|The Ninth Night
Author: lastyearsthing PM
Sakura has been assigned the worst possible duty a medic can be given. Itasaku one shot.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Itachi U. & Sakura H. - Words: 6,206 - Reviews: 66 - Favs: 198 - Follows: 34 - Published: 06-26-11 - id: 7119810
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This is a story I wrote years ago. It is a very simple, quick itasku that I wrote for some friends. It does not follow the manga and actually couldn't happen now. There are spoilers for the manga. It is what it is, I suppose. I don't own Naruto, nor do I profit from this. As usual, reviews are not necessary. It is unbeta'd and all mistakes are mine. I will not be changing it once it's posted. Thanks for reading.
Title: The Ninth Night
Each step in the stone hallway sounded loud among the silence of the residents. Her heavy breaths were lost in the expansive underground prison, and Sakura took shallow intakes of air so that the damp, cloying scent didn't sit in her throat. She never felt she could get enough oxygen in her lungs in that place.
Nothing but him could get her to return day after day. Her fingers ran lightly over the chakra-infused metal bars that surrounded his large cell. Trembling noticeably, she stood at the doorway and stared in at the bruised and bloodied man lying on a tatami mat in the centre.
Her throat tightened.
For six days, she'd had to come to the dark, cold cell he was a captive of and healed the broken flesh and torn skin of his weakened body. Interrogation was usually messy, but never in her young career as a medic had she been asked to perform re-healing from torture. It left a bad taste in her mouth.
A hunter-nin wandered down the hall behind her, and opened up the barred doorway to the cell. Sakura nodded tensely at the blank mask, entered the cell, and then jumped slightly as the door clanged shut behind her. The scrape of the key turning seemed so final, making her hair stand on end.
Carrying a medical kit, she moved to where the man lay splayed on the mat, his hand curled into his bare chest and his long black hair fanned out behind his head. Blood marred his face and was wet and thick among the hair at his temple. The black loose pants he wore were ripped in two places.
"Itachi…" Sakura said softly.
The man's swelled eye cracked momentarily, but it slid closed again shortly after.
Sakura's skin tingled in empathy as she surveyed his injuries. He was bloodier this time. Bruises were dotted liberally on his bare back and it looked as though his eye socket was broken.
The young medic reminded herself that he wasn't worth feeling sorry for, and stood back up to get a basin of warm water and a towel from the metal tray hooked on the wall next to the small sink. It was her duty to remain clinical - cold.
When she returned, he hadn't moved a muscle.
Dipping the washcloth into the water, she began at his face, wiping away the layers of blood from his eyes and mouth. When she ran over a particularly deep cut, he grunted softly.
The sound gave her a physical reaction.
"I'm sorry," she breathed out, then bit her lip remembering that she wasn't supposed to show sympathy - wasn't even supposed to speak to him.
But in response to her soft apology, his good eye opened again and he looked at her with some intention. "Thank you," he whispered, and then closed it again.
Sakura's hands paused for a second. They hovered awkwardly. It wasn't supposed to feel like this, was it?
Drawing chakra, she worked at stitching the cuts as well as loosening and draining the purple stains of blood to relieve the pressure of the bruises. Delving deeper, she mended a rib and felt tired after piecing the shattered fragments around his eye socket to an almost perfect shape.
After half an hour of work, she sat back on her heels and wiped at her forehead.
Itachi shuffled slightly, his legs beginning to move, his eyes opening, then squeezing shut again. He hissed quietly and tried to force himself up.
Without really thinking about it, Sakura slid a hand around his arm and the other around his back to aid him in his effort. His stomach seemed to hitch once, and his adam's apple jerked, so she slid the basin under him just in time to see him vomit into it. Blood fell heavily into the already bloody water, splashing a little over the sides.
"Shit," she mumbled, holding a hand to his stomach and another across his forehead, helping to support the weak man as he wretched again. She tightened him against her body as his strained.
Itachi's hands attempted to grip at the floor as he teetered over the basin. Finally he breathed slowly for a moment or two as it appeared to subside, and then he lifted the back of a hand to his mouth to wipe some blood away.
"Lie down," Sakura directed in whispers, trying to coax him over to his mat.
"I'll sit," he responded evenly.
His voice was deeper than Sasuke's, smoother if possible. But his dark eyes were so much more beautiful - almost a woman's shape with enviable long dark eyelashes. Anyone would like the look of him, so perfectly made with a long, slender frame and gorgeous black hair. The cut of his muscles showed a lifetime of working them to perfection, even though his real power consisted of never having to lift a finger.
"I need to check your ribs again. I might have missed something."
Itachi composed himself, reaching for the cloth she'd cleaned him with so he could wipe his face.
"Don't… Let me get some clean water," she uttered, pulling the blood-filled basin up and moving swiftly to the sink. There she cleaned the bowl out and rinsed the cloth thoroughly. The rush of the water from the groaning tap seemed loud in the bleak dungeon. When she returned, he was sitting cross-legged, almost as if meditating. His lovely eyes were closed.
"Are you all right?" she asked, kneeling down beside him.
"Does that truly matter?" he said weakly, keeping his eyes closed.
Sakura had to look away from him as his question recalled of so many ethical debates she had with herself. Did it matter if he was in pain? Did it matter that he would be torn up tomorrow and she'd just return to fix him again? Which part of his life was more painful at the moment?
He'd never said anything cruel to her, never tried to hurt her when she healed him. He'd been compliant and quiet – everything she had never expected. But he was a killer…
"Because of what I am, I admit that it does matter," she whispered, fighting the conflicting emotions of hate and confusion and sadness. He didn't seem so much like the devil everyone had portrayed him to be over the years. Sometimes she could see remorse in his eyes even though Sasuke had said the emotion couldn't exist in such a man.
Itachi's eyes opened and he looked at Sakura as if observing something interesting. He'd managed to bring up the mental mask he would wear most times that someone was with him. Sakura wondered so much what was underneath – as he'd sometimes given her a glimpse of raw humanity once or twice in those first moments she came to heal him.
"I'm going to check your ribs again," she warned, reaching a hand to his side and pressing gently. Chakra flowed from her fingers to delve into his side, crawling over each long, curved bone it inspected.
"It's here," he grunted softly, his mouth twisting a little as he gritted his teeth.
Itachi's long fingers closed around Sakura's hand, and he led it to his other side, making her stretch across his front.
Nervous tingles rippled along her skin where he touched her, and finding herself stretched over him so closely, she could feel his breath on her cheek. It was a mental fight not to pull away in reaction. His fingers were cold.
She shuffled slowly until she was in front of him, the tatami mat hard under her knees. And for the sake of progress, she tried hard not to telegraph her discomfort. "I see it," she relayed, closing her eyes and pushing her chakra inside his body. A small fragment of bone had penetrated his lung. She'd missed it on her first sweep of his body.
Itachi grunted again as she extracted it and fixed the tear.
When she finally sat back up, it became obvious that he breathed more freely. Then remembering the basin, she squeezed out some warm water from the cloth and lifted it to his mouth.
"Thank you," he said. "You break your own rules today by speaking with me."
Gingerly, her shaking fingers moved down to wipe at the blood on his shoulder, watching her own ministrations instead of meeting his eyes. "I can't heal you if we don't speak."
"I know that isn't true. But as you said, you have sympathy because you're a medic. You have sympathy because you aren't sure about me. It is a common problem among your profession." Itachi spoke as if making a clinical observation.
"You've never done anything to me that would make me bring any cruelty on you. My job is to ensure you are ready for…that you're…"
"It's distasteful to you. So why do you come and heal me day after day?" Itachi lifted his eyebrows just a little, mild curiosity on his face. It was a rare occasion when she'd seen anything but blank evenness or pain there.
"I was ordered to," she replied, her tired fingers wringing out the cloth again.
Itachi closed his eyes. "I don't believe you could be ordered to do anything."
"Don't you dare profess to know anything about me." Sakura felt some indignation rise in her for reasons she couldn't explain.
"I could say the same thing," he countered coolly.
"That's-you're…" she stammered, taken aback.
"You heal me because it's your duty to aid in my interrogation, but you heal me for other reasons too. And you hate yourself for feeling sorry for me."
"How would you know what I think?" she hissed, seething. In a huff, she got up and walked to the door. "Guard!"
Itachi's voice caught her as she waited at the bars. "Because another medic would not have been so thorough."
The guard returned and opened the door with the brass key. She shot Itachi a glance as she hurried along the bars to stomp back down the hallway. His eyes were closed again.
She clenched her fists, more angry with herself than him for her situation.
Had she really been so obvious?
On the seventh day she healed him, he was just being brought back to his cell by two masked ANBU. They laid him on his back, more gently than Sakura would have imagined they would bother, and one strayed behind for just a minute.
The man must not have known that Sakura stood at the bars and watched them because if he did, he would not have said what he'd said.
"I'm so sorry, Itachi-sama," was whispered secretively.
As he walked out, he'd flipped up his mask and rubbed his face. Sakura was shocked at how grave and upset he looked. His light eyes met hers and she looked away in some to give him privacy with his feelings. His conflict was not foreign to her.
Then it was her turn and she wandered in, pulling the door closed. After a moment, the guard returned and the scrape of the key in the lock gave her shivers.
This time, the Uchiha prodigy was groaning softly, a hand clamped tightly to his forehead, the other over his eyes. Sakura wrapped a trembling hand over his and pulled it away to find a bruise that concerned her more than any other injury she'd seen on his body since he was found half-dead two weeks ago.
"Lie still, Itachi-san. This will hurt, but it will be over in a moment," she told him, and the sympathy in her voice was all too blatant.
Sliding her hands to each side of his temples, she leaned over and thrust her chakra into his skull. She found three places that his brain bled and two breaks in the hard bone of his skull. "Oh God," she whimpered, fighting the tears. The cruelty of it was getting to her.
Itachi's free hand reached out and twisted into her shirt as he breathed through the pain. His touch frightened her, but she didn't stop. After only a few minutes, she'd managed to stop the bleeding and mend some of the marred areas that would be causing him the most anguish.
When he opened his eyes and relaxed his jaw, she knew she'd found the source of his pain and fixed it.
Quickly, his hand slid away from her shirt and he looked at the crumpled material at her stomach. "I apologize…" he whispered.
"It's all right," she said consolingly, using the back of her hand to wipe at a tear that had broken through her façade.
A little more easily than last time, Itachi twisted his body to sit up. He sat back and bent his knees, draping his arms over them and bowing his head.
"I'd like a different medic," he said evenly.
Sakura's brow creased. "W-why?"
Itachi's dark eyes caught hers and she could see a small hint of sadness there. "For my own reasons."
"Have I done something wrong to you?" she whispered, leaning closer and displaying her confusion readily with a twisted frown and creased brow.
"Not at all. Perhaps that's the problem," he spoke to the wall. "Your conflict is too obvious. This is not the job for you."
"Why would you care about that?"
"It conflicts me too. The only moments I look forward to are the ones when you enter this cell."
Sakura bit her lip, her eyes warm.
"Please submit a request for another medic…a man this time," he relayed quietly, focusing at the gray stone wall on the other side of the room.
For more than a minute, Sakura sat and stared at him.
She wasn't supposed to care or want to help him. Her directive was to stay clinical and cold. Had Ibiki not asked her if she could handle it? Had Ibiki not assumed that because she lived so much for Sasuke and Naruto, that she would be able to maintain her hatred of Uchiha Itachi?
"If you wish it…" she whispered, pushing herself up and grabbing her medical bag.
She looked at him once before leaving and he still did not turn to look at her. And when the grind of the key in the lock was heard again, she was nearly sobbing.
On the eighth day, Sakura stood in the archives of Hokage tower, pouring over sealed records from that fateful day in Uchiha history years ago. Twice something had caught her eye that made things seem strange to her about the massacre.
Up until that day, Uchiha Itachi had maintained an exemplary record of patriotism and protection of his fellow ANBU. His performance reports were perfection and his commanding officers and superiors predicted that he would be among the top ninja that Konoha had ever seen. Even Kakashi had once given him a glowing review of his loyalties…
As she stood among the stacks, her tired eyes reading the numbers on the boxes and covers of the volumes, she suddenly could hear voices.
It didn't surprise her that important people might duck into the large room full of records as getting in there wasn't easy, making it a very secluded place. Typically, only the Hokage and the highest ranked shinobi could get in. Because she had fibbed about needing something for Tsunade, she was able to secret herself inside. Now it frightened her that two male voices spoke near the other side. They would have her head if they knew she was there.
Sakura stood as still as possible, praying they didn't notice the book she had left on the table. Their words sent icy daggers through her spine.
"He holds up remarkably well. We need to persuade Ibiki to finish him off."
"It's the Hokage's apprentice. She's too good a healer. We need to put a different medic in with him."
"In his next syringe of chakra suppressing agent, I could put a small amount of poison. It's very easy to concoct something that is virtually untraceable. Only the Hokage could figure it out, and she won't be anywhere near him. It can look like he died of his injuries."
"He was a committed member of our ANBU. There was none better. I hate to finish him like this, but to protect everything we've built and the elder's reputations, I suppose it's necessary. It wouldn't be good if he broke and confessed the truth. I would have to have our ranks question out motives or lose their loyalties."
"His shot is due in an hour. I'll prepare it now. The medic won't go see him until after his interrogation. If I make it a slow poison, she'll be gone before she suspects. We could even blame his death on her lack of ability."
"Tsunade won't believe that…"
"It doesn't matter. He'll be dead."
"Hm. At least make it something that isn't painful. He's held up without telling Ibiki anything. We should reward him for that."
As Sakura trembled there, tears falling silently to the tile floor at her feet, she understood that darker things had gone on in Konoha long before she'd ever heard the name Uchiha Itachi. Their conversation pointed to so many lies and so much secrecy, but one thing was for sure - he was not the man she thought.
Still the eighth day, Sakura stood at the door of Itachi's cell. His hand was splayed on his bare chest and his eyes opened weakly to look at her. She could see the objection in his face, but he didn't speak. Instead he closed his eyes to block her out.
When the screech of the key locking her in was heard, and the guard's footsteps disappeared down the hallway, Sakura hurried over and wrenched her bag open.
"Did you get your shot today?" she hissed quickly, trying hard to focus on the task at hand and ignore his injuries for the moment.
Itachi's dark eyes opened to look at her.
"Damn it," she growled, impatiently sliding her hands down his arms and looking for a fresh needle hole. A tiny bruise around a pin-prick mark made her clench her jaw. Immediately she drew chakra and delved into the area around it, tracing the poison and trying to extract some. It wasn't hard to find in his blood, but as she dropped it into a sterile petrie dish, she became wary of it's composition. What if she couldn't find the anti-toxin?
Without another word, she cradled it into her bag, got up, and returned to the door to hail the guard. There was just no time to waste.
Itachi had sat up and looked at her with his tired eyes. Leaving him like that was ripping her apart.
But saving his life was more important than anything at the moment so she said nothing and turned away.
The warm afternoon of the eighth day was perfect – the sort with calm breezes and light sunshine that made her want to curl up in the soft grass at the stream and nap. But there in the bland, sterile laboratory that she had to herself, Sakura rubbed at her strained eyes.
She stared at the microscope and tried to think of all the toxins and poisons that she'd learned about over the years in Tsunade's capable hands. Luckily, this one was familiar, but the antidote was evading her tired mind for the moment. It was only a matter of time before she would have it.
As she sat there, Sakura glanced at the fridge with the glass door, catching sight of the clear syringes lined up like deadly soldiers in the metal stand. They were filled with the chakra suppression agent made just for Itachi.
She sighed heavily.
What could she do about the things that were happening?
Konoha had deemed him their worst criminal, but the hollow pit in her chest told her that her world was not what she had always thought it was. Duty and betrayal were mixed together and nothing was cut and dry. Who had done their duty, and who had been the betrayers? And what tragic, damaging thing was asked of him back when he was a loyal Leaf shinobi?
Taking a deep jagged breath, Sakura leaned back over the microscope. The chemical composition was getting cleared, but she found her focus drawing her back to the storage fridge.
It really was easy, if she thought about it. Yes, all their lives were difficult and full of twisted logic. Did they know if what they did really was the right thing? Those men whispering in the stacks were teetering on the fine line of right and wrong.
But Haruno Sakura wasn't.
She knew who she was and how the world worked for her.
Looking back into the microscope, her next move became crystal clear.
During the late night of the eighth day, Sakura returned to the prison, to the dismay and annoyance of the guard. She'd grouchily mumbled something about Tsunade wanting a full physical report on the sharingan and that she needed to have it done by morning. The sleepy nin could find no excuse to stop her.
Begrudgingly, he let her into Itachi's cell and locked the door behind her, his steps dragging as he wandered back to his perch just outside another door. She imagined that if she lingered long enough, eventually the guard would sleep.
Itachi was lying on the tatami mat comfortably, but still holding his chest. His breathing sounded strained and he wheezed with each one. Smart of him not to move too much so as to keep his heartbeat slow, she thought.
She rushed beside him and dropped her bag. Fumbling around inside, she found the capped syringe she'd prepared and pulled it out. But when she slid her fingers along his arm in preparation, he grabbed her hand.
His dark eyes locked with hers. "Don't stop it. It's not painful."
"No," she hissed, tugging her hand out of his and clamping back down on his arm.
"It will be over by morning. It's my duty – my last as a Leaf," he whispered. "Let me have this."
Sakura drew chakra and slid a leg over his stomach to straddle him, using all her force to hold him still with one hand. He was weak from the injuries she hadn't healed earlier, and the poison was taking a lot out of him. Any resistance he could possibly give would wear him out.
"Sakura," he breathed. "It will only happen again tomorrow. Just let it go."
"I will not!" she growled, tightening her legs on his side and yanking the syringe cap off with her teeth. She bit down on the plastic so hard, it snapped before she spit it to the floor.
"Stubborn woman," he spat weakly and laid his head back, giving up.
Sakura injected him quickly and then dropped the syringe to the floor. He lay unmoving below her, and she stretched forward, snapping her hands on either side of his shoulders to stare down into his uncaring face. His dark hair surrounded his head, and his eyes finally turned to look up her, not quite as angrily as she imagined he wanted to.
"Tell me the truth. Were you ordered to kill the Uchiha?"
Itachi turned his head away and looked at the wall again.
"You killed everyone you loved… All this time you let him think you did that for nothing. And you would die with that secret." She felt the tears again and couldn't stop them. One fell onto his cheek and his dark eyes shifted slowly to look back at her.
"I won't let you die," she whimpered, finally sitting up and pressing her shaking hand to her eyes.
"You have no choice. It is not in your hands," he said quietly, pulling himself up to sit as well. Air drifted more easily into his lungs and he took deep breaths.
"There's always a choice," she breathed out, uncovering her eyes to find them face-to-face as she remained straddling his legs.
"Not for shinobi, Sakura. You're too naïve." He touched her face with his cool fingertips, tracing over a track of a tear. "…I wondered if you'd come back. I requested a different medic."
"I never put a request in," she sniffed.
"You shouldn't have come back here," he added softly. "They'll just give me something different tomorrow. You can't do this forever. Once they see I'm not dead in the morning, you'll be taken off this assignment."
"I have a little pull around here. Things won't happen that easily."
"Wait and see," Itachi intimated tenderly. "I'd really like you to leave now," he added, staring at a spot on her throat.
"I want to stay with for a little while," she said softly, sadly.
"I'd like you to stay also, and that's why I need you to go. It'll be harder to die if I have something I'd like to live for."
On the morning of the ninth day, Tsunade pulled Sakura into her office. When the young medic entered, she was shocked to find Ibiki hovering there as well.
Tsunade stared at the kunoichi's tired looking eyes, red from crying, half closed from lack of sleep. It made the Hokage visibly cringe. "I'm so sorry, Sakura. I understand that healing the prisoner has taken a toll on you."
Her green eyes went from Ibiki to Tsunade in panic. "No, Shishou. Not at all…no…"
"The guard said you'd left crying and also that you'd visited him last night for a report I asked you to do?" Tsunade crossed her arms.
"Stockholm syndrome," Ibiki said clinically. "She's empathizing with him too much. He's very manipulative, you know. It's not her fault."
"You're done in there, Sakura," Tsunade said with finality. "He's being executed tomorrow anyway. He has given us nothing on Akatsuki so there is no point to keeping him alive anymore."
"But Shishou! He was ordered to kill his clan. There are shinobi in this village who know the truth," Sakura pleaded, feeling the frustration leaping up like a wild animal.
"See. He's convinced her that he could be innocent," Ibiki mumbled, glancing at Tsunade whose eyebrows had stitched empathetically toward her student.
"I'm sorry, but you're done with that. And I won't have you be allowed to do it again for anyone else," Tsunade said heavily, glancing at the interrogation officer to ensure he understood as well. "You need to see the psychologist. Make an appointment on my order."
"I was in the stacks yesterday…" she began, but Tsunade put a hand up to stop her.
Ibiki shuffled forward and said, "Go get some rest. You look worn out. Forget the name Uchiha Itachi and forget that the cold bastard ever came into your life."
Sakura felt lost.
On the ninth night, Itachi sat on the tatami mat that had been his bed for his confinement and thought about all the days of his life. Sasuke was alive, and if he had one purpose to his existence, it was that. His precious brother would be all right, he believed, and it gave him comfort in the face of his death.
His years with Akatsuki were hard and painful, causing so much death and pain to other people to keep his cover. Informing on them to Jiraiya hadn't always been possible when it was needed and often he would be questioned about his loyalties. He had few regrets though, because his life and purpose had all served the greater good and saved the lives of his countrymen in the end. Although, his last remaining pain was that he deeply missed his mother and the old days when he had a family to be part of.
The young medic had reminded him that people like them could be good, even when he was losing faith in all of it. She made him remember that he was good once upon a time even though during the last few years that line had seemed so blurred in his failing eyes sometimes.
Loud voices came from down the hall, and then abruptly stopped, pulling him from his reverie. He assumed they would be bringing him his last meal along with the toothbrush he'd requested, and perhaps someone was objecting to that last little thing.
He could understand their hatred. He knew he had to bear it.
Itachi slowly pushed himself up, his side aching from the pain that the new male medic he was assigned had not bothered to heal. He turned in time to see Sakura pushing open the door to his cell and then closing it behind her as usual. She donned a black Konoha uniform shirt instead of the red shirt she normally wore.
He closed his eyes. "Why…?"
"I had to come," she said gently.
"I wish you hadn't. I was resigned to tomorrow." His dark eyes opened and took in the sight of her red eyes and the down turned corners of her mouth. "I'll wish to live now," he whispered.
"I want you to wish that," she whispered back, handing him the small parcel of things he'd requested.
"I heard an argument. I know you were banned from seeing me and yet you came."
Sakura managed to smile softly. "Nothing could have kept me from coming."
"And the chakra suppression they gave me this morning?"
"Harmless saline." She shrugged a little, but it felt awkward instead of aloof.
"You put yourself in so much danger by doing these things for me, Sakura," he said quietly, opening the small bag and pulling out the toothbrush. He wandered to the sink and uncapped the toothpaste, brushing his teeth and feeling like a year of grime was coming off them. He dipped his washcloth into the sink and pulled the sandalwood soap out of the bag to lift it to his nose and breathe it in. He thought of his father.
"Your chakra must be free now. I want you to leave," she said quietly as he cleaned his face.
"It is not possible. I don't want to be hunted down anymore. I'm tired. I want to rest." Itachi spun slowly, feeling the cool of the room on his damp skin and his eyes widened.
With slow ease, Sakura began sliding the black shirt from her body, inching it over her shoulders and head before holding it out to him. A red tank-top was all that was left on her perfect frame.
"What are you doing?"
"Just a little longer….please. I promise you will rest soon, but not like this. Take the shirt."
"It doesn't suit me anymore. You know that."
Sakura finally strayed forward, the shirt still held out in her trembling hand. When she was standing before him, she pressed the crumpled material against his side, and put her other hand on his firm hip. "I think there is no one that it suits more."
If she had never been assigned to healing him, if she had never had the ability to cure him, fix his chakra, fix his eyes and mend him day after day, he would have died happily. But her green eyes stared into his, pleading for him to choose a life he hated so that he could be alive for her.
He wanted to be alive for her.
Gently, he ran his fingers down her cheek and she blinked some tears from her eyes. Slowly easing forward, he pressed his mouth to hers, reminded of the warmth of another person and what it was like to experience passion and emotion – a feeling he'd forgotten so long ago.
Sakura's hands tightened on him and so he swept his arms around her and kissed her harder, wishing he never had to stop. He kissed her all the times he'd wanted to kiss her when she come into that cell and saved him day after day. And he kissed her for all the times that he wouldn't be able to now.
But the feel of something cold touched his side when she spread her hand out and, startled, he pulled back a little. "What is…?" He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and lifted her hand away to see what she had done.
A rusty, heavy metal key sat in her open fingers.
"Give me a little time, and we'll both be free," she whispered.
Itachi creased his brow.
"Please…" She thrust the key into his hand, "Trust me."
"Stockholm syndrome, huh?" Kakashi mumbled from his windowsill perch in Tsunade's office on the morning of the tenth day.
"That's what Ibiki says," the Hokage grumbled. "Why else would she release someone like that?"
Sakura's nervous glances flew back and forth between both her former teachers. Her hands tightened on the arms of the chair she sat straight up in, and she worried her bottom lip a little.
"And what would you say to that, Sakura?" Kakashi asked, looking nonchalant and a little bored as usual.
"I'd say that it's crap."
"Oh? How so?" Tsunade shot back from where she paced near her desk, her head snapping in the girl's direction.
"That man never said a word to me about what he'd done. He wanted me to just let him die when they poisoned him. Felt it was his last duty as a Leaf shinobi," she scoffed. "Have you ever expected me to die as a duty, Sensei?" she asked Kakashi.
"Sakura. I think you can't compare yourself to someone like…"
"And furthermore, as I was trying to say the other day, I overheard some shinobi talking about wanting to kill him so he didn't disrupt what they'd built by talking to Ibiki. He was ordered to do it. Believe me or not, but I believe it. Maybe I'm the only one, but I can't let a man die because he was doing what he was trained and raised to do, which was serve this village," she snapped out, finding her anger overcoming the fear of losing everything she'd worked for as a ninja.
"And what will Sasuke think?" Tsunade mumbled.
"Who gives a shit! He's not here. He doesn't understand. When his ass gets back here and Itachi is cleared, then they can talk about it."
Kakashi bowed his head and chuckled. Sakura's lack of ability to see things from any side but her own always amused him. But her intelligence continually impressed him as well and so he believed her determination not to be the result of some grand manipulation.
Tsunade looked over at him and raised her eyebrows. "Something funny?"
"Ah," he sighed. "I was expecting to do some good reading with my next few days off but I suppose I won't have time after starting an investigation into her story."
Tsunade's tense shoulders drooped in defeat and she deflated mentally. "Better get to it then. Why couldn't this happen when you were Hokage," she shot back at Kakashi.
Sakura smiled then, wide and bursting with happiness. Finally, finally, someone had listened.
As she'd watched Itachi sweep out of the door and onto a rooftop the night before, she stared up at his perfect silhouette and how right he looked in the Leaf shirt with his long hair tied back. In her heart she knew it was the right thing to do.
"What are you smiling at?" Tsunade asked.
Sakura thought a little about the long, slow, passionate kisses he'd given her. "Kakashi is a brilliant investigator," she said happily.
One day, in the near future, he would undoubtedly come back…
…and live for her.