Genshi 6 – end.

They trudged back to the Fire Country slowly, Sasuke meters and meters ahead, and Naruto alongside Sakura. For the last part of the journey, Naruto actually carried Sakura on his back after she fell unconscious from exhaustion and whatever else was happening in her body.

When she woke up, she was in a bed in the Konoha hospital, hooked to machines and watched closely by Tsunade.

The sheet felt cool on her body, and the air smelled of sterility and cleanser. The machine beside her hummed and clicked in time with her heartbeat.

Her eyes were tired and glazed and she had to actually convince herself to open them up. Kakashi and Tsunade stood at the windows speaking quietly until she groaned softly with an attempt to sit up. The Hokage moved to the bed, but Kakashi remained by the windows. He stared at her and his face was unreadable.

"Sakura, are you in pain?" Tsunade whispered as she pressed her hand over Sakura's. The blond leaned over the bedrail and lifted one of Sakura's eyelids and gazed at it.

"Shishou. I'm sorry I worried you. I'm all right." Sakura's voice was soft and her throat was dry. She tried to sit up a little but Tsunade's hand on her shoulder kept her still.

Kakashi took in a deep breath of relief and turned his face to the rain covered Konoha outside the windows. It was dark but he watched anyway. It made Sakura wonder how long she'd been asleep.

"You've been through a lot, Sakura. Just lie still," Tsunade said quietly.

"I think I'm okay. I just feel weak. Chakra drain and my injury."

"Yes, did you know that your liver was damaged? It's lucky that we got you back when we did. Was it a sword puncture, Sakura?"

Sakura turned her head away from her teacher for a moment and focused on the machine next to her. The red light flashed slowly and she closed her eyes to it. "Yes. Uchiha Itachi's sword."

"We understand you killed him. Naruto told us. I can't believe your mission involved the Akatsuki. I wouldn't have sent you if I had known," Tsunade said angrily, but still soft against the hospital backdrop.

Sakura sighed and responded in the same strained tone. "The hunter mission was just to track S-class misfits from Mist. The Akatsuki was just an unfortunate slip-up. Two of the Hunters killed one of the Akatsuki and the retaliation was almost immediate."

"That's unfortunate indeed," Tsunade continued, "Your injury was severe. How did you survive the attack?"

"Tsunade-sama, perhaps we should let Sakura continue to rest," Kakashi piped in, walking closer to the Hokage who was looking at Sakura with a mixture of concern and minute suspicion.

"It's alright, Kakashi. I want to tell." Sakura reached feebly over to a bedside table and grabbed some water there for when she woke up. It was warm and stale.

"Uchiha Itachi and I have a prior acquaintance, as you know. He realized it was I in the hunter uniform and took me to some safe house for questioning. He left and I pursued him. Naruto and Sasuke found me when I caught him." Sakura took a deep breath and managed to keep emotion out of her voice. Stay clinical, she told herself. Stay cold.

The entire walk back while she was conscious, she worked on how she would present the facts. There would be no getting out of questioning this time.

"Why did he want to question you? Keeping people alive is something out of character for that killer."

"He wanted to know how much we knew. I really can't comment on what someone like him was thinking. He was the one who put the sword through my side, and gashed my shoulder and thigh before I killed him."

"Tsunade-sama. Why not let her rest and then tomorrow she can come to your office. We can continue then," Kakashi reiterated and this time Tsunade nodded in agreement, although reluctantly.

"Kakashi is right. You should rest. Come to my office tomorrow at noon. I'll make sure Naruto and Sasuke are there as well and we'll go through your reports."

Sakura's chest tightened thinking of Sasuke. The entire way back, he didn't turn his head in her direction. Obviously Naruto had stayed with her partly to help, but more for protection. She'd stolen the moment that Sasuke had worked his whole young life to achieve. Now he was left with an empty hole where that accomplishment should be.

Sakura had created that hole.

She touched her cheek and pushed some chakra into the bruise on her jaw. She didn't blame him one bit.

Sighing and finding her body craving more sleep, she closed her eyes and wished to go forward three months to skip all the trouble coming her way.

It continued to rain throughout the night to end around sunrise. The patter on the windows of the hospital was relaxing but it kept Sakura awake in the small hours of the morning. The temptation to confess everything to Tsunade was there, skimming the surface of her thoughts. But that wouldn't accomplish anything now. It bothered her while hours ticked away but she knew it was nothing she reveal.

Kakashi had obviously wanted to give her time to work out her story. He knew of the deal made years ago and he forgave her. But Kakashi didn't control the Hunters or the ANBU. They would not be so forgiving. Tsunade would not be so forgiving. Sakura knew her too well for that.

In the early morning before Konoha really woke up, Sakura went home and entered her small apartment to find the plants dead and the air smelling like dust. She lay on her bed and watched the clock. The entire time, she went over her mission report. Brief and to the point was best. Like her academy valedictorian speech, she rehearsed it until it was memorized.

Slipping on a t-shirt and some jeans when her alarm alerted her it was time to go, she wandered slowly to the Hokage Tower. Nothing made her anxiety worse than knowing in a few minutes she would have to face Sasuke.

The streets were filled with people smiling and nodding to her as she passed. Life was so normal for them today. Didn't they know what she had just done? She'd just plunged a kunai through the chest of the man she loved. Couldn't they understand she didn't want their smiles today?

"Sakura," Naruto's voice came from behind her, and it was a calmer sound than she'd ever heard from him. "You okay?"

She turned and forced a smile for him and he accepted it as he always accepted things from her. "I'm okay." Sakura nodded as Naruto slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her tightly to him. He smiled widely even though his tone didn't agree with it.

"So…you were the Genshi, huh? Didn't know you kicked ass so hard," he laughed and immediately the mood lightened. Thank goodness she had such a good friend.

"I was. The Genshi is dead now and I'm happy to let her go." Sakura smiled back and Naruto's shoulders seemed to lose some of their tension.

"Come on." He touched his forehead to hers. "I'll walk you up. Don't worry. Kakashi and I will be there for you no matter what happens."

"I know you will." She smiled and it was content. She didn't deserve him.

They wandered up the winding stairs together and entered the offices of the Hokage. Tsunade sat behind her large desk and Kakashi was at his usual perch on the windowsill. What shocked her was that Ibiki was there also. As her commander on the Hunter-nin squad, he would have to be, she supposed.

Standing quietly at the other side of the room, Sasuke didn't look at her when she came in. It was just as well. Sakura knew he was going to need a great deal of time to get over what happened. No one could hold anger like Sasuke.

"How are you feeling, Sakura?" Kakashi asked calmly.

Sakura nodded and smiled, but didn't answer. The general feeling in the office was of tension even though everyone seemed relieved to have her up and around. Well, almost everyone.

"Sakura, Morino Ibiki requested to be here as well. We are ready to hear your report. Please elaborate on what you began to tell me yesterday," Tsunade said calmly, folding her fingers together on the papers in front of her.

Ibiki walked forward and moved a chair into the centre of the room, motioning for Sakura to sit. No one ever refused Ibiki. Strangely, Sakura felt like it was more an interrogation than a mission report, especially with the present company in the room.

She sat down and put her hands on her knees. Glancing over, she could see Kakashi watching intently.

"Yes ma'am," Sakura began as she turned back to her shishou, "As you know, I joined the Mist squad after being requested and seconded a number of weeks ago. With that group, I tracked about half of the criminals ona list given to us. We camped in the rogue country and two scouts ran across an Akatsuki member. They disposed of him and when the commander of our squad realized what had happened, we tried to leave."

Sasuke's head rose and he stared through her. Naruto wasn't interfering, but his hand was warm on her shoulder in a reinforcing gesture. She was glad for it.

"The Akatsuki attacked and the Uchiha fought with me. He ran me through with a sword and I lost consciousness from pain and blood loss. When I awoke, I found myself in an apartment in a small village. A man was healing me a little bit, but nothing to your caliber, Shishou. Itachi…the Uchiha came to the room and asked me some questions on what we knew about him and the Akatsuki. Then he left. I pursued him and then killed him. I assume Naruto has briefed you on the fight with Itachi."

"That's it?" Ibiki began and her head snapped in his direction. Sakura's hair stood on end at the sound of his voice. He was the last person she wanted to be questioned by.

"No its not," Sasuke interrupted, standing up from his lean against the wall. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"

All eyes turned to Sasuke as he held a look of disdain and dark anticipation. "Tell them about the first time you disappeared, Sakura."

"Sasuke, that's enough," Kakashi growled softly. But it was too late; he already knew that.

"What are you talking about?" Tsunade asked Sasuke. Her eyes moved back and forth from Kakashi to Sakura then back to Sasuke.

"She healed Itachi's eyes in exchange for help getting me back. She instigated the deal and made him a better killer for her own gains. She helped an S-class criminal to suit herself. Isn't that right, Sakura?"

Uncontrollably,Sakura'sgaze widened. She could feel the look of shock on her face but there was no way to stop it. Closing her eyes, she shook her head. "I did it for you," she said quietly.

Tsunade's mouth had dropped open and Kakashi had protectively moved closer to Sakura. Ibiki crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the kunoichi. If Ibiki was one thing, it was intimidating.

Sakura could feel the beads of perspiration trailing their way down her spine. The intensity in the room was almost tangible and she clenched her hands, digging her nails into her skin to keep composure.

"She was young, Hokage-sama. She knows it was a mistake. The Uchiha is gone now," Kakashi placated.

"I…can't believe you would do that, Sakura. And you knew about this, Kakashi?" Tsunade was affronted and shocked. "I can't even think of what to say. Naruto knows?"

Naruto nodded a little, but held firm to Sakura's shoulder. No matter what, he'd stand by her.

Ibiki stepped forward finally. "Hokage-sama, I think we should confer about this before we continue." His deep voice cut through the anger and shock in the room and all eyes snapped to him.

"Of course," Tsunade said, still unable to wrap her head around what was happening. She looked ready to cry or break something, a bad combination for such a strong person.

Ibiki continued, taking the reins as Tsunade was unable to. "Kakashi, will you take her to the upper level and wait there while we talk here. We'll send Naruto to get you when we're ready to continue. Sasuke can wait outside…but Naruto stays."

Kakashi nodded and looked at Sakura. In turn, she bit her lip and allowed him to grasp her elbow and help her out of the chair to the door. Before she stepped out, she could see a strange look on Sasuke's face. It wasn't one of triumph, butperhaps regret.

The door slammed shut as they crossed the threshold, and Sakura took a deep cleansing breath when they reached the rooftop of the tower. The air was crisp with morning sun but still smelled like rain.

"It doesn't look good, Sakura," Kakashi said quietly, tugging down his mask. "I really didn't think he'd say that." He leaned on the ledge of the tower, one foot up, his arm over his thigh. His gaze traced Konoha and the faces of the monument. He stared at the visage of the fourth.

"I didn't think he'd do that to me. But he's angry. It'll take time for him to forgive me…if he ever does." Sakura sat down on the ledge and looked at the copy-nin's tired eye.

They regarded each other for a moment. Silence had always been comfortable between them.

"I don't know if I can protect you this time," Kakashi said sadly.

"Kakashi," shewhispered with emotion, "I know you would if you could. I really don't expect you to. I feel like I should regret my choices, but I don't. I would do all the same things again," Sakura said quietly. "I hope you can forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive. That's good that you don't regret it. Regret can be painful."

"You say that like you understand it, Senpai." Sakura's eyes studied the small downward tug of one corner of Kakashi's mouth. He closed his visible eye and then opened it to look at her.

"I chose ANBU years ago over someone I cared about. When I returned, she'd been killed. I regret that. If you did what you believe was right and you don't regret it, then be content with that. I always wondered what happiness I'd given up."

Sakura was silenced with Kakashi's admission. She knew it was probably hard for him to tell her something so personal. Kakashi was never someone to disclose things he held so close, even to her.

"I'm so sorry, Kakashi. And you're right; I choose to make myself happy now. If feel like it's selfish…but maybe I should be selfish now."

"Hm," Kakashi mumbled slightly as he slipped his mask back up. Silently he concurred wholeheartedly. Sakura had given up a lot for Sasuke over the years. He was ashamed that the young Uchiha would blatantly go against her after the sacrifices she made for him.

"Sakura!" Naruto appeared at the top of the stairs, panting with the run. "They want you to come back down."

Ibiki stood behind Tsunade, but didn't speak. He stared at Sakura as he was apt to do to potential victims of his interrogation. Sakura's spine tingled with fear.

Finally, Tsunade spoke and her tone was not as harsh as Sakura had expected.

"Sakura, I can't begin to tell you how shocked we are at what we heard today. Ibiki feels that you must resign from the Hunter squad and I feel that you should resign from ANBU. In the same way we treated Sasuke, you must earn our trust back," Tsunade iterated. Her countenance was sad. Sakura hated that she'd disappointed her teacher.

"I understand, Shishou. Please accept this as a verbal resignation from the Hunter-nin squad and the ANBU squad." Sakura looked Tsunade in the eye and received a slow nod in return.

"Your resignation is accepted. We'll get back to you on being limited to the village for missions when we've worked out the details. All right, Sakura. You may g…"

"Furthermore," Sakura cut in, her voice weak, but holding conviction "I would like to request permission to leave Konoha. I would like to take an indefinite leave from the ninja ranks to travel the smaller countries and use my medical skills in the more remote areas."

"What?" Kakashi blurted. "Why?"

Sakura turned to him and smiled. "I want to be selfish now. I've been taught skills to help people and I'm tired of death. I won't leave without permission, but please be assured that this is what I want. I'll check in once a year or as often as needed, but I wish to go." Sakura turned to Tsunade. "Can you understand?"

Of course, Tsunade could. Her thoughts went back to all the tragedy and anguish she had went through making that decision, as had Jiraiya. When a team breaks apart, it can be devastation for anyone. A desired escape is the first thought.

With a heavy sigh, Tsunade looked at everyone in the room for objections. She knew how the need to get away could be encompassing. Sakura was right. Death can take away the love of anything and sometimes you just had to leave it behind.

"I will allow it, Sakura. You will not need to check in…only…please let us know that you are all right from time to time. As of this moment, you are relieved of any Shinobi rank or duty. If you return, we will worry about reinstating you at that time." Tsunade's face was a mask of worry and apprehension but she conceded and that was all Sakura could hope for. "Please return one day."

"Thank you, Shishou."

Naruto touched Sakura's shoulder again, "Are you sure?"

Sakura nodded and looked at Sasuke who had been silent the entire time. He looked away from her gaze and she understood that he wasn't ready.

"When will you go?" Kakashi asked.


Standing at the large gate of Konoha, Sakura touched the wood and then smiled at Naruto and Kakashi who had come to say goodbye. Naruto was close to tears. He held at her shirtsleeve and seemed unable to let go. For such a tall and impressive man, Sakura began to think Naruto's emotions ran as deep as hers. She loved that about him.

"Oh, Kakashi…here." Sakura fished a scroll from her pack and handed it back to her old teacher. Turning it over in his hand, Kakashi looked at the undamaged fanged vengeance scroll.

"I'd feel better if you took this," he said quietly, holding the scroll out for her.

"I won't be needing it. I'm not a ninja anymore." She smiled and hugged Kakashi tightly. As uncomfortable as affectionate touch made him, he managed to half hug her back.

"Sakura-chan, why don't you stay? Asshole will grow up and forget it all. He'll get over it soon." Naruto grabbed her and pulled her against him tightly. Consolingly, Sakura stroked his hair and pressed her fingers into his back. It was harder to leave than she imagined and she found her eyes tearing up.

"I know he will. Please write to me when I get an address. I want to hear all about your exploits until you are Hokage," she laughed through the tears.

"When I'm Hokage, you have to come back for the ceremony."

"Deal," she said quietly, pressing her face into his shoulder.

Sasuke had not come, and she had not expected him to.

For the longest time, Sakura felt unable to let Naruto go. His hands seemed glued to her back and she wrapped her fingers in his shirt sides.

Finally, with some inner strength she didn't know she had, she pulled herself away. They watched her walk out of the gates until she was out of sight. Sakura would look back every so often to see them standing there together until she could see them no more.

She burned the picture of them into her memory.

Looking ahead, contentment finally filled her as she began her journey across the five countries.

In the time she traveled, she'd seen many sights that even ANBU had not taken her across. Almost feeling like a tourist, she enjoyed meeting new people and picking up small trinkets along the way. At each village, she'd spend some time at the local medical clinic helping out and talking to them about new medications. It was very fulfilling.

Before she knew it, three months had passed; and for the last month she had settled in a small village near the water. It was beyond the five countries where a ninja was a rare thing. Since arriving, she'd only seen one or two passing through and they were more hired muscle than organized. She doubted they were from any of the countries.

The town was nice, the kind of place where people say good morning and learn your name. It was situated on a bay where men fished from their rusty metal boats and their wives sold their wares from small open-air market stands.

The smell of dango and sweets filled the air every Saturday morning from the small restaurant on the water. The fisherman would come back from their trips after days at sea and Sakura loved to watch the small reunions with their wives. It filled her with contentment.

Children would splash on the beach, and occasionally they would come to her with a cut foot from the smooth glass stones or a slashed finger from a fishhook. For now, she was content to deliver babies and heal chicken pox.

For now, life was almost perfect.

She thought about Sasuke once in a while. Kakashi's letters kept her informed of the goings on. He was lazy with correspondence as he was with everything, but he was consistent and his letters were thorough and friendly.

Naruto's letters came every other week filled with his tales of mission excitement in messy scrawl. The last letter said that Sasuke had asked about her.

Perhaps he was finding his way to fill that hole that his revenge had carved. Sakura hoped so.

The letters were forwarded from a post office box in Sand, which she'd set up as she went through. She didn't want to be found and so she kept that trail hidden. Maybe she'd return one day to Konoha, but for now, all she could do was find peace and wait.

Sitting in the restaurant by the water, Sakura enjoyed watching two small boys skipping flat stones as she finished her late meal. The sun was going down and the sky was a yellow orange so similar to Naruto's hair that she got a pang of sadness.

She picked at the fish on her plate and ran her finger along the silk obi of her blue yukata. Her eyes glazed over as she watched the waves running onto the beach.

"Oh Sakura-san, good evening." A friendly voice interrupted her inner thoughts and Sakura looked up to see the owner of the restaurant. Her name was Sakura too and her smile was wide. She owned the restaurant for thirty-five years and swore she'd be cooking in it until her last breath. Her gray hair was always messy, and she always had a pencil stuck behind her ear. Sakura liked her.

"Good evening, Sakura-san." Sakura smiled back. "Would you like to join me for some tea?"

"Oh, actually I came over to tell you a man was just here looking for you. I didn't know you had come in tonight. I sent him to your offices. I hope that was all right?" the elder Sakura said with some concern after registering Sakura's shock.

"A…a man? What did he look like?"

"Well, he was very, very handsome." The owner winked. "He had dark eyes and short dark hair."

"Th...thank you," Sakura managed. Her eyes weren't focusing because her heart was pumping her blood so fast that she thought she might pass out. Slowly rising from the table, she walked to the door. Her feet were uncooperative, but she still managed to get through the exit without banging the frame.

Shaking with anticipation, she emerged to look down the street where her office was located. No one seemed to be around it. The streets were quiet and the lamps were beginning to come on. She had a clear view of her office door.

Stunned with anticipation, Sakura pressed her hand to her cheek hoping her cool fingers would take the flush from her face. Her skin was hot.

Turning toward the water, she finally saw the silhouette of a man, dark against the sunset backdrop. He was still, and watching the two young boys skimming stones. Wearing a leather coat, dark pants and no headband, he looked so different, but there was no mistaking who he was.

Slowly, Sakura began to walk over to him but she stopped a step away when he turned to her. Already, she was crying. She couldn't mask it so why try? His presence unraveled her; it always had.

"I…I was so worried…that I'd killed you…" she sobbed. "I was so scared…"

"We both know you would be unable to kill me, Sakura," Itachi said quietly. He took the last step to come toe to toe with her. His face had that unreadable blankness. His dark eyes skimmed her short hair that she'd had cut just that morning.

Those eyes…she could hardly draw breath at the sight of them.

Seeing his face again brought everything back. That evening in the apartment when he was going to use the mangekyou on her, she begged softly "Itachi…please."

Consciousness was fading, but he stopped. For Itachi to second-guess his actions was unusual, but she was so grateful that he did.

"Ask me to stay…and I will," she said next.

He stared into her eyes for a long time. Then he asked.

He could have killed her, or put her out with his eyes, but he didn't. Uchiha Itachi made anuncharacteristicchoice in that moment, just as she had.

Coming up with a plan didn't take long. A trail to lead her comrades to her and a kunai filled with medical chakra that would begin healing him the instant he was struck were all part of the grand scheme. He had taught her how to put chakra into an item, just as he had done with her bracelet and all the doorframes years ago.

Itachi felt the kink in the plan was that she wouldn't fight and stab him, so he forced her. He knew her too well. In the moments he threatened Naruto, she knew he wasn't lying. It was enough to spur her actions, as hard as they were.

What if the chakra didn't work? What if she grabbed the wrong kunai?So manythings that could go wrong. The fear had held her mind every second after she struck him.

Kisame was a bonus in the plan. Using a jutsu to appear deceased, Itachi hoped that Kisame would help him. They had been partners a long time. His assumption had been correct and after leaving Itachi to heal on his own, Kisame presented another body to the leader.

They were free of the Akatsuki, and free of the restraints of being a ninja of Konoha. He was alive and real, touching her.

"You cut it," Itachi said evenlyrunning his fingers along the ends of her hair as if inspecting it.

Sakura ran her fingers through the back of his hair, "So did you." The tears stopped, but she couldn't smile.

"Everything happened exactly as you thought it would. Sasuke will never forgive me but he's alive and can go on with his life."

"He will forgive you."

Itachi looked back out over the water.

Sakura stared at him, her hand reaching for his side and he allowing it, as she pressed her body against his. He always seemed so cold, but she knew things about him that others couldn't see. He did things for her that no one else would ever understand.

She didn't know how long it could last or when he'd tire of her, but she'd take it for now.

They had time, which they had never had before.

For once, she'd enjoy being selfish.

Well, it is an Itasaku so I guess it should end an Itasaku

I managed to get time to finish it today. As I said, reviews are not necessary. I will probably work on tempest next and a new kakasaku. I doubt I will ever come back to Itasaku.

Thanks to everyone who followed this and enjoyed it. Your encouragement was greatly appreciated.

Love Leafy.