note: blast to the past and then back to the future! things are happening! cats!
She looked up from her filing and attempted to modulate her voice into something other than contempt. "Yes, Hokage-sama?"
Danzo eyed her for a long, tense moment before he tapped the scroll that had just been delivered. "Preliminary field reports say that Uchiha Itachi is dead, killed by your former teammate."
Her breath caught in her throat and she struggled to respond. "Sir?"
"Where do you think he'll go now?"
Her mind whirled, wondering the same thing. She knew Danzo's question was a trick, a trap, he never asked her questions without a hidden meaning, or several of them all at once. "I'm not sure, Hokage-sama. I haven't see Sasuke-kun in a long time."
He rubbed his chin with his good hand. "This is true." He said it as if he knew, like he kept tabs on her life before he had stolen Tsunade's place, like he still did it now that she was stuck in a position she hated. "But you're the only one who knew him well enough to give us some speculation."
Knew him? Sakura tried out the words and they felt like dust on her tongue. "To be frank, Hokage-sama, I never really knew Sasuke-kun. Kakashi-sensei would be a better source."
"Hatake is on a mission."
Of course he is. When is he not on a mission or bleeding half to death on my couch?
"So indulge me, Sakura. Tell me what you think of the last Uchiha."
She hid a grimace at the title and pretended to pull together her thoughts on … the former love of her life? After everything she'd been through, it seemed small and petty to hold onto shallow feelings for someone who was little more than a stranger for all that she knew about him. She'd sooner sleep with Shikamaru at this point. "When we were genin … he had two goals. I don't know if he'll keep to the other now that he's attained one, however."
"Oh?" Sakura could tell that he was interested, though his voice said otherwise. Hypervigilance had all but forced her to memorize and analyze every piece of his body language.
She swallowed slightly and then tossed away her doubts. She didn'tparticularly want Sasuke dead, but it was more important for her to continue to gain Danzo's trust, or whatever he had that resembled such a thing. It was no longer her business if Sasuke could not handle what Konoha threw at him. "He wanted to revive his clan, Hokage-sama."
He didn't visibly react, just leaned back into his chair. "Hmm, interesting." Danzo looked out the window at something she couldn't place. "Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off, Sakura? You've been working too hard lately."
Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Sakura just stood and bowed her way out the door and made her way back to her apartment. It was a late enough for her to start drinking in earnest.
The next day, she brought herself back into the Hokage tower on steady feet, as if she hadn't been shaken to the core by the news she had downed three bottles of sake to forget the night before. Sakura came to a rest in front of Danzo's desk. "Hokage-sama. Shall I continue the filing the reports today …?"
"No." He didn't bother to look up from the scroll he was perusing. "I want you to search the Uchiha compound. Bring back anything of interest."
She was certain this was a trap. Surely ANBU had swept it after the massacre and then ROOT once more after Danzo had ascended to his ill-gotten position? What could he gain from sending her on a wild-goose chase? "Yes, Hokage-sama. Is there something specific I'm looking for …?"
Her leading question only got her a derisive snort. "That clan had secrets on top of secrets. If there's something there, I want you to find it. You knew Uchiha the best."
Sakura just bowed her head and agreed, not letting him see her clenched jaw. She quickly shunshined out of the tower to the rooftops, her feet taking her on a long-forgotten journey to the compound. She had once followed (read: stalked) Sasuke to this place, using every ounce of stealth the Academy teachers had attempted to pour into her. Years later, she still was unsure if she had succeeded undetected or if her former teammate had just decided it wasn't worth the bother to confront her about the behavior.
She opened the gate and looked at the worn houses, the overgrown shrubbery, the grey stains of blood that weren't worn away by time and weather and decided that it didn't matter in the long run. Sasuke wasn't here now and he never would be.
Sakura half-heartedly poked through a half-dozen empty houses, thoroughly creeped out by the traces of life that were just left hanging. It was as if the owners were only out but a minute, if it weren't for the thick layer of dust that coated everything, even the clothing that was piled carelessly in a hamper or a single mug left in the sink.
Her empty search made her hopeful that she wouldn't be used as a tool to further denigrate a dead clan, but once she stepped over the threshold of the house immediately adjacent to the main one, Sakura knew she had been overly optimistic.
She was dismayed to find herself unerringly drawn to a large chest in one of the bedrooms. There was something odd about it, something that set her teeth on edge. She couldn't possibly believe that ROOT had missed such an obvious thrumming in the air.
There were no obvious traps set around it and she approached it with trepidation, finally gathering the shreds of her courage around her like a security blanket and shoved the chest open quickly. It was filled with … linens?
Sakura huffed a laugh, realizing she had made herself terrified of a set of lacy bed sheets. She was about to stand when she realized that the thrumming in the air hadn't stopped when she was confronted by the open trunk. Delicately removing the fabric in piles onto the dusty floor, she felt around the edges of the inside of the trunk an inch at a time, looking for the source until she saw a small seal carved into the underside of the lid. She squinted at it in the poor lighting, trying to parse the intention.
Storage? But not just unlocked with chakra …
She snorted. Of course it wasn't, she was in the Uchiha compound. No doubt she needed the Sharingan to open it somehow. Danzo would have to wait to see if Kakashi would come back from his newest suicide mission to try. Her fingertips brushed the worn ink, fingertips tingling. Her eyes widened. Could she?
She had spent so much time healing Kakashi's orbital passageways since he had rejoined ANBU, the enthusiastic overuse of his borrowed eye destroying his natural healing rates. Sakura could say, without any sense of pride, that she knew more about how the Sharingan functioned biologically than anyone alive. She wondered if that knowledge would be enough to create a functional illusion, enough to open the seal.
Sakura pictured the chakra Kakashi used, the intricacy of the work that resulted in the successful implantation and how it remained activated despite being covered. She allowed her own chakra to gather on the palms of her hand as she wove the image in mind, drawing on everything she had learned about genjutsu in the Academy, everything she had managed to glean from her few missions with Kurenai, her stilted talks with Kakashi when he was tired and drugged enough to let himself be unguarded for the slightest of moments.
As a medic, Sakura knew that experimental jutsu often resulted in serious injuries. As someone who had little left to lose on chance, Sakura knew she was going to do it anyway. With only a moment's hesitation, she clapped both of her chakra laden hands over her eyes, forcing herself to willfully control the illusion while staring straight at the seal.
After one heart-stopping moment of complete silence, there was a small cloud of smoke and a carved wooden scroll fell out of the seal and toppled loudly into the bottom of the empty trunk. She let her chakra dissipate and sagged, panting at the effort it cost to maintain such a powerful jutsu for even such a short time.
Kurenai really doesn't get enough credit.
With trembling hands, she picked up the scroll and unrolled it, eyes widening. It was the Uchiha's summons contract, thought to be lost after Uchiha Kagami died on a mission shortly after the First Shinobi War. Sakura felt a strong urge not to let Danzo know about it, despite the fact Sakura didn't think it was particularly dangerous. She just … didn't want him to have something that, in all rights, belonged to Sasuke. She thought Naruto would have understood. He would have protected it too.
Sakura tucked the scroll into her pack, noting that the uncomfortable feeling in the air had ceased. She hesitated and wondered if this trunk had been left as something to lure her in. No doubt ROOT would not have been able to make it past the seal, not with the requirements necessary, but they could not have missed this feeling. Did Danzo set this up to gauge her abilities? She knew being chakra sensitive wasn't in her dossier, because she wasn't, not any more than the next shinobi. This had an entirely specific type of chakra, one that she was intimately familiar with. There's no way he could have predicted this skill of hers, something she had just triggered out a strange sense of need and curiosity.
With that thought in mind, Sakura quickly formed a plan. She pulled up her false Sharingan illusion once more and sealed an age yellowed lace pillowcase into it, piling the rest of the linens into the trunk and slamming the lid. When she felt the familiar power again, she nodded, satisfied with her work.
Now to find something totally innocuous to bring back to Danzo …
Sakura took in a deep breath, relishing the fresh air of the forest. She had waited a month after finding the summoning contract to find an opportunity to get away from Konoha, when an opportunity to go to Suna as a diplomatic envoy arrived. Danzo was too paranoid to leave the village, but he was interested in capitalizing on one of Gaara's very few weaknesses, Naruto's precious people.
In the back of her mind, she was worried Danzo would someday seize some unknown ancient authority as her village leader to force her into a marriage with the Kazekage, cementing the alliance in a way that would likely give Konoha the upper hand in politically.
She was on the second night of her journey to Wind Country, the scroll feeling metaphorically heavy in her pack. First things first …
"Kuchiyose no jutsu!"
Katsuyu's musical voice was cautiously joyous as she appeared in a cloud of smoke, in a much smaller form than usual - Sakura didn't want to waste so much chakra for a conversation. "Sakura-chan. It's been so long."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "It's true, Katsuyu-sama. Things have not been the same with Tsunade-shishou gone."
The slug hummed in thought. "What can I do for you? I do not see anyone in need of poisoning or healing."
Sakura barked a laugh and dragged a hand down her face wearily. "No, I have a question for you. Or a request? I'm not sure."
"I will do what I can, Sakura-chan."
She tapped her fingers against her thigh for a moment. "I have … come into possession of another summoning contract. I'm interested. I do not want to disrespect what we have built over the years, but …"
The slug gave her something that resembled a sad smile. "You are no longer the girl who Tsunade-sama introduced. Maybe something new …" Katsuyu trailed off and gave a breathy sigh. "Maybe something new will bring balance to your state of mind."
Sakura was surprised by the surge of relief she felt at the words. Katsuyu was one of the few things she had left of her mentor. It would have been painful if the slug had turned away from her in light of Sakura's request. "Thank you, Katsuyu-sama."
Her antennae wiggled. "You need not break our contract to sign another, Sakura-chan. But I understand your feelings."
After a few more heartfelt thank yous, Katsuyu dismissed herself and Sakura readied herself for the next step. She carefully signed her name in blood under the list of Uchihas and took a calming breath before performing the summoning jutsu once more. She tensed when a form appeared in the familiar burst of smoke.
A haughty Siamese cat sat in the summoning seal, looking both bored and annoyed. "Who are you?"
Sakura started and then bowed. "My name is Haruno Sakura. I just completed the summoning contract with your clan."
He eyed her with contempt. "We work with the Uchihas exclusively. There's no way they would have let you sign it, despite their chakra's long absence from our realm."
She sighed. "Do you not know …?"
The cat stared at her unblinkingly and so she was forced to recount the massacre and subsequent actions of the last two scions of the once great Uchiha lineage. Sakura wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a slight amount of hurt flicker across his luminous eyes when the cat realized that Sasuke had no intention of becoming a cat summoner like his family before them.
"… and then I found the scroll through a convoluted mess of politics, dangerous genjutsu and sheer stupidity, I guess."
"Hmph," the cat said, "Passable effort on your part."
She snorted. "You are just the prickly type of summons I would have expected from the Uchiha. I should have known."
He eyed her with something like barely concealed hope. "Looks like we're stuck with each other now, though."
She rolled her eyes, already fond of the silly creature. "Obviously. It would be nice to learn your name eventually."
The cat washed his paw with an affected air. "Yasutomo. Don't shorten it."
Sakura grinned. "I'm honored to meet you, Yasu."
"Don't keep me in suspense, Misaki-chan."
Yasutomo waited on a large tree stump where he had been summoned, having watched her pace back and forth for several moments.
"Yasu-chan …" she ignored his hiss at the hated diminuative, "I have made contact with Itachi. He's amenable to passing me information."
"Oh," Yasutomo flopped down gracefully, his tail lashing about wickedly. "Isn't that a good thing? We knew he wasn't actually a ruthless killer. Or at least, not one for the same reasons everyone else believed."
"It's just," she looked at him nervously and his blank expression told her nothing, "Now that I can talk to him and Sasuke isn't out for his blood, would you like to meet him?"
She rushed into her words, speech already prepared. "I know that I basically stole this contract from the Uchihas and while I don't regret getting to you know, any of you, I know you had a special connection with them. Maybe I could introduce you?"
"Sakura." She stopped pacing and looked at him in surprise that he would address her so seriously when she was in her Misaki guise. "You didn't steal anything. The contract would have dissolved if the clan found you unworthy through blood and deeds." He scratched his nails absently against the shredded bark. "And you would have too, actually."
"What?!" She was thrown by that. "You didn't tell me that when I met Gintoki for the first time!"
He scoffed at her. "Of course I didn't. Do you take me for an idiot? You would have done something much worse than just accidentally insult his stripes."
Sakura flushed. That meeting had been a humiliating example of cultural differences. She still wondered how Gintoki felt about taking orders from her when it was clear he was more interested in doing nearly anything other than skulking around after missing-nin. Like eating the missing-nin. "We're getting off topic. Do you want to meet Itachi?"
Yasutomo's tail was ominously bristled and his voice was just as annoyed. "Does he want to meet me? He's never indicated an interest in our contract before now." She was silent and he hissed. "Or at all, am I correct? You haven't even mentioned us to him."
She shrugged helplessly. "Only in the vaguest sense, in that I have a summoning contract. He doesn't know any details. Only Jiraiya knows Misaki has you, with no other indications of the rest of your clan to put it all together."
Yasutomo sat on his haunches and gave her a superior look. "If he desires a meeting with me, I won't say no. But I also won't be kind about it."
Sakura snorted. "When are you ever kind? The last time I met you without wearing makeup, you called me a horrifying ghoul."
He sniffed imperiously. "You looked goddamn terrible. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not inform you of such a thing."
Sakura pointed a finger at him angrily. "I was recovering from a twelve step poisoning!"
He waved off her protests. "How are you going to explain having the contract? Sasuke is not likely to leave the village this time to give you the excuse of digging."
Her heart twinged at the reminder, but only slightly. She had come to know this Sasuke far better than she had ever known her original one and it had been a painfully rewarding experience. He and Naruto were like the bickering little brothers she never knew she always wanted. "I'd hate to lie to him. He has so few people he can trust."
"He has you, Misaki-chan. That's about it, you know."
Sakura sighed. "Yeah, yeah. I'll tell him I found it in the compound while helping Sasuke deal with the aftermath of the massacre, which is true in the vaguest sort of sense. He doesn't need to know when I found it."
"And why you didn't give it to Sasuke?"
She shrugged. "Itachi knows how impulsive his little brother can be. That, more than any lie I could concoct, might serve better to convince him that it was a wise choice."
Yasutomo grumbled, but didn't reply. He only knew her teammates through her stories of them and likely had a very biased view on Sasuke based on his knowledge of their alternate future. "It's your funeral." He hopped down from the stump and jumped onto her shoulders in a few quick movements. "Now where's my tuna?"
Before she could respond, Sakura felt a tug on her chakra and Keiji appeared in a swirl of leaves, panting. "Sakura! Suna's being attacked! What do should I do?"
She stiffened in shock before a sense of grim determination overtook her. Gaara's fragile emotional state would never hold if his father chose to use him as a weapon in such a situation. It was too much like war, too broad of a battlefield. There was no other choice. Yasutomo leapt from her shoulders and the two cats looked at her for orders. "Well, boys. Looks like we're due for a field trip."