Second Bite at the Cherry @sakinthra
Chapter 47

It had started to rain.

Gaara had sat in on enough of Sakura's lessons with Onoki to know that rainwater heavily altered the earth it landed on, and if one had not trained in the manipulation of water chakra, moving earth in the rain was exponentially more difficult. As a desert child, he'd never needed to worry about that with his sand, but as he spent more time in damper terrain, he realized the truth of Onoki's words. He had learned early on that earth chakra had advantage over water chakra, but the precise details of this advantage hadn't ever been told to him. Earth didn't eliminate water, it absorbed it. A water jutsu would never be able to break a solid wall of earth, because the earth chakra would envelop the water chakra and create harmless mud. Each type of chakra had advantages, but those advantages could become disadvantages if one did not understand precisely how the advantages worked.

Sakura was quite skilled at manipulating earth. She was not yet skilled at manipulating water. If the rain became too heavy, it might be difficult for her to tunnel out of the Uchiha compound, which in turn would risk her life.

Gaara was a worrywort, this much he'd been told time and time again. But as the storm clouds gathered above the Yamanaka home, he couldn't help but feel like it was some kind of omen.

Why do you think I never left the desert, kid?

Gaara smiled at Shukaku's comment. True enough, Shukaku's raw earth power would be quite unhindered in a desert. Without the lightning and rain of storms, all that mattered was the quality of the earth and how well one could wield it.

He was brought out of his thoughts by the soft clink of a teacup being sat down in front of him. The Yamanaka grew their own tea leaves, among the other countless herbs and flowers that helped make poultices and poisons for the Konoha shinobi. He would give credit where it was due: he didn't know a soul that made tea better than Ino. Gaara gratefully took a sip, and whatever Ino had brewed within caused a small flare within his chakra, which was appreciated. Maintaining transformed clones for long periods of time was exhausting, even for a Jinchuuriki. Thankfully, inside the house, he no longer had to speak as Sakura, merely maintain her presence. The Anbu watching them couldn't hear through the walls, nor were they allowed to. Though smaller than the Nara complex, the Yamanakas were still a major Konoha clan, and listening in on anything within the walls was forbidden without clan permission.

"I heard that the shinobi from Amegakure arrived today." Ino announced as she sat down. "The Amekage is a woman, apparently. Hinata said she was very pretty."

"Does it matter how pretty a Kage is?" Sai asked. "Beauty does not affect one's strength."

"Wrong." Ino shook her head. "Do you know how many men have hesitated to hit me just because I'm a pretty girl? I've been on missions where I haven't gotten scratched once because men couldn't bear to harm my beautiful face."

"That's silly." Sai replied, turning back to his tea. "If you were an enemy, I wouldn't hesitate."

Ino only smirked at that. "You say that now, but just wait until you see a pretty face on the battlefield. If you faced me down, I bet I could make you freeze with a single glance."

Gaara decided not to mention that Sai was not most shinobi; he doubted Root would have allowed their soldiers to be influenced by something such as physical appearance. But as much as the conversation seemed like an argument, Sai and Ino had developed a strange sort of relationship where neither of them seemed phased by the other's blunt commentary. It was probably good for Sai to have someone else he could be himself around. Even now, watching the two bicker, Gaara saw the beginnings of a smile on the boy's face.

Which, of course, just made him wish that Sakura was here to see it, and as he thought of Sakura again all the worries came flooding back.

"Bathroom." He said simply, standing up and heading towards where he'd seen one passing by earlier. Not that he really needed to go, but he'd thought of something just now. Something that could help ease his worries.

Maybe he couldn't go keep an eye on Sakura. But someone else could.

He heard the patter of little footsteps following behind him. Emi was a smart tanuki, and as they reached the bathroom, Gaara gently shut the door behind them, then knelt down to talk to the tanuki directly.

"Emi. I need you to do something for me."

The tanuki looked back at him, bright eyed and paying attention. Good. Gaara dug into one of his pouches, pulling out a small scroll. Inside, Sai had sealed a couple of soldier pills, given to them courtesy of the Taki healers. They had been meant as supplements for Sakura as she'd recovered from chakra exhaustion, but since she'd hadn't needed them, he'd kept the scroll around just in case. He took out some thread and tied it around the scroll, then around Emi's neck until it was snug.

"Find Sakura. Don't be seen."

He opened the bathroom door just enough so that the tanuki could slip through. He listened as the sound of scampering paws slowly receded into the distance.

Maybe it was worrying too much. Maybe it was unnecessary. But Gaara was Sakura's protector, and that meant overthinking things, making sure that no possible threat could harm his friend.

The rain fell harder, and Gaara thought briefly of praying to that strange god that Sakura always whispered to at night.

Keep them safe.


"Tell us who you are."

Shikamaru had also drawn a kunai, and the shinobi didn't show even an ounce of fear as he faced down the intruder in front of them. A trait Sakura needed to learn.

The newcomer barely even turned to acknowledge Shikamaru, and it was so brief that Sakura almost missed it. Once the glance was done, the man kept his eye on Sakura and did not waver. "I am a ghost." He answered simply. "A ghost of the Uchiha clan, here to haunt these tragic grounds. I'd heard a very unusual tale from one Itachi Uchiha, about a girl who had been able to break the power of his Tsukuyomi. I simply wanted to see for myself if that was true. Itachi can be...dramatic."

Sakura wasn't sure how to answer that. If she admitted the truth, this man might want to see the claim tested. There were supposedly only two Uchiha left in the world, but Sakura had been doubting that claim for a while, and if this man was anything like she feared...he'd be just as capable as Itachi. On the other hand, if she claimed that she couldn't break the Tsukuyomi, the man might just try to test them anyway, to prevent them from finding whatever secrets lay here.

She was stuck. So she might as well try to seem strong.

"You heard correctly. Itachi underestimated me."

"Itachi is used to being the strongest man in the room. Not even Orochimaru could see through his genjutsu. It is rare that he underestimates at all."

The man leaned against the wall of the shrine. His casualness was perhaps even more unnerving than the fact that he was clearly a surviving Uchiha, or at least someone who possessed a Sharingan. Sakura's grip tightened on her blade.

"So." The man continued. "You are claiming to be stronger than a member of the Sannin. I suppose you would have to be, to try and unite the world in such a way. There are already shinobi scheming against you. There will be no shortage of dissent."

"I'm already aware." Sakura countered. "I'm not a fool. If you've just come here to give a lecture-"

"I came to give an offer."

The man stood forward, holding out a hand. "My organization is short a member with Orochimaru's absence. And our goals are not so different, yours and mine. We both seek a world of peace. Your attempt at diplomacy will fail, as all attempts have failed time and time again. There will always be those whose selfishness outweighs their desire to cooperate. I, however, have a plan that is guaranteed success. I have a plan to end all wars and squabbles, all petty disagreements and bad blood. You can be a part of that plan. All it takes is a willingness to give up nine insignificant lives for the preservation of thousands. Join with Akatsuki, Sakura Haruno, and you shall be a true bringer of peace."

There wasn't even a doubt in her mind or any hesitation. Sakura wasn't sure what delusion the man had convinced himself of, that the power of the Bijuu could so easily bring peace, but...those lives were not insignificant to her. And Akatsuki was not and was never an option.

"You don't know a thing about me, do you?" Sakura answered. "I won't spill innocent blood for peace, especially not the blood of those I consider my dearest friends. If you're Akatsuki, then we are enemies."

"I see. It was...worth an attempt. Now I shall have no grievances towards ending your life."

In the blink of an eye, then man vanished.

It was only a prickling sensation on the back of her neck that caused Sakura to turn, a primal instinct that forced her to raise her kunai in self defense. As she turned, she saw the man appear again, and their kunai clashed together in a clang that echoed within the shrine.

Sakura forced herself not to look the man in the eyes. She hadn't seen them clearly enough to know if he had a Sharingan, but it was not a risk she was willing to take. Instead, she focused downwards, confirming her visual before lifting her knee in an attempt to hit the man directly in the groin.

The man simply vanished again, and this time she was slightly too slow to react. Shikamaru, however, was not. She heard a second clash of steel as Shikamaru moved to cover her back. Smart. If they covered each other, whatever strange teleportation the man was using couldn't catch them off guard. Two people meant no blind spots.

What followed next was something akin to a dance.

The man appeared and reappeared around them, lashing out with a kunai whenever he was close enough. Sometimes it was teleportation, but other times Sakura was convinced it was sheer speed. After a while, she was able to confirm it. There was a pattern to the attack .The teleportation took a set amount of time, about three seconds. If the man used the teleportation again directly after, there was a five second delay. If the man simply moved, there was no delay, and he arrived at his next point of attack within a second. Sakura was certain Shikamaru was seeing it too; with time, both of their movements became less desperate and more definitive. Sakura was no longer worried for her life, but instead trying to look for an opening. And just as she was certain she'd found one, just when she was ready to strike…

The man stopped.

He reappeared at the door again, looking just as nonchalant as before. "As expected from a student of the Copy Ninja. As expected too from a child of the Nara. Your reflexes are quite keen. But I am not your only opponent tonight. If the Konoha patrols saw a battle happening on the sealed Uchiha grounds, I wonder what that would mean for the both of you?"

The man's hands began to move, and Sakura remembered all at once the second thing the Uchiha clan were known for, besides the infamous Sharingan. Fire-style jutsu.

He was going to set the shrine on fire.

And that would draw every shinobi in the village to investigate. She and Shikamaru would be caught, and everything she had worked for would be ruined, and this little shit could just teleport away and not have to face a single consequence. Sakura saw Shikamaru stretching his shadow towards the man but it just wouldn't be quick enough.

She had only one option, and that was to use a jutsu that she hadn't even remotely come close to mastering. One that Kakashi had sworn she could learn with time and patience, but right now she couldn't afford either of those things. She would have to master this technique now or else everything was over.

Shukaku had once told her the secret to earth techniques was understanding the relationship between the natural earth energy around her and her own chakra. So too, Sakura deduced, would she have to understand water. There was no source of water nearby, but there was moisture in the air. She would have to inhale, merging the moisture with her own chakra, and expel it with enough force to counter whatever her enemy had planned.

Most importantly, it required control.

And that...that Sakura had.

Her hands flew through the signs and she took a deep breath. She could feel her chakra writhing with the effort, clashing against the energy that it was not naturally drawn to form. She was earth, but now she had to be water, flowing and dancing and gushing forth against her opponent. Sakura felt a pressure build in her chest and mouth, and as soon as she saw the spark of fire in front of her, she let it spill forth.

It was a pitifully small attempt. Her water bullet couldn't have been bigger than her fist. But Sakura had done one thing right, and that was aim. Her bullet flew through the air and slammed against man's mask, which was just enough distraction to stop him from expending more chakra and gave Shikamaru just enough time to connect his shadow with the man's own.

Everyone froze, and for a moment that was all too brief, Sakura could breathe.

"Ah." The man commented. "How annoying."

And then Sakura saw the air begin to shimmer around the man, originally from a spot near the eyehole in his mask, and in the blink of an eye the man had vanished yet again.

"...shit."

"Shikamaru, how did he-"

The man reappeared, this time directly behind Shikamaru. He quickly placed a hand on Shikamaru's shoulder, and before he could pull away, before Sakura could interfere, both of them vanished.

When the man reappeared, alone, he made a gesture of wiping his hands together. "I forgot how troublesome the Nara shadow jutsu can be. He won't interfere with our playtime anymore."

"Where did you take him?" Sakura demanded.

"Another place. A place only I can reach." The man replied. "He will likely die there of dehydration within the next day or two. That is the price one pays for moving against me."

"Then why not me too? Why not just leave there to die? Then there's no risk of my interference."

The man hesitated, but by then Sakura had already managed to deduce the answer.

"...you're afraid it won't work on me. You're afraid it won't work because it's a Sharingan technique, and if I can break out of Itachi's technique, you think I can break out of yours too."

The man threw his hands together, once again going through the hand signs for a fire technique. Sakura matched it, and water clashed against the sparks of flame once, twice, a third time…

But the man hadn't tried to use that technique on her, which meant she was right. What was assuredly an accidental fluke during her face-off with Itachi had now turned into her advantage. So long as he thought her capable of breaking Sharingan technique, he wasn't going to waste chakra trying.

Which was all well and good, but that didn't solve the problem of the missing Shikamaru, and that didn't solve the problem of Sakura very clearly being outclassed.

Even keeping up her own small water bullets was quickly draining her chakra, and every now and then the man would switch it up and once again go back to teleporting around the shrine, attempting to get in a stab with a sharpened kunai. Only this time, Sakura didn't have Shikamaru watching her back. It didn't take long before the man got lucky, and Sakura found her shoulder on the receiving end of a kunai. The pain was a distraction, and it meant her arm couldn't move as quickly as before. If this was to be an endurance fight, Sakura was going to lose.

She needed Gaara and Sai, she needed Shikamaru, she needed someone, anyone

The man appeared in front of her, too quickly to react. He was aiming for the deathblow, and Sakura couldn't move fast enough to keep him from putting a blade straight into her heart…

A flash of brown fur moved into her line of sight, and suddenly Emi had slammed herself into the man's head, and they both went tumbling to the shrine floor. Sakura heard the man cry out as the tanuki sunk her teeth and claws into whatever she could get a grip on. The man vanished, but this only served to take Emi with wherever he'd gone to.

There was a pause, and Sakura looked around wildly, putting her back against a wall while she tried to predict-

In a flurry of movement, the man reappeared, this time with both Emi and Shikamaru in tow. Shikamaru had grabbed onto the man's arm, which had been just enough to be taken back with him when the man had returned. By the look of things, he'd managed to even stab a kunai into the man's arm to make sure, which meant the tides were changing. The man could be injured, and if people were taken to the man's 'other place', they could be retrieved.

Of course, if they didn't move quickly, the man would just take them back again. Sakura couldn't let that happen. She reached for another kunai, this time pulling out the strange, three-pronged one that Kakashi had given her for her birthday. She wasn't as good at throwing it yet, but it was the only one she had left, and it wasn't about hitting him now, it was about keeping her friends safe.

"Emi, Shikamaru, MOVE!"

Sakura let herself pour chakra into her arm and threw the kunai with everything she could muster. She saw Emi drop off and Shikamaru push himself away, and she half expected the man to simply teleport out of the way again, but then…

The kunai passed through the man, and the man suddenly turned around to face it, raising his hands up against what looked to Sakura to be an imaginary foe.

...he used these kunai for his Flying Thunder God technique…

Kakashi's words rang in her head, and Sakura realized that the man not only recognized the kunai, but was distracted by it.

She only had one chance, and this was it.

She didn't have much, but Sakura pushed what little chakra she did have into her legs and let herself fly towards the man, fist at the ready. When the man turned around to face her once again, this time he wasn't quick enough to dodge her blow. Her fist connected with his mask, and she felt a satisfying crack as the mask shattered under her blow.

The man skidded back, reaching up to clutch at his face as his protection crumbled away. Sakura caught a glimpse of the red of a Sharingan eye, but only the one...the other eye looked forcibly shut. And the man's skin...Sakura had never seen skin look so unnaturally two-toned, a mix of typical flesh and a strange, white color that seemed to remind Sakura of a corpse rather than something alive.

Her eyes met his, and Sakura regretted it instantly but she couldn't bring herself to look away. There was something about the way the man looked at her, something about how he looked that nagged at her mind and wouldn't let go.

"Very well done." The man finally spoke. "Perhaps...there will be use to keeping you alive after all."

The man vanished, and this time he did not return.


Sakura hadn't known that Shikamaru was capable as cursing as much as he was currently doing.

They'd made their way beneath the Uchiha shrine, but even as they'd searched through nearly dozen shelves of scrolls, Shikamaru continued to curse without hardly taking a breath between them.

"I cannot believe I let you drag me into something so fucking out of our league, this is such a fucking drag, he dragged me to another fucking dimension, Sakura!"

Sakura was only half paying attention to the rant. In one hand, she was scanning scrolls, trying not to let herself linger too long on clan secrets that she had no right to. Her other hand was carefully scratching Emi's back. No doubt Gaara had sent her as back up, and she was going to give that boy the biggest hug when she got back to Ino's. As for Emi, Sakura would be giving her as many treats as the tanuki wanted for the next month.

"All I ever wanted to do was be an average fucking shinobi with an average fucking life. Retire early, start a family, never have to worry about anything this fucking insane…"

Sakura wondered, briefly, if Shikamaru's time with Ino was beginning to rub off on him. Or even Naruto, though Sakura had never heard him curse, but Naruto was capable of talking for hours if allowed, maybe he'd also started rubbing off on the Nara.

"We are going to fucking die doing this, Sakura. If Danzo doesn't kill us, then whoever the fuck that is certainly will, once he's gotten over the shock of you getting a damned lucky hit."

Whoever it was…

Sakura knew. Sakura couldn't deny it. Either that, or it was going to be a hell of a coincidence.

One Sharingan eye. Similar age to Kakashi. A warped body.

Sakura couldn't deny that there was a high possibility that this man was Kakashi's lost teammate. Obito Uchiha.

She wasn't sure how. She wasn't even sure why, though if Obito had gotten wrapped up in the Akatsuki, all that meant at the end of the day was that he was the enemy. A thousand questions were already trying to worm their way through her, but Sakura was much too tired to process any of them. She didn't want to deal with this. In a way, she agreed with Shikamaru. This was way, way out of their league.

"Son of a bitch, Sakura."

"Did the cursing help?"

"Yeah...yeah, maybe a little."

Shikamaru made his way over to Sakura's side, bending over to pick Emi up in his arms. He began to stroke her back, and the tanuki made happy little purrs as she settled.

"If you hadn't shown up, I'd still be stuck in that weird dimension. So tomorrow we're going to Chouji's favorite barbecue and you're getting whatever the hell you want, alright?"

Emi let out a small chirp, and Sakura couldn't help but smile in relief. They were...they were alright somehow. She'd fought another Uchiha and lived.

Maybe...maybe Onoki was right. Maybe the Uchiha weren't the gods she'd made them in her head, simply just...shinobi with a very powerful tool. A tool that could be learned. A tool that could be fought against. If someone stronger than her had faced this man, they could have easily gotten the upper hand, assuming they figured out the gimmick to the teleportation technique.

Sakura's hand went to her side, to the three-pronged kunai. The man had known the Fourth Hokage's signature technique, and not only that, had feared it. As if he'd faced it before…

"Shikamaru?"

"Yeah?"

"You can't tell anyone about him."

"Wait, why? Don't you think it's important to at least tell the other rookies?"

"Yes, but...not yet. Not until I know more. If the wrong information gets out, it might cause problems."

"...which means you have theories about who that guy is. Theories that involve people we know."

Sakura nodded, absentmindedly reaching for another scroll. "For now, our enemy is Danzo. Once Danzo is finished, then I can let myself think about Akatsuki. Then I can let myself think about him."

"He might show up again."

"Not if we never come back here, he won't. Not in the village proper. He doesn't want to be seen. That's why he left once the mask was broken. He didn't want to risk me putting things together."

"Too bad for him, it seems like you already have."

"I think he underestimated what someone was willing to tell me."

Sakura opened the scroll, and her eyes widened as she took in its contents. This...this was it! She shoved the scroll in Shikamaru's direction, letting him look it over.

"...battle plans."

"Revolution plans." Sakura confirmed. "Meeting notes. There's several that look like it still here on the shelf. You were right, Shika. The Uchiha were planning an uprising. You were right."

"I'm starting to hate being right all the time." Shikamaru admitted. "Grab all of those. We should get out of here before it gets too late. You took that soldier pill, right?"

"Right." Sakura nodded. It had been a lifesaver, another thing she'd have to thank Gaara for. Without it, she might not have had enough chakra to tunnel themselves out again. Gaara was getting good at looking ahead, seeing the worst and preparing for it…

Sakura wished she could talk with Gaara about Obito. But for now, it was a secret she'd have to keep until she knew how to address.

If she was right, Obito Uchiha was alive, was currently a part of Akatsuki, and, if her worst fears were true, he had been the orchestrating mind behind the Kyuubi attack at Naruto's birth.

And somehow, this man believed that it was all for the sake of peace.

Sakura shivered as she pulled scrolls from the shelf. Would she hit a point, soon, where this would become too much? Akatsuki was so much more terrifying than even she'd initially thought. She'd gotten stronger, but it still wasn't enough. She still needed a tanuki to come and save her in her most desperate moment, she still had to be rescued after all this time.

Never again, she'd promised herself. Never again would she be the weak link.

This wasn't just about her. This was about the world, and this was about saving it. This was about doing what she'd read about in fantastical tales about superhuman shinobi, this was about doing what made up myths and legends. It was too much for her, it was too much for anyone. But nobody else was going to do it. Nobody else was this entrenched, nobody else had taken action. It was her that had spurred Shikamaru to look into Root. It was her that had taken up Onoki's offer to strive for peace. It was her, all those months ago, that had run from this very village because she couldn't allow herself to do nothing.

Sakura wondered if the heroes of her stories had even been superhuman at all. Maybe a hero was just the kind of person that moved when no one else would.

"We're going to do it Shikamaru." She insisted. "It doesn't matter that it's out of our league. We're going to do it because no one else will."

Shikamaru just looked at her, half pouting as he pulled Emi close.

"Girls are such a drag, aren't they, Emi?"

"...you realize Emi is a girl too, right?"

"...oh man."

1. Chapter 1 848 0 0 2. Chapter 2 3162 0 0 3. Chapter 3 2532 0 0 4. Chapter 4 2819 0 0 5. Chapter 5 2551 0 0 6. Chapter 6 2767 0 0 7. Chapter 7 2188 0 0 8. Chapter 8 1950 0 0 9. A Brief Intermission 949 0 0 10. Chapter 10 4053 0 0 11. Chapter 11 3692 0 0 12. Two Worlds Away (Intermission Part Two) 1320 0 0 13. Chapter 13 3836 0 0 14. Chapter 14 2739 0 0 15. Chapter 15 2390 0 0 16. Failures (Intermission Part Three) 2824 0 0 17. Chapter 17 3234 0 0 18. Chapter 18 6529 0 0 19. Chapter 19 4214 0 0 20. Three's a Drag (Intermission Part Four) 2630 0 0 21. Chapter 21 3341 0 0 22. Chapter 22 2924 0 0 23. Chapter 23 6969 0 0 24. Chapter 24 3801 0 0 25. Chapter 25 4158 0 0 26. Alliances (Intermission Part Five) 2667 0 0 27. Chapter 27 6918 0 0 28. Act One Epilogue 30 0 0 29. Act Two Prologue 1 0 0 30. Chapter 30 7214 0 0 31. Chapter 31 3687 0 0 32. Other Worlds, Other Minds (Int Part 6) 7031 0 0 33. Chapter 33 2703 0 0 34. Chapter 34 2734 0 0 35. Chapter 35 3454 0 0 36. Chapter 36 3502 0 0 37. Chapter 37 2836 0 0 38. Sparks (Intermission Part Seven) 3351 0 0 39. Chapter 39 3664 0 0 40. Chapter 40 4064 0 0 41. Chapter 41 4611 0 0 42. Chapter 42 3675 0 0 43. Chapter 43 3720 0 0 44. Alekhine (Intermission Part Eight) 1118 0 0 45. Chapter 45 6405 0 0 46. Chapter 46 6106 0 0 47. Chapter 47 4601 0 0 48. Chapter 48 4531 0 0 49. Chapter 49 3483 0 0 50. Coming Storm (Intermission Part Nine) 7177 0 0 51. Chapter 51 4480 0 0 52. Chapter 52 5763 0 0 53. Chapter 53 3722 0 0 54. Chapter 54 4708 0 0 55. Chapter 55 5271 0 0 56. Chapter 56 5280 0 0 57. Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten) 2812 0 0 58. Chapter 58 9001 0 0 59. Chapter 59 4492 0 0 60. Chapter 60 5379 0 0 61. Chapter 61 9941 0 0 62. Chapter 62 8222 0 0 63. Chapter 63 4430 0 0 64. Chapter 64 4766 0 0 65. Chapter 65 7008 0 0 66. Chapter 66 5769 0 0 67. Act Two Epilogue 2816 0 0 68. The Months Between 9232 0 0 69. Act Three Prologue 96 0 0 70. Chapter 70 5300 0 0 71. Chapter 71 5013 0 0 72. Chapter 72 4580 0 0 73. Chapter 73 5123 0 0 74. Chapter 74 3585 0 0 75. Chapter 75 3963 0 0 76. Chapter 76 4747 0 0 77. Chapter 77 3671 0 0 78. Chapter 78 2347 0 0 79. Chapter 79 5030 0 0 80. Chapter 80 3135 0 0 81. Chapter 81 4371 0 0 82. Arbitrium (Intermission Part Twelve) 3793 0 0 83. Chapter 83 3219 0 0 84. Chapter 84 2189 0 0 85. Chapter 85 2827 0 0