Two weeks had passed since Sakura had run into Itachi in the remnants of his old home, and yet, despite the thoughts of that thing burdening Itachi enough for him to visibly show it, Sakura hadn't even given it the slightest thought to it since then. Ever since ANBU missions had started up again with Naruto now in command, she had gotten caught up in the hustle and bustle of her life, and never got the chance to. But now, dwelling in a newly-found hot spring, watching the steam rise up from the clear waters, thoughts and memories began trickling into her mind once again.
"Sakura, who did that to you?"
"You're proud of these arms, aren't you?"
The memories now came in a flood, breaking the dam that once held everything back.
"Who was it?"
"I hope you let me have some more fun."
"Stop it! Please…just stop…"
"Shut up about this mark."
"There is someone I have sworn to kill. I will not rest until I find him and cause his demise with my own two hands. I'll make sure his head is nailed to Konoha Village's gates."
"You tell and I'll never forgive you for that."
"Stay out of business…"
Sakura clutched her head in agony, trying to force whatever memories leaking from her brain back into the dark place from whence they came. She let out an antagonizing scream and plunged her head into the hot spring. She wanted to drown out the wave of memories—cancel them out with a flood of her own.
Her lungs felt fit to burst, the burning sensation due to the lack of oxygen growing greater and greater with every passing second. However, she stayed submerged in the hot spring. The greater that burning pain was, the less she focused on that stream of memories, clearing out her brain.
She finally came up from the water gasping harshly, her head thrown back in sheer exhaustion. Finally…peace. Sheer, utterly quiet peace. A soft breeze blew over her face, though instead of the normal coolness, it was particularly warm. It felt like someone's soft exhalation of breath. Her eyes snapped open at that particular thought, leaving her face to face with none other than Itachi…and she was completely naked.
She let out a cry, but quickly silenced it into a small squeak, and submerged her body from the neck down back into the water, quickly moving to the other side of the spring when Itachi started walking on the water's surface. The hot spring never felt as cold as it did then.
"You have no need to show such modesty, Kunoichi," he said, a small smirk twitching at the corner of his lips. "You have nothing I haven't seen before."
Sakura decided to ignore his little remark.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, her clenched jaw making it come out as more of a hiss. "You have no reason to keep checking up on me now."
"This is true," Itachi mused, "but I need a favor from you."
Sakura let off a harsh, bitter laugh.
"Since when does the infamous Uchiha Itachi start asking for favors? I owe you nothing. The deal was information only and nothing more than that."
"You're currently not in any position to be bargaining with me, Kunoichi," he hissed.
"Fine," she sighed, knowing that she was fighting a losing battle by arguing with him. "What is this favor that you so desperately need done?"
Itachi lowered himself down until he was level with her face before speaking.
"In the woods four hundred meters west of here, you will find a severely injured man," he began, speaking so softly so that she had to strain her ears to catch exactly what he was saying. "Due to the Akatsuki being an extremely wanted group, medical care that specializes in ninjutsu medicine is not available to us. Since our pact is still in effect, you are the only one I can trust at the moment to provide healing without telling Konoha's intelligence division. You are to arrive at sunrise early tomorrow morning as I don't believe he can last much longer than that. I will meet you there."
He disappeared before she could even get the first word of protest out of her mouth…
"Hold it," said a voice from behind, the weight of a hand heavy on her shoulder. "Where do you think you're going with those medical supplies before the sun has even risen?"
Sakura turned and looked at the ANBU currently stationed in front of Konoha's gates fulfilling his guard duty requirement.
"I have no reason to explain myself to you, Neji," Sakura said, a sharp lash in her tone. If she didn't get to the destination Itachi had assigned her by sunrise, she didn't want to know what the consequences would be. "I am still your superior, so you have no right to be questioning my actions."
Neji gave off a frustrated growl as he reluctantly relinquished his hold on her shoulder.
"Fine," he snapped, obviously upset that he had to admit being of a lower rank than her, "just make sure you don't injure yourself in the process or the Godaime will have my head."
Sakura gave off a light chuckle before she bade him good-bye with a slight nod of the head.
A loud crack of thunder caused Sakura to look up from the tree branch she was standing on.
Great, she thought wryly, this makes my job so much easier.
As the ran pounded down upon her as she made her way through the forest, Sakura kept her eyes open for any sighting of the man was Itachi was speaking of or, if worst came to worst, Itachi himself.
"I know he said the location was around here somewhere…" she murmured to herself, looking around in confusion, a crease forming between her eyebrows.
No sooner had these words left her mouth, a kunai came hurtling towards her, seemingly out of nowhere. Letting off a slight curse as it just barely grazed her shoulder when she went to avoid it, she saw a lone figure sprinting at an abnormally fast speed along the ground.
Carefully concealing her chakra, she bounded off after him, keeping behind a few feet in case the situation caused her to turn around abruptly and depart. But as the forest soon became more and more dense, she lost sight of him once again.
As she gave off a slight growl of frustration and started to patrol the area once again, she noticed a gap within the trees and saw another man sitting against the base of a large tree trunk, but she didn't recognize the profile. Her slight pause proved to be a grave mistake as another kunai came at her, this time hitting its target right in the shoulder.
Letting off another curse, she jumped down a few more branches, pulled the kunai out of her injured joint, and stuck her head out from among the foliage.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hissed, pulling her ANBU mask up.
At the sound of her voice, another figure, the one she recognized from before, swiftly turned around and went to aim another kunai. However, his hand was stayed by a voice that softly said, "Itachi, you have no reason to be so jumpy. This ANBU member shows no malicious intent towards us."
Judging by the slight gurgling sound that the voice produced, the person obviously had some blood in his lungs. This was probably the man Itachi was speaking of just a few short hours ago. She watched as Itachi reluctantly lowered his arm.
"You can come down now," the voice rasped towards her. "He's docile for the moment."
Sakura resisted the urge to chuckle as she landed feet-first onto the soft, rain-soaked earth. At least her patient had a sense of humor.
"So whom am I healing today?" Sakura inquired towards the man. "Besides being a member of the Akatsuki, of course."
Itachi first looked at the man and then at Sakura before settling himself down against the opposite tree from the person whom he was so dutifully guarding before.
"You mean Itachi has not told you who you would be healing?" the man asked, a slight tone of amusement in his voice.
Sakura shook her head. "Of course not."
The man let off a sigh. "I can't say I'm surprised. When he first joined us, I thought he was incapable of speech."
Itachi sent a look towards the man's way, but other than that, he didn't show any malice towards the person who had insulted him.
Sakura turned to look at Itachi.
"You mean this man's your senior?" she asked incredulously.
"Quite," was the only response she managed to get from him.
"My real name is not for you to know, but…" the other man began, bringing Sakura's attention back to him, "I am the leader of the Akatsuki."
And then all hell broke loose…
Author's Note: Yes, I'm still alive guys. I just had a switch in fandoms for a while, so I wound up having writer's block on this story, and there was no point to for me to write when I had no motivation as the chapters would have been terrible. But now that I'm back in the Naruto fandom, I have many ideas for this story on how I will neatly tie up all the loose ends in this story. I am very happy with my writing style now as I feel it has improved, so I am now more confident in my writing. I warn you now, though, the next chapter will more than likely be ridiculously long by my standards.