’s mother…” she mumbled, trailing off as those dark grey eyes stared at her flatly. “Tch. Fine. Hurry up and say your piece.”
“First.” Madara held up a finger. “We have the language barrier issue.” He flicked another finger up. “Second, there’s the whole issue of what happened when you were captured. Though your capture wasn’t intentional, so I can officially call you the biggest idiot I’ve had the pleasure of meeting – and I’m including Hashirama here. Despite that, though, you helped me figure out a few things I’ve been speculating about. If we combine those problems together, I believe it’s safe to assume we’re a different race to those humans back there.”
Madara grabbed her tongue as she stuck it out again in protest, glaring down at her until she fell silent. He still didn’t release her tongue though, the git. “They were surprised by your hair colour in the beginning, but they were horrified when they spotted your ears, in case you didn’t realise that with all the action that went down.”
“My ears.” Sakura reached up for them, but the idiot beat her to the punch, pulling back his spiky black long locks, revealing a set of pointed ears which were soon concealed again by his spiky mane. Her own were matching versions of his, only smaller due to her smaller body, the points barely concealed by her smoother hair. If the wind even blew the wrong way they’d be revealed for the whole world to see. “Why do we have pointed ears?”
“Shut up, sit down, and freak out later, brat,” Madara grumbled. “It’s like what I said about us being of a different race to the other children back there. Their ears were rounded like ours used to be – plus they weren’t as pretty as either of us. While I look ten times better than you, I can’t say you’re completely ugly unlike those urchins back there.”
“They also weren’t glowing…”
“Oh. So you actually noticed something. How marvellous.”
“I am so going to strangle you in your sleep.”
“Hmm, and here I thought you’d be busy running away,” Madara mused. “No matter. I was always going to take steps to prevent that,” he said, and then Sakura found herself being squashed under his weight. He sat on top of her, their childish bodies making the picture seem far more innocent and playful than it should’ve been. “To get back on topic, you remember exactly when they decided to have a nosey at your ears, don’t you?”
“Get off of me, you bastard!” she hissed, wriggling as he simply sat there like she was the most comfortable cushion in the world She definitely wasn’t. Not with the sheer amount of squirming she was doing.
“It was after you spoke, like the dumb idiot you are, but you helped me solidify my hypothesis,” he said, continuing on as if she didn’t exist. “Even if they couldn’t speak our language, they still recognised it… plus our voices – they’re smoother and seem far more musical than their own speech. So, seeing as we’re stuck here, I think it’d be the wisest course of action to not use our voices when we encounter civilisation.”
“So… we use sign language or something?”
Madara blinked. “Huh. What do you know? You might actually have a brain inside that thick skull of yours,” he mumbled. “Who’d have thought it…?”
“I will stab you.”
“Quiet with the death threats already,” he ordered, unfazed by her mutterings and plots of his painful demise. “You know Konoha’s Standard, don’t you?” he asked, flicking his fingers around in the many patterns that’d been drilled into her brain in the academy and on missions with Kakashi and the boys.
“Of course, what do you take me for?”
“Tch,” she grumbled. “I walked right into that one.”
“Shut up already. I don’t need your input.”
Madara sighed, rolling his eyes for what must’ve been the thousandth time. “So, do I have your agreement to use Konoha Standard whenever we enter a public area?”
“Do I have your agreement to cover up your ears somehow whenever we enter civilisation?”
“Fine,” she muttered, eyeing the scraps of cloth, silently working out how to craft a headband of some description to help hide her unusual hair and ears.
“Good,” Madara muttered, tucking his head in the dirt next to her own as he sunk down on her. Sakura felt her eyebrow twitch as she lay back on the forest floor, staring up at the stars twinkling in the midnight sky. Madara was using her as a goddamn mattress, and Sakura couldn’t deny it was a good plan. She was pinned under his weight, unable to do anything, unable to run away, unable to punch him in the stomach or the balls like she sorely wanted to.
“I hate you,” she muttered, ignoring the soft puffs of warm breath against her neck, and the silky feeling of his hair splayed over her neck and chest as the scourge of the Elemental Nations snuggled into her petite body. He was warm, she noted, sighing slightly in relief despite the slight crushing sensation in her chest. Body heat exchange was a fairly decent idea, even if it was as awkward as hell for her. The git seemed to have no sense of shame.
Her eyes glazed over in sleep, the sounds of nature lulling her into pleasant dreams which didn’t feature one Uchiha Madara, and it was bliss. At least until she woke up. Come morning, she found herself snuggled up to the older shinobi-turned-child, still well and truly trapped underneath him even as she struggled to breathe.
“Bastard!” she hissed, trying and failing to shake him off. She yanked on his hair. “Get off!”
“What’s the magic word?”
“I’m afraid that’s not it.”
“Tch. Get off me please, idiot,” she grumbled, glaring up at him. “We need to find breakfast.”
“Are you really that hungry?” He tilted his head, a thoughtful look on his face as they both realised the absence of their usual gnarling stomachs. “Though I suppose it’s wisest for us to begin our trek on a full stomach, just in case the areas we go to don’t have much in the way of food.” He nodded, finally climbing up and off her, dragging her off into the forest to search for game – a task Inner was strangely helpful with, her voice growing stronger and louder by the second.
‘Sakura!’ She blinked at the sound of Inner’s voice as it rang out in her mind again. ‘Up there! Look! Berries!’
“Huh… thanks Inner,” she mumbled, yanking the purplish berries off the stem, just as Madara came back from his brief five minutes away from her – after leaving her with strict instructions to stay in the general area, unless she wanted him to crack out the rope and drag her along by the ankles again. “I found berries.”
“You sure they’re edible?” he questioned, a rabbit slung over his shoulder.
She shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”
“Hn. Don’t die,” he muttered, heading over to their campfire to deal with the rabbit. “You’re the only clue I have to get home and save the world.”
“You aren’t saving the world.”
“SHUT UP ALREADY!”
Chapter 5: Hobbit Hosts
They fell into a pattern. Eat. Walk. Sleep. Repeat. It was monotonous and ridiculously boring, especially with the company she kept. Her green eyes locked with the dark grey ones, glaring in an instant as the bane of her existence made eye contact with her. He just rolled his eyes exasperatedly. Let it be said Uchiha Madara was a complete slave driver who seemed to take delight in all her struggles. He loved telling her about all his superiority. Sakura enjoyed snarking right back at him, a smirk on her face when he started flailing his limbs about whenever he tried to make his points. His stupid points which made no sense compared to hers.
She told him as much, and of course they’d just resolved to arguing again, glaring at each other spitefully as they insulted each other to the best of their ability.
The dark green of the leaves around them slowly became lighter, the bark of the trees becoming a more reddish brown the further they walked in that direction. Sakura wasn’t quite sure whether that was a good thing, but at least they were making progress of some sort. Madara looked less happy with the turn of events though.
“What’s up with you, grumpy face?” she asked, folding her arms as she stared at him from side on. “You know, you could try smiling for once in your life, no matter how creepy it might look.” She peered at him, irritated by his stubborn I’m-ignoring-you act. “It’s not like the moon will fall out of the sky if you grin like an ordinary human being.”
“Only we’re probably not human beings anymore, or have you already forgotten that, idiotic brat?” he questioned, glaring at her witheringly. “Your memory leaves much to be desired.”
“Your face leaves much to be desired,” she muttered, staring up at the moon. It looked larger in the sky than it did back in the Elemental Nations, and its glow was that much stronger. Or maybe she was just noticing it more because she glowed too. The stars were unfamiliar, an ever constant reminder that this wasn’t the world she’d grown up in. She was in the unknown with the worst company she could’ve asked for.
“Talk quieter, brat,” Madara hissed, holding his hand up in front of her.
She slapped it out of the way. “No!”
His hand clamped down over her mouth, his other dragging her in front of him to keep her still. Sakura wasted no time in biting his hand, smirking viciously as she heard him curse under his breath, pausing only when Madara released his grasp on her waist and signed ‘people, civilisation’ in Konoha Standard. She blinked, and then he was tying her makeshift headband over her head, pulling it so covered most of her forehead and practically all of her long pink locks. Though she was fairly sure there were numerous twigs and leaves still stuck in her silken locks thanks to the idiot next to her. Damned ankle dragging bastard.
Sakura bit her lip, licking at his hand, smirking as he hastily released his grip on her mouth. ‘What do we do?’ she signed, swallowing nervously, quickly hiding her unease when Madara patted her head condescendingly. ‘Get your filthy hand off my head.’
‘We improvise,’ Madara signed back, fingers flicking fancily. ‘Scratch that. I’ll improvise. You just stay there and look as non-threatening as possible. Shouldn’t be hard – considering you look like a toddler.’
Sakura stuck her middle finger up at him, scowling as he grabbed her hand and pulled her forwards through a set of bushes. The forest fell away, trees becoming further and further from one another as the sky turned a lighter shade of blue, indicating dawn was fast on the approach. Neither of them could’ve expected what they saw on the other side of the shrubbery.
Brown and dark blue met green and dark grey.
Sakura froze, swallowing as she stared at the two natives of the world they were in. But it was weird. Neither of them were much taller than Madara, and yet they didn’t carry any trace of the baby fat on their cheeks or wrists as the pair of them did. Yes, Madara still had slightly pudgy cheeks and wrists, no matter how much he vehemently denied it. They looked like adults, and yet they were tiny on the scale of things. Plus they had hairy feet, unlike the pair of them. She bit her lip. So they looked considerably different, and they weren’t as pretty as the two of them. They didn’t look anything like the men who’d taken her captive all those days ago.
Sakura had no way of knowing how far they’d travelled, only knowing they’d walked through the forest for days in search of civilisation. Which they’d apparently now found… Fear gripped at her heart, and one hand curled in the loose fabric of Madara’s ratty cloak. They both had cloaks now, for the colder nights, purloined from dead bodies, but they were both shinobi. They weren’t overly fussed about that, especially after they’d washed the cloth to get as much of the dirt out as possible. It was just fortunate for the pair of them that it hadn’t rained. They’d have been in more possible trouble if it had, but it seemed they’d landed in a summery or late spring season. She edged behind Madara, and she was using him as a meat shield. Nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t like she was scared. Absolutely not. She was just acting as non-threatening as possible, as Madara had asked her to. That was all it was. Peering out from behind Madara, she watched and listened as the small people conversed in that unfamiliar tongue.
She tugged at Madara’s clothes. ‘What do we do from here?’
‘Wait for them to make a move.’ Madara signed back, eyeing the curious pair in front of him, edging back ever so slightly as the one with curly dark brown hair and blue eyes strode towards them. He was saying something – and Sakura was fairly sure the two were male if her eyes were anything to go off.
‘Enough. I have things to plan, idiot,’ Madara signed furiously, looking blankly between the two strange creatures. They had strangely shaped ears too. Probably another species, if Madara’s ‘different species’ criteria were anything to go off.
Not that Sakura fully believed him on that. He was being led around by the nose by a black plant. She really didn’t have a high opinion of him. Especially not with the amount of flailing he was prone to doing when riled up and argumentative. He looked stupid. She always told him that.
‘They don’t seem too threatening,’ she offered, watching as the brown-haired one offered his hand out to a glaring Madara. Though with his new face, his glares weren’t all that terrifying.
The small adult placed his other hand to his chest, repeating the same two words a few times. “Frodo Baggins.” Sakura blinked, her brain piecing together that it was likely his name. She’d heard the first word mentioned a few times in the first conversation the brown-haired one and the blonde one had between themselves.
‘We follow,’ Madara finally signed after a few tense moments. ‘But stay on your guard. We don’t know what their motives are or where they’re taking us.’
‘They could be nice people, you know.’
‘Better to assume and prepare for the worst, otherwise we’ll get a nasty surprise when they turn on us,’ he replied, like the untrusting, paranoid shinobi he was. Not that Sakura could say she wasn’t either of those two… she was just perhaps slightly less untrusting and paranoid, but that was a given thanks to her younger age. Paranoia generally increased in older age, and Madara was practically ancient.
‘Again, they could be nice people, so stop saying when.’
‘Shut up already,’ he signed back, irritation rolling off him in waves as he took the stranger’s hand, grabbing Sakura’s smaller one with his other.
‘Technically not speaking, bastard.’
Madara glared at her – the message clear in his eyes. ‘Shut up.’
Sakura smirked, fingers already moving. ‘Make me,” she signed, blinking as her irritating companion dragged her forwards roughly, smirking when she stumbled. Her hand slipped out of his suddenly loose grip, mouth tasting the dirt once more. Her lips twisted in annoyance, and she stood up, ignoring the blonde hairy-footed male beside her who seemed to want to help. One hand dug into the soft earth underneath her, gathering a lump of it in her hand, her other hand reaching out for Madara’s once again.
‘Like that?’ Madara asked, grabbing her hand in his own.
Sakura smeared the dirt into his face in answer. ‘Screw you, bastard,’ she signed in satisfaction.
Grey eyes narrowed, and Madara turned to look towards wherever their new host was leading them, seemingly unaffected by the dirt covering his face. But Sakura recognised the glint in his eyes. The one that sent shivers down her spine when she saw it. The one that said this means war. A scowl appeared on her lips. Bring it, she thought viciously, blinking when they came out of the forest.
There were hills all around them, small and large, small dirt tracks leading between them. Gates and fences were set up in front of them, railing off child-sized circular doors painted in bright colours. Definitely a different species to humans, she mused. They practically lived underground. Her grip on Madara’s hand tightened, eyes darting about as she tried to figure out where they were being led to by the two seemingly nice small people. It always paid to know one’s destination. Her annoying companion had a similar idea – hence why he was likely not inflicting petty revenge upon her at that very moment in time.
It was something they had in common, the fact they both took large amounts of satisfaction from petty revenge, especially towards each other. Sakura blamed it on her newfound childishness. She’d been turned into a toddler, so she was allowed to act like a bit of one especially in front of others. They weren’t supposed to be attracting too much attention to themselves after all.
Frodo led them on, not stopping in his walking until they were in front of a hill with a green door in it, and it was there that he opened the door and ushered the pair of them inside. Madara went hesitantly, glancing back at the blondish one who was leaving before gingerly stepping foot inside the homely little house under the hill.
It wasn’t wet or nasty-smelling, like Sakura had thought it might be. Instead, it was warm, dry, and smelt wonderful. Their host prattled on at them as they walked further inside, speaking in that unfamiliar language neither of them could understand for the life of them.
Sometimes Sakura really hated language barriers.
Still, he showed them the bathroom, the kitchen, and a bedroom she presumed the two of them could use. Why he was doing this, Sakura wasn’t all too sure, and she was fairly certain Madara was suspicious of this Frodo’s motives as well. Still, at least she could consider that Frodo was actually a nice person who was all set for helping two little lost children with whatever they needed.
Yawning, she wandered back into the bathroom he’d shown them, soon figuring out how to get hot water for the bath she sorely needed after the numerous days without one. She most definitely stank, and she was going to be removing that stench—
Sakura froze, halfway through the process of stripping off her clothes, hands twitching into action as Madara pulled his dirty tunic off. ‘What the hell are you doing in here?’
‘Having a bath.’
‘I’m having a bath!’
One black brow quirked. ‘And? We’re both children technically, so there’s nothing to see—’
Sakura threw the closest bar of soap at him. ‘I hope you drown,’ she signed furiously, smug satisfaction radiating through her as the soap bounced of his head.
He caught it afterwards, the git, and continued stripping off like nothing was wrong. Sakura decided to do the same. She wouldn’t let him get to her… wouldn’t let him get the satisfaction of whatever petty revenge he was plotting.
She settled down, scrubbing as much of the dirt from her hair and body before she climbed into the bathtub, sighing as she relaxed in the hot water, refusing to look as Madara climbed in the opposite side to her. There was nothing wrong. As he’d said, they were both children in body—
“Wow,” she breathed, her voice barely above a whisper, mindful of their host in some other room of the underground flat of sorts. “It’s tiny…”
Madara’s eye twitched, and a bar of soap slammed into her own head.
Sakura blinked, glaring at him as he sat there, arms folded. She didn’t need to think twice before splashing him, kicking her feet at him mercilessly.
“Two can play at that game,” he hissed, splashing water right back at her.
It descended into madness from there, obviously.
She wasn’t entirely too sure of how long their bathtub battle went on for, but fresh clothes and breakfast were waiting for them outside by the time they finished. Sakura felt mildly apologetic for the mess they’d made, but she was hungry and faintly tired, so after finishing her meal, she went straight for the bedroom Frodo had shown them.
Madara followed, obviously, and Sakura was resigned to her fate as his mattress by that point in time. He’d done it every time they’d made camp for the night. Though this time, she had to admit, it was slightly more comfortable with a feathery mattress underneath her as Madara snuggled into her side, breath puffing against her neck as his eyes glazed over in sleep.
Sakura didn’t wait too long to follow.
Chapter 6: Moonlit Nightmares
“You should never have returned here.”
The whispers wove through her dreams, the voice making her blood curdle as the misty amber wisps invaded her mind.
“You should not have come!”
It was dark – so very dark – the edges of the strange vision clouded in grey smoke, the ruins of some tower littered all around her as she stood there. Confusion ran high, and Sakura almost whimpered as something came into sight. It looked like a wolf… only it was bigger, and far more deadly than any wolf she’d seen before in the Elemental Nations. But these weren’t the Elemental Nations, the sly voice in the back of her head reminded her, and it wasn’t Inner. Inner was one of her few sources of strength in her strange new world.
A howl pierced the night, but it wasn’t the baying of any wolf. No. It was a call to arms. Sakura wasn’t sure how she knew it, but that was what it was. A cold feeling passed through her, and Sakura blinked as wolf after wolf came towards the central gathering place within the tower ruins. It was like she was a ghost, a cold shiver running down her spine whenever the strange big wolves stepped through her. And then the wolves started talking to each other, in a language she oddly enough could understand. Sakura blinked, watching as a figure that was most definitely not a wolf stepped out of the shadows, a black cloak pulled over them so she couldn’t ascertain their identity. Not that she’d have recognised them. She didn’t want to get closer either. The eeriness of the entire place unnerved her.
“The empty vessel…” the words were rasped out from underneath the cloak. “Bring me the empty vessel…” The base of a spear banged against the ground in his grasp, and she flinched as the sound echoed around the ruins. “Those are your master’s orders. He needs it to save our lord.”
Sakura blinked, the hairs on the back of her neck rising as the shadowed eyes of the being lifted, a sniffling sound coming from under the hood. Like scenting out prey.
“Wait… something is not right here…”
Her throat was dry. Bone dry.
Eyes locked on hers, yellow and acrid in colouring, and her stomach dropped to her toes. He’d found her… she was going to get ripped apart by the strange intelligent wolves around them who wouldn’t take too kindly to being watched in the middle of whatever it was they were doing. “We’re being watched…”
She scrambled back, breathing frantically as she tried to find the nearest exit. The creature had seen her, even though she wasn’t physically there. It was impossible. She didn’t even understand how she was there in the first place. What the hell was going on? she wondered, eyes widening as the ground seemed to drop out from under her, a glowing slitted amber eye peering down at her as she fell down into the earth, much like she had on her way to the strange place.
Sakura shot up in bed, breathing heavily, her tiny body trembling as she tried to process what the hell had just happened. A nightmare? But it had felt so real. Too real.
“Brat?” Madara blinked sleepily up at her from where his head was still somehow snuggled into the crook of her neck. “What’s wrong?” he whispered, ever mindful of their host somewhere else in that very weird building. “It’s still dark outside. Go back to sleep already.”
The wolves had been so big compared to her tiny scrawny body, their teeth sharp and dripping with saliva, eyes beady and intelligent. Sakura didn’t want to see them again. The thought terrified her, and it made her hands fist in the clothes Madara wore. She didn’t even know how she’d ended up in that situation. She’d just fallen asleep. She was scared to fall back asleep. The amber eye made her feel sick, and it made her head pound.
‘Not like the idiot would understand!’ Inner spoke as she gazed at Madara, who looked irritatingly comfy as he pushed her back down to the mattress. ‘He’s too obsessed with his oh-so-clever plans for peace.’
Sakura breathed out a sigh, blinking as she realised her eyes were practically overflowing with tears at the prospect of going back to sleep after her… nightmare. There was nothing else it could be. It was just a bad dream made up from her overactive imagination. She ran her hands over herself, smoothing down the pricked hair on her arms and neck, sorely wishing she could be safely tucked up back at her home in the Elemental Nations.
Tears rolled down her face, thick and hot. She wanted to go home. She wanted to go back, even if there was a war going on, because at least everything except what went on inside Madara’s head made sense. Her hands shook, clenched in Madara’s clothing as she tried to find some comfort in the warm body snuggled beside hers.
“Why are you shaking, idiot?” Madara hissed, glaring at her with those storm grey eyes of his. “Stop shaking. I can’t sleep with you like this!”
“So don’t sleep with me, you blithering fool,” she snarled, still shaking like a leaf, her voice quivering ever so slightly. She blamed her newfound childishness. It had her emotions all over the place.
“What the hell has got your knickers in a twist?”
“You aren’t an Uchiha. Don’t you dare hn me.”
He prodded her nose as though it were a button. “No, idiotic brat.”
Sakura shoved a finger up his nose in retaliation, her other hand coming up to pinch at his cheek. “I’m not the idiot here,” she muttered. “You’re the big, fat, stupid, imbecile who doesn’t have a scrap of common sense.”
“Oh wait, who was it again who rescued you from those bandits?” Madara tilted his head, looking contemplative for a single second, despite her finger lodged up his nose. “That’s right. Me. So shut that pretty little mouth of yours and go back to being a good mattress.”
“This good mattress will kick your backside to the floor in a moment if you don’t shut up,” she said, wrenching her hands free of his face, wiping them clean on his clothes.
“So glad you acknowledge your lesser status—”
“Do you want me to castrate you with a blunt kitchen knife?”
“Bastard,” she grumbled, throwing an arm around his waist, snuggling up to him as much as she could. He was a good heat source, and hopefully a decent nightmare deterrent. Well, a good source of material with which to replace the weird content of her last freakish dream. She’d rather have nightmares about Madara than anything else – because Madara was there, and he wasn’t about the hurt her. Not when she was his clue as to how to return back to his home. “Madara…” she said, burrowing into his warm chest, her hair brushing his chin as she asked him a serious question for once. A question that burnt at her. “Do you think we’ll ever get home?”
“Of course, brat,” he grumbled, chest vibrating against her cheek. “I still have to enact my excellent plan for world peace.”
“It’s a shitty idea, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the better.”
“I’m not arguing on this unless I get five hours more sleep, so for the sake of my sanity, just shut up and sleep already,” he said, smooshing his face into an actual pillow rather than the crook of her neck that time.
“What sanity? You lost yours ages ago, and your ‘reflecting my eye off the moon’ plan is the proof,” she muttered, her voice soft as they curled up under the blankets together.
“Shut up already and get to sleep.”
“I don’t wanna…”
“For crying out loud, sleep… or would you rather I slam something into your skull to make you get some rest?” he asked, hands mussing through her silky pink hair as if to grab her head and carry through with his threat.
“I’m fairly sure that wouldn’t be rest,” she said. “Plus, you might hit my baby skull a wee bit too hard, and then where would you be in your plot to get back to your home?”
Sakura blinked languidly. “Huh?”
“It’s our home, you stupid twit,” he mumbled, throwing a leg over her own. “Now stop talking and be a good cuddly toy already.”
“I thought I was a mattress?”
“Shut the fuck up already. You are what I say you are.”
Sakura scowled weakly. “Child.”
“You’re closer to that definition in both age and appearance right now,” he said. “So please stop talking and close your eyes already before I give into the temptation to gag you.”
“No, Sakura. Just… no.”
“I don’t wanna sleep,” she muttered, yawning as she nuzzled into the warmth, her brain too addled with sleep to care about how she shouldn’t be doing that. Madara had done it to her neck. She was just getting herself some petty revenge. Obviously Madara couldn’t stand it when people nuzzled his chest. She snorted with laughter.
“You need to sleep, so just shut your eyes already. Children can’t go for too long without sleep. It’s bad for their bodies—”
“And probably helps you develop those wicked eyebags you had—”
“I am going to take pleasure in obliterating you when we get back home.”
“If we get back home,” Sakura mumbled.
“When. We will be getting back, brat,” he said. “Just you watch.”
“These things take time, now silence yourself and sleep.”
“My apologies, but I don’t come with a mute button,” she said, glancing out of the window at the pale half moon hanging in the sky. It was a beautiful sight. One she couldn’t admire properly with her brain addled by the need for sleep. Apparently she couldn’t stop herself from babbling either when muddled by the need for sleep.
“Just shut that mouth of yours and close your eyes then,” he hissed, patience finally running out. “You might not want to sleep, but one of us here does.”
Sakura bit her lip, tears welling up in her eyes yet again. “But I can’t,” she mumbled, voice thick with fear she’d never really felt as strongly. Probably something to do with her being a child, and her being unfamiliar with everything in the strange and scary new land. “It was scary. I thought I was going to die… I thought those wolves were going to eat me…”
“You realise you are making absolutely no sense, don’t you?”
“I had a bad dream you big dummy!”
“Get over it?”
“You suck at comforting people,” she said, glaring at his irritatingly comfy chest. Was that why he’d used her as a mattress before?
“My offer to knock you unconscious still stands.”
Chapter 7: Facing Facts and Unknowing Adventures
Tiptoeing around their host was surprisingly easy, though Sakura kept having to remind herself to look around and check whether this Baggins was in the room with them. He was awfully quiet for a civilian without a smidge of chakra. Then again, they were both amazingly quiet and light on their feet despite their loss of chakra. Despite their compacted sizes too. Sakura thought she was adjusting rather well to being a child again. It wasn’t as horrible as she’d first thought, despite the less than stellar company. She could deal with Madara though, especially since he wasn’t out to kill her. Well not yet anyhow. “I’m braiding your hair tonight,” she grumbled, awareness coming back to her as she choked on the fluffy black strands of hair which had somehow ended up in her mouth. “I don’t care what you think—”
“Quiet!” Madara hissed, dark grey eyes already wide awake and narrowed in suspicion as the sounds of voices reached them. He recognised both voices, as did Sakura, despite only having heard the second once a matter of weeks ago when they’d both been brought to the house of their host. ‘Let’s see what’s going on,’ he signed, and Sakura acquiesced without any sort of snarky retort.
She padded out of their room close behind him, peering around the corner of one of the numerous rounded corridors, eyeing their curly-haired host, and the one called Gamgee. Green eyes narrowed on what they were doing – both of them appearing to be packing away supplies into a bag. ‘Are they going on a trip?’
Sakura gave him the middle finger. ‘I was just double checking.’
‘Are they gonna leave us behind do you think?’ she signed, watching as food and other necessities were packed away. ‘They can’t leave us, can they?’ she added, nervousness stirring in her gut as she watched the short people pack away their belongings.
‘Well they are locals,’ Madara concluded. ‘They might be going out to hunt or something. Well, if they hunt to find food. This world seems rather primitive compared to ours. They don’t even have chakra… but we should probably stick with these two. They haven’t done anything untoward, and they’re probably our best bet of survival in these lands.’
Together, they hurried back into the bedroom they’d been given, hunting out appropriate travelling clothes and a small pack Madara filled with some essential clothing, before heading back out into the corridor, dressed and ready.
‘I think we can trust them.’ She folded her arms, looking on at the preparing pair as they went to make their presence known.
‘If I wasn’t here you’d already be dead with that naivety of yours,’ Madara signed, sighing quietly, rolling his eyes as she determinedly ignored him and went and tugged demandingly on the sleeve of their nice host.
He spun to face them, confusion written across his face as he spied what they were wearing, that unfamiliar language sounding again, his blondish friend joining in. Sakura tightened her grip on his sleeve, staring up at him unflinchingly with her hard green eyes, trying to drive the point in. They were going with him, wherever he was going, and for however long their trip would be. He was their best choice for survival. Her meeting with those strange big people had only proven that much. Not everyone was nice in their new world, and without any way to communicate, she had no way to pick out who she could and couldn’t trust. This Frodo Baggins had fed them, clothed them, and generally been very nice while they were staying with him. She wasn’t about to let him leave them both behind when they went of on a long trip – because judging by how much they packed, it’d be a decently lengthy trip. Their hosts would probably be able to forage for more food, so it might be even longer than any of her predictions.
So when their hosts left, concerned and worried glances thrown their way, they followed close behind them, not even bothering with subtlety. Sakura felt uneasy, heading out into the bigger scarier world, but Inner was all for their little travel. They both knew they couldn’t remain in one place for too long… not after the nightmares she was having almost every night. She saw twisted, rotting creatures, and wolves twice as large as any man. Trees whispered to her, urging her forwards, and Sakura took strength from that. Not that she told Madara that. Saying anything along those lines would just result in yet another argument between them, and as much as she despised him, she also took comfort from his presence. He was weirdly like a rock in that sense. A rock she’d happily kick as far away from her as possible if they ever made it back to the Elemental Nations.
But Sakura wasn’t too sure they’d ever make it back, not that she voiced those thoughts.
Madara was determined, even he seemingly had no clue about where to begin.
Sakura could respect that much at least.
Grass and mud squelched under her feet, the rolling hills of the quaint little village of sorts they were in passing by slowly as Frodo led them onwards. Though it was less him leading, and more the pair of them following like lost little ducklings.
Madara had glared at her when she’d signed that. ‘I am not a duckling, and we are not lost. We’re simply choosing the best route with the greatest chance of survival.’
‘Keep telling yourself that.’
An elbow jabbed into her ribs, and Sakura grunted, hurrying out of jabbing range as quickly as she could. His elbows were annoyingly pointy. She hurried toward their guide, grabbing a hold of his cloak, ignoring the looks she got from everyone. It was a decent way of ensuring she didn’t get separated from the locals, and from keeping herself separate from Madara. At least up until the annoyance himself grabbed a hold of her free hand.
One eyebrow rose when she glared at him. ‘What? Somebody has to ensure you don’t do anything stupid around here.’
Sakura rolled her eyes, tugging her idiot of a companion along. What a sight they must have made – a tiny adult, and two small children clinging to him and each other. The thought made her want to gag. It sounded so adorable, and yet it was Madara of all people she could’ve been stuck with. She’d take Itachi over him any day.
She missed Naruto and Sasuke. Chewing on her lip, she thought of all the days before. When they were still genin, and all of them were still in the village. Happy. Carefree. No worries about ancestors and their crazy plots involving moons and eyeballs. No worries about being turned into a small pointy eared child and thrown into a world she was clueless about.
Her shoulders sunk, feet trudging on, her hand grasped tightly by Madara’s slightly larger one. It was warm too. A nice kind of warmth. Sakura shook her head, veering her thoughts out of that dangerous territory as best she could. She couldn’t afford to associate Madara with anything nice.
Just in case they made it home.
‘Oh great. Another one,’ Madara signed, the flicker of movement pulling her attention towards the third tiny adult who’d joined them. One the other two had called Pippin, which brought their total number up to five.
One more person than any genin team, her mind supplied. That didn’t unnerve her in the slightest. The more people they had the better the chances of success, unless they were going for a stealth operation. Vaguely, Sakura wondered what was going on – what the purpose of their trip was, because she couldn’t really make heads or tails of it. Then again, Madara had said her observational skills and deductive reasoning were terrible. Her eye twitched at the memory. Just because she couldn’t throw together a plan or string clues together didn’t mean she was useless in the situation they were stuck in. She’d be anything but, and she’d prove it, both to herself and the irritating bastard behind her. It’d reduce his pool of available insults by a smidgeon anyway, and that was always a plus in her book.
Evening fell before they could reach any sort of inn or residence, and Sakura was fine with camping out – as was Madara. They’d both done it enough. They were shinobi. Sleeping on grass and tree branches meant nothing to them. But as night fell, they saw them in the forest they’d just started walking through.
The sight made both her and Madara stiffen, starlight seeming to radiate from the eyes and hair of the strange beings who called out to them, to Frodo, in that unfamiliar language. Chilliness which had been building in her bones vanished, and Sakura tightened her grip on Madara’s hand.
Because their glow was similar to hers and Madara’s own. Well, before they’d learnt to hide it. Just like chakra concealment. They were tall, humanoid, but that which made Sakura’s heart stutter were the pointed tips of their ears, and the whispers between them that she could actually understand… even if the speech was weirdly formal and seemingly outdated.
Sakura blinked at the signs Madara flashed her way, hands already moving to present her own arguments. ‘But they feel safe and they speak our language.’
Madara glared at her, pulling her closer as Frodo led them closer towards the group of strange pointy-eared people. ‘That’s precisely why we’re not going to say anything. Haven’t you learnt anything since our arrival? We need to be cautious. Not everybody here is nice – and I’d trust Frodo more than these strangers, so keep your hood up and your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.’
‘It’s called staying alive, imbecile.’ Madara snapped back, flicking her right between the eyes as he finished his fancy hand signs.
‘Well at least you trust Frodo now…’
‘I said I trusted him more. Slightly more. I wouldn’t put my life in his hands, that’s for sure.’
Sakura stared at him. ‘But… isn’t that kind of what we’re doing here?’
‘I can defend myself adequately in these lands. I’m just using him as a guide to help me map out the place. I’ve certainly proven my skills, unlike you who got captured.’
‘Are you ever going to stop bringing that up?’
‘No.’ Madara smirked. ‘But we should probably stop talking full stop until we get rid of these weird people. They’re looking at us strangely.’
Sakura looked up, noting the few sets of grey eyes glancing over at where they sat – just a little further away from the pointy-eared people than where the three tiny adults seated themselves. She watched them all curiously, wondering about the strange group.
The one they called Gildor Inglorion kept looking over at both of them, golden hair shining both under the starlight and the warm glow from the fire crackling in the centre of the merry gathering. His gaze made her feel oddly safe, just like the presence of the others whom she presumed to be their kin of some description. Snuggling into Madara’s side, and only for warmth, she watched everything with droopy eyes, the silence surrounding the two of them only broken when food and drink was offered – that which Sakura accepted on both of their behalves, elbowing her companion into compliance once she’d proven there was no poison slipped in. Well, no fast-acting stuff anyway.
‘You’re going to die, and I’m going to laugh when that happens,’ Madara signed at her. ‘You’re far too trusting. How did you even make it this far as a shinobi?’
‘I punched everything in my path, and I’ll punch you too, if you don’t shut up.’
Madara just rolled his eyes skyward.
Sakura huffed, using him as a mattress as best she could as she settled down for the night, briefly eyeing Frodo who spoke to the Gildor person late into the night.
Madara glared at Gildor the entire time.
Chapter 8: Of Farmers, Mushrooms, and More Company
Frodo wasn’t quite sure what to make of the two small children following after their group of three – five, if he included them, which he didn’t want to. He doubted they were even aware of the danger they were putting themselves in. Black Riders were following them, and Frodo had no doubts they wouldn’t hesitate to kill the little ones. They were even younger than Pippin, who still hadn’t reached his majority, and they weren’t even hobbits. From the size of them they had to be of the race of men, and though Frodo wasn’t too sure when the big people came of age, he was fairly certain it was younger than hobbits. They had slightly shorter lives, rarely reaching the three-digits most of them, so the little ones couldn’t be that old. Their parents were probably looking for them… well, if they were alive, he mused, brow furrowing at the thought. Perhaps Gandalf would know what to do – how to find their home. They were meant to be meeting with him sooner rather than later.
Gildor had told him he would pass on a message to his kin and other possible sources of aid, and had given no straight forward advice on what to do about the two little children following after him. But then again elves were never straightforward. ‘Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’ The words he’d spoken to Gildor last night rang in his ears. The choices were all down to him. He had to decide whether to go or stay. He had to decide what to do with the small innocent lives that had seemingly come into his care.
“What is the plan for today?” Pippin asked, and Frodo looked over at the tree roots the two children were stubbornly sleeping. They hadn’t moved an inch, and he didn’t know whether to be grateful or not. He needed to think. They needed to cross the river without being seen if at all possible. They were being hunted.
“To walk to Bucklebury as quickly as possible,” he answered, nibbling at the food the elves had left behind for them, barely resisting the urge to scowl as Pippin peppered him with more questions – he just wanted to eat in peace and think. Think about what to do with the children who’d been left to his care. He didn’t know whether to include Pippin in that statement too. “Are you ready to set off?” he asked after some time had passed, having finished their earlier discussions and polished off his breakfast. The two children were up, eyes of bright spring green and the grey of storm clouds looking at him from beneath their hoods. They almost seemed to glow in the light of the morning. The late morning. They’d slept for too long. They needed to be on their way. There were many miles still ahead of them.
Sakura followed their host as they traipsed through forest and field, having left the main path of sorts around these areas far behind as they cut through the thicket. Only to stop when Sam Gamgee stopped to look behind them and make an exclamation of some sorts. Together, both she and Madara glanced back, and her heart pounded frantically at the sight of the black robed figure on a steed of the same colour. Whimpering, she clutched at Madara’s hand, remembering her dream. Sure they hadn’t featured any creepy-looking people on black horses, but the aura that radiated off them and the scary wolves was one and the same. Evil. The thought pulsed through her.
‘The enemy pursues us…’ Inner whispered, echoing her own thoughts on the matter. ‘We should be careful from here on in, Outer…’
She didn’t need to be told twice, and a gentle squeeze at her hand brought her out of her thoughts. Sakura blinked, glancing at Madara as he stared straight ahead. ‘Stop freaking out, idiot,’ was signed before she could process what was happening. ‘It’s just a horse and rider.’ She bit her lip. That was no ordinary horse and rider, that was for sure, and the small adults seemed to agree with her.
Still, it didn’t stop their walking, nor did it stop their singing and smiling as the day went on. Sakura found herself smiling and humming along with their cheery tune slowly.
At least until Madara signed at her with a smirk. ‘Told you there was something in the water those weird creatures gave us. You’re grinning like an idiot and seem to have forgotten what it is that pursues us.’
A wail came with the wind, and their singing stopped. Shivers ran up her spine, her hand clamping down on Madara’s. And only because she wanted to cause him pain – not because she was scared like a little girl. Though in all fairness, it could easily be her smaller body that made it harder to control her reactions to all things scary and spooky.
‘Come on.’ Madara tightened his own grip on her hand, following after their guides as they continued, their singing halted, their faces grim as they exited the wood. ‘We can’t afford to get lost here… Though I doubt they’d intentionally leave us behind, being as small as we are.’
Mindlessly, Sakura trudged forwards. She was cold, slightly sweaty, and she hadn’t had a decent bath that morning. She hadn’t had any sort of bath that morning, and she felt horrible for it. Why hadn’t they stayed in the home? Her shoulders sunk.
‘Probably would’ve been worse to just hang around there,’ Inner chimed in. ‘There’s something hunting us and the ones leading us. Staying in that home, no matter how cosy it was, would’ve led them straight to us.’
Good point, Sakura mused to herself, blinking as they eventually arrived outside a gate to a farm of sorts. Clearly, the strange small people knew each other, since there was somebody there to welcome them into the house in the midst of it all. But they weren’t seemingly going to stay there. Not in the nice safe-looking farmer’s house. Sighing quietly, she held Madara’s hand as the conversation they couldn’t quite understand flew over their heads. Her companion was seemingly doing his best to get the gist of things, and Sakura was content to let him. No matter how much he’d hold it over her head. Trying to wrap her head around everything only gave her a headache.
Sakura tuned everything out, eating dinner with the other small adults, staring out into space even as she held onto Madara’s hand like a lifeline. The world was a scary big place with strange things afoot. Sakura only hoped their guides were heading somewhere safe. She didn’t particularly want to die anytime soon, even if she couldn’t get home. The unease and sense of not belonging had vanished, and it made her feel oddly relieved, even if she missed her friends dearly. Besides, she glanced sideways, if Madara was with her, then he couldn’t be causing havoc in the Elemental Nations. That was a benefit of her rather alarming situation, even if she was clinging to him in some way shape or form in order to survival. It was only for survival. She still detested him to the very bone.
She didn’t complain when he tugged sharply on her hand, yanking her out of her daydreams as he led her towards a cart drawn by a pony of some description. The other three small adults were also climbing in, so they had to as well. Frodo was their best hope for continued survival – he and the blondish one seemed to care enough about their wellbeing for that. They’d made sure they ate – offering food and drink to them, as well as stopping to rest probably a little more than they should have.
Yawning, she sat there in the cart, plastered to Madara’s side. He was slightly more comfortable than the hard wood, so she made the most of it. Her ears twitched, a faint constant clop-clop sound reaching her as she sat next to her companion who seemed to have mastered the art of sleeping while remaining aware of his surroundings. It was another part of their weird not-quite sleep they always fell into. They always remained aware of the things going on around them – the only difference being that Madara could react to stimuli much faster than she in that state. She was as slow as a snail when it came to that.
Around them, the small people tensed as their ears too caught wind of the sound, and then Frodo was being covered with blankets as his own companions addressed the rider. Silently, Sakura prayed it wasn’t the same one that had been following them with what she believed to be malicious intentions.
Sakura tightened her grasp on Madara’s arm, heart pounding as she felt the tension thick in the air around them. Blinking a couple of times, she kept her gaze fixed on the foggy figure, relief sweeping through her as Frodo and Sam relaxed and called out to the figure in friendly voices.
Evidently, the other small adult was friend not foe, and their guides climbed from the cart to greet the one called Merry. Sakura shook Madara awake, all but kicking him off the cart, a scowl curling at her lips when he rolled like the well-trained shinobi he was to soften the impact. He brushed off the dust and muck, smirking at her as she hopped down and stomped over towards their guides, clutching to Frodo’s cloak when Merry’s eyes turned on her even as Frodo was given a basket of what smelt like food of the mushroom variety.
‘Don’t get distracted by your stomach, idiot,’ Madara signed. ‘We ate only a short while ago.’
‘It smells nice is all,’ she replied, glaring at him in the darkness. Night had well and truly fallen, and they were still travelling – a testament to the importance of their host’s mission, or whatever the journey was.
‘Come on.’ He grabbed her hand, pulling her forwards as she realised Frodo’s cloak had slipped from her grasp, and their guides were setting off. They headed down a neat lane edged with pale white stones. It was well kept, and well used, the reason for which they both soon spotted as the ferry of sorts came into view. ‘Looks like we’re crossing the river.’
‘No kidding. I really hadn’t figured that one out,’ she signed back, rolling her eyes. She wasn’t stupid.
‘That’s right!’ Inner agreed.
Madara elbowed her sharply, all but dragging her forwards and onto the ferry as Merry dealt with his pony. They were crossing the river, leaving pretty much everything even vaguely familiar behind them. Sakura swallowed, glancing back at the way they’d come from, staring up at the pale moonlight shining beyond the hill. The moon there was so very pretty, casting a scant amount of light for her to see the wolf-like figure on the hilltop before its howl pierced the night.
Chapter 9: Yet Another Forest
The path beneath their feet was well trodden, and the civilisation that soon surrounded them looked vaguely similar to the one they’d seen upon entering Frodo’s home. Evidently their guide and host was rather rich for a small adult, given he seemed to have a second home. A place Sakura assumed to be called ‘Crickhollow’ given how often it came up in the conversation. She was getting fairly good at picking out the names of people and places. Sakura glanced over at Madara, biting her lip at the unchanged expression on his face as they settled into Crickhollow for the night, and she soon found the reason for that.
‘They might try and leave us behind,’ Madara signed, sitting down on a mattress in the room. The small adults had been deep in conversation, and Sakura had caught them glancing and gesturing towards the pair of them on occasion before they’d decided to call it a night and get some rest. ‘We are small to them, and they seem to be caught up in something rather dangerous.’
‘They can’t leave us,’ she signed back, turning to look at Pippin and Merry who seemed to be sharing the room with them – hence their need for signs rather than the quiet murmuring they usually did before they went to bed. It also meant they had to keep their hoods up, lest they want their pointed ears to be discovered.
‘Then get to sleep. I’ll wake you if they seem to be leaving. We’re always fairly aware of our surroundings when we sleep. Well, I am, anyway.’
Sakura rolled her eyes and snorted, slumping down on the bed next to Madara, not making a single complaint as he threw a leg over her own and pulled her close. They couldn’t allow their hoods or something of the like to fall while they slept, nor could they trust the two mischievous-looking small adults with whom they had to share a room. They seemed to be the type for pulling pranks, and Sakura knew they couldn’t afford to have any pulled on them. They didn’t want any scary people coming after them because of their ears. They didn’t want to be left behind because of them either. Though Madara had refused to let them talk with the nice-looking people who had the same ears as them. Stupid paranoid shinobi. Sakura let out a sigh, snuggling further into Madara’s warmth.
It made her feel that much safer, with those arms wrapped around her – a reminder she wasn’t alone.
She woke up to those same arms curled tightly around her, before she rolled out of bed and got ready alongside Merry and Pippin. They wouldn’t be leaving them behind. She’d make sure of it. Frodo was theirs. He was their guide, their anchor in their new confusing world, and without him they’d be lost. They couldn’t understand anything anybody said. Well, aside from the words those friendly-looking pointy-eared had spoken… but somebody hadn’t let her talk to them – not even to gather information. She glared over at Madara, quickly looking away when she spotted his bedhead which thankfully concealed his ears. Madara didn’t have to worry about a hood with a mane like that. Sakura rolled her eyes, hurrying out to obtain breakfast from Frodo or Sam, sighing quietly as she felt Madara’s presence close behind her. Like a second shadow.
A cute second shadow. Sakura shook her head viciously, trying to clear the image of an even more messy-haired Madara yawning. Criminals weren’t meant to look so darn cute.
It was still early when they left the homely hole under the hill, meaning Sakura had to be careful about looking at Madara. Especially when he yawned. Sakura yawned, all her adorableness concealed by the hood pulled over her head. Not that it would have any effect on Madara. He was terrifying enough that he could weaponize his cuteness and use it against her. She wouldn’t fall for the trap though.
Scowling, she turned her head away from him, clinging to Frodo’s cloak as they walked towards yet another forest. Only this one looked twice as terrifying to her tiny body. The colouring of the wooden trunks and branches was darker than she was familiar with, the leaves over their heads dense and not allowing much light to slip through, aside from the occasional patch of warm sunlight or two. But she was a shinobi of Konoha, and they loved trees, so onwards it was. She wasn’t about to give Madara another reason to poke fun at her. She was a strong, fearless—
Her hand found Madara’s in a flash, eyes darting about as she caught wind of whispers in the forest. They were eerie things, filling her mind, seeping into her… but something repelled them against influencing her.
‘It’s a forest, imbecile,’ Madara signed, looking utterly exasperated with her. ‘Stop being a damned scaredy-cat and grow a spine already.’
Sakura scowled, letting go of Frodo’s cloak, slamming a tiny fist into Madara’s stomach. Madara raised an eyebrow, utterly unaffected by her strike, and Sakura pouted. Sometimes she hated losing her chakra… but maybe it was a good thing. After all, Madara had lost his too, which meant no sharingan with which to anticipate all her moves or force her into a genjutsu.
Madara yawned again, and Sakura looked straight ahead. She wouldn’t fall for his act. The small adults were all yawning too. Clearly they hadn’t got much sleep the night before. Sakura smirked, folding her arms. She and Madara didn’t require as much sleep, so they’d be fine. Madara’s grip loosened on her hand, and Sakura glanced back, brow furrowing as he yawned yet again. Well, clearly she was just superior to Madara in some respect.
‘That’s right!’ Inner said, and Sakura could almost see her punching a fist to the sky. ‘We’re awesome! And the trees around us know it too…’
Sakura froze, blinking as two of the small adults stopped to lean back against an old willow tree. The sounds of trees singing in her ears only grew that much greater, and a bolt of realisation struck through her. It sounded like a lullaby. Her eyes narrowed, letting go of Madara’s hand as two cracks opened up in the roots, swallowing up the two small adults. What was going on? Sakura blinked, unsure if she should venture closer to the tree which seemed to radiate some sort of deep anger and hatred. Like a crotchety old man. A smile pulled at her lips. Like Madara. She stared at the roots, tiptoeing closer, noting how the other two small adults were nowhere in sight. She needed to do something – being the only one with Mokuton. Madara had seemingly lost his affinity with trees when he came to their new world, not that it stopped him from curling up by the old willow’s roots—
“Madara, no!” she hissed, reaching out for him, but it was too late. Roots curled around him, dragging him deeper. Out of her reach. He was out of her reach, asleep underneath a mean tree. She was alone again. Her arms curled around herself, and Sakura realised just how reliant on Madara she’d become. He’d been her support in that world, and if anything happened to her, he’d be there – if only because she was his clue to finding his way home. He was stronger than her too, and loathe she admit it, slightly better at piecing everything together. And now he was gone. Her teeth clenched. He’d been taken from her by an angry tree. A tree who had no reason to hate him, unlike the forests back home. Though to be honest, they’d just thought him an idiot – something Sakura sorely agreed on. “Idiot,” she muttered, looking frantically around for the other two small adults, but they were nowhere in sight. She was on her own. And suddenly the forest seemed that much larger and that much more scary. These trees weren’t the same as the ones she’d made friends with back home. They might not listen to her, and the old willow tree definitely wouldn’t. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes.
She was helpless. Alone. Lost.
She wanted Madara back. Even if he was the scourge of the Elemental Nations, here he was her companion. It didn’t matter how irritating he was at times. Older siblings could be irritating sometimes – she’d learnt that from her friends – but that didn’t mean they weren’t wanted. Not that she viewed Madara as just that. Her hands curled into fists, falling to her sides as she glared at the tree in front of her. It had taken him from her. She beat at the wood with her tiny fists, irritation clawing at her gut as she did nothing except make the roots shift towards her instead. But she had control over wood… she had to. Why else would she still have been able to hear and understand the whispering of the forest otherwise? “No!” she snarled, smacking the bark yet again. “You let him go!”
But the tree didn’t listen. Sakura roared, the sound pathetic and feeble with her childish body. Tears leaked down her face, wincing as roots curled around her tiny waist and started to squeeze. It hurt. It hurt so much.
‘Bastard…’ Inner muttered. ‘How dare a mere Huorn…’
Sakura blinked, too busy whimpering as the tree root squeezed her like a constrictor snake to really listen to Inner's words. She hated snakes. “Who cares about me?” she muttered, rage surging inside, the sound of her heartbeat pumping in her ears, and the tree roots loosened their grip on her. “Give him back…” she hissed, prying herself free of the roots that had once kept her captive. “He’s mine.”
‘Ours,’ Inner murmured. ‘Our protector. We brought him back. He is ours.’
Inner’s words barely registered, something stirring in her gut as her eyes narrowed into slits, green irises glinting in the light. “Let him go,” she demanded, fire burning in her gut, clawing its way up her throat. “I said… Let him go!”
The words that escaped her lips sounded different to the ones she usually spoke – older somehow, and with age came power – and Sakura closed her eyes in confusion, only opening them again when she heard the roots shift. Madara fell out from the gap that had suddenly appeared, and she wasted no time in pulling him away from the mean tree. Voices sounded behind her, the small adults calling to one another from outside and inside the tree roots, but Sakura paid them no heed. Madara was there. Madara was back. A small smile lit her face, and something wet and warm trickled down from her nose.
Storm grey eyes flickered open, and Sakura sighed in relief as Madara stumbled back to his feet. “What happened?” he demanded, speaking in furious hushed tones, hands reaching out for her – and Sakura realised she was swaying on her feet.
Her smile only widened, the ringing in her head growing louder as the fire that had rose inside her faded away, leaving only exhaustion in its wake. “You’re OK…” she breathed, staring into those confused eyes of his. “You’re OK…”
“You’re making no sense…” he hissed. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Blearily, she stared at him, a small giggle escaping her lips as black spots dotted her vision. Madara was back, and he’d look after her now. He was her shield, and her companion in her new confusingly terrifying world. He couldn’t leave her again. She couldn’t leave him either. She still remembered just how helpless she’d been against those men who’d captured her. Madara had freed her, despite how gruff and grumpy he was… just like how she’d always pictured a big brother to be. She’d always wanted one. Someone to call nii-san. “Brother,” she slurred, wrapping her arms around his neck, giggling once again as darkness took her, and Sakura knew no more.
Chapter 10: In the House of Tom Bombadil
Sakura groaned as awareness flooded through her, bringing with it a mountain of a headache. What had happened to give her that bad of a headache? Her mind was fuzzy with the aftereffects of sleep, and it was only the small hand closed around her own that kept her grounded. Half of her wanted to try and go back to sleep, and the other part was far more curious about what was going on around her. She opened her eyes a slit, noting the warm glow around her that was most definitely not the sun. The softness of the mattress underneath her told her other stories. Had they finally gotten out of the forest? Away from that mean willow tree… Sakura scowled at the memory of the mean tree, and she sat bolt upright, wincing as her nose slammed into something hard, warm, and covered in fluffy black hair. Blinking, Sakura rubbed at her sore nose, glaring at the side of Madara’s head. Why was the idiot sitting so close to her?
“So the little lady awakens finally,” a voice chirped, sounding oddly cheery, and nothing at all like Madara’s various grunts and hisses.
Madara shoved a glass and some herbs into her hands. “Drink. Now, idiot,” he ordered gruffly. Sakura raised an eyebrow, parting her lips to ask a question, and Madara took the opportunity to shove the handful of herbs into her mouth along with a glug of water. “Swallow. Now,” he hissed, and Sakura obeyed – though not without a glare sent in his direction.
“Might I ask what the hell you just gave me?” she questioned, grabbing him by the shirt, glaring at him even as water dribbled from the corners of her lips.
“Nothing poisonous, imbecile,” Madara said, folding his arms even as he shook her loose from his clothing. “They’re what the man over there gave me… he said you’d need them, and I have already confirmed they weren’t poisonous,” he grumbled, looking over towards the window of the small guestroom they were situated in.
Sakura blinked, finally taking in the visage of the older man perched in the armchair beside the bed both she and Madara were sitting on – Sakura having been tucked in, while Madara sat with his short legs dangling over the side. Oddly adorable, and probably rather embarrassing, Sakura thought with a grin.
“I mean you both no harm, just as I mean your travelling companions no harm,” he said, smiling cheerily at them. “Little lady, I am Tom Bombadil, and you currently reside in this house of mine as a guest.”
Madara scoffed. “You were far more cryptic when I asked you,” he muttered with a huff, and Sakura relaxed, the pounding in her head fading, and she finally realised something.
“You can speak in our language!” Sakura cried, turning on the brown-haired man in bright blue robes and yellow boots.
Madara rolled his eyes. “State the obvious why don’t you, idiot,” he hissed, glaring at her witheringly, but she was far too accustomed to that stare by that point. She’d slept beside him, and she’d seen his relaxed sleeping face… and there was no going back from that point forwards. “I, for one, am more curious about what he knows about our situation. He is being annoyingly cryptic, but he knows something.” Madara bit his lip, turning his glare of daggers onto one Tom Bombadil instead. Who was apparently immune to Madara’s cute glares. “I had both our ears covered when I carried you here—”
“You carried me here?”
“Shut up! Of course I wasn’t going to let one of my clues to getting home fall into the wrong hands,” Madara hissed, and Sakura was fairly sure she could spy the burning red of the tips of his ears. “Don’t get the wrong idea.”
Madara threw a pillow at her, soon resuming his glaring session at Tom. “You have to at least tell us something,” he grumbled, and Sakura frowned at how childish it came across. Perhaps their pint-sized bodies were affecting them more than they thought, and wasn’t that a worrying thought? “How else are we meant to get home?”
One bushy brown eyebrow rose. “How indeed…” he murmured. “It is not everyday one meets two little void-born elflings.”
Sakura’s brow furrowed. “Void-born?”
“Elflings?” Madara echoed. “So that is our race…”
“The race of elves, young lad,” Tom said, ignoring the glare he received in answer. “The Eldar is what they commonly refer to themselves as, and there is little doubt you will eventually encounter your kin in these lands.”
“Do they hold the answers to getting us back to our home?” Madara pressed, leaning forwards, and Sakura found herself struggling to stop the giggling that threatened to burst from her lips. She could just picture a little dog’s tail waving back and forth.
“The stars would not have guided you here, nor given you those forms if you truly belonged at this place you call home,” he said, climbing to his feet. “But that is all I think I will say. Now, fear nothing. Have peace until the morning! Heed no nightly noises!” he spoke, opening the door and slipping out before either of them could get another word out in protest.
Sakura felt oddly safe there in the house, sleep pulling at her eyelids despite the short time in which she’d been awake. She was just fortunate she didn’t seem to be hungry, since she’d clearly missed supper. “I don’t think we’re going back…” she mumbled, the realisation making her stomach sink like a rock. But there was a part of her that leapt with joy too, despite the hardships of their new world. “You were meant to be dead… it’s only by the Edo Tensei that you were there, and it’s unnatural…”
“So I’m just supposed to give up like that?” Madara spat, rounding on her, grabbing her by the shoulders as he looked her in the eye. “I’ve spent years working towards finally attaining true peace, and I will not have it snatch away like… like this!”
Sakura only sighed, flopping back on the bed. “Do you simply want the glory of saving the world, as you put it, or are you after the peace?” she asked, staring up at the ceiling, glad it was free of spiders and cobwebs unlike the tents they’d used in the wars. She didn’t like it when they crawled over her, nor did she like how difficult cobwebs were to remove. “Because all five countries have allied to get rid of you… and that means even if we’re both… lost… then there’ll at least be a semblance of peace.”
“A semblance of peace.” Madara scoffed. “That’s all everything ever amounts to. It’s why the world needs Infinite Tsukuyomi!”
A louder sigh escaped her. “Tch. If your ‘Infinite Tsukuyomi’ really is the best plan for peace, then don’t you think someone else can find it and complete it. Why does it have to be you? There’s a reason you took Obito in.”
“And in case you forgot he’s been brainwashed by that blonde jinchuuriki brat—”
“His name is Naruto, and you know it,” Sakura said, glancing over at him as he continued sitting on the edge of the bed.
“So there’s no hope for him—”
“Should’ve picked a better disciple… or maybe not have arranged for the love of your disciple’s life to be killed before his very eyes. That tends to breed resentment and make people not want to follow you.”
“Just shut up and go to sleep already,” Madara grumbled, pushing himself off the bed and hopping into the spacious armchair to curl up on. “I can’t be bothered to ask how you know this… knowing you you’ll just reply with ‘the trees told me so’, and that’s utterly ridiculous.”
Sakura blinked, staring between the bed and the armchair. “The bed would probably be more comfy,” she said. “And in case you forgot, a tree swallowed you of its own volition today, so I think there’s more to trees than you know. Plus I’ve already told you my theories about my mokuton being based from this world, which would make it different and far more awesome than Hashirama’s and your mockery of it.”
“Shut up and go to sleep, brat,” he ordered, annoyance lining his voice as he pressed his face into the pillow of the armchair.
She pouted, rolling over on the bed, facing the wall, mentally counting sheep as she tried to urge herself to sleep. To sleep without that familiar weight grasping at her tightly. A blush rose in her cheeks, and Sakura pulled the blanket over her head. Everything was fine. She could get to sleep no problem. Absolutely no problem.
The moon rose higher in the sky, and Sakura continued twisting and turning occasionally, scowling when she heard the soft tell-tale puff sounds. The bastard had already fallen asleep.
Sakura wasn’t exactly too sure when she decided it was time for her to reclaim her elfling mattress, but enough was enough, and soon she was stomping over to the armchair. He was hers. Madara had done it plenty of times to her, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when she plonked herself down on top of him. He woke with a grunt, and Sakura wasted no time in getting comfy, head nuzzling in Madara’s chest as she burrowed into him. “I’m not moving, unless we’re both going back to the bed, dimwit,” she grumbled even as he groaned in irritation.
“I thought you’d be glad to be free of my company,” Madara muttered, soon sliding out from the uncomfortable position under her, walking back over to the bed. Sakura wasted no time in following.
“You’re a half-decent mattress,” she said, hopping back atop the bed, reclaiming her position on top of him, resting her head on his chest yet again. “That’s all. Nothing more to it.”
“Funny. I don’t believe that in the slightest,” he said, staring up at the ceiling as they basked in the soft moonlight streaming through the window. “You did call me brother, after all.”
Sakura jolted. “No I did not,” she hissed, cheeks flushing bright red. “Besides, I was clearly tired and half delirious!”
“Isn’t that basically you admitting to saying it?”
The heat in her cheeks rose yet another notch. “Of course I damn well didn’t!”
“Hn.” Madara’s chest rumbled underneath her ear, the steady beat of his heart like a lullaby as she snuggled into the idiot who’d accompanied her in her apparent trip across the stars. Where their so-called home was, Sakura had no idea anymore. Nothing made sense for her, even with that weird sense of familiarity and belonging she had with the new place. She doubted anything made sense to Madara either. She was glad she wasn’t alone though. It was nice to feel another person’s warmth. “Don’t ever call me that again,” he ordered, voice cold, any trace of humour or mocking vanished in an instant. “You hear me?”
Sakura scoffed. “It’s not like I was planning on it, bastard,” she muttered, voice muffled by Madara’s chest. It was squishier with less muscle than what he’d had as a human adult, and it made for an excellent pillow and mattress combined into one.
They stayed in the House of Tom Bombadil for another day and night, but there were no more answers or cryptic clues about their origins or the method through which they’d found themselves there. Madara was forced to give up, and the pair of them and their four travelling companions headed back out.
But that wasn’t the last they saw of Tom Bombadil for he came for them when they found themselves in a strange fog in a strange place. His songs seemingly held some sort of power, and Sakura ignored the weird feeling of rightness that welled up inside her. Music was for creation. Madara didn’t dare to press him for any more answers though – not with the four little adults present. Sakura wondered if they’d ever see him again, if Frodo would summon him with that song again, but the walls of a village that rose in front of them silently told her that Tom wouldn’t venture there. That was the last they’d seen of the jolly fellow.
Clutching Madara’s hand, Sakura followed after the little adults, careful to keep pace with them as they eventually made their way through the gates and into the village – stopping only once they reached a building that Sakura guessed to be an inn of some description.
An inn with a sign that looked like a prancing pony.
Chapter 11: The Scruffy Ranger Called Strider
The inn was warm and lively, and there were many guests in what Sakura was now calling The Pony Inn. She clutched Madara’s hand, careful not to get separated, especially since they were so small, and the adults were so big. Though there were a few little adults here and there, like the ones they were travelling with – and they seemed to receive their little adults fairly well. Sakura presumed Frodo to be ordering accommodation and food for however many nights they were due to stay. It wasn’t too bad of a place, she decided. It certainly beat sleeping on the forest floor, if only because then Madara would use her as a mattress rather than it being the other way around. Madara was sinfully comfy, and Sakura wasn’t too sure how she felt about that fact. His hand was slightly warm and sweaty in her grasp, but she made sure not to let it slip from her hold. She couldn’t lose him again. She could still remember the fear she’d felt when the tree had swallowed him, and this time there’d be no Tom Bombadil to save them.
Sakura eyed the inn, watching as Madara did the same, albeit much more thoroughly.
‘Danger?’ she inquired, curious as to whether he’d sighted any potential threats she hadn’t.
‘Man. Corner,” Madara gestured sharply, drawing her attention to the scruffy-looking man who was eyeing their party with thinly concealed interest. Though he was focused more on the small adults rather than the pair of them.
‘He looks scary,’ Sakura mused, and Madara sighed deeply, pulling her closer until their shoulders were touching. ‘Think he’ll try something?’
‘Possibly. Keep a watch on him.’
Sakura startled as he let go of her hand abruptly, scrambling to grab a hold of his shoulder. ‘Where are you going?’
Madara threw off her hand. ‘To relieve myself,’ he signed furiously, skin flushing red, and Sakura dropped her arm back to her side as though she’d been stung. She blushed, knowing she could hardly follow him to the bathroom and back. That would be far too weird. Instead, she simply stayed there, listening as they sang songs and drank beer, blinking when Frodo vanished all of a sudden. Frodo and Madara were both gone, and Sakura pouted. She was fine. Absolutely fine. Her gaze drifted over to the scruffy man, and she blinked in surprise when she soon after spotted Frodo speaking with the man. The same Frodo who’d mysteriously vanished. Had the scruffy man been involved in that? She could only wonder, being unable to understand a single word they spoke as she sidled closer towards them.
Madara appeared next to her then, as quiet as a ghost, and Sakura almost jumped at the welcome sight of him. ‘He’s made his move,’ Madara told her, as if she couldn’t see that fact herself, and she rolled her eyes.
She wasn’t that oblivious. ‘No kidding. Do we follow?’
He nodded, and Sakura grabbed a hold of his hand again as they hurried after where the strange man was taking their all-important travelling companion. Together they followed, and eventually they were joined by their other travelling companions who went to confront the scruffy man in front of them.
Their interaction was strange, but the two shinobi-turned-baby-elves hung back, uncertain of what to do. Language barriers were such a pain. At least in the Elemental Nations there was one common tongue between them. Here that wasn’t the case.
Sakura could only watch the conversation go on, relaxing ever so slightly when the small adults did. The scruffy man didn’t seem to be a threat. Not that Madara relaxed his guard in the slightest, small sharp eyes fixed on all the weapons the man had about his person. Was he some sort of warrior here? Sakura mused, tilting her head as she evaluated the man quietly – her companion no doubt doing the same. But Madara was better at it. He always was. That was why she needed him.
The scruffy man turned to them all of a sudden, casting his eyes over their slight forms, barking a question at Frodo, turning his attention back on the small adult. Sakura knew it was probably to do with them. They were children, after all, and Frodo’s journey wasn’t seeming to be one usually undertook, if the man’s reaction and their pursuers was anything to go by. Sakura bit her lip, blinking as another big man came into the room, bearing a letter which he soon gave to Frodo.
Not that he could leave, as the scruffy man – whom Sakura thought to be called ‘Strider’ given how often that word had popped up while they were speaking. It cropped up with another word too, but Sakura thought ‘Strider’ sounded more correct for some reason – stopped the man from exiting the room.
The pair engaged in another conversation, and she was almost certain they were the topic of conversation, given the amount of gestures towards the pair of them as they stood there, confused. Madara’s grip on her hand tightened, eyes narrowed as the Strider fellow handed over a pouch of coin to the man, pointing at them all the while. Had they been sold off or something? Sakura felt her brow furrow, and then the big man gestured for them to follow him.
‘Should we go?’ Sakura signed, aware of Strider’s curious gaze on her hand as she moved it in their familiar sign language.
Madara nodded, pulling her along behind him as they followed whom Sakura identified to be the innkeeper of sorts. They were led to another room, this one with two small beds. Had Strider paid for another room for the pair of them? she wondered, poking at the mattress, smiling at the softness of it. Perhaps the scruffy man hadn’t wanted them listening in? Was it a topic only for adults? The big adult spoke to them again in that unfamiliar language, and then he left them there.
“What was that about?” Sakura finally asked out loud, staring at the door they’d been led through only minutes before. “Why did that Strider guy get us a new room?”
Madara only ventured to the window, eyebrows lowered, stormy eyes narrowed as he stared at the street below. “I am not certain…” he mumbled. “But I have my guesses,” he said, pointing towards the bed on the left side of the room as the evening light faded. “We should sleep… We may have to be up early tomorrow.”
Huffing, Sakura clambered over to the bed he’d pointed at, glaring at the idiot until he joined her under the blanket. Rest didn’t come as easily as it had to her previously, and anxious gnawing at her gut keeping her awake, tossing and turning much to Madara’s annoyance as they snuggled together under the blankets and quilts.
“Sleep, idiot. I will not let anything happen.”
Scowling, Sakura pressed her face against his chest, fingers clawing for purchase as she wrapped him in a hug, relaxing in the fact that she wasn’t alone. And if she had her way, she never would be. At least not until she was strong enough to defend herself from all the threats of their new world.
Morning rolled around sooner rather than later, and their travelling companions were suspiciously absent. They hadn’t come to wake them or anything, and Sakura was growing impatient. Both she and Madara had woken earlier than usual, just in case they’d have to rush to pack up there things and leave, but there’d been no movement as of yet.
“Tch.” Madara folded his arms. “I guess my suspicions weren’t incorrect,” he muttered as time ticked on around them. “Gather your things.”
“Huh?” Sakura glanced at him, demanding answers as she pulled her pack onto her back. “What’s going on?”
“They intend to leave us behind,” he informed, leading her towards the room they had been in the evening before. “Scratch that,” Madara said, scowling something fierce at the empty room they were greeted with. “They have left us behind.”
“The journey… they must’ve thought it too difficult for us, or perhaps too dangerous… or mayhaps that we would just slow them down,” he said, chewing on his lip for a few moments before he grabbed her hand, pulling her along behind him as he snuck down the stairs and back into the main bar area.
“What are you doing?” she asked, keeping her voice quiet in the hubbub around them as they snuck towards the front door of the establishment. “Where are we going?”
“After them, of course,” Madara whisper hissed, and she found she had no complaints. She wanted to catch up to Frodo too. He was the sole person she trusted in their strange new world… and that mean Strider had clearly made him leave them behind. “Wherever they are headed is more likely to have answers about how to get us home rather than this civilian village,” he said, gesturing sharply with his hands once more as they entered the quiet street. It was morning, so there were few travellers or villagers out on the roads, and Sakura was grateful for that fact. She didn’t like the stares the pair of them seemed to earn from all the adults.
‘How do we even know where they’ve gone?” Sakura signed at him sharply, glancing around as Madara led them through the village, and further and further away from the gate through which they’d entered.
‘There’s a wonderful thing called tracking,” Madara replied, just as snarly as ever. ‘Of course it seems as though you’ll be incapable of this.’
Sakura scowled, elbowing him in the gut as they trekked through the muddy streets. Hairs pricked the back of her neck, and she glanced around, trusting her companion briefly to not let her walk into anything or anyone as she searched for the source of her unease. Only to hear screams behind her in the village, along with loud shrieks.
And then a loud howl pierced the early morning skies.
It was close too. Inside the village of Bree even.
She recognised that howl too.
Sakura bolted forwards, heart thudding in her chest as her sharp pointy ears caught the sounds of paws trudging through the mud a ways behind them. “Run, Madara,” she hissed, jerking her arm to make him hurry the hell up as she made for the open gate in front of them. “They’re here… the wolves are here…”
“What?” Madara looked up at her sharply even as she pulled him into the forest. “What are you going on about?”
“Remember, you big idiot,” she hissed, fear making her legs move that much faster, all but leaping into the shallow river, praying they’d somehow be able to throw their own pursuers off their trail. “There were wolves when we crossed the ferry… and my dream that time…” she panted, tiny feet aching as she ran recklessly through the forest, feet guided by an unknown source. “The weird person I dreamt about sent them to look for a vessel.”
“You aren’t making any sense!”
“Ugh.” Sakura skidded to a stop, thankful for the lack of howls behind them. Perhaps those wolves were searching the village still. She could only hope. “Those wolves were sent by an enemy to search for something called an empty vessel and I can only guess it likely has something to do with us, given I had a nightmare about it… which in hindsight might have been something closer to a vision.”
“So now you’re claiming to be special, huh?” Madara’s eyebrows rose to his hairline, clearly disbelieving and she was torn between wanting to bash his skull, and the reasonable part of her that said she sounded a bit farfetched.
‘We are special, Shannaro!’
“Tch. Does it matter either way?” she questioned, tugging on his hand. “Those wolves are after us, or something on our persons… not to mention we have a group of small adults to catch up with. We can catch up to them and evade those scary wolves at the same time.”
“And you might have somehow, miraculously helped with that,” Madara mumbled, pointing at the boot print in the wet mud, and Sakura blinked at the other tell-tale signs of bare feet in the sodden ground. They were fortunate it was damp enough for tracks to be left. “Come on. We have people to be catching up with.”
“Think we’ll surprise them?” Sakura found herself asking as her more skilled companion quickly picked up the trail and the direction their travelling companions had headed in.
Madara snorted. “Most definitely.”
Chapter 12: Catching Up to the Company
The trail left behind was easy enough to follow, mainly for all the lack of trying to cover it up, though it certainly seemed like the person who wore shoes was not trying to make it all that easy for any potential trackers chasing after them. It was a mixture of her uncanny luck and Madara’s superb tracking skills that made it possible for them to follow the group of small adults and the big one who’d made them leave the pair behind. Frodo wouldn’t have abandoned them otherwise, that much she was certain of. Her eyes narrowed as the light faded, making harder for them both to see, and eventually they decided to call it a night – not wanting to lose the trail they’d tracked so very carefully that day.
Madara woke her as the first rays of light hit them, and then they were off again. They didn’t stop walking either, knowing the adults, even the small ones, had longer legs than them and already had a head start on them. Though they couldn’t have been more than a half a day behind them at most, but they were annoyingly short, with matching legs for show.
Sakura only hoped they caught up sooner rather than later. Every time she heard the sounds of wolves baying, she wished she was someplace safe, snuggled up under a warm duvet. Perhaps with Madara there too.
“Do you think we will ever catch up?” Sakura mumbled on their fifth day on lonely trekking through the wilderness. She felt slightly chilly by now, her cloak damp, her clothes and body unwashed. Sakura was fairly sure she stank something awful by that point in time. Though it didn’t stop her from cuddling up to Madara when nightfall came.
“Of course, now stop your blathering already,” Madara grumbled, and Sakura snuggled into his back as they slept atop the branches. There was no way in hell she was going to be sleeping on the ground with those wolves on the prowl. Her longsuffering companion seemingly agreed with her on that note.
They woke once again the next morning, bright and early and ready to face the day. They seemingly had the energy of the undersized bodies they were stuck in, which was rather helpful more often than not, and helped her to irritate Madara at times. Still, it was on the sixth day that they finally caught sight of the illusive company they were tracking. Early in the morning was when they first saw the group of five – four little adults and one much rather taller one. It made for an interesting and very welcome sight. Though despite Sakura’s desperate running, they didn’t reach their travelling companions until noon. But that might have been since Madara was a complete deadweight who didn’t want to waste any more energy by running no matter how high the temptation was to give in to the childish impulses ingrained in their bodies.
It was on that same day that they saw the strange ruins too, though Sakura’s attention was otherwise occupied as they neared the small adults, her sharp green eyes long having been locked on his familiar form.
With a wordless cry, she charged forwards, ignoring how they all seemed to freeze. At least until she tackled Frodo with a hug, releasing him as Madara came up behind her and pointedly pulled at her arm. Smiling up at him, she twisted her fingers in his cloak, vowing to never let it out of her sight for a single moment.
Madara folded his arms with a huff, glaring at Frodo out of the corner of his eye for a few moments until the big Strider fellow came over to them, speaking rapidly in that language neither of them could understand. His words sounded scolding, a hand running through his greasy dark mess of hair, and Madara placed himself between them, blocking her from his sight as he glared at the taller man. His voice changed then, a tone Sakura identified as an attempt to be vaguely comforting slipping in to those words she had no idea of the meaning behind.
‘Guess he thought it too dangerous,’ Sakura signed, and Madara clutched at her hand, still glaring at Strider as the company began moving again. He kept a hold of her hand too, until the sun was on the horizon and they were making camp. Strider was still speaking in worried tones, all words neither of them could understand, so there weren’t sure as to what was going on – only that they were staying there for the night, in that most sheltered part of the dell. Dinner was passed out eventually, and Sakura took their share, offering half out to Madara with a smile as they camped out under the stars. It was a beautiful place, and it would’ve been peaceful and idyllic had they both not remembered that an enemy pursued them all. The wolves hunted them, and they weren’t sure of whom or what Frodo’s enemies were.
She wasn’t too sure of how much time passed, but Strider’s singing certainly made things slightly more bearable as the night went on. Madara stirred next to her, standing after a short while. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked, hand only visible by the light of the fire and the light of the rising moon.
‘Toilet,’ he signed by way of explanation, and Sakura pulled herself to her feet, grabbing his hand.
‘Need to go too,’ she said by way of explanation, ignoring the warning note in Strider’s voice as they wandered towards the nearest part of shelter by way of a small cluster of trees on the slope leading to the dell they were camped in. The sounds of the campfire and the talking of the small adults and Strider faded as they edged into the little forest area. “I’ll go left, you go right?” Sakura murmured now they weren’t about to be overheard. She didn’t particularly want Madara to watch her squatting either, and she doubted he wanted her to watch him either, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when he inclined his head.
“Don’t venture too far,” he ordered, heading in the direction she’d said for him to go, and Sakura wasted no time in hurrying over behind the nearest tree to relieve herself. Fortunately it didn’t take too long, so she pulled her pants back up, ensuring they were tight around her waist before she hurried back to where they’d parted. Madara would definitely wait for her, rather than expecting her to head back to the campsite. They stuck together whenever possible, wherever modesty and prudishness allowed them – which was more often than not, considering they had the undersized, underdeveloped bodies of children.
Humming quietly, she waited there, smiling slightly as she waited for him to return. It was kind of odd to think about her being happy to see Madara. No doubt the thought would’ve been strange weeks ago – he was meant to be her enemy – but here in these lands he was hers. Pouting at how long she waited, she edged closer to where he had vanished, blinking in confusion as tension built in the pit of her stomach. “Madara,” she called after a few minutes. “Madara? You nearly done?”
Sakura bit her lip, worry making it feel as though there was a hand squeezing at her heart, and she stumbled forwards. “Hello? Madara?” her voice trailed out to a whisper, eyes narrowing, and she stepped forwards faster. Had something happened to him? Thoughts spiralled in her head. She could hear no wolves, so there enemy was nowhere near. Verdant eyes widened. But what about Frodo’s?
‘Shannaro! Nothing had better have happened to him. We still need to smack some sense into that head of his!’ Inner declared.
Stumbling forwards, she blinked, rubbing her eyes as she spotted a small figure making its way towards her quickly. A smile curled at her lips, spying the familiar mane of spiky black hair. Madara was OK. Nothing bad had happened to him. She waved at him, grin widening as his eyes widened. “Mada—”
Sakura blinked, hairs on the back of her neck standing up on end as she spun around, stumbling over her own feet as she spotted just how close the figure was behind her. It was only a matter of centimetres behind her, and she hadn’t sensed its presence at all. Though it didn’t have much of one in the first place. Tall as Strider, and yet it most definitely wasn’t Strider. Not with the raggedy black cloak and the worn boots it had on its feet. But her eyes weren’t drawn to any of that, instead focusing on the long slender sword it held in its hand. And it was lifted, ready to strike. Sakura backed away as quickly as she could, a yelp escaping her when she tripped over a root of the nearby tree. And how ironic it was that what she could once control and love so dearly was going to be her downfall. Flinching back, she slammed her eyes shut, trembling in anticipation as a wave of pure dread hit her. It was only her experience with killing intent which had left her with a semblance of thought when she’d first seen the dark figure.
But rather than the sharp slice of a blade, a heavy, warm weight landed on her instead. Her eyes snapped open, blinking as she recognised the silkiness of the hair half-strewn across her face. “Madara?” she breathed, relaxing at the comforting weight. He’d gotten them out of the way of the first strike. But the creature was already preparing for the second, and she was pinned under Madara’s weight. “Come on,” she mumbled, hands going to his back, ready to help him spring to his feet, blinking as a warm sticky liquid covered her hands. She pulled them back, eyes darting up to the creature in front of them, heart stuttering as she stared at the blade which caught the moonlight that shone through the canopy of leaves above. A dark liquid rolled down the blade, and Sakura blinked again, dumbfounded.
“Can’t let you die, stupid,” Madara wheezed, eyes flickering open, voice weak. “You’re my only clue…”
Madara had protected her. A lump built in her throat, one she couldn’t quite swallow, even as the creature readied itself to cut them both down that time. And Madara had slipped into blissful unconsciousness, leaving her on her own.
She was on her own.
Fear gripped her heart. She was useless without Madara, all thanks to her pathetic body and her inability to use her chakra anymore. It was like before. She couldn’t do anything. She’d just been watching Madara’s back the entire time, just like she’d been watching Naruto’s and Sasuke’s. Bitter tears built in the corners of her eyes. What the hell was she supposed to do? Even if she could pull herself out from under Madara’s body, she wouldn’t be able to move him out of the way of the strike. Think. A sob burst from her lips. She couldn’t just leave him behind. He was hers. She’d called him brother. She cared about whether he lived and died, because without him she felt vulnerable. With him she felt safe.
She wished Madara could feel safe with her there too.
But she was useless.
And yet she needed to protect them both that time. Tears ran down her cheeks. Think, dammit, she hissed in her mind. How? How was she supposed to do it? Madara was hers. Hers to protect. He’d protected her at the cost of his own safety—
‘So pay him back in turn,’ Inner whispered.
Her hands curled into fists, shaking with rage as the creature all but taunted her with how slow it was moving. No, that was just her perception of time being skewed with. Wiggling, she tried to move, cursing as her efforts remained futile. Madara was too heavy and she was too weak. Pathetic. Always so pathetic. Just like when Madara had been swallowed by that tree… Rage built in her, anger at herself, anger at the hooded being that was so intent on becoming her demise.
‘Underneath you,’ Inner whispered again, and Sakura felt that molten rage build in her stomach once again, just like with that old tree in the forest. Fire burnt in her gut, and Sakura reached out below her with her senses, blinking as she felt the little whispers of a seed in the ground. One she was familiar with.
The sword fell, a strike she knew would kill her if not averted or deflected, and Sakura reached for that seed, and that fire in her stomach rose. It rose and it kept rising, burning up her throat, the word coming to her in her mind as though it had been there all along. “Grow,” she commanded, the word burning at the back of her throat, the ancient sound reverberating through the air.
Ground cracked, roots forming, a dark brown, almost black trunk twisting out from the ground between her and the creature, branches lashing out as they grew. Pink blossoms burst into bloom, and a loud screech met her ears as the tree grew and grew. Terror fled from her along with the creature, and Sakura took that as her chance to pull herself out from under Madara. Her hands went to his back, more tears leaking from her eyes as she felt the amount of blood he was losing. He’d die if she didn’t do anything – but she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t use chakra to heal him, and she had no bandages or herbs to help stem the flow of blood. She didn’t even know what herbs there were, let alone what they did. Her knowledge was all useless, and she had no supplies.
‘But maybe Strider does?’ Inner offered, and Sakura rose to her feet, ignoring the sheer weakness and tiredness seeping through her body.
“Come on,” she hissed, gritting her teeth as she hauled Madara onto her back, pulling his arms around her neck as she dragged him forwards, limbs creaking under the strain of his weight. “Hold on just a little longer,” she mumbled, whispers falling silent as she pulled them both towards the fire she could see. The fire that grew closer with every step. Huffing and heaving, she carried him forwards, almost sighing in relief when they broke from the treeline and came into sight of their travelling companions who looked slightly worse for the wear.
Strider hurried to their side, speaking words she couldn’t understand, so all Sakura could do was follow as he led them back to the campsite. Her lip wobbled, a grimace on her face as she spotted an unconscious Frodo close to the fire and the extent of the wound on Madara’s back. The injury he’d taken for her.
Sniffling, Sakura knelt down, clutching at the limp hand which had once held hers with strength. Sam came to her side then, offering words of what she assumed to be reassurance and comfort as Strider tended to her stupid, idiotic companion. He was a big stupid idiot, Sakura decided right then and there. But she’d save the smacking until he was better.
Chapter 13: Of Golden Warriors and Wolves
She couldn’t smack him.
He was lying there on his front, bandages tinged with red, the smell of some odd herb coating them wafting through her nostrils as she knelt by his side. Her nose wrinkled, both the scent and the worry making her unable to muster the will to fall asleep. She couldn’t sleep while he was like that. She had to be strong. She had to protect him just as he had protected her, and if that meant glaring at Strider whilst he treated Madara with strange methods unknown to her, then so be it. She would’ve thought Madara needed stitches, but either Strider didn’t have the necessary tools or the wound wasn’t as bad as it looked to her. Neither thought was all that comforting.
Clutching at his clammy hand, she watched and waited with bated breath, but even as the sun rose on the horizon – the dark of night passed – Madara still did not wake. Blinking tiredly, she could only watch through half lidded eyes as her precious idiot was lifted and fastened to Strider’s back. Sleepily, she reached up for him, but Strider was already walking away and rousing the small adults.
Frodo was awake. Madara was not.
Sakura blamed the childish body, but some part of her doubted her experience around him would’ve been as pleasant as it had been if he were an adult inside and out. At least with her childish form she didn’t wind up arousing that much suspicion. To others she just looked like a child, and children rarely had evil motives. Unless they were shinobi, her mind added snidely.
Yawning, she got ready herself, struggling to muster the energy for some reason. She had been feeling horribly drained after using her mokuton in that world. She didn’t even understand how she’d used it in the first place when she had no chakra. Sakura could barely find the energy to walk, and she stumbled on through the rest of the day, plodding on through unchanging scenery, wishing she could be back in that nice safe underground place with Madara snuggled up to her every night.
Four days passed, and it was only on the fifth that they came upon a road – a change in all the forestry she had been stuck with previously, though they only lingered on the road for a short while. They were off it just as quickly, back to trampling through the forest towards a destination Sakura had no clue about.
Madara was still unconscious, and he grew paler and paler with each passing day. Strider didn’t allow her to cuddle him at night either, and Sakura barely slept a wink. Still, somehow she made it through each day, although the strain on her tiny body felt that much worse with each passing night. She couldn’t sleep. All she could think about was how useless she had been when facing off against that dark hooded figure.
They plodded on, continuing their trek, and Sakura felt her feet dragging as she was dragged into the constant cycle of worry. Madara and his condition was all but consuming her thoughts day in and day out. Strider was seemingly worried about the pair of them too, for all how he tried to help her sleep instead of shuffling about Madara’s comatose form. It was only lucky that both her and Madara could seemingly survive longer than the small adults without food and drink.
The sixth day passed, quickly followed by the seventh – but something happened on the eve of that seventh day. They had been by the road when Sakura had caught sound of it with her wonderfully pointed ears first – the sounds of hoofbeats, light and merry. Sakura hunkered down in the bushes, knowing those scary horsemen were chasing after them. The ones who’d hurt Madara. The ones she really wished she had the strength to beat up – or better yet, kill. Shinobi didn’t have to practice vigilance against dead enemies. The only good enemy was a dead one, or so she’d been taught, and she was in the perfect body for forms of adorable murder. Who on earth would expect the cute, squishy-faced pink-haired girl to be capable of heartless murder?
With narrowed eyes, Sakura watched the road, almost sighing in exasperation as the others finally cottoned onto what she’d heard minutes before them. They all shuffled about nervously along with her – at least until the horse and rider came into view.
That was the first thing that came to mind when she saw the white horse and rider. That and the fact he was ridiculously pretty. His hood was left back, shiny golden locks swept up in the wind behind him – revealing the defined points to his ears. Sakura swallowed hard at that fact. He had the same ears as her – as Madara… and that meant he’d likely speak their language. She swallowed the sudden dryness in her throat as her worry for Madara warred against his orders. She wanted to ask whether her brother would be alright, but Madara hadn’t wanted to reveal themselves… and his own ears were neatly concealed under the magnificent mane of spiky black hair that belonged to him.
Her thoughts were only confirmed when he spoke to Strider the first time – the bedraggled man having leapt out of the bushes with a cry upon spotting the horse and rider. He could speak the only tongue which she knew, not that he apparently knew she spoke it as he addressed their group in that unfamiliar tongue.
Greeting done, he turned back to Strider, speaking words Sakura could finally understand.
“Estel, why do you bring children with you?”
Sakura stiffened ever so slightly, covertly looking over at the odd pair – one being an alarmingly beautiful person, the other being the bedraggled man she and Madara had been tagging along with.
“I attempted to leave them in Bree, but they managed to follow us. How exactly, I know not. They do not speak…” Strider, or Estel apparently, said. “But they are here now, and there is nothing I can do about that.”
“Then we must make haste,” the golden one said, and Sakura knew his name to be Glor-something from the odd introduction he’d done. “I will see to the little one on your back once we stop to rest…” he said, promptly leaving Estel’s side and going over to the small adult’s side – examining Frodo’s wound a short while later.
Eventually, Frodo was placed on the big white horse, and Sakura could only stumble behind the rest of the company as they were led into the night at Glorfindel’s urging. She wasn’t one for complaining, and there was no way to do just that without arousing suspicions, so Sakura simply stayed quiet and trudged along dutifully behind them. If it got Madara to safety and healing faster, then she’d do it. She couldn’t keep dragging him down any longer. Gritting her teeth, she only walked onwards, under the deeply clouded sky.
And it was under that starless, unlit sky that she first heard the howls.
They were loud – louder than they’d ever been, and that thought chilled Sakura to the bone. They were there. They’d found them despite her best efforts otherwise.
Sakura walked that much faster, hands shaking ever so slightly as she realised the howls were coming from behind. She was alone without Madara, and she was utterly defenceless. If only she had a knife… or some other weapon she could still wield with her tiny body… If only she actually knew how to use her mokuton without her chakra…
Strider spoke then, voice cutting through her worries and musings as he and Glorfindel came to the rear of their small group. Of course, she hadn’t the slightest clue about what he was saying, but a glance at his clothing revealed a small knife attached to a place she could reach.
Stealing it was rather easy too, thanks to her shinobi skills, and soon she had a knife in her hand, and she was feeling a little bit more confident with the situation. She’d hold her own, no matter what…
Swallowing back the bile, Sakura watched and waited, heart beating a mile a minute inside her chest as she waited for something to happen – anything, and it did. They came from behind them, emerging from the shadows of the brush, and they were far larger than Sakura remembered, with teeth sharp and glistening with saliva. They were utterly terrifying, especially since she was smaller than them. Her grip tightened on her knife, hands shaking still.
Silently she prayed none of them made it past the two strong adult warriors who already had their blades drawn and ready – but that wasn’t to be. These strange wolves who’d followed them in search of a vessel were as cunning as they were smart – which was very.
Sakura saw the smaller wolf slink from the shadows, beady eyes fixed on Madara as he was held to Estel’s back by the fabric, and a chill shot through her as she realised their target wasn’t her. She wasn’t the vessel they were after, despite her seemingly belonging in that world. Madara was. Her precious, injured Madara who couldn’t defend himself.
Estel wasn’t expecting the wolf behind him, not with the amount of them surging from the bushes in front of him. Sakura ran forwards, eyes narrowed as she figured out the best interception point, only able to watch as Madara was ripped smoothly away from Estel. Paws pounded running away from the pair of warriors as one of them startled at the sudden loss of weight at his back. It’s job was done, but Sakura had no intention of letting them take Madara. Madara was hers. She clutched at her recently acquired knife, eyes narrowed as she glared at the approaching wolf, ducking under as it ran past without seeing her – too focused on the sight of freedom and the chase behind it to worry about a slip of a pink-haired girl. Its mistake. Her knife sunk into the fleshy underside, cutting deep, blood spurting out when she yanked her knife free from the falling wolf. Madara fell to the ground in a boneless heap, like a puppet with its strings cut.
Sakura swallowed, reaching for him with one hand, but the hairs prickling on the back of her neck made her spin back around, eyes widening as one of the larger wolves broke away from Estel and Glorfindel, the others of their pack keeping the warriors busy.
It was just her, and a tiny knife between the wolf and Madara.
Her throat was horribly dry, legs shaking as the beast ran towards her, jaws open in a snarl. Courage, Sakura told herself, gritting her teeth as she willed herself to remain calm. She would only be getting one chance to strike. She wasn’t about to waste it.
Shouts met her ears in that unfamiliar language, and Sakura thought it likely they were yelling at her to run. But she wasn’t going to run. Madara hadn’t run away when the scary hooded man had been trying to kill her – so she wasn’t going to do just that… otherwise she’d never be able to look him in the eye once he woke up.
Sakura darted one side, dodging the jaws that snapped around the space she’d occupied only seconds before. Her hands were moving in an instant, not wasting a second as she jammed the knife deep into its eye socket with a yell as she rammed it in as deep as possible, praying she’d pierced deep enough to kill.
The force of its charge knocked her back, wind whistling through her hair as she was thrown into the brush, cloak tangling on a scratchy bush of some description. Fabric was ripped away from her skin, rocks and other small sharp branches digging into her arms and back as her head slammed back into the rocky ground hard. But the pain didn’t matter.
A loud thud met her ears, relief seeping through her as the wolf crashed to the ground, knife still buried to the hilt in its eye.
Groaning, she rubbed at her head, sitting up slowly, wincing when she felt a trickle of something warm drop down from her forehead. Moonlight pierced through the clouds right then and there, shining down on her as if to congratulate her for her continued survival.
A shadow blocked off that light all of a sudden, and Sakura sucked in a sharp breath as she looked up – but it was only Estel in front of her. Smiling, she relaxed and blinked in confusion when she was lifted into his arms.
His eyes were wide, and Sakura tilted her head in a silent question. “Glorfindel!” Estel called sharply, and Sakura reached up to pull her hood further over her head – only to freeze when she realised her cloak was gone and the hood along with it. Everything covering her hair and ears were gone.
Glorfindel looked up from where he was crouched beside Madara, eyes widening when he spotted her.
“We have a problem.”
She had been found out.
Sakura fidgeted in Estel’s arms, nervously glancing around, not enjoying the attention focused on her. Madara was going to kill her when he woke up – because he would wake up. He had to. Swallowing, she shifted to clutching at Estel’s front as Glorfindel stood as if to greet them. His bright grey eyes were locked on her trembling form, and Sakura almost whimpered. His presence was far larger than her own, and she stood no chance against him if he turned against them for whatever reason. The safety he radiated unnerved her still, and she had long since learnt to trust those kinds of thoughts, especially with the wars – ambushes going on all the time and the like.
Madara lay silently on the ground, all but forgotten about as the adults converged on her. Worried, Sakura frowned, keeping her eyes on his still form. Her throat felt horribly dry all of a sudden, and she sorely wished the ground would open up and swallow her again. Either that, or that Madara would miraculously wake up and rescue her. He would know what to do.
But Madara didn’t wake up, and Sakura was passed over to Glorfindel with something akin to awed reverence.
She felt even tinier than she was, hands fisting in the fabric of the cloak he wore, and she was stuck staring up nervously into those grey eyes. Sakura was so caught up in staring – and generally just being nervous on the whole – that she missed his first words to her in the only language they shared. His thumb ran over her cheek, a frown marring his brow at the flinch she made at the unexpected contact. “Little one, do you understand us now?”
Sakura froze like a rabbit in the headlights, frantically looking around, desperate for some sign on whether or not she should talk with the eerie safe-feeling warrior.
‘Talk to him!’ Inner spoke eagerly. ‘He can help.’
Sakura squinted suspiciously at him, lips parting, but all that escaped her mouth was a huff of air – and Sakura was faced with the horrifying realisation that she was acting far too much like her previous preteen self – the one before Ino had found her. She was painfully shy around strangers, and despite her overcoming that hurdle with Ino it had come back to bite her in the backside with vengeance.
Rather than speaking, she settled for nodding her head jerkily, shifting slightly as the heat radiating from his chest seeped into her bones. She felt horribly tired, no doubt thanks to her long sleepless nights over the past few days. Her eyelids felt worryingly heavy, and really Sakura wanted nothing more than to fall asleep – if only because Glorfindel was weirdly comfy to rest her head against, something that unsettled her too, but only if she really thought about it. Currently she didn’t want to think. She wanted to sleep.
“You are tired,” he murmured, tucking some of her hair behind her ear.
Sakura stared up at him petulantly, grip on his cloak almost knuckle white.
“We have another problem,” Estel spoke, and her temporary pillow turned to face him. Sakura stared at Madara’s prone form – silently relishing the sight of the princess carry, a small smile curling at her lips as she imagined the adult he was inside there instead.
Glorfindel arched an eyebrow.
“They are both of elven kind,” Estel said, having tucked the black spiky mane behind Madara’s slightly larger ears.
What followed next was a blur of action, and Sakura blamed the lack of sleep – and Glorfindel’s musical voice – as she slipped into a short, uneasy nap. She couldn’t tell whether it was fifteen minutes or an hour which passed, but by the time she forced her tired eyes back open, Madara looked slightly more healthy. She glanced up between the three of them, eyes lingering on the kind golden-haired member of their new race before she promptly decided she was long overdue for a much longer nap – and she could probably trust Glorfindel. Whatever he did had made Madara look slightly closer to waking up.
“Where did you come from, little one?” he asked, and she blinked slowly up at him with her big adorable green eyes.
Yep, she decided. There was no way she was answering any questions without Madara, and she was so very tired. What better way to escape unwanted questions than to sleep? So without further ado she plonked her head against the comfiest-looking part of his cloak and promptly fell asleep.
She missed Madara’s raging-inferno warmth but she figured Glorfindel’s bright-soothing warmth more than made up for her injured mattress.
The jostling woke her up from her sleep, as did the sounds of hooves and swords being drawn. Glorfindel, as she learnt, was a proficient fighter – even with only one hand free – not that he needed to do anything except move his threateningly bright light towards the mean riders who’d hurt Madara.
Sakura could only watch in satisfaction as they were crushed under the rolling waves – which looked oddly like horses for some strange reason. Yawning, she stared with sleep-crusted eyes as the waters calmed down, allowing them passage into a place both Estel and Glorfindel called Imladris. Sakura assumed it to be their destination, and eagerly, she looked towards Madara. He could finally be treated and he would wake up.
“All will be well, little one,” Glorfindel spoke, chest rumbling against her tiny hand as she kept a hold of him in an attempt to keep her balance while peering over at her idiot.
Sakura huffed, eyes narrowing as Estel carried Madara away from her – leading the small adults inside and towards a group of her kin. Her free hand reached out, pawing at the air, and she could only watch as Madara was bundled away. A small whine escaped her lips before she zipped them shut, and Sakura blushed. She was acting like a petulant child… but she wanted to go with Madara… wanted to be there when he woke up in a strange place with strange people all around him…
“We must let the healers do their work,” Glorfindel spoke, and Sakura hunched in on herself as best she could. She was not pouting. Not in the slightest. “Come now. Do not frown so. You shall see your friend soon, I promise you that.”
Friend. Sakura bit her lip. Was that what he was to her?
“Lord Elrond tends to the halfling, but once his work is done he will wish to meet with you. You may stay with your friend after that.”
Somehow Sakura imagined this Elrond’s work would take a while, and that Madara’s healing would be done by the time she saw him. She only hoped she would be there in time to be by his side for when he woke.
Shorter chapter than I'd like, but my writing has been slow as of late and I want to get some more content up...