All right! Here's my entry for ShelbySubaku's oneshot/twoshot contest, and here I go with my first ZetsuSaku. I first imagined it around fall '11, and it was more of a darkish fairytale (fairytale means you don't have to explain everything and it's okay!) in my head then, and it kind of still is…and isn't…uhm.

One of the contest requirements is that you incorporate song lyrics. I am using two songs here, technically. You will eventually see mentions of Zetsu singing to Sakura, and what he sings is a sort of mystic lullaby called Taikatalvi by composer Tuomas Holopainen of the Finnish symphonic rock band, Nightwish, also Storm's favorite-favorite band of all time. Go find it on Youtube so that you, too, may hear what I proclaim to be Zetsu's singing voice.

The other song, Two Beasts, I'm using you will definitely not find on Youtube, because it was written, and sung, by my grandfather many years ago. He's always been an amateur poet/somgwriter. It's his version of Beauty and the Beast, and I thought it would fit amazingly here. My grandpa's only method of "publishing" it was to type out the best poems and songs he's written in his life on MS Word, bind them together at Kinko's and give them to me.

Btw you guys, for the majority of this oneshot, Zetsu walks around without his flytrap on his shoulders, because I think he looks better that way. :I He can make it appear whenever he wants to. He just doesn't often want to. Also, he's a possessive and slightly stalkerish man 'cause that's how I like my Naruto men :o

"Beauty went into the woods and crossed paths with the Beast. And henceforth was she never without Him."

Time lay on the cusp of dawn, turning brighter with passing seconds. Its light spilled onto woods and hills uncountable and unnamed.

There was a girl passing underneath it, perhaps the only one awake for many miles. The sun itself acknowledged and welcomed her with a new beam of light that kindly, fondly, touched her head. She stopped in between trees to look out on the sunrise, as she always did when time and work allowed, and enjoyed the change of nature. An ash-grey eagle jumped off its branch somewhere above her head and swam through a sea of air towards the sun. Such sights—beautiful, strong ones, like royal paintings, ones that could have been in a dream—were ones Sakura loved. They would make a smile blossom upon her face unlike any sun, any painting. Light shining upon her, and all the great light within her, was much loved.

"I promised her I'd grow the new plants on this hill. Tsunade, I wish you would come up here yourself one day. The sunrise here is so gorgeous. It's much better than from the doorway of your home."

She also loved healing things, like dragon-tail and chamomile leaf, things she knew would heal many wounds, calm burning pains, even encourage the growth of hair on bald folks. Her father used such medicine, and pretended he didn't. Sakura's knowledge of healing items, particularly herbs to be found in the woods, was extensive and even strange.

Sakura also loved accomplishing, which seemed to be uncommon amongst her folk. She lived in the only village of men for an amount of miles no one knew, and in her community, it was uncommon—though apparently not discouraged—for females to have such strong ambitions as she. She wanted to be a healer, to know all and help all, and perhaps most impressive of all, she wanted to defend.

"Poor little plant. I wonder what brainless old animal stepped on you while I was gone. I can salvage your roots and seeds, perhaps. You'll grow again, and look even better. And I can tell Ino I can grow lovely flowers, too. See if she'll take that standing up."

Now as the new sun came up to warm the trees and the grass and her, she was crouched on the ground, embraced lightly by growing grass, and sprinkling a growing powder on new stems and its cloister of petals. She had small, deft hands that could make a new stem grow, but it seemed they were also powerful, dangerous hands. She had lifted Kiba up onto her shoulder several times and it was now a spectacle her village always expected on feast nights. She moved large rocks to dam the river by the village, or unruly goats, and had more than once shown domination over certain unruly men by punching them severely. This would have been a sight.

But rarely did situations escalate so much. Her accomplishments nowadays mostly took the form of her journeying outside the village into the wooded hills, where there were plants of all types abound. She journeyed into the wilderness to find new herbs, or water and fertilize growing ones, or even hunt animals. Her travels took her across rivers, scaling over spills of mossy rock, tall ridges. She knew this land by heart, and it knew her. It knew when she ran upon it, or returned home, wind rushing past like an ecstatic comrade, or wanted to humbly take a piece of it home with her. She did so now.

"This one, I can bring back to Kiba, and now he'll have to believe me. He…oh, he's so frustrating when he thinks he knows something. 'I don't need the herbs, just cut the infection out of me, get me a knife, blah blah blah! I could smack you into a wall, Kiba, if only your rabid-wolf mother wouldn't eat me alive for it. I don't think he ever read our tutor's poem assignment, either. I wish he had. He would have liked it. The song about rain. The world. I know he wants to know about the world."

And when she was alone, only when she was alone, she talked quite a lot. She had a special voice reserved for herself and the land around, one that was cheery, and contemplative, and friendly, and perhaps adorable. It knew to listen for the noise, the sweetsound, it may have been called in older times, and feel soothed and very warmed by it. Now that she was done in these hills, her only assignment for the day, she would return home.

In minutes, Sakura stood up, brushing the fine, if grass-stained, skirt of her red dress. She had laced black boots on her slim runner's legs, and now she was running back. Back down the south-bird hill, dodging trees and the branches that reached slightly to touch her, and all the greenery around that watched her.

For she was watched, discreetly. He watched her often, helplessly, as though ensnared, but quiet.

He watched and listened, and learned these many things about her, without her notice.

"Day after day, the Beast came back."

The next day he knew she was holed up inside her village. He could smell the woodsmoke from the forest, and see the bustling villagers. They were preparing a feast tonight for a reason he could not guess at. His sun-runner—he had Crafted the given title himself, bringing her brightness and power and speed of all kinds into one Name—did not come out into the woods that morning, which meant she was heavily engaged in preparations from home. She needed nothing from the wild, from his cache of gifts for her.

Today was a day of no prey. He came across another shadow as he traveled, a friend on the wind, and they conversed till the sun began to sink, and the friend softly grasped his unseen arm fondly, and left. That was his only friend.

He traveled to the sea, a little bit beyond it—underneath it, in truth—and he could sense the rotting there, to say nothing of smelling it. If he were to wear the plant upon his shoulders once more, his senses would be such that the smell would daze and perhaps wound him. But he rotting couldn't quite reach the land where he lived, and where Sakura lived, oblivious. To think of the good and well-loved land becoming rotten or dead made him part his lips and bare his fangs.

He traveled back to the land, where all his greenery was and all the creatures, and a clean sky. He stayed away from the humans that day, and chose to hunt food anyway.

"Day after night, the hunt remained."

The day after, Sakura did not leave her home. She traveled between houses dispersing cloth packets of herbs, which he discerned by their earthy smell climbing up through the cottage walls and overtly clinging to the clothes of the people. He missed her.

But the following day, he was within one of the more red of the woods, and heard her coming. Suddenly her footsteps were thunderstrikes in his ears. His hands flinched back, he retreated as far into the tree as he could and called on his Stillbreath: the Craft that would make him motionless, but he would breathe. And it was all meaningless, because no one could see him when he hid in trees anyhow. His form was not quite physical, and certainly not visible. But Sakura was coming and he would always hide when she came round.

She came round the cluster of eldest-oak trees nine double-beats of his heart later. She was smiling, and so he smiled, too. Now her steps were not thunderstrikes but soft vibrations that spilled through the ground, that he delightedly absorbed. She had a different dress today, another red one, and some weeks ago he had begun counting this one as his favorite. The skirt was somewhat shorter and she always wore a smallish white necklace tight round her neck with this dress. Her boots were the same. Made for running. And she ran. He liked how she ran, always with purpose, with strength. Like a young hunter, were she not smaller and pinker than he perceived most hunters to be. He followed her, in the ground.

Morning had not quite fled into afternoon, and so the sun had not traversed to its highest point. As it climbed, so did she: her path took her through the long grove, the south hills where rodents lived in a thousand holes, and at its end, the high ridge of spilled rocks from the near mountain. It was a pile of stone and scree that would have attracted many youngsters for the purpose of play, if only it were nearer to the village. Sakura visibly took some delight in climbing and jumping over them. She clearly believed no one was around to see her romping and playing.

He purred within; he had not romped or played in many turns of the moon, for it was disheartening to play alone. But Sakura did not think this. When she fell—he flinched underground, did not know what to do—and laughed, he knew he was right. Sakura loved her community in the human village, but playing alone out in the woods was her secret love.

The place she wanted to be was just beyond the pile of rocks, and not far from the foot of the mountain the rocks spilled from, or so he thought. When she stood in the shadow of the mountain, and the trees that hung off of it like lovely parasites, she began to run again, and he had to be swift to catch up to her. She was turning east, almost doubling back in her own footsteps, and only stopped when she found a clear area of woods: not quite a clearing, but more spacious than most areas of the woods. He stepped back, inside a new fern tree, to observe the area.

It was nearly two trees wide, with only five smallish trees interspersed inside it. Sunlight had nearly full reign of the place, penetrating nearly all pieces of ground, playing through the tree branches and painting speckled shadows on their roots. Faint birdsong, and a fleeing deer shaking the brush, gave the place sudden music. He wondered why he had never noticed such an area of his woods before. Even with the massive expanse of woods and land, this one was quite outstanding. He wanted to feel the sun here himself, but Sakura was doing that now.

Sakura was walking slightly forward, having dropped her herb satchel on the ground. She jogged to the shadow of one of the trees and stood under the interplay of light and shadow there. Her eyes crinkled when the sun shone through too much. Wind was playing at her hair, lifting the tips and kindly carrying to him her scent of cherry blossom stems. He was smiling now as well.

She chose to sit at the point of the grass where shadows of the tree branches ended and plain sunlight held dominion of the ground again. They seemed to fight for dominion over her skin and hair, but the young healer paid the warring creations no mind. She sat in the grass and pushed her hands through, weaving. She made soft little motions through them, perhaps searching for something he could not see. But what plant existed here that he could not see? He moved in the ground, under a warmed patch of earth very near her. Now he could hear her speak.

"One hour won't hurt. Everyone is still lazing around and sleeping off all the food from a night ago." She murmured. He did not have to physically move or turn his head to hear her better while within the ground, but did some equivalent movement in that form and that state which he had never bothered to describe with words.

Looking up suddenly—like a clever deer, a sweet fawn—as though someone might be around, Sakura stood up suddenly and retrieved her satchel from where she'd dropped it, and plopped back down in the same spot as before. The clasp came undone, and the upper flap came away. He was very curious now to see what she had. Perhaps playful.

What she took out was a hard-paper object with many soft leaves inside, many killed, noiseless trees. It was a thing he had seen humans create and use for many turns, and it was a book, that was the word. He had not seen books for…several years. Sakura opened hers softly, even delicately, and began searching through the pages. They made a curious sound as they moved. He liked it. But her voice was better, so he patiently waited for it to come.

"Okay…more Henry the Fifth…But if it be a sinne to covet Honor, I am the most offending Soul alive—" Here, he became lost.

Later, he'd be thankful that he chose to hide in the ground, where it was all but impossible to fall out and become visible again. Later, he would remember being completely entranced, completely vulnerable to Sakura's tale, and the lovely tilts of the sun-runner's voice and its strings and wind-vibrations that he could feel throughout all of his person. He pretended that she was reading to him. He pretended that perhaps she knew he was there, and also that all creatures and sentient things around them knew to leave them be.

Her measurements of an hour was nearly accurate. Just after that one hour had walked away behind them, Sakura licked her finger to wet and crinkle the end of one page and mark it for later reference. The book was tucked neatly into its place within the dark satchel, and its owner rose up without hesitation. But he, he was drowsy and hypnotized still, and he had to fight to regain wakefulness.

"Might be something in Genma's net trap from last night. I hope it's not another greengill."

'I don't want to wake up,' he thought to himself, even as wakefulness came more and more with each breath. 'I do not…want to have to realize that my actions towards Sakura the healer make me very strange.'

And then, moments later, 'And I do not give a damn. If I want her, if I want her near and want her to want me…'And moments after that, Sakura looked around a last time to survey her new favorite relaxing grounds. Her eyes passed over his head, and his fierceness from moments ago felt cowed and enchanted. He could not be fierce to her, not ever. He could watch from afar and once in a merciful while, from nearby. And if she ever came nearby…he would shake. Hide in trees. For many months now, her presence, words, movements, would make his fangs disappear, his head bow, and the perfect halves of his heart burst into freakish and excited activity.

He acted like submissive prey, was the odd truth of it. Such was the norm, and had been for some months. (And for a good while, he had begun perceiving "months" as quite a long time.) Perhaps the norm was incorrect. Perhaps he could do something. Perhaps, she will notice me.

Many weeks before, he'd prepared a plan for just this situation, for the slim possibility that he would not be controlled by a great wave of nervousness, but would instead want to catch her attention. It felt good to feel a plan being pursued. To do this, he lifted his arm, the white, and Crafted a new plant. A pink rose, for Sakura. My sun-runner.

It rose up out of the ground at the pace a very speedy bug might crawl, up the trunk of the second-nearest tree. And at chest height—her chest-height, not his, so she would more easily notice—the stem bloomed up and out, at last birthing bright, spring-colored petals at least a shade deeper than the healer girl's own hair. They opened and caught wind along their little tongues, and became beautiful in seconds, for no product of his Craft ever turned out mediocre. Sakura turned just in time to see it.

Her soft gasp of joy, the completely stillness and surprise in her at his first gift, remained with him forever. At the time he thought, 'I hope you like it, my sun-runner. I hope you take it home and keep it, because I made it for you.'

She moved over to the tree and observed this rose. It seemed she was conflicted as to whether to acknowledge it with a girl's admiring eyes or a healer's questioning ones, and it seemed to him that she found a common ground in between. The healer in her must have noticed how thorns did not exist on the stem just below the petals, which was where he meant for her to hold it, and she did. She plucked the rose and a hand's length of stem. By the equally blossoming smile turning her features into a soft sun, and by the double-beating of his own heart, he knew she liked her gift.

"So I've got…my very own rose garden." Sakura said to herself.

'It was mine first. All of this was mine first, but you may have it.' He thought, and pretended she could hear.

Next, she laughed, and his fingers curled. "I have my own rose garden! Oh, tomorrow, I'm going to—" Her words sputtered off into a short series of giggles and balancing on the balls of her feet like a youngling. It made his lips part so that he laughed, and the tips of fangs showed under his lip, unshielded.

Once more, Sakura turned around and surveyed her new secret place and all its moving shadows, sunbeams and peace. But she had village kin to attend to, herbs to gather and work to do. When she left, he pretended that he had shooed her away to do her work, and that she had been hesitant, even resentful, of leaving him here. 'Healer's work may keep her away longer still. And I may pretend until then.'

The uglier half of him was hinting at how he would surely fantasize, and he did not attempt to deny it. For now, he hungered, and the flesh of a boar sounded acceptable. Theirs was tough meat, and though they looked fine and smooth enough in a reflection or even within his mind, his teeth were ripping teeth.

She did leave the village for the woods the next day, but her friend came with her. It was a blonde boy he knew from her talking was called Naruto. He was undergoing training for hunting, far more seriously than Sakura would when she shot down the occasional boar or deer in addition to herb gathering and tending. He was also very loud. But that was all he could care to know about Naruto.

He was irritated by Naruto being here, by the lack of sun and warmth today, and by the tree trunk he had accidentally burst open when not paying attention to his exiting it. It was mainly Naruto, he knew.

He followed them for a long while, observing Naruto and quietly baring his fangs at him.

The next day, he knew rain would be coming in the evening. Sakura came in the early morning. She entered the woods at a direction she did not normally choose. He knew many yarrow plants grew this way, and it was probable that yarrow was her ambition for today.

It was not a good time to be following her, for he had only minutes before seeing her cut down a boar and torn its stomach open. He still had the scent of pig's blood on him, and the edges of his teeth were surely stained yet by that crimson paint. He usually refrained from moving after her so soon after a kill, but today was a rare day when he was not ruled by nervousness, and the opportunity would not last long. Today, he could do something. He'd wanted to do something for a long time.

Her dress was black today, but it did not subtract from her brightness. It was not the accompanying bud-green sash about her waist or the freeing lack of sleeves on the garment that made this happen but her natural brightness, and that pulled him even closer today. Suddenly, he wanted to touch.

Sakura made her way to the "rose garden"—which made him chuckle and then purr, because there had only been one rose there and few flowers besides, and that gave him a new idea. He traveled past Sakura and stood up in the garden, and Crafted a few new plants there. He Crafted three lilacs growing together and made a willow sapling forcefully sprout behind one of the trees, so that perhaps she would only think she hadn't seen it the first time. The sun was pleasant today and the breeze lovely. Perhaps this place could be a real garden in time.

Indeed, he could have grown beautiful things here. His Craft was admired and excellent and he was proud of it, but he sank into the ground like a frightened mouse when he heard the sun-runner coming. She arrived at the border of the "garden" at a brisk walk and paced small circles throughout the place, admiring all views of it. She found the young willow tree, identified it, and took out a small book she had and scribbled notes about the tree inside it. The ends of his lips climbed slightly upward. Both of them were pleased. And he had yet to be overtaken by shyness yet.

This time, instead of sitting, Sakura made her way to one of the farther trees and tossed her satchel high up into a branch. Its strap caught on one and remained hanging there, and she climbed up after it. He watched her grasp branches and heave more and more skyward up along the trunk and its dependable limbs. She climbed nearly to the height of one of her village cottages, and then stayed sitting on that branch with her feet hanging off, and her hand against the tree's trunk.

'I could be up there with her. I could go into the tree and be there. And it will be pointless because she wouldn't know. And perhaps I'm taking the easy path by traveling through the tree instead of climbing.'

Sakura stayed up in her branch, and obtained a long leaf from another one nearby. This she used to point outward at the treetops and all the woods and hills beyond. He imagined she was identifying places, groves and clearings and high trees that she knew would yield medicinal herbs, or perhaps would yield amusement if she could walk around and laugh there. She did not do this for long, and this was good. His confidence was wavering. It wavered further as Sakura climbed down from the tree.

He more or less followed her around the "garden" to the willow sapling. He would make himself known now. It was not proper to say he was scared, or nervous, for he knew he was safe and unseen where he was, but indeed a new boundary was about to be crossed.

She was talking now. She noted aloud the height of the sapling, its number of branches, and pondered just what Tsunade had told her earlier that week about chewing the bark of certain trees. He chose to join her voice.

"Is this not a long way to come just for willow bark?"

She spun around, flashing eyes like king's jade, and took out a knife. The knife was for him, to stab or kill him. His brows came together in confusion, and pain. "Who is that?" Sakura boomed. The trees carried her sound awkwardly, being unused to taking in aggressive noise from her. "Come out here so I can see you."

"…I can't do that."

"What do you want? Is this your land? Have I invaded, is that it? I was taught my village was the only one."

How to explain? How to explain and—and the other voice came, clawing up out of his mind and throat: "These woods are mine, and have been for a long, long time. You have invaded."

His second voice startled her just the way he thought it would. She looked all around and searched for a second enemy, but there was only him, and the earth would fold in on itself before she found him. "I'm sorry. I didn't know others lived here. I'm only gathering herbs here. I'm a healing apprentice in my home." What she did not have to say was that she was searching for the other enemy in the trees as she spoke.

The second voice came again, more easily now. "I did not say you are unwelcome, little girl. All the woods are mine, but I will gladly share." She was confused. It showed in her eyes, in the little curve of her mouth and her soft brow as it curled up in bewilderment.

Now, he tried to speak properly again. It would not do to not impress her. "You may put your knife away. I would not harm you. I will not harm anyone who respects my land, least of all you." The confusion remained stubbornly in place. He tried to sate it further. "I have seen you in the forest before. You journey into the woods for materials to make medicines. Only you do this. Your village-kin hold you in high regard for it."

The wind blew, though he could hardly feel it in the tree he now resided in. "How would you know that?"

And now…now… "I have seen you many times before. Perhaps I know of you, Sakura."

Now the wind did not blow, and no branches, no creatures, no clouds even appeared to stir. Her distress had forced them all into a stiff silence like the new moon. "If you know who I am and you don't mind me on your land, why wouldn't you two talk to me face-to-face? I'll put away this knife if I can see you both."

He frowned within the tree. "The only 'two' here is us. I have no comrades or friends with me."

"Don't tell me you know my name and you respect me, and then lie to me. I heard two distinct voices, and for all I know, there are ten more. And however many of you there are or aren't, how is it that you can even live near here, when my village hasn't heard of any outsiders for a hundred and ten years?"

He was talking to Sakura, absorbing her voice directly now, but there was no hint of a smile or pleasantry on her now. He spoke again to soothe her, and speak truthfully to her, which is what he always wanted. "I assure you I am only one and certainly not ten. And your village hasn't heard of me because I prefer to hide when I sense men nearby, in the trees or in the ground. This I have done for much longer than one hundred and ten years. I have been here longer than any of your folk have."

And there lay the truth before her. He could only pray she would accept, and not flee. She wouldn't flee, because she was Sakura, who would stand up to grown men twice her size and weight and beat them down, and held the withering health of the sick in her hands and would not quiver for fear of ruining it. She couldn't fear him, or if she did, he would crush a hundred trees till his grief ceased to pulse in him.

"Who am I talking to right now?" She asked, quieter now.

A long time ago, before Sakura's village had set its roots here and before each one of these trees had sprouted, he had learned that Names were sacred and dear, and not to be spoken often. Your love would speak your name. And your truest friend. Or someone to whom you wanted…to reach. He reached.

The tree trunk carried the sound for him. "I am Zetsu."

She murmured his name herself, a whisper and one breath. It made his own breath catch. "Why was it I heard two people, Zetsu? I know I did."

"That was me. This is me, as I am. And this is also how I am."

"Why do you sound like two people, then? Or two voices?" But she put the knife away, and he did feel soothed now.

"Because I have two. The other one can be aggressive. Sometimes it surprises me as well." This time she laughed, a short and sardonic sound, but no amount of dark tinge to the voice could keep the sun-runner from striking his heart. She used two fingers to push a strand of hair out of her eyes. This he would have done for her. If only.

Sakura the healer took a few steps forward. "I wish you'd come out here so I could talk to you more easily. I've never met a person who wasn't from my village."

'And you probably never will,' He sighed within himself. "I'm sorry." He said instead. "You wouldn't…" Damn it. Damn it. Think. "I don't want you to see me, and you wouldn't want to, either." And for all his desire to see her and know her and speak with her and love her, that, to, was as true as the grand presence of the sun. "I would like to give you a gift, to apologize. Would you please accept it?"

She nodded, and he prepared. He brought his arm up and then the hand and fingers down, all within the tree—all movements small and wide were possible within it—and worked the Craft. He pulled the potential seeds into their new existence, stringing them near like humans strung helpless fish on their masterful wire lines, or pulled mungo wool from their sheep. The seeds grew, and with the movement of his hands and a small push upwards, they rose out of the ground. Sakura heard the soft, soft rushing of its growth and turned half-round to see the lime-green stem and some trailing leaves coming up out of the ground. Within seconds it was nearly her own height, and once there it bloomed.

With some controlled Craft, he made sure it was healthy and richly colored. Its petals were not yellow, but golden, and the spots of red tucked on the inside of the petals were like new, spilled blood. There was a minuscule reservoir of nectar inside, seeping out the scent of life which he, Zetsu, had long treasured. He told Sakura this was a Canna lily, and requested that she take it and not resent him for hiding.

She did not take it.

In the tree, he withered.

But she was only pausing, out of wonder, not resentment. She did pluck the lily from its tall, tall stem, and watched that stem retreat into the ground to grow another day, naturally. Only the head of a leaf remained where it had gone under again. Sakura held her lily out and turned it in her hands, delicately. The flower had the privilege of feeling the smooth strokes of her fingers, which Zetsu watched and could not help but envy.

"You can grow plants. In seconds." She said.


"…I thought you were lying about having been here more than a hundred and ten years. I thought you were trying to scare me."

"I would not do that," Zetsu spat suddenly. The sun-runner jerked and for one double-beat of his heart he thought she would run, and he had ruined it all. "Scare you, Sakura? I would never. I promise. I give you this flower as an apology, and as a request that you begin to trust me. I would like that very much."

More and more, she stroked the flower and felt its leaves against her wrists. He waited for her to answer. It seemed he waited from then till moonrise. "Thank you. I will take it, but I have to go now. I have things to find out here and take home to my master. I can come back, though. Tomorrow evening. If you want."

'If I want, if I want, oh GODS tell her just tell her how much you want!' "I would love that."

"You'll be here?"


"Don't go silent or else I won't find you, okay?"

He laughed, and let her hear. "I won't make you look for me."

She picked up her satchel off the ground, and tucked the canna neatly inside, so that he cup of the petals poked out minimally, and were safe from falling out. "…I shouldn't tell anyone about you, should I?"

"I would prefer you didn't. I want only you to know me."

This pause was different. More wary. She had read into his words just then, perhaps not completely, but he would be lying to himself to insist that the underlying meaning flew completely over her head. And still she told him, "Till tomorrow, Zetsu!" and walked away. He didn't follow this time.

He remained in the tree, too giddy to even know what to do with himself.

Time passed quickly, so quickly. It was unexpected, since anticipation always had the very opposite effect. But soon it was evening of the next day and he rushed from the direct opposite side of the forest, miles and miles and miles away to the garden-that-wasn't-a-garden where he would meet Sakura. He was in a different tree this time, and he waited less than an hour before she came. She had the red dress that he liked so much, and her hair was tied up in a small ponytail, but for the pieces that hung around her face. Those, too, he liked.

"I wonder if anyone's here this evening—" Sakura all but screeched, and he sniggered at her.

"Of course I am here." He said somewhat less loudly. She looked around for his voice, but did not pinpoint it to the tree had was in.

"Well, how was I supposed to know that!" she scoffed, and sat down crisp and proper near his tree. "I was almost really late, but I finished checking with an expectant mother and ran most of the way here." He hummed lightly to acknowledge the words, and waited for more. But it seemed she waited as well. "Well, uhm…I don't really know what to talk about now that I'm here. Except for one question, and it feels somewhat…awkward."

"You may ask anything, little one." He replied, and she did not shy away from his secret endearment.

"You said yesterday that you 'know of me'. What does that mean?"

He purred, for it was somehow very satisfying to him to hear her ask what something meant, to ask for knowledge. Like she was a small and wondering cub and he the adult who would hold her close and give her everything. Yes, he gave. "You come into my woods often, and I am in many places in a day. I often come across you, or you come across me without knowing. I have heard you talking to yourself many times, and most I know about you, you've told me yourself."

He still purred, for this realization was inexplicably making her blush. "I saw you first in the summer of last year. I did not use the system of months and weeks before seeing you, but I learned from you that the date was June, and the second week of that month. And now it is the last week of April."

"It…definitely is. That."

Zetsu laughed. Any potential nervousness that he ought to have felt right now was mercifully absent. Thank the never-present gods. "You are very intriguing, Sakura. I like to hear you talk, and watch you journey through the woods. You know much about the world for a youngling, and you move with more power and surety than most grown men. And on occasion you are very comical." Sakura's blush continued, and he smiled at it. For the first time under the sun, he was the cause of Sakura's blush.

When Sakura asked what he knew about her, or rather, what she had said, he listed many things, beginning with how fiercely she desired to be the newest doctor of Konoha, and how medicines and their perfect, miniscule measurements intrigued her. He spoke of Naruto and Ino and Hinata, her best friends, and of the day she and Naruto had been chased for two miles by an angry, pregnant horse. He spoke of Tsunade, the greatest healer anyone had ever seen, and anything else he could think of that would not overtly embarrass her, or make her blush even more.

It was freeing to speak of it all, but as to be expected, Sakura's own reaction was silence and a mild form of horror. "I, uhm…well I had no idea someone was listening to me. Some of those things I wouldn't have said!"

"I'm sure."

"Well, what about you? If you have so much knowledge about me already, then it's only fair I should have some about you. Tell me about growing plants like you did. How did you do it? Was it magic or something?"

"…or something."

"Well, explain!"

"One more thing I learned about you, Sakura, is that you are somewhat obsessed with finding out how things work. Conceptual answers are not enough, are they?"

"Almost never. I really prefer explanations, and that's why Minato's philosophy lessons can irritate the life out of me. I just hope your answer isn't conceptual."

"Hnn, not much."

Sakura flinched backwards at his other voice, his second self, surprising him as it often did with is presence and power to speak whenever it wanted. "That's your voice also, you said?"

"It is."

"Are you really one being? You don't call yourself two? It sounds so different from you."

He blinked a few times and felt slightly wounded. He said, "I don't think my voices differ that much…"

Sakura shook her head. "I don't mean they sound that different. I mean they…convey different attitudes. You don't sound like a particularly…violent person right now. But if I heard only your other voice, I would think you're violent. Or mischievous at the very least."

It would have been meaningless to nod within the tree. "I am both those things, I'm afraid. I am still one being, and that's a fact. I have a heart that beats its halves at two separate times, but these are the only things that make me seem like 'two' rather than one." Lies. "If you hear my other voice, it is still me. Perhaps it is me saying something I would not feel appropriate otherwise."

The explanation seemed enough for her. "All right. Zetsu-who's-just-one-person, tell me how you made the flower grow like that."

This time, he was proud. "I made it with Craft. And it is like 'magic' only in that it looks very impressive. It is something both born with, and taught. Only select individuals have the capability, and others must help them hone their skill so they do not…for example, attempt to grow a bushel of roses and create a bushel of birds."


He hadn't exactly meant to say that just yet. "…Craft isn't…just for plants. You can make anything you want. If you concentrate, if you know, and if you have the time and effort. Like making anything else in the world."

"…You're going to have to give a better explanation than that."

He sighed at this, but was happy. For the next hour, he attempted to explain.

"Together under the trees and into the stars."

Before leaving on that night, she had told him that she wouldn't be returning tomorrow or the day after. She needed to enter the woods the west way. Down the near western ridge was a grove of mahogany apple trees she was trying to encourage growth for. Zetsu informed her that so long as they remained in the woods and away from where anyone could see, he could come with her.

She said that sounded wonderful, and to meet him at the leafless tree directly south of her village in the morning.

He nearly cried.

He was there before she was, and let her know his presence by waving a vine tipped with blue bells. She noticed, but did not wave back until she was out of sight of any villager who might be watching. Then she shook the vine like the hand of an old friend.

In fact, that was what they talked about that day: friends. She asked about his own, and he gave answers quietly, because his kind had a short supply of friends, even acquaintances. He only had one now, and she asked that friend's name. Sakura had yet to hear the significance of Names. She did not know that her constantly saying his own name would have been regarded as constant love confessions by his one friend and any others of his kin. But, underneath this "friendship" they had, he thought of her as very precious, and so told the friend's name: Tobi.

He explained how he met Tobi in a land that was far from here, and not nearly as lush and green as the forests that surrounded Konoha. Then Sakura wanted to know about the land far from here and if other people existed in those beyond-realms. He was again the wise adult she came to for knowledge, the guardian, and much more in his mind.

It wouldn't do to tell her about the land outside of this paradise. He told her only that the land he'd visited in particular had been desolate and black (though when Tobi was young, it, too was a pleasant place to be and he did not like leaving the home he grew up in, so he remained there) and there had been people, but they were murderous and mindless. This was not a lie. And he told it in a specific manner—Crafted it, one may have said—to emphasize that this land was where she ought to stay, and the land outside was to be avoided. He was about to ask her if she understood this when she stopped walking.

"Zetsu," she said, and he loved his Name a little bit more, "what kind of creature are you?"

Such a question gave him pause, and he was prompted to retreat into himself and seek out the answer. None of his kind he'd ever known had given their whole kin a name. They were merely themselves. Beings of long, long lives, and no clear purpose like humans always seemed to find for themselves. Unless they found a mate, like Pein and Konan from many moons ago, from half the world away, they were lonely. But on a closer scale than his whole species, Zetsu himself was a special case. He had never seen one of his own consume flesh with the same eagerness as himself, with the same oddness of skin color, with the same half-entity inside that could talk at random times, and with an admitted obsession with a human who was not his to claim.

'Not YET.'

Perhaps it was bad to agree. But he had no way to make that relative, nothing to compare his feelings to. He was alone. 'I am…left alone, to become whatever I want to. And I'm quite sure I became something undesirable.' He thought yesterday of his hunt. His food had not been dead when he ate it.

"I cannot tell you what kind of creature I am because I don't know. I know there are very few like me, but I am the only one I know that's truly a beast."

April faded and May came. It rained frequently, which kept them from meeting, so he tended various trees to occupy his time instead, and many groves grew like lightning with his touch and his skill. He led Sakura to them and she said that if Ino ever saw his skill with growing things, she'd turn black with jealously. Or fall over dead, one of the two.

In mid-May, she began to sometimes wear trousers instead of dresses, which he had seen her do sometimes. They were slim garments that allowed him to see the true shape of her legs, and he looked at them frequently while conversing with her about something else. In mid-May she also brought food with her, and asked Zetsu if she left a loaf of bread here, would he take it and eat it once she was out of sight? In truth, he found bread almost tasteless, like the worst possible mockery of meat, of real food. But he said he would take it. The next day, by luck, or perhaps by hearing the truth of his reaction to the bread—he hoped that was it—she brought cloth-wrapped strips of deer meat, smoked and very tasty, she insisted. Those, he enjoyed. One of them bled a bit in his mouth.

A week or so after that, Sakura asked his favorite food, and he chose to be truthful, and tell it was raw meat that he loved best. He could not yet cross the final line and say it was human meat he loved best. That was…for later. But now, Sakura quietly accepted that, but told him raw meat would be hard to bring. The dogs in the village would smell it in her bag when she tried to leave. (This was also the month when she asked if he wore clothes, and he told her with a chuckle that the pants he wore were of acceptable enough quality, but boars had torn his shirt long ago.)

June and July were months of much journeying. Growth of plants for the fantastically arriving spring had begun even before he'd started talking to her, but in the summer now, they were at their peak, so Sakura went around collected baskets and baskets of herbs and petals and new mosses. He himself was at his peak of happiness. He could grow and die with the greenery, to an extent, and with the powerful sun of summertime, he was powerful, too.

It was unfortunate that he was struck down, just between these two months. Sakura had been laughing, and he watched that laughter bloom and shine on her face like no flower would dare rival. And she told him, "I'm so happy to know you. You're a great friend."

She left for home again. He extracted himself from the leaning, dead tree trunk he had been in, and ran. His bare feet swept along the forest floor and turned up dirt and grass and leaf mold, till his nose found him an animal. He didn't recognize its species, its scent, or anything about it except that it was warm and had meat inside it for him to rend.

Zetsu jumped and pulled his fist back, and the creature was completely unprepared for his arm to punch completely through its side and shoot gibbets of skin and meat out the other side. It struggled and cried, and bled so much, but he brought the blood up to his mouth and beat the creature's head till it stilled, but even then he wasn't done. He pulled at the skin, at all the flesh and the tiny wisps of veins inside. He tore them all and gnashed bone to bits in his teeth, and roared.

'How dare she say 'friend,' like she isn't mine, like she ISN'T mine, and knows nothing better!'

Pulses of pure rage filled him, unfounded rage, because there was no way Sakura could guess his secret feelings for her, or understand them, or even want them. Humans did not believe in knowing a mate at the first look; they guessed at who might be their partner and were often wrong. Humans were wrong in that and a hundred more ways. Humans were right only for food, for whetting his appetite, so he could eat more human—but Sakura would not like that. She would be horrified. She would run. And she would hate him not only for looking like a demon, but for truly being one.

Underneath him now was a ruined animal carcass, a tossed and ripped pile of meat and spilled intestines. The ground was curiously sipping up its blood, and the grass all around was red. His hands were red, and the liquid dripping down his chin was red. He lapped at it, quiet, now calmed, now disheartened.

He wanted Sakura. He had always wanted Sakura. More than anything red, any wish, any other desire of his heart and mind. And he wanted her to know that. He wanted her to know that a beast was in love with her.

The day after, she did not come, and he contemplated all day whether to kill another animal to sate his frustration. He didn't.

The day after that, she came to the garden-that-was-not-a-garden waving a piece of paper up in the air, and graciously allowing the wind to touch the edges of her . "Zetsu, I have a game I want us to try! Come listen! It's all about guessing and not having an exact answer, you'll love it!"

She wanted to play? Ah.

She walked around the first tree, then the second—the one where he had planted the willow sapling for her enjoyment—and all the others, and called his name again and again. It seemed she was taunting him with that, saying something she didn't mean, couldn't mean because she didn't know what she was saying. He stayed within a fallen log near the garden and waited for her to sit down.

After a good while she did. She sat with her legs in front of her and slightly up. The skin of them showed, and he watched the play of light and shadow spilling there, like tongues, or feathers, like touches. He closed his eyes and mildly panted from his hiding place. He ached, and with a burst of will that was not always possible, he traveled through the ground till he was next to her. And when he spoke, the closeness startled her.

"I want to ask you something very important today." She put her hands on her thighs and nodded her acceptance.

"Let me kiss you."

How he prayed she would say yes—how he clenched his fists and tore at the ground around him when absolutely nothing showed on her face—and how he fought to refrain from howling with joy when: "All right. Should I close my eyes?"

Still, she showed consideration to his wish to remain unseen. "Yes. Please, don't look. Just be still for me." 'I love you ,and I want to finally touch you.'

Summer had made the garden always warm and bright, but there was no complementing breeze today. Not even the most dream-faint noise to mask his own as he rose up out of the ground. Sakura must have heard the grass being pushed aside to make room for him, or heard the soles of his feet padding softly on the grass in front of her. Perhaps she felt the slight coolness of his shadow over part of her body. She held fast to her promise and did not open her eyes. A new ache settled in his heart to know that he was denied the sight of her jade eyes, and that she did not truly know the thing that loved her so.

He lowered himself over her, settling onto his knees with her own legs neatly beneath his. So close, the scent of her, like some flower and some breeze he could not name, and never should, was slightly more powerful. He was close now, so very close, and inches away he could touch her. His hands came up and one set of fingers pushed smoothly through her hair, and there he again fought a howl of joy, of victory, for touching her and knowing she still waited for more. 'There is more, there is more, don't fret, my sun-runner, let me love you.'

Both hands held Sakura's head and one slid slightly down her neck, like a swan's little neck. He wanted to bite it, to brush his tongue on it. But not yet. His right hand pushed forward slightly and the healer's head was nudged slightly back. There, he had her; they kissed for the first time. All thought temporary blasted away under the shock of tasting her. She was a sweet nectar the likes of which he had never had before or since, but then, he ached for more of it.

Sakura's first reaction was to jerk her legs against the sides of his own thighs, but she did not shy away from his lips and did not fight him. Zetsu swept his tongue along the lips that barred him from her mouth and he separated them momentarily.

"Open your mouth, little one." He told her, but he had to repeat the command for Sakura to hear him and when she did, his own tongue pushed madly through and her hands came up to grasp at his arm. She whimpered a pleasure-sound into his mouth and he purred against her, and the sense that he was aimless and a monster and alone in this land was all gone. Now he was Zetsu who loved Sakura, who now finally had Sakura, who had had his wish granted.

When they stopped it was only for the need of air that plagued both man and beast. Sakura still kept her eyes closed. He pulled her head against his collarbone and was at last able to embrace her. She was shaky and attempted to return the action. Her hands on his bare back were like fantasy made real.

Moments later, he heard one small giggle, and the attempt to stifle it. It was giddiness, he learned, from her excited little movements and the imprint of a smile he felt on his shoulder. "Wow," she said quietly to him, and seemingly could find no further words. But he needed none. There had been no rejection. And she was touching him.

"Thank you for not moving away." He whispered into her hair. "I feared you would move away and flee."

"No," she said in vague reply, and a little later. "I didn't know you were man-shaped. For the longest time I imagined you as a giant bird. I mean, because usually I hear you up in the trees, even though you never really made any noise or rustling up there." she hurried to explain, and clenched a fist on his skin, and sighed. "My eyes are still closed by the way. I saw nothing."

Zetsu wanted to say more, to thank her endlessly for coming again and again to meet him, for daring to know him, for keeping him secret and for tolerating his shyness. Instead he kissed the edge of her temple, and gently licked the skin there. Their closeness now stirred up a very old memory he forgot many times: a female, motherly, who had held him safe many times. She told him to hide in one place and wait, and never came back for him.

She had sung him a song many times. This he sang for Sakura now, the song of Takatalvi.

Mid-July, the second week of it. Sakura brought a blindfold with her, and tied it over her eyes once she came into the garden. "Are you watching? I had an idea the other night. Keeping my eyes closed for so long can be irritating. With this, I see nothing, but I can still blink and move my eyes around if I must."

This meant that she wanted to be near him again and touch him, and continue to respect his wishes. It seemed there was an increasing frequency these days of Sakura making him giddy. He told her this was a good idea, and was hardly slow in stepping out of the tree to be near her. She turned to the sound of his steps and held out one hand, palm downward, expecting him. He came to her swiftly and curved his hand up and under hers, securing her fingers and ensuring that they would have no escape.

"I don't know why you think you're such a monster." She said. "But you aren't. You can think whatever you please, but there's nothing wrong with you." She grasped his hand harder so that he was no longer the one securing, and keeping the other from escaping.

"For you, I'm no monster. I'm only yours. And whatever else you want me to be, sun-runner."


"…Yes. It's what I called you before we first spoke." He relayed his reasoning to her, and the tilt of her head alone gave an answer to his fears: she liked the name. When he told her that her thoughts showed in her posture, she tried to pull her hand away from his and walk off, but was not allowed.

"May I once again have dominion over my hand, please?"

"No. I'm afraid it's mine now, and so is all the rest of you, my love."

Her pause was thrilling, because he could still see her thoughts in her posture: she was startled, but pleased, though perhaps did not know it yet. Conceptual answers eluded her. "My love?"

"My love. Mine."

With both hands he took hold of her arms so that she would face him. It was superficial because of the blindfold, or so it seemed at first, for Sakura was clearly hiding behind it now. His own hands crawled up her arms, making shivers for both of them, till they stopped below her shoulders. "Come here." She did, but surprised him by not waiting for his lips to come to hers, but leaning forward and kissing softly just below his lips. Having made the first move seemed to please her.

For another hour or so, she shared the food she'd brought with her and played the game of pretending he was not stealing her food while she was helpless and blinded. He was smacked twice.

On a day when Sakura was absent, he traveled to the sea. He traveled straight east till the high and rocky shore came into view, and the water darker than ash. Rising up out of the ground was difficult when the ground was terribly uneven, but he managed, and just in time to see the spectacle in the stormy sea.

There was a ship.

Zetsu's knees nearly buckled in horror. Out of nowhere, Tobi appeared and steadied his shoulders. Zetsu regarded his masked friend and tried to force up a reaction to the ship, but could not. He was far too stunned to feel surprise, or real fear, but he still knew what must be done here. The two of them jumped off the shore together, and splashed heavily into the water. Immediately they were playthings of the tide, and fought like dogs to get to the ships that so foolishly believed they could scale the shore.

"How did they find the island?" Zetsu screeched above the water.

"I don't even know!" Tobi cried back, exasperatedly waving an arm. "I was keeping watch of them and I don't know!"

"Well, it doesn't matter, does it? Get rid of them!"


They swam harder, the two of them, until they reached the massive wooden craft and could hear the frantic, angered men inside it. With a gulp of precious air, the two of them dove underneath the ship till they rocked with its barnacle-smothered underside. Tobi's eyes were glowing demon-red underneath his mask, and Zetsu began to Craft a new flytrap over his shoulders, a heavy cloister above his head. They were both prepared in seconds, and then they proceeded to destroy the underbelly of the ship.

Zetsu's flytrap opened like a living maw and bit holes in the wood so that water rushed madly in. Tobi carved his own holes, smaller, but hotter. The water bubbled and hissed where the glare of his eyes boiled it and literally burned a hole in a frame. By the time the two of them found a place to jump back up to the shore—and he had dissolved the flytrap away—the ship was gone and its crew drowning or dead. Zetsu bared his teeth at their remains as the sea ate them alive.

Tobi removed his cloak and squeezed it dry, far too comically for Zetsu's taste at present. "Tell me how this happened. Right now."

"I'm sorry." His friend said back. Tobi's honesty was genuine and not to be denied, so the yellow-eyed beast backed away. "I knew some of them were trying to find a new place to live, some really rowdy and aggressive folk. And it seems people everywhere think the sea is the pathway to paradise. I left the area just for a little, just to get some food, and they were setting sail! I swam over to get you and…and we took care of it."

"No one can ever come to this island. It is mine. It's a paradise and I won't give it up to anyone."

"'Course you won't. And now you have a mate, don't you? Or you will soon?"


The friend shrugged his shoulders. "I felt it, I guess. I can feel stuff happening sometimes. She has…funny-colored hair. And she's really smart, right?"

Tobi's abilities were numerous and very odd. Zetsu only nodded a confirmation to the guess. With Sakura now on his mind, he was frantic to flee this place and return to her, to be reassured, pointlessly, that she was fine and no one had invaded her land with plans to pillage, murder and overturn. He would find her, and do far more than kiss. Behind him he heard Tobi congratulating him, and asking her Name. Zetsu told it to him, and knew the Name would be held tightly in the masked creature's heart for many turns of the red moon. They said their goodbyes, and each sped away.

Now was not one of the days she would come into the woods, but he would find her anyway. It took less than half an hour to travel back towards the center of the island, where Konoha lay safely tucked away from all pain and blackness. Sakura was tucked away there. She would probably still be asleep now, curled up amidst a nest of blankets, when she ought to be curled amidst a nest of blankets with him, but he could wait for those days because he could not guess the point when they would start.

One villager was awake, but he meandered past him and found the cottage where Sakura lived, next door the healer's cottage where her master slept unaware. Zetsu traveled up the deadened wood frame of the home, over the walls, at last seeing the place Sakura claimed as home, and safe, and cherished, but he did not care. His arms found her, and dragged her down.

She woke as they were moving into the ground, and they entered the safety of dark earth just in time for her to not see him. Being so close to him, she now shared his form, and could move about in the earth as easily as she would walk around above it.

First, she thrashed and twisted, and nearly escaped from his hold. Feeling her nearly leave made him cry out and pull her back, and perhaps it was this that calmed her horror. His little one felt around for his face, found his neck instead, and patted him soothingly there. "Can—can you tell me what's going on? Where are we?"

"The ground," he tried to say, or started to, but he was interrupted by an overpowering need to take his beloved even closer, to curl around her and refuse to come aboveground again. This he did, and then tried to speak through his shaking, "I just sank a ship," he said wonderingly into her ear. Sakura asked what was he talking about, and he told her a secret.

"What I'm talking about is invaders, my love. As you invaded the rose garden once, but these invaders have lethal intentions and if they were allowed here, they would find your village and take everything they wanted from it and kill anyone they wanted. I sank their ship so that they could not come here. Even though they couldn't scale the shore, anyway. We are protected here, on all sides. We're safe."

Sakura asked him, "Then this land is an island? That's why we're protected on all sides?" He hummed instead of nodding, for their faces were so close already. "And that's why we've never seen other people. They can't come in if they wanted to."


"Why would they come here at all?"

"The world outside of this island is ruined and black. There are few people anymore, and they all circulate horrible rumors about what still lives. They talk about a disease that burns, the walking dead, and great towns that are nothing anymore."

"Why wouldn't you let them in?" Zetsu remained still. "If they're suffering out there, why did you sink their ship? How could you do that!"

"They wouldn't settle and be safe here, Sakura, they're not good. I've traveled beyond the sea many times and there are very few good people left who want only to settle in safety. The ones I saw tonight were not good. They would hurt you, and do whatever they wanted with you." This time, as he spoke, he felt sure that she could feel his fangs against her. "I would kill them for hurting you. They would not dare. I can't let you leave me."

His words were becoming softer and fewer, and Sakura tried to move closer and closer to him. She kissed his bare chest once, and promised not to leave. She proclaimed that she still did not know what he looked like, but she loved him too, and she didn't know how to make her village even begin to understand her relationship with him, or how it would peacefully, uninterruptedly continue forever after, and that bothered her, but she did not deny loving him.

Her words were what he had craved to hear and to know for months, many thousands of which he had lived, and now felt like many lives. He answered her with a blinding and needful kiss that pushed her down onto an unseen surface that functioned like solid ground. His answer was to find many places on her neck to love and kiss and bite as he had wanted to, to be so privileged as to feel Sakura's hands in his hair as he moved slightly lower, and bit lower, and induced pleasure-sounds from her, dragging his claws lightly on her skin and feeling hers. They remained there for a while.

The day began with an especially loud Tsunade, screeching to Sakura that Konohamaru and his parents were here for a different medicine for this throat. Sakura took this to mean that she would sit and wait with them but probably would not feel up to mixing the solution herself so early in the morning. Thankfully, she was remarkably happy today, and also did not much mind early mornings.

"I'm coming, Tsunade! Just a minute!" In moments she had new clothes on—pants today, easy for outdoor movement, and to hell with Ino saying dresses were always better—and her face washed and hair combed, and she rushed downstairs and outside to the next door house.

Konohamaru stood outside the door. Rather curiously, he was looking out toward the west woods instead of towards her house of even inside the healer's cottage. Sakura approached him and asked what was so interesting out there.

"It's Aoba or Iruka, I think. They're up super early." He pointed towards two approaching figures that Sakura knew were not Aoba or Iruka."

"Get inside. Right now." She pushed him in, thankfully to no protests. "Tsunade, look outside." The parents looked fantastically irritated at having their conversation interrupted, though the village healer was only too happy to ignore them and move towards the window. Sakura looked for some show of confusion or horror on her master's face, but Tsunade did not show either. She rose, grabbed her apprentice's arm, and dragged her outside. She was given commands to shove any villagers who were outside into the nearest cottage and have them lock the doors.

Now the figures were more visible. There were more than two of them. A half dozen at least. Sakura had never seen any of them before, and their clothes were the color of wet ash. The tallest of them carried a wooden spear tipped with metal, and it was smeared red.

Naruto was beside her now. He handed her a long wooden block. "I figure you could use that better than a sword."

"Probably. Thank you."

"They don't look friendly."

"No. They don't look like they're ready to stop moving. I don't think they'll even stop to hear negotiations."

"Fine. I never liked strangers."


"You scared?"

"Of course I am. Aren't you?"

"Oh my God, I am. Sakura, that big oaf on the left is grinning. No, they all are."

"…Get ready."

"There was blood, there was blood."

The first thing he felt was guilt, because he was beginning to tear at a carcass when he heard the first scream.

He hadn't heard anyone in Konoha scream in decades. His mind dredged up only one reason why it could happen now, and it made him drop meat from his mouth and slip into the ground faster than a lightning strike, and travel. The distance he traveled was only a few miles, nothing compared to distances he had gone in earlier times, but the screams continued and he heard them even underground. Their sounds came and he was forced to take them in, and in seconds he was also taking in heat.

Zetsu came up halfway out of the ground, leaning slightly forward, balancing on a hand, and he saw fire. It was one of the village homes, and a man stood before it, one he had never observed in the village before. He was forcefully holding a woman he knew from many descriptions was named Hinata. The man was holding her weak body up, and pushing her with absurd force towards the burning door. She would burn, too, scream, die. He could save her, and he did.

He traveled through the ground a little bit more, till he was directly under the strange and burly man. Zetsu reached up out of the ground, pulled on the man's feet, and dragged him some two to three feet into the dirt. And there he left him.

'The invaders. How could they climb up the shore? How?' There was no answer for him, and no time left to think of it. Another fire was starting four buildings down, this time with an accompanying voice.

"Bring! Your! Food! Bring everything and I won't cut your damned children's throats!"

Zetsu drifted behind the man, and then rose up. He was not afraid right now. He grasped the man's sleeve from behind, and relished in the dread that appeared almost instantly there on his face, like he was a nightmare come alive. And wasn't he? Zetsu showed his fangs, and then suddenly was on the ground and his head buzzed so that he was unable to hear.

"Jesus Christ, man. Hit it again! Kill it!" Someone did hit him again, and it hurt.

He reached for the offender's ankle, and lurched forward to sink his teeth in. Somewhere in between that and three more screams, the two men ran away, and his hearing and balance returned. It seemed that although he had never appeared before people before, and now he was aboveground where they were running around screaming, this didn't matter all that much because his head hurt quite a lot, and perhaps his hearing hadn't fully returned after all.

A child ran past him without saying anything. Rude. A woman was on the ground. Dead. And not far in front of him, another young woman, running with a reddened piece of wood in her hand. Something on her person was pink, and all of Zetsu's jumbled senses came together again upon seeing Sakura, his driving force now. His jumbles senses turned to ice when a metal stick came from behind and pierced her thigh. She fell forward and would not move.

'Nonono—' He ran forward, ran, like the sun-runner, and saw a man coming from the side with another metal stick in hand. He would impale her. 'NONONO'

The man walked still, daring to harm his love, handing his life away. Zetsu howled, roared, pulled the man's attention towards himself. When he had it, he grasped the man's entire head in his hands and heaved. The force cracks joints and sent the man flying the length of a small tree, and he landed with a sound like a hunk of meat dropping. By the angle of Sakura's head, she had seen him land there. If she stayed at that angle, she wouldn't see him when he came up behind her.

This he did, and she cringed. "It's me. It's me." He told her, and stole away a fraction of a second to hold her head. The next—"Stay still, I'll help you,"—he murmured his lullaby to her again, and nudged two of his fingers into her mouth. She reacted negatively at first, reasonably with confusion. He sang into her ear, soothing and quieting, and then ripped the metal stick out of her. She screamed like breaking glass, and punctured the black skin of his fingers with the force of her pain.

"Behind you, Sakura!" A child had warned them of that which he was too crazed to realize jus then; Zetsu turned around and kicked out at the legs of the man who had nearly bashed their heads into blood smears with a club.

He was scared, very bloody. Zetsu noticed his blood right away. It shone and was remarkably dark. "The fuck are you?" The man said to him in a mockery of real language. Was Sakura looking now? Was her first look at him a bloodied one backed by a violent attacker? "I said what the fuck are you! Or can't you talk, you mutant little monster?"

Monster. It hadn't occurred to him in a good while that no matter how Sakura might feel about him, he was a monster still, and he had monster desires. He paced towards this intruder, too quickly for him to react, and grabbed his free hand. He grabbed it, pulled the entire hand forward and shut his jaws on it.

"Aaaaugh! Let go let go AAGGH—"

He remembered humans had made such noises the last time he had bitten off parts of them, eaten them. Loud, strange, clever humans. But he was better than them now. He had a complete life, and knowing that seemed to make the man's hand go down his throat more easily. Now a red stump looked back at him with two white dots of bone. He wished to lick these, but the man pulled away and fell backwards, and the shock of his loss made him wither away in seconds. A blonde boy came by and stabbed him through with a sword just in case.

The sound of the fire was gone now, though he could smell its smoke billowing up and dirtying things. He could hear the soft cries of villagers and their footsteps walking through some amount of wreckage. He could guess without needing to that some amount of eyes were on him, some fingers were pointing, though he could not for the life of him guess why his being revealed was not mortifying, life-changing. Where was that sensation, that horror? It was all gone, and that was curious.

"Zetsu. Look at me."

His drifting mind came back onto course with her command, and he let her look at him, and now, he was mortified. Sakura could see the impossible half-coloring of his skin, head to toe. She must be seeing his eyes and how they lacked pupils, a feature even animals could boast. She must see his hair the color of grass, and perhaps wondered if it was grass. She must see all of him and wonder at herself for claiming to love a creature like this.

"Why didn't you tell me you looked like this?"

Mortifying was not the proper word for that. Some section of himself was already closing off to refuse to feel that pain of rejection, as villagers whispered and were completely dumbfounded. Rejection, after everything. He would truly have nothing.

"Will you talk to me! What's wrong with you, you looked horrible! Do you think I'm rejecting you?"


"I'm not, idiot! Help me up!"

Simple words were sweet. He did this, and was able to see into her eyes, up close for the first time in all the time he had known her. He saw jade eyes and could not look away from them, or be bothered by anything outside them. But for Sakura's hand. She was pushing on his shoulder, to turn him, so he would be able to face the folk coming towards them. Her master Tsunade, a young boy, and a woman who surely was Sakura's mother. Sakura stepped forward and attempted to hold the situation together. That she would try now amused him.

"This…is…is Zetsu. He's, um, from the woods around here—and I love him. I won't let you harm him or banish him."

Tsunade's face was completely blank, and frightening. Sakura's mother came forward instead. "I saw you save my daughter. I saw you pull the steel rod from her leg, and hold her."

"Of course I did." He told the mother. "I heard screams from far away. She could have been hurt here."

"And you love my daughter, Zetsu from the woods?"

"I don't have a life without her." He said. "She has come to see me in the forest for many months now, constantly tolerating me refusing to show my face to her. Today is the first time she's seen me."

The healer scoffed from the side. "Seriously? First time and you loved her before this?"

"I do." Now the healer was quiet. "She's mine now, and whatever arrangement you want to make of us after this, that will not change." The boy standing behind them stared.

"I don't plan to change anything." The mother said. There was a hint of laughter in her voice he found pleasantly familiar. "I saw your feelings displayed just now. They'll certainly remain. But we may have some talking to do after we clean up this mess. Would you like to help, Zetsu?"

"There will be no more men attacking you." He swore. "I thought I had made sure before. This was my mistake and I can't apologize to you enough. I'll leave now, to make sure there are none left. Then yes, I will help you fix your ruined homes."

The boy appeared in front of the two women. Sakura gasped and called him Konohamaru, but he paid her no mind. He stared upward at Zetsu, mouth parted. "Zetsu from the woods, are you a demon or something?"

How cute. "Or something."

"Come back soon?" Sakura murmured beside him. He promised he would, and touched her hair. The mother, and two nearby men watched and their heads seemed to spin. But that was not enough. He pointed down at the ground, and waited for a long, green stem to rise up. He heard exclamation from villagers and someone dropping something, but they mattered little now. He finished Crafting one rose, and plucked it, and gave it to her.

"I will come to you this time."

Did anything seem rushed to you? Probably some parts. And that's probably because I wrote this in under two days. Really. I'm posting it at 1:45 AM, and I have a biology test at 9:00 DX

I worked like mad to get it finished by ShelbySabaku's deadline and the truth is I'm almost two hours late. I can only pray she'll still accept my entry. Also, are there some things you didn't understand, because I didn't explain, because I was rushing? Well here they are!

Wtf is Craft: some kind of magic that demons/mythical beasts/whatever like Zetsu are born with. One of their lovely amenities besides long life (which somehow I promise you by the AuthorPowers vested in me, that Sakura will somehow obtain so her and her plantman can live a long, long time together :I ) Wtf is wrong with the land outside Konoha's Island: Well, in my original idea, Zetsu would let slip to Sakura that her island was the only life-filled paradise left, since the entire world had gone through a zombie apocalypse. Really. I can't say why I stuck that idea in there since most zombie stories scare the living heck out of me, but that may have happened here, too, along with some other world-ending disasters you can fill in yourselves.

I also wanted Zetsu to mention how old he is, just because I love having an "old" mythical creature in a relationship with a "normal age" girl. (Oh please, fangirls, mine are not the craziest ideas). And I wanted Tobi to visit Sakura and be like "Zetsu is SHY around you? Seriously! OMG he's never shy!" AAAAAAAND there was supposed to be a lime scene. But I ran out of time...quite a while ago. So no lime :c (Although it kiiinda hints at a lemon after Zetsu and Tobi sink the invader ship. Or does it? You decide.)

Whoo! This was an ordeal. Wish me and my scraggly story luck in the contest!