Summary: Sakura wasn't thinking about what would happen in-between finding the rebels and taking Konoha back from Danzou. She didn't realize five months was plenty of time to develop conflicting feelings. ItaSakuSasu *non-Massacre AU of a sort
A/N: Welcome to another edition of "Ri had a dream and decided to adapt it into a fanfiction that goes above and beyond what was included in the original 8.5 hour sleep experience!"
I was going to sit on this one for a little while longer, but decided to upload the first chapter in celebration of finishing my first year of grad school. Yay! There are about 3.5 more chapters written, but don't let that stop you from constructive crit or proposing suggestions about where you think the story should go.
Warning: My interpretation of non-massacre Itachi is a nice guy. If your tastes run towards manipulative asshole Heathcliff vampire Itachi I would suggest you direct your attention elsewhere.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, just a very insistent subconscious.
Sakura took a brief moment to wipe her forehead off with her left hand. The cut was minor, but she worried about the blood interfering with her vision. Growling softly under her breath she raised a fist, chakra coiling beneath her skin and ready to shield her knuckles from another super-powered punch. The nukenin before her smirked as if scenting weakness.
Life as a nukenin was a miserable, backbreaking and backstabbing existence. In the past months she'd been viciously disabused of any notions she may have harbored about it being glamorous to go rogue.
There was nothing pleasant or enjoyable about huddling alone in the elements, so paranoid about possible attacks that she managed barely more than a few hours of fitful sleep a night. She went days without social interaction, distrustful of the few people she did see. Nervousness and loneliness had combined to make her a gaunt, washed-out version of her normal self, the ache so deep she felt it in her soul.
Without warning her body flowed from pause to strike in a second, her fist colliding solidly with a rib cage that exploded outwards, away from her hit and out of the body that contained it. But she was already turning, scanning the dark trees for the next threat.
Her "partner" for the mission had decided that calling in a few friends and collecting the bounty on her head would be better pay than finishing the job. It was not the first time, and she doubted it would be the last.
Clenching her teeth, she stalked forward, all lean grace and deadly intent. Nin like these were trash, nothing more than above average civilian thugs. She'd honed her standard combat into ruthless efficiency by dispatching them as quickly and with as little energy as possible.
A flash of movement out of the corner of her eye had her whirling, kunai already flying from her hand, only to watch in momentary surprise when it was deflected with an ease none of the nukenin should possess. There was a glimpse of red in the dark, features suddenly illuminated by the briefest glint of eerie blue-white light, and Sakura was flinging herself forward with a glad cry, forgetting instantly that there were at least two more of them somewhere out in the forest.
Sasuke wrapped her in his arms and, in a move more reminiscent of Naruto, lifted and spun her in two dizzy circles before putting her down and burying his nose in her hair. She made a sound half way between a hiccupped sob and a wordless exclamation, tightening her fingers in the back of his shirt hard enough she heard the seams protest.
"Sakura," he whispered, one hand brushing against her head.
Then, just as quickly as the reunion had occurred Sakura was pulling herself away to throw a kunai that met its intended mark buried up to the hilt in a nukenin's eye. She had another in hand ready to leap forward with a quick slash, when the last of the nukenin went down, his throat neatly slit from behind.
The joy Sakura had felt at finally, finally finding someone she cared about again was abruptly flushed straight from her body at the sight of the red eyes across the clearing. Without conscious thought she placed herself between Sasuke and the threat, crouched in a ready stance as her brain started considering battle plans for the fight ahead.
Sasuke placed a hand on her shoulder and the touch was so unexpected she nearly flinched.
Should they flee? She didn't like their chances against him, not when considering Sasuke's feelings. He was too soft sometimes, his ties to this particular threat a definite weakness. Experience had taught her in the last months to trust no one, especially a traitor whose betrayal of the village had led to a disastrous fall from within.
His voice was firmer this time and she wanted to growl at him. What was he doing? Couldn't he see every second of hesitation cost them? He was the first sight of home she'd glimpsed in almost a year. She would knock him out and throw him over her shoulder to get away from this if she had to.
Sasuke made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat and she would've laughed if the situation wasn't so dire; the familiarity of the noise was like being back in Team Seven again, like having a home.
"Sakura," he said, and this time he moved, purposely placing himself in front of her.
Sakura did growl at him, refusing to take her eyes from the enemy not twenty feet away.
"Sakura," and he had his hands on the sides of her face forcing her to look at him, so close that she could make out the annoyance on his features in the dim gloom of moonlight that filtered through the trees.
"My brother is not a threat."
"But he—" she attempted to tear her head away from him, but Sasuke clenched his fingers and wouldn't allow her to look away.
"No. There's a lot you haven't been aware of in the past year. Itachi didn't betray the village."
His eyes were the blood red of the Sharingan and she felt logic somewhere beneath her survival instincts clamoring for attention. Itachi may have been the better fighter, but his Sharingan was not strong enough to brainwash Sasuke, not without fundamentally damaging what he was and leaving him broken.
She did not trust Itachi, not without an explanation, but she would trust this boy who had been her teammate since the age of twelve with her life.
Sensing the mutinous agreement in her expression for what it was, Sasuke released her and looked at his brother, who nodded and let the red fade from his eyes.
"What's going on?" She kept her eyes on Itachi, hands twitching restlessly with the adrenaline and promise of more violence.
"Not here," Sasuke shook his head, giving his brother another of those silent speaking looks.
"It will be more difficult with three people, but I can do it." Itachi spoke for the first time, cool eyes locked with hers. "But she will need to touch me."
Sasuke took one look at the twist of her mouth and sighed, stepping forward into her line of sight again.
"We'll do it like this," and he wrapped his arms around her.
Sakura tensed when another set of arms reached around Sasuke's body, hands clasping firmly around the part of her arm between shoulder and elbow, which would allow her the most mobility to control her arms should she feel threatened.
Then there was the familiar lurch of a long-distance teleportation jutsu and they reappeared in the center of a small living room.
Instantly she bristled, trying to pull away and fight, but Sasuke wouldn't let her go. Itachi stepped back and she could see him over Sasuke's shoulder, watching her with no visual expression she could read.
"Sakura," Sasuke chided, and she could hear the exasperation in his voice. "I haven't seen you in a year and I thought you were dead. Can you forget about my brother for a second?"
She continued glaring, but Itachi raised a single eyebrow at her and slipped out of the room.
Hesitantly, she raised her arms to wrap them around Sasuke again, allowing herself to close her eyes and enjoy the solid warmth of his body, the way he carefully smoothed a hand over her hair.
Sasuke was not usually a demonstrably affectionate person. He'd told her once, while bleeding from his gut and high on pain medication, that she had the loveliest, softest hair and he just wanted to stroke it sometimes, but the times he'd indulged that whim had been few.
If Itachi hadn't murdered them earlier he probably wasn't going to do it while Sasuke pet her. Feeling months' worth of tension suddenly eased from her shoulders, Sakura released the battle adrenaline, the anxiety and fear in one drawn out sigh. In response, Sasuke's arms tightened and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
They stood like that for what felt like hours before Sasuke finally released her, taking her hand and urging her to sit down on the couch before retreating into the attached kitchen and returning with a glass of water.
"Now," Sakura blinked at the sound of his raised voice, but it was apparently some sort of signal because Itachi appeared in the next moment and took the armchair furthest from where she sat on the end of the couch.
Sasuke sat down next to her and seeing her suddenly clenched fist gently eased her fingers open and threaded them with his own. Her other hand was occupied with the water glass and she silently cursed him for knowing her too well.
"We should talk."
"Yes," she growled, eyes on Itachi, "we should."
The elder Uchiha inclined his head, briefly glancing at Sasuke before opening his mouth.
"There were… emergency contingency plans in place before Pein's attack. I was out of the village under command of the Hokage Sannin Tsunade-sama in pursuit of information on the Akatsuki and did not make it back to the village in time for anything but the reconstruction."
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. His absence then had been one of the first reasons to place the blame at his feet, once the dust had settled.
"It seems, in our quest to understand our enemies, we neglected to search closer to home. The attack by Pein was partially orchestrated by one Shimura Danzou, who supplied the information on when to strike."
Sakura bared her teeth at the mention of that hated name, squeezing Sasuke's hand in her anger.
"I figured that much out for myself already," she hissed. "Telling me things I already know and making excuses doesn't prove you're innocent!"
"Sakura," Sasuke said, eyes boring into her own. "Itachi wasn't in the village at the time of the massacre."
She looked at her teammate, really looked at him.
Beneath Sasuke's patience with her, his relief at having found her again was the same festering wound she felt beating in her own chest. She had lost friends and comrades in Danzou's takeover, might have even lost her parents. But he had lost his family before the fighting had even started, before anyone had known what was going on.
Eyes like ice, she glared at Itachi to continue.
"Danzou is head of a special branch of ANBU known as Root. On paper they are the ones who commit the acts even regular ANBU is spared, sent into battle without identity or identification to Konoha should they be caught. In reality they are little more than brainwashed puppets, conditioned to follow Danzou's orders to the death.
"De-stabilized, Tsunade-sama in a coma, Konoha was ripe for his machinations, especially with the acting-Hokage and many of Konoha's strongest and most loyal shinobi attending the Kage summit."
Yes, Sakura remembered. Kakashi-sensei had been spared simply because he'd finally bowed to peer pressure to assume the hat. She intended to ask Sasuke where he was once this conversation was over.
"One major problem was the clans, who together represent one of the most organized military forces of the village. And Danzou, in all his practical efficiency, started with the largest."
For once, hints of something had leaked into Itachi's normally detached voice. He was no longer looking at her, instead staring off into space with an intensity that surprised her coming from such a taciturn man.
"Root is a fraction of the Uchiha clan's size. To declare outright war on Konoha's military police would have been suicide."
Sasuke's hand clenched tightly around hers and she glanced at his face, shocked at the sight of his Sharingan, apparently switched on by the force of his emotions.
"So he killed them in their beds," her teammate growled.
"How convenient for Danzou," Itachi said, and a sudden shiver worked its way down her spine at his words "that I, and many of the other ANBU members cautioned to distrust our own sub-cell were absent from the village pursuing the remaining threats to Konoha. How convenient that the village's chain of command was focused on that threat and the potential political ramifications of the summit.
"How inconvenient," he continued, voice soft and measured, "that Danzou has never been particularly skilled in cleaning up his loose ends."
"Shisui sensed the attack," Sasuke said, voice unsteady and rough with violence where his brother's was like the sleek steel of the trap yet to spring.
"He was coming back from a mission and managed to wake some of the clan and the surrounding neighborhood from the blanket genjutsu. The remaining members of the clan on patrol throughout the village answered the call. He would've made it quite clear that Itachi wasn't the killer, but in the confusion Danzou had him kidnapped."
Sakura hadn't known that. Sasuke and Naruto had both gone with Kakashi to the summit. She'd wanted to be there, but with Tsunade-shishou in a coma, there had been only she and Shizune to maintain the hospital in the wake of the village's largest ever attack, especially for the scattered teams on missions rushing back to Konoha at the news even at risk to life and limb.
She'd been woken at three in the morning and told there had been another attack, this time to the Uchiha clan, and her heart had shuddered in her chest for a moment before she realized that her particular Uchiha was safe.
Then she'd been up to her elbows in blood. By the time the rumor had reached her that Itachi had perpetrated the attack, she'd been at the hospital for twelve hours and admittedly not in her right mind, certainly unable to confirm the rumor for herself.
The Uchiha who survived were confused, disoriented and unable to recall anything but dark shapes and the suggestion of blood red eyes. Now, with the buffer of time, distance, and one of her best friends between her and then it was easy to admit that even a genin could summon a convincing henge for red eyes, especially if their victims were addled by a large-scale genjutsu. But at the time without Itachi there to defend his honor and the main command of the clan all dead the rumor had been an insidious seed, poisoning the minds of villagers already wounded and suspicious following Pein's attack.
She'd gone home anxious, two-thirds of the Uchiha clan dead in one night, gave herself to unpleasant dreams, and dragged her ass to the hospital six hours later convinced everything was one unending nightmare.
A bleeding Hyuuga had stumbled into the hospital five minutes into her shift and announced that the compound was under attack by ANBU. Before anyone could react one of her nurses, slightly plump and with the voice of an angel, had stabbed another in the throat and lunged towards the injured man.
Sakura had killed her without a second thought, wondering what in the hells was going on. Then faceless masked nin had poured into the doors and all thinking had stopped. There were too many of them, all focusing on her, and she'd fled. But the madness extended to the streets, Konoha shinobi fighting Konoha shinobi in a confused tangle that defied all attempts to be understood.
Desperate, befuddled, up against a threat she could neither identify nor quantify, Sakura had fled with the thought that somewhere her team was out there and if she could just find them everything would make sense again.
She stared at the Uchiha brothers, the pain and rage in both of them expressed in two different ways.
"Is he ok…?"
Itachi's eyes flicked to hers, as if he'd forgotten she was even there. A small, humorless smirk turned one corner of his mouth up.
"Shisui has always shown a strong… dislike of holding still."
"He's with the rebel forces," Sasuke cleared up, shakily running his free hand through his hair.
"Who else…" She couldn't finish the sentence. Who else had made it out? Who hadn't? Through her head floated the images of the people she'd missed, the ones she hadn't been able to go back for and had spent the many months mourning, as if she'd caused their deaths herself.
"Sakura," Sasuke said, drawing her attention back to him. "Tsunade's alive."
"How…?" Unbidden, a single tear slid down her cheek.
"Apparently," he smirked, "those seal arrays you medics use for focused healing can be turned to other purposes. At least twelve medics at the hospital helped barricade Shizune inside so she could transport the Hokage away, then destroyed the seals so Root couldn't track them.
"She woke up six months ago in a spectacular temper."
She gave a shaky laugh and blinked away the lingering moisture.
"Hyuuga Neji and Hyuuga Hiashi are unaccounted for," Itachi spoke up. "They and the remaining members of their clan are under house arrest, but we have no inside information as to whether they survived or not."
"Akimichi Chouza and Inuzuka Tsume are dead. Inuzuka Hana may still be alive, but we don't know for sure. Umino Iruka and Mitarashi Anko died in the coup as well." He continued listing several people she knew and many she didn't, until Sakura felt as wrung out as an old sponge.
"And how many are stuck in Konoha?"
"Too many," Itachi said.
"Ino's being held ransom," Sasuke said, almost apologetically. Sakura could do nothing but sigh. Being held ransom was better than dead, but her heart went out to her best friend in captivity under Danzou's rein.
Sasuke looked at her, but shook his head. "Smuggled out, the first chance we had when we realized Danzou didn't have you. They're in Wave."
She shook with the sudden relief she felt, but forced herself to ask the next question.
"And the resistance?"
"Naruto is leading it in Tsunade's name," Sasuke replied, "We have more people than you would think, precisely because Danzou chose to attack when some of Konoha's strongest were absent."
"How unlucky for him," Itachi murmured, rising from his seat and moving to the kitchen to retrieve his own glass of water.
"If Naruto's leading the resistance what are the two of you doing here?"
"Looking for people like you," Sasuke squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. "We've been locating stragglers and trying to gather information. We also take on missions to funnel some money back to the resistance."
"Isn't it suspicious, having two very prominent Uchiha wandering around?" she asked skeptically.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "Is it suspicious having two members of a clan renowned for their mastery of genjustu paired together on intel missions?" He reached forward with his free hand to lift a strand of black hair away from her face.
Sakura looked at him, from the hand clutching her hair to the one entwined with hers. He'd been… touchy, almost clingy since they'd reunited. Talkative too, especially his brother, who she'd probably heard speak five words total before this moment. Biting her lower lip, she met his eyes.
"Did you and Naruto really think I was dead?"
He didn't say anything, releasing her hair and pausing to consider their clasped hands.
"A year is a long time, Sakura."
Yes, she knew. A year of being alone, nursing the dwindling hope that her friends and family were out there somewhere and looking for her, not dead and dumped into an unmarked grave or burned by that filthy traitor.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I tried looking, but-" the tears were uncomfortably close to the surface and she didn't resist when Sasuke drew her into a hug, needing the physical comfort as much as he apparently did.
"A lot of us were already out when it happened. We rallied quickly before Danzou could pick us off, aided by those with knowledge of how he operates. You hid a little too well, even from us."
She shook her head lightly, thinking of the hunter squads of what she'd thought were ANBU. It relieved her now to know that they were fighting automatons, not the full Konoha shinobi she thought she'd killed.
There had been too many times she'd sat bleeding in caves or hollow logs, knowing that she didn't have enough chakra to continue fighting and that if they found her again it would be over. But she couldn't tell Sasuke that, not after she'd finally found him. He would only worry unnecessarily about something that couldn't be changed.
"But I'm here now," she whispered, and Sasuke drew back to look in her face.
"Yes," he said, the warm little smile she so rarely saw on his mouth. Glancing to the side she could see Itachi observing them from the kitchen, the quirk of his lips indicating a similar expression on his face.
With a sigh she leaned back into the comfort of her teammate, pressing her face into the hollow of Sasuke's neck and urging herself to calm down, to let go of the panicked feeling she'd struggled with for too long. It was extremely rare for Sasuke to offer support like this and she intended to take advantage and soak up as much of the human warmth that had been missing from her life as she possibly could.
Sasuke didn't say anything, moving to calmly stroke her hair again. Exhaustion and relief warred within her and exhaustion won. She was nearly asleep when Sasuke pulled away, brushing the hair from her face.
She blinked up at him when he frowned and brushed gently at something on her forehead, and she remembered the small cut she'd received earlier, what seemed like a lifetime ago now.
"Do you want to take a bath?"
Fuzzily, she considered his words, realizing with some surprise that she'd actually forgotten just how much she did want to get clean somewhere that wasn't a freezing probably unhygienic stream or an equally freezing and unhygienic roach motel bathroom.
But she was so tired she felt it in her bones and the thought of having to lift her arms up long enough to wash her hair was unappealing. Shaking her head she reached up and wiped the dried blood away with the back of her hand, revealing that the cut was already healed and gone.
"I just want to sleep," she sighed, wanting nothing more than to sink into the couch cushions and close her eyes.
"Alright, let me get you a pillow and some sheets."
Sakura nodded, not quite hearing what he said. She was asleep before he returned and didn't notice when he rearranged her more comfortably across the couch, tucking the blanket around her and very carefully sliding a pillow beneath her head.