Chapter 1: The End of Freedom

Woohoo. Selandora rewrote this story and realized that the introductory paragraph was crappy so here we go again. I'm sure, if you've read this story once before, you know what happens in the beginning and…what happens in the end. For those who don't know…well, it's complicated and I'm not going to waste my time telling you here.

Haruno Sakura

A climax at the beginning of a story isn't always practical, but that's what happened here. Yeah, yeah, I know, weird huh? Of course, the ending of this story isn't exactly what you'd expect either but…anyways. Let's get back to the beginning.

The forest was tense, the animals silent, as if they knew exactly what I was doing so far from Konoha. A stealthy wind blew and it sneaked its way around the trees, being careful so as not to disturb the fragile silence created. The leaves were still and totally oblivious to everything around them, having not so much as rustled. The moon was a narrow slit in the dark sky; as if scrutinizing the scene below it unfold while the stars around it gleamed brilliantly, sinisterly, and the smell of fresh rain bombarded my senses.

Any other day, I would have loved walking through this forest. Usually, it was a place that breathed calm and peace away from the hustle and bustle of Konoha but now…the very atmosphere of the forest had changed into something different, something foreboding.

And it befitted the mission.

"Any sign of Ice Prince?" Shikamaru's lazy drawl buzzed in my ear.

I jumped at the sound and cursed mentally, reaching up to turn the volume down on my transparent headpiece. I pressed a tiny button on it and I whispered quietly into it, being more cautious than usual, "Trickster here, no sign of Ice Prince. That bastard's damn elusive."

"S-sorry Silhouette-san, I haven't seen him yet…Snow White over."

"No sign of the bastard yet, Foxface over."

"No luck here either, it's Tinkerbell by the way."

There was an exasperated sigh in the headpiece, "Your codename isn't Tinkerbell, don't complicate things because that's just troublesome."

"But I have such a gay codename! I don't want to be called Mindsweeper! It's the name of a game, damn it!"

"The game is called minesweeper, Tinkerbell."

"Haha! I knew you'd give in sooner or later."

"Sorry to break up your flirting but Sushiman just engaged me in battle. TricksterIce Prince is headed your way. Scarecrow out," Kakashi's smooth, to die for voice rang in my ear and I stiffened in shock.

He was headed my way? What was I supposed to do?! I was a healer and an illusionist. I wasn't a strong fighter! My tricks wouldn't deceive Itachi while he had the Mangekyou Sharingan!

Why me?!

"W-What are my orders?" I asked nervously, dropping my voice to a barely audible level, terrified that if I spoke any louder, Itachi or rather, Ice Prince, would hear me.

"Do not under any circumstances engage Ice Prince in battle. Wait for Foxface and myself. Snow White and Tinkerbell, go find Scarecrow and help him with Sushiman," Shikamaru gave out precise instructions for our battle strategy.

"I understand," I replied meekly and removed my trembling hand from my earpiece.

"Oh, and Trickster?" Naruto's usually loud and hyper voice was quiet on the other end. "Don't look in his eyes if he catches up with you. If he tries to fight you, run and find us."

"I know that! I'm not an idiot!" I snapped back, my anxiety made me edgy and I knew everyone could tell.

It still hadn't completely dawned on me yet.

Uchiha Itachi.

The Uchiha Itachi was headed my way. The Uchiha Itachi, the S-class criminal, cold blooded killer, Master Sharingan user we were ordered to capture.

The Uchiha Itachi who would inevitably fight me…and kill me.

I jumped down from the wrinkled if not sturdy branch I lingered hesitantly upon. My vision was clouded in fear and I landed funnily, twisting my ankle on a protruding gnarled root. I bit down ferociously on my lip to prevent myself from crying out in pain.

Damn. I hadn't even met him and I was injured already.

Uchiha Itachi

The purple velvet bag swung reassuringly at my side, beating my muscled thigh with every reluctant step I took. A vanilla scent wafted up from the bag, overpowering everything else I could smell and I wondered briefly where Kisame was. If he had gone and killed himself, it would most certainly not be in my best interest. Then again, had he done so, my pay would be doubled for everything I did until I was given a new partner and I would have so much an easier time without that reckless shark relation hanging about.

It was that time again, and I had convinced our leader that this personal matter would only take a short while to be done with. Kisame, of course, had to insist upon coming with me to Konoha, explaining that someone had to bring my body back.

And…because Kisame had come I had to tell him what I was planning to do in Konoha. He was certainly surprised by the reason (as was I actually, the first time I went) but he came with me anyways.

Speed was of the essence and we had to get to Konoha in three days…or else I would miss it…

Nothing crunched underfoot, I demanded total silence of the forest and I was given such without argument. The fresh dewdrops seemed to freeze with my passing, not daring to so much as drip. My bamboo labourer's hat was pulled down low over my dark red eyes and the small silver bell attached to it tinkled eerily; being the only sound in the whole forest. There was no wind at all and I didn't object; wind only made my annoying cloak rustle and fooled around with your ability to sense people.

Something in the trees rustled and for a moment, I stopped abruptly. It couldn't be the wind and from what I knew all the animals in this area certainly weren't nocturnal which could only mean one thing…

Someone was in the area.

I could sense no chakra signature at all and anticipated this person's arrival. There weren't many who could totally conceal their chakra from me, and to have that much control would only mark them as a formidable foe.

Perhaps I had found someone worth fighting at last.

I kept walking, pretending nothing had happened and pulled the hat down lower over my eyes to hide my pale face. My slender calloused hand snaked up to grasp the silver chain necklace around my neck and I rubbed my thumb methodically over each of the coloured beads in turn; it had become something of a habit since the Uchiha Massacre. I kept on walking, concentrating solely on sensing the person behind me. Their movement were few and they dragged their feet slightly, as if they were reluctant to follow me at all. The person following me didn't seem to have the slightest intention of attacking and I sighed inwardly, realizing that I would have to be the one to attack first.

I sat down at the base of an old gnarled tree and from within the folds of my cloak pulled out a hard leather water flask, hiding a pair of shuriken behind it. I pulled out the cork of the flask and it dropped lifelessly, hanging by a thread, and I took a long healthy swig from the flask. The shinobi took the bait, just as I had known he would, and I heard a soft, barely inaudible thump from somewhere to my right. I caught a few quiet murmurs and guessed that this ninja was talking on a radio headset, which meant that there was more than one of them…good. The one annoying thing was that the shinobi's voice was so quiet I couldn't figure out if it was a woman or a man.

But, in the end it wasn't really important.

I would still kill them regardless.

"This is Trickster here, Ice Prince has stopped. What are my orders?" Trickster murmured into their headset. My eyes narrowed at the mention of the codename.

Ice Prince?

What insolence.

"O-Okay…no, I don't think I'm in any immediate danger…he doesn't seem to have noticed me," Trickster informed their team mates.

I realized that I wasn't quite keeping up to my reputation of a heartless, cold killer if I allowed such an inferior a false sense of security. I was absolutely certain that this person was going to die a slow, painful death.

I removed my bamboo hat, discarding it carelessly, making sure to mute the silver bell before I did so, and moulded chakra to my feet, sprinting over to the ninja in barely a second. It was living evidence that I still had my near legendary demonic speed, if this person lived to tell the tale anyways. I concealed my chakra from the ninja, surprise attacks were always preferable. The shinobi in question was shorter than me, their body petite. I guessed it was a woman from the delicate way she held herself and the black hairnet she wore. She hadn't noticed me, she had her back to me and she looked around the tree trunk she was hidden behind.

"Shit! He moved!" She swore into her headset and I decided it was time to alert her of my presence.

I rid myself of the chakra concealment and the full intensity of it must have been like a slap in the face, because she certainly turned around sharply. She seemed paralyzed to the spot and I shoved her to the tree, using my body to pin her there, feeling the cold of her hard white ANBU uniform seep through my Akatsuki cloak. I felt her leg move as she tried to drag her knee up to hit me but I twisted my legs around hers, immobilizing them. I held both her wrists firmly above her head and she arched her back the slightest bit at the stretch. She tensed at the close proximity and tried to flatten herself against the tree trunk, obviously uncomfortable with the closeness of our heated bodies.

I spotted the transparent headpiece and its coiling wire that trailed down her slim, pale neck. I pulled it out of her ear, ignoring the loud ripping sound as the scotch tape keeping it in place was pulled off brutally, and she inhaled sharply at the stinging pain. I now had only one hand keeping her arms pinned above her and she struggled wildly against it but to no avail. I put the headpiece in between my teeth for a moment before pulling out a sharp kunai from within the folds of my cloak and pressed it against her neck hard, she did the smart thing and stopped struggling. The razor blade of the kunai drew a painful bead of crimson blood. I watched it dart down her neck, to her collarbone until it disappeared underneath her dark shirt and white armour. I pressed a small button on her headpiece and brought it to my mouth speaking into it.

"This is Ice Prince here…Trickster is my captive from now on. Unless you decide to give up your search, I will kill her …"

Haruno Sakura

The both of us waited for an answer, one of us anxious while the other seemed to revel in what little entertainment this brought. I was torn between wanting to be rescued and sacrificing myself for the mission's sake but…in the very nature of my weakness, I was scared to die…even if it was for my friends. I felt my eyes glaze over with self hatred and anger but I refused to cry, I had stopped that a long time ago. Itachi's dark red eyes bored into me and I fought the tempting impulse to look at them, the only thing I could do in a situation like this.

"So? What's your decision?" Itachi demanded, his hold on my slim wrists unconsciously tightened until I could feel his blunt nails breaking my skin. I hissed at the pain and the grip loosened slightly but it was still strong enough to hold me there.

The next person's words cut me like a knife, straight to the bone.

"Do what you want with her. We're coming for you no matter what," Kakashi's for once solemn voice rang through on the headpiece like a funeral knoll.

My jade green eyes widened in shock, hurt and betrayal at Kakashi, at my teacher's, answer and Itachi said nothing for a few moments. I half expected Naruto to interfere wildly and scream at Kakashi but his scream of defiance never came. Nobody spoke up for me…they had all agreed to leave me to die.

My team would sacrifice my life for Itachi's? After…after everything we had been through?

Was I just a useless tool?

Then, I berated myself for that. All ninja were tools…

Itachi reanimated himself all of a sudden as he shifted our positions slightly, looping his arms underneath my armpits to meet in front of my neck. He gripped my chin tightly with one hand and pressed his forehead against my ANBU half-mask (the previous masks had been altered. Mission orders had been muted by the mask so accidents happened), but I closed my eyes, remembering Naruto's words.

"Girl, open your eyes," Itachi hissed at me and as the grip on my chin became almost unbearable, my jade green eyes snapped open quickly. I fought to close my wide open eyes again but his crimson eyes had me trapped, I couldn't tear my eyes away from him.

"Scream," He ordered me and when I didn't comply, he lowered his head to nip at the junction where my neck and shoulder met. I shivered under the feel of his slightly chapped lips and heard a click in my ear as he activated the headpiece again.

He bit down ferociously on my collar bone, drawing blood, and my entire body jolted underneath his at the unexpected pain. I groaned quietly and Itachi seemed to grow impatient with me. There was a sharp pain in my side and I felt myself grow light headed from the sensation; he must have stabbed me with a kunai.

And, it just sort of slipped out when I whimpered, "Naruto…"

I felt Itachi smirk against my bruised skin and in that instant; I hated him with my entire being. I heard a small click as he removed his hand from my headpiece, letting it drop to the floor. I winced as the tape keeping it in place was yanked off sharply and I hung my head ashamedly, hating myself, hating him and hating my team.

The urge to smash my intricately painted ANBU mask into pieces was very tempting all of a sudden. I wasn't worthy enough to don the half mask; I was a pathetic excuse for a ninja…

I could hear Naruto's hurried, frantic voice through the headpiece, "Sakura-chan! Are you okay?! I'm gonna kill that bastard so-"

And then it was gone just like that. Itachi had smashed it into the ground with a foot. Suddenly, his heavy pressure disappeared and he was standing a few feet away from me with a calculating look on his face. I was surprised at his sudden release of me and he stood there, looking at me condescendingly.

"Give me a proper fight," Itachi growled at me.

It took a few moments for his words to sink in and I suffered greatly for my few moments of confusion. He had already drawn first blood; my arm was bleeding from a quick but shallow gash. The dark red ANBU insignia was covered in blood and it blended perfectly into the dark crimson colour.

He was fast.

Really fast.

His strength was legendary, yes, but it was very different hearing about it and then experiencing it first hand. I pulled out my kunai and tried my best to defend myself, but to no avail. His merciless attacks continued and he slashed at me four more times in quick succession. I realized grimly that he was simply toying with me.

"I see that the standard of Konoha ANBU is dropping," His cold, baritone voice rang throughout the forest, making it impossible for me to pinpoint where exactly he was.

"Just give up. You'll never become stronger than you are now...a pathetic excuse for a ninja," He taunted me in his emotionless voice.

His words stung and I was thankful for the ANBU mask. But his words brought out an inner strength as well.

He was…he was just telling me to give it all up? All of this…that I had worked so hard for?

He was telling me I could just forget about it?

I sent the slightest bit of chakra to my jade eyes, enhancing my ability to see more clearly and flipped out two kunai from my weapon pouch. I took one into either hand, falling into a stance and waited.

"If you don't give up, then I have no other choice but to kill you," Itachi stated flatly and I tried to focus on which direction the voice was coming from. I knew that even if he had manipulated his voice with chakra; I would still be able to pick out where he was even if the lead was very dim.

"I'm surprised you even considered anything different," I retorted hotly, my voice shaking slightly. I retained my battle stance and he said nothing more. I looked about me cautiously. He was sure to strike from where I least expected it so…

Our weapons met in a flurry of white sparks and a loud clang. I inwardly thanked Tsunade-sama for help with my training. It was only because of the barely audible swish of Itachi's cloak that I managed to pinpoint him; it was about as quiet as the sound of a church mouse scurrying across a smooth surface. All medic ninja had to train their ears to hear the sound of irregular breathing or the like.

I could barely suppress Itachi's long, sleek katana as it pressed down against my own X shaped block. I made a little sound of triumph as I pushed his katana back; throwing him off guard for what seemed to be a second or two. I lunged forwards with my kunai and he stepped out of the way; exactly what I had expected him to do.

I slashed viciously with my second kunai to his exposed flank and he dashed out of the way just in time. I cursed as I realized I had only managed to slash his ridiculous cloak and looked around me warily; wondering where he could have gone.

The sound of three senbon needles flying through the air caught my attention and I turned to block them. I did so in quick succession but failed to realize that he had in fact sent six senbon needles. What had happened was that he had thrown the first three senbon needles and then the three others behind it. So what happened was; when I raised my kunai to block the first three I lowered my arm instinctively, causing the needles to stab into my arm.

It hurt, yes, but I had no time to pull them out. Itachi didn't seem the sort of person who'd wait for me to pull the needles out and just attack him all over again. All of a sudden, he was in front of me and I blocked once again. His blow this time was harder, much stronger than before, and I skidded all the way backwards as I tried to press against him. I resisted the urge to look up at him and instead looked at our weapons.

And, that was a big mistake.

Our eyes met through the reflective surface of his katana and I found myself unable to tear my eyes away. He had me caught like a fly in a spider's web; I was powerless to move while he had used his Mangekyou Sharingan on me.

Strangely enough, I thought that I should have been scared in such a situation. What, with the evil demented killer about to kill me and all. And I was terrified. I didn't want to die, I wanted to see everyone again, I wanted to get married and have kids, I wanted to find a husband who would love me and…

I saw him reach into his cloak for what was undoubtedly a kunai, never tearing his crimson eyes away from mine. I saw the metal glint out of the corner of my eye and suddenly, I had the sudden urge to laugh, cry and despair at the same time.

So I smiled in a sudden moment of spontaneity, my mind was in a terrified frenzy, and my jade eyes betrayed the ultimate fear I felt.

Itachi's hand faltered at the last moment and for a long moment, we both simply looked through the metal sword at each other. I saw his hand retreat into the thick black cloak.

In a voice that screamed finality and doom, he spoke clearly, "Mangekyou Sharingan; the art of mind torture."

My eyelids grew heavy as they began to droop and although I resisted the temptation to sleep, I was so…so very tired…

A dark sensation washed over me and it felt as though something was strangling me. A haze of dark, swirling red was all I could see half-lidded eyes. I began to fall down as my eyes closed and my body was leaden. There was a loud thump as somebody fell and it was only a few moments later I realized that it was me who had fallen. The air was thicker now, thick with the stifling sensation of power and I felt as though I could choke on it.

And then…a growling, terrifying voice screamed out.