Disclaimer: Naruto is property of Masashi Kishimoto. I do not own it.
I decided to put this part of the story up separately as it will have a higher rating. I didn't want to up the rating of Loophole.I'm hoping this story will be a little darker and a little more mature.
Genshi means apparition.
Genshi – Chapter 1 (Loophole's Continuation)
It was late, or early, depending on the point of view, and Haruno Sakura yawned lazily against the hot night air. The moisture of a quick storm had made her skin sticky and damp, and she felt dirty, her clothes matted to her. She hated that feeling when she was tired.
The tall Konoha trees swayed; leaves crossed in and out of the shadows and moonlight. It was hypnotic and just a little dull. Certainly missions were supposed to be exciting (if stories the older Shinobi told were to be believed), but lately they had all been lacking. Tonight was no different.
The branch on which Sakura was perched was high, but a good level to see the area below. Her objective would be coming that way. In this, she was never wrong.
The black on black she wore in the form of a specially made ANBU uniform was perfect for hiding among those moonlit branches. The black headband covered her unusual hair to hide her identity. For now, she was just another bored hunter, or at least that is what she would have liked to be.
Light footfalls vibrated through the forest nearby, with a pace faster than a casual traveler would have.
Eerie calmness came over Sakura as each breath became steadier. Fatigue was forgotten. Muscles tensed, but her pulse did not quicken. It never quickened anymore.
She closed her eyes to shut off one sense as her mind focused on her others.
Finally the moment came, and the nearly imperceptible steps of a ninja fell along the path under the tree. A small smile crossed her lips. She was never wrong.
Noiselessly, she slid a kunai from her holster and spun it twice around her fingers as she had seen Hatake Kakashi do many times. Was he thinking the same thing she was when he did that? Probably not.
With deliberate slowness, she pulled the porcelain mask that sat on her covered hair down over her face. The cold hardness of it felt good against her hot skin. For an outsider to look at that mask they would see something blank, completely blank. Just like she was in the moments that she wore it.
A calm, slow walk down the tree with chakra put her on the path of the man she was to capture tonight. A drawn out fight with this particular criminal would be a waste of her valuable time. But, as duty required, she darted after him. It only took seconds to catch up.
He wasn't S-class, and so Sakura applied some simple techniques to confuse him. She waited for the right opportunity to attack, as he grew increasingly disoriented in her jutsu. If Haruno Sakura was one thing, it was patient. All who knew her would agree to that.
The young nin stood in a small circle of trees, his chest rising with adrenaline-laden breaths. He gritted his teeth and gave a small grunt of frustration because he knew someone was there, stalking him like an animal. He felt the suffocating impossibility of escape. Drawing the sword from his back, the nin held it out and decided that he would go down hard and give up nothing.
The seconds drew out painfully, the sound of his breathing filling the air around him.
For a fleeting moment, his hands loosened and then tightened in an attempt to hold onto the sweat-covered hilt--a last mistake.
"Let it fall," a muffled feminine voice said from beside his right ear.
"Shit," he hissed through clenched teeth. The point of a kunai jabbed his throat when he spoke. Warm blood slid down his neck.
Sakura squeezed his left hip with her fingers to let him know that she was behind him and that she had the advantage. So foolishly, he had used both hands to hold his sword. He really was a waste of her time.
The man's body began to shake slightly. Sakura knew it wasn't fear, but that hot surge of energy that can buckle knees or create enough strength to knock down a tree with a bare fist. She'd felt it many times before, though rarely now.
"Don't," she said softly. "I'm not here to kill you."
"Are you a Leaf-nin?" he grunted.
"Whom else did you expect?" she asked sincerely.
A small breath of relief escaped him. "All the countries are looking for me."
"Don't flatter yourself," Sakura smirked, "If they wanted you, it wouldn't have been hard to stop you before now."
There could have possibly been a noise of indignation from him, but it wasn't clear, and she didn't really care either way.
"My superiors have some questions for you," she added evenly.
"You haven't come to kill me," he sighed, convinced.
"Not yet," she whispered. His body tensed and she felt it through her fingers. It made her grin. "Move quickly, and we'll be there by morning. Move slowly, and I'll assist you in speeding up." The kunai pressed in a little harder and coaxed a gulp of nervousness from him.
He turned his head slightly to try and see her, only catching sight of the white mask. "A female hunter from the Fire Country? I think I've heard of you. Are you…the…Konoha Gen…"
"Aren't you concerned that that name might offend me?" Sakura said darkly.
"I…don't mean to…offend…" he placated desperately.
"You may address me as Hunter or Ninja, and nothing else," Sakura said coolly as her fingers loosened on his side. The kunai dropped from his throat and she stepped in front of him to lead the way. The walk would be long and it would be morning before they reached headquarters.
Using her pant-leg as a cloth, she wiped the blood off the weapon and held it up to examine it. The moonlight glinted off the blade, and the porcelain mask reflected clearly in the steel.
A Konoha Hunter-nin stared back at her. There was no escaping that blank face.
The missing-nin had almost said it, hadn't he? So many others before him had branded her with that name that she could never shake, and never own up to. This part of her--the part that wasn't medic, kunoichi, or even Sakura--was looking back at her through eye slits in the porcelain façade.
All those times she'd reverted to it. All those times she'd examined it in the dark solitude of her bed as the clock ticked away the tiny hours of the night. It was Itachi, and he had made her what she was now.
Some people wouldn't say the name out loud.
The Konoha Genshi.
The ghost she had to live with forever.
Konoha was starting to brighten with the coming sun, and the lamps in the streets were going out. It reminded Sakura of sitting in the hospital that time she returned from Itachi's and Kakashi had come to see her. They watched the gray morning outside the window as he tried to express his guilt over losing her on their mission. Unwarranted guilt. It was her guilt ever after that.
It had been two weeks since she'd seen Kakashi.
It had been two years since she had seen Itachi.
The missing-nin stumbled ahead of Sakura as they entered a large black gate and moved toward the special ops building. Morino Ibiki, her superior, would be waiting impatiently to conduct his interrogation. She hated being late. She hated the way Ibiki crossed his arms and tapped his foot more.
The nin animatedly looked around the small section of Konoha. "This place looks like a dump," he grunted. He trudged two steps ahead of the Hunter-nin, his hands bound behind him.
Sakura raised her foot and kicked him in the back of his thigh to get him moving. "Keep it shut," she said, unaffected.
The large special ops building was close to the gate and the only people who used that black entrance were the hunters. Being a hunter-nin was not the most coveted job, especially when they had to assassinate and "clean-up" who they were chasing, but it was a service necessary to Konoha's well being. Medics weren't very interested in being hunters so she was a rare commodity among those who chose that career. Also, most who were employed in that manner didn't want people to know who they were, hence the masks. Great pay, but the benefits were next to nothing. The stigma was the worst.
In the year she had been employed in that dark manner, Sakura earned a nickname from the other hunters, who happened to all be men. She wasn't fond of it at first, but felt it a mark of respect. When other people started making references to the "Genshi" aside from the hunters, she found she disliked the name. When other countries spoke of the Genshi, she abhorred it.
They arrived at the special ops building and within seconds of the large wooden door opening to let them in, Sakura gave up her captive with a last kick to his calf and left. There was no need to stay. The mission was successful and her hands were empty.
Although there were only a few, being a hunter had its advantages, namely no reports.
As she wandered back outside, Sakura noticed two Jounin standing nearby, most likely having just finished delivering their own captive to the interrogation unit. Of course, it had to be the one person beside the Hokage and her superiors who knew who she was in that uniform.
If it was only Kakashi, it wouldn't have been so bad, but Shiranui Genma-- another well-known Jounin-- was standing with him. A long steel senbon moved up and down between Genma's lips as a smirk curled around it.
"Mm, give her handcuffs and a whip and she just stepped out of my dream last night," Genma hummed.
From the corner of her eye, Sakura saw Kakashi step away and shake his head. Her old sensei knew her too well.
Before Genma recognized what had happened, a kunai was at his groin, and a black-gloved hand held his throat from behind.
"Is this what happened in your dream?" she whispered.
"Not quite," he replied with a strangled laugh.
She gave a quick glance and a small nod to Kakashi before she disappeared.
"Damn. I think I'm in love," Genma laughed, cupping his family jewels protectively and scanning the area in case she was still there.
"That's a complicated one. You'd be better to pick someone a little easier," Kakashi said quietly.
A hot shower was always good to wash away the night, and Sakura found today was no exception. Still wet and warm from the water, she wandered into her bedroom and lounged on her bed, enjoying the feeling of cooling naked skin in the morning sunlight.
She slipped into her sheets after feeling dry enough and relished being in something soft after such a long night. It usually took a while to get to sleep, so normally she'd just lie there and watch the broken light from the wood blinds on the ceiling.
Sometimes her mind stayed busy while her body went limp of all tenseness it held onto during a mission. This morning, she was thinking about him. It didn't happen as often as it used to, but he seemed to be in her thoughts constantly since she had watched the lamps turn on this morning.
"Itachi", she whispered the name to the shadows.
The Akatsuki still prowled the five countries, doing dirty work and raking up power. They were a force beyond all now, and Sakura stayed far away from missions involving them. There weren't very many because they couldn't afford to keep losing hunters. Not a lot of ninja pursued that line of work in the first place.
If Itachi had gotten his way the last time she saw him, she would be one of the Akatsuki now.
All the training they would do when she'd go to see him, all the moves, jutsu, and weapon tricks he taught her, were all for one reason. It was almost too late when she realized.
That last day with him, they became enemies.
She told herself not to think about it. It was the only thing that could make her cry now.
In his limited capacity, she felt he cared for her as much as he could care for anyone beside himself. He couldn't love, or even understand such a feeling. Itachi was unique in such horrible ways. He protected her and had some deep desire to keep her with him, but it wasn't enough.
In the end, she couldn't be satisfied with what he offered her in exchange for her life in Konoha. She knew, to her own horror, that she had developed some love for him. And she knew that if she proclaimed her love for him, he would tell her she was weak. It never passed her lips.
Such a love would only be twisted and wrong anyway.
Pressing her face into the pillow, Sakura closed her eyes and tried to push passed the memories in favor of rest. If she didn't sleep now, she wouldn't later.
It was Saturday, and Ino would be at her door before the sun went down.
As predicted, a loud knock at the door announced her even louder friend. During bouts of gossip and wine sipping, Sakura got dressed and prepared for a few drinks at the pub to satisfy Ino's need for her company. Within half an hour, she was ready and they took the short walk along the darkening Konoha streets to the main pub for Shinobi.
Once inside, the room seemed dull until her eyes adjusted to the atmosphere. Music played somewhere, and by the swell of the crowd in the opposite corner, people were dancing.
The long mahogany bar was filled with people on swiveling stools, and to her small pleasure, Hatake Kakashi was among them having a drink. Sakura took a quick look at her blond friend who was on tiptoe and surveying the crowd for whoever she might be looking for that night. Sakura didn't ask whom, and really didn't care.
Near the dance floor, a small group also caught her eye, though she wished they hadn't. It wasn't irregular to find Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto with a small contingency of fresh young Chuunin eyeing them covetously. Tonight Sasuke had managed to find one to keep closer company as she swung her slender arms around his neck, entangling them tightly and warning off any other pursuers. Sakura watched him until he met her eyes. She was the first to break their gaze.
"Ino, I'm going to go talk with Hatake Kakashi for a bit. I'll be at the bar."
The blond had also seen Sasuke and nodded knowingly. This moment had reoccurred at regular intervals over the last year. Sakura always handled it well, but the Uchiha was a different story. The only thing she could do for Sakura was be indignant on her behalf.
Sakura waved off Ino as she walked toward the bar and found her old sensei enjoying a drink with Genma. As she approached, Genma eyed her blue jeans and white t-shirt with some skepticism.
"You'll never pick-up dressed like that," Genma drawled.
"Oh, I don't know. Isn't this what you prefer, Kakashi?" she alluded.
Kakashi's shoulders bounced just slightly and he looked down to hide his face.
Genma's mouth fell open as he watched Sakura lean so close to Kakashi that she actually straddled one of his thighs. Sliding her hands up his shoulders, she played gently with the hair around his collar and moved her face close to his.
"Quit messing, you two. I know she's just trying to see your face," Genma huffed, waving off seriousness.
"Oh, I've seen it. Haven't I, Kakashi-kun," Sakura hummed as she let her mouth hover just an inch from Kakashi's masked lips. One of her fingers dipped into the edge of it and ran along between the fabric and his cheek.
Genma leaned closer to hear the answer. His eyes looked down to see Kakashi's hands slide around Sakura's waist. When he looked up, he watched the pair stare into each other's eyes.
Kakashi tipped his head, leaning in for a kiss as well and said, very quietly, "Twice."
Genma jolted back up and crossed his arms. "Don't yank my chain," he growled, clearly offended at their joke. Sakura expected an argument but he walked away without so much as an innuendo or even a curse -- so unlike Genma.
"What's the matter with him?" Sakura muttered.
"He almost got his jewels cut off this morning by a Hunter-nin. He's a little sensitive right now."
Kakashi chuckled and Sakura laughed with him, but didn't let him go. "I think Genma is actually looking for someone who will yank his chain, don't you think?" she said playfully.
"He'll find one. He always does." Kakashi took his hands from Sakura's waist but she still held on.
Leaning close to his ear, she whispered, "Why haven't you come to see me? Every month, remember? You agreed."
"My eye is fine. It's been three years, Sakura. How long do I have to have it monitored?"
"Five. You know that." She still kept her arms around his neck, but leaned back enough to look into his eyes. The slate gray one still looked different from the dark Uchiha eye, even in the smoky pub. She loved that his headband didn't obscure the left half of his face anymore, as did many of the other women of Konoha.
"Well, this is cozy. Am I interrupting?" Sasuke said from beside the pair, still somewhat entangled.
"Yes, actually," Sakura snipped. She made no attempt to let Kakashi go. "Don't you have some big important dangerous mission to go on or something?"
Sasuke ran his hand through his short hair and rolled his eyes. To Sakura, he looked so much like he did when they were teens. It was hard to be mad at him. Since he cut his long hair two years before, he began to resemble the cocky young man she met as a girl. Lately his attitude had matched it, and she'd grown tired of him. Since their team had split and Sasuke was almost killed, there was something that always reared up and made them fight. She was 23 now. Even his good looks could only get him so far with her.
"I'm not in the mood for your bitching," Sasuke sighed.
"Alright. Tell me what you'd prefer instead? Indifference? Disinterest? I can do both for you if you like." Sakura plastered her face with a fake sweetness that could anger anyone.
"Okay, that's it for me," Kakashi said as he put his hands up in surrender. Too often, he felt like a mediator with them. "It's nice to see you, Sasuke. Sakura, I'll come see you tomorrow if that works."
Sakura relinquished her embrace on Kakashi and allowed him to stand up in front of her.
"Actually, Kakashi, I was hoping you'd take me home," she said loud enough for everyone in the immediate area to hear.
Kakashi tipped his head back and looked at the ceiling as he exhaled a loud and exaggeratedly. "Alright."
"Well, have fun kids," Sasuke spat with sarcasm as he huffed away.
"Jerk," Sakura growled out as she grabbed Kakashi's arm and tugged him toward the door.
"What about your friend?" Kakashi shouted over the people they bustled by as they moved to the exit. His thumb jerked towards the dance floor.
"Never mind. It looks like Genma's found her."
The night air felt good and filled Sakura's lungs as she inhaled deep breaths. Kakashi wandered silently beside her as they neared the road that her apartment was on, past closed shops and worn buildings. He could always tell when she didn't want to be alone.
"Everything go alright on your mission?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Yeah. It was an easy one. I hope I didn't embarrass you back there. I didn't expect Sasuke to come over. He seemed…preoccupied." Sakura shook her head absently.
"You could never embarrass me," Kakashi said quietly, "Genma on the other hand…"
Her soft laugh made Kakashi's shoulders release their tenseness.
Sometimes they didn't need to talk, but as long as Sakura wasn't alone, she was happy. Since the day Sasuke was almost killed, Kakashi had noticed a change in her. For a while, she seemed darker and introverted like she was trying to hide something. After about a year, she just seemed tired and jaded. It was two drastic changes, but Kakashi figured Sasuke was a big part of it.
"Do you think Genma believed that I'd seen your face before?" Sakura pondered.
"Yeah, actually. I'd never lie about that, so he'll try to pry it out of me tomorrow. I might let it drag on for a bit, so play it up if he bothers you."
Sakura smiled and nodded. Her gaze went up to the stars overhead and their feet slowed unconsciously as if they didn't want to hurry to end their quiet walk.
Kakashi looked sideways at the subdued kunoichi and remembered the first time she'd seen his face. It had been two years before when he was on a mission. Everything went wrong from the moment they left Konoha until the attack that injured the majority of his six man team. Had Sakura's ANBU squad not stumbled on them, he felt sure at least half of those six would be dead now.
It was raining and cold at the forest edge of the Fire Country. Intercepting enemy information transfers were nothing new to Kakashi, but his team leader was inexperienced and got them into trouble. Had there not been elites in the party, all would have been so much worse.
In the end, many bodies injured and dead lay in the long grass at the border. No one had called for help.
Kakashi lay on the damp ground trying to will some energy into his limbs after he used the sharingan too much. If he could just get up and radio for help…
But help came without being called.
A figure of an ANBU leaned over the copy-nin as he lay still and coughed blood into his mask. Warm fingers pried the wet fabric from his face until it lay along his neck, and then they wiped the blood from his lips. His half closed eyes couldn't make out his rescuer.
It took a moment for him to realize whom it was that leaned so close, shielding his face from the rain.
"See to the others," Kakashi choked out quietly. He opened his eyes fully to see a curtain of pink hair dangling near his cheek and the concerned eyes he knew so well. Her hands had already started furiously pumping healing energies into his injuries.
Sakura locked her gaze with his. "You first."
Kakashi would never forget the way she sounded or the relief he felt when he realized it was his favorite medic. After that day, they had a stronger bond between them. Now he was a protector and confidant as opposed to a superior. The way Sakura had grown, he wondered if anyone was superior to her now.
"Are you going to be alright?" he asked with mild concern. It was usually all he could muster into his voice, even though in his mind it was stronger.
"Of course." She turned to her front steps and didn't look back as she opened the door. If she'd given him a last acknowledgement, he'd see something in her face that would make him insist on a coffee or at the very least, another stroll around the block. Kakashi didn't deserve to be stuck as her babysitter on nights like these. At this early hour, he could go back and rejoin the crowd at the pub.
She shut the door when she heard his friendly 'goodnight' and his steps as he walked back up the street.
"Alone at last," she said to no one. She didn't really mean it to be a statement of relief.
The dark apartment felt welcoming and she wished she had never left it. Following Ino into a crowded smoky room and watching women paw Sasuke and Naruto was not her idea of a good time. However enjoyable being in a social atmosphere was supposed to be, Sakura didn't think she had the faculties to enjoy herself like that anymore.
Life as a hunter-nin could be hard. Life as the former lover of Uchiha Itachi was harder.
Slipping off her shoes and dropping her keys to the small table near the door, she took three steps toward her bedroom when her senses perked up.
She wasn't alone.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait. I wanted to thank everyone who reviewed and poked me to update. Unfortunately, work has to come first. I'm still working on a large project, but it will done soon. I'll be able to update faster when that is finished. This was sort of an introductory chapter to show the time jump again. If you are reading this story for the first time, this is a continuation of my other story "Loophole."
Thanks to roark28 for the beta, and to tsukashi for her constant support even when I got down on my writing.
Thanks again for all the reviews and attention to Loophole. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
I missed you guys.