A/N: From what I've been told, this isn't too shabby of a story. :) Thank you everyone who has taken the time to tell me your thoughts about this. You all win. Stuff.
When I wrote this story back in '07, I wrote it to two specific songs. Those two songs are super special awesome songs that always make me think of this specific fic now, and they are 'Back in the Wild' by Greenskeepers and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. When you see a (1), that's my little note to you to switch from Back in the Wild to Chasing Cars. :) I think it's just a good idea because this is, truthfully, the only fanfiction I have ever written so inspired by music, and it just fits.
Anyway, this was written when I was fairly new to the fandom, with the decision of making an Itachi x Sakura pairing from a different angle - an almost completely non-physical relationship. I was tired of all of the ways the pairing had been portrayed - sex, lust, things that I ultimately don't want from them. This was made with that idea in mind. It was also made because of an English teacher I had for a short time in fall of 2007; she left only a few months into the year, but was one of the best teachers I've had, and this was mainly triggered from a phrase during one of her lectures. 'Death is a lonely business.'
Anyway. Thoughts are always appreciated. :)
Red Eyes Fade Black
The first time he saw her was a hazy memory.
He was leaving. It was inevitable, especially after what he had done.
He didn't regret it.
The gates were coming up fast, and he was running along the path near the school. It was ironic, really; mother had always taken him and little brother along that path and said it was the prettiest place to be at a full moon, because the moon was always right over the little bench that they would sit on, and here he was, here the moon was, here they were and he stopped momentarily to watch it because it'd be the last time he'd watch it from her favorite spot.
The little girl was walking from the store with her mother along the path that branched off this one. He watched, silently, undetected for a moment. Her hair was bright pink, her eyes pure jade. She was carrying groceries – too many, from the looks of it – and all he could remember was her smiling and saying she'd be the greatest kunouchi.
Her bags spilled over and she tripped, scraping her elbow and knee up, but he was gone by the time she picked up the bread.
He didn't see her for years. He hadn't ever thought about her; only once or twice in the whole eight to nine years, and that was only because the cherry blossom trees he would practice kunai throwing reminded him of her hair, but he quickly forgot and busied himself with more important things as he grew up.
But it was so many years later, and he remembered the little girl with the bread, and he confirmed in his mind's eye it was her because her hair was pink and her eyes were jade. He looked at her comrade, their eyes meeting briefly before the boy was caught in the genjutsu, paralyzed.
She was by him in an instant, relieving him of the mental torture he had so easily thrown on the boy.
And he was surprised by this, needless to say, because she had been there a second before the old woman and had relieved the genjutsu with the calm touch of her hand to the boy's shoulder. He was gone again, however, when the jutsu lifted and he was no longer in control of the Sand ninja's body.
He didn't think of her. He didn't see her as special, and concluded to himself that she was a weakling who was just there to make the team seem bigger, stronger - Konoha had a knack for producing weaklings. This is what he had thought until Deidara had come slouching into their small living quarters (a shabby excuse for a base; when were they going to acquire a sanitary, inhabitable living space?) a time later, complaining about how Sasori had 'kicked the bucket' because of some weird pink-haired girl with freaky strength and an old hag.
He had arched an eyebrow, but continued to drink his tea (which was actually quite disgusting, but it was supplied and he supposed he should've known better), saying nothing, though she had unconsciously gone up a notch in his mind.
The Jinchuuriki project had continued, still five years later; they had began to resurface, because two years after meeting the girl and after losing too many members (though not much, but three was pushing it), they had gone underground for a while, devising strategies, and, for the most part (as Deidara had often jokingly said, much to Itachi's annoyance) taking a vacation. They had come up for air, again, and they were to allow no casualties… for them, anyway.
The three tails was left to him; Kisame had veered off the mission, muttering that he could handle it on his own and he, himself, had 'other business' to attend to. Itachi said nothing, because he and the missing Mist-nin had come to a silent agreement. What was his business, was his; likewise both ways.
Therefore, after a rather easy victory (he had been hoping for a challenge, but the three-tailed beast was in the body of a young teenager and he had defeated and dropped him off on Leader quickly), Itachi had slipped into a pub in a quiet little village, a ways off from Konoha and closer to the Mist Village.
Itachi had never gotten drunk. He was much too aware, alert to allow such a thing to happen; if he did, on the occasional blue moon, get a drink, it'd only be a glass or two. He had never known his own alcohol resistance, and didn't bother finding out, so he had just slipped into a seat quietly between two patrons and ordered a glass of cheap wine.
To his left; a man and his friend, two commoners who were talking loudly and drunkenly. To his right; a kunoichi.
He was surprised (though he showed no signs; he was not worried) that he hadn't spotted it outright, but she was disguised as a commoner. The posture, bent over and quiet, in her own company - alone. Short brown hair; not particularly special, but she, unfortunately, could not hide the elegance of shinobi handling items well. She took sips from her slightly dirty mug with grace, setting it down without so much as a sound. Her chakra level was well hidden, and had he been another man, he might have commended her for such good skill, but he wasn't and never would be and never had been because he killed his mother who liked to look at the moon from the bench, and it was only hidden well enough so that he didn't know her real chakra level - only sense that she had it.
A low, C, maybe D-ranking shinob-
His eyes focused on her rather bland brown hair now; he had had his head inclined towards her for a minute or so. She felt his eyes on her head and it turned to him silently; this further proved his opinion of her as a ninja. No commoner would be able to tell the feeling of being watched, yet another fatal and foolish mistake for a shinobi. No matter.
His looked at her hair again, the bland brown, a completely natural color except for a tiny, almost unnoticeable clump of strands that stood out in her under-layers of bright pink. Her eyes were jade, and he registered this in his mind, and he had only met one kunouchi with that sort of coloration of any sort. She was twenty, now. Not a little fifteen year old anymore.
She nodded at him and took a sip of her drink.
Her right leg was shaking something bad.
Itachi - had he been another man - would've laughed or snorted or smirked, but he merely tapped her shoulder quietly, for he was not another man; she flinched, and turned to him again, an unspoken question in her eyes. They were very doelike, he noticed, and he half expected her to sprint away as such in fear, the fear that he could sense escalating in her; she suppressed it and stilled her leg.
The renegade shinobi quietly lifted her hair with two fingers and plucked the few strands up with two others and brought them before her eyes easily; they widened.
He expected her to attempt an escape. If she did, he had no point to go after her; despite popular belief, he really didn't hold value in killing mindlessly, like a machine. Kisame came to mind, though he banished the thought. The sharkman didn't always enjoy it, either.
He might have to knock her out and force feed her a memory-supressing drug. Konoha, though weak, didn't have a tracking squad to laugh about; if they had news of where he was, he was sure he'd evade them easily, but he avoided trouble when able. He wasn't sure if he had the particular drug, and he wasn't sure if he was ready to go through the trouble to keep her alive, though, so he might as well kill her.
However... however. She did not leave, and did not attempt an escape. She took a breath and stilled her leg completely.
She did not leave, and her shoulders sagged a little, and she took a little sip of her drink, cool as you please, and asked if she left, would he kill her?
He turned his head to her, and she let out a little breath because, thank goodness or Kami or whatever she believed in, his eyes were charcoal, not three little pinwheels in a red sea. He inquired why she would ask such a thing, and she just snorted a little and took another drink, finishing it and asking for another one.
She was drunk, he thought bluntly.
She replied that he recognized her from before, and he countered as a question of why she would think that. She parried back that if he was the genuine S-class genius of the Akatsuki, he'd be aware of his surroundings enough to know that he'd seen a pink-haired kunouchi before. He then asked if she was sure he was this S-class criminal – perhaps to mess with a drunk's head, or simply because she was smarter than he'd given her credit for, and this was an interesting battle of wits – and she turned to him like he was crazy and suddenly laughed, saying she wasn't drunk. He proceeded to question what glass she was on, and when she replied her sixth he raised an eyebrow.
'I'm not Tsunade-shishou's apprentice for nothing,' she waved off, taking another sip before continuing. 'Tsunade-shishou can go up to six bottles before passing out, and she can go up to five mostly sober,' and she had finished another glass and asked for another.
'And you?' he had asked, though he found his questions never really seemed like questions, partially due to his attitude, partially to his low, base voice. She glanced at him briefly, as if slightly startled by the question, but answered she didn't quite know, but she'd once had a full bottle, sober, though she stopped there and hadn't gone on.
'Should you be giving away information to an S-class criminal?' he had asked in a rather monotonous voice, though laced with mild interest. She shrugged and replied it didn't really matter. He asked why, and she stated that there was really no way to use that information against her.
This - this attitude... this should have annoyed him, would have annoyed him, because her tone and nonchalance insinuated that she was underestimating him, though he later realized she had still been carefully evaluating him, but that wasn't until later; right then, he could've been annoyed and left, or killed her, but once again, this kunouchi entertained him enough to play games with her. He ordered her a glass, and the shocked expression on her face was entertaining to watch.
And after that (he noticed that she hadn't touched the order he'd placed for her, and this amused him), it turned into a full out war; the battle of wits. Born genius verses developed genius.
'I find it surprising someone such as yourself can joke with a criminal who killed his family,' he finally remarked, for though he was sure she was sober, she seemed to completely forget that fact.
'Among others,' the girl murmured... though she had the face and the poise of a woman and the hardening of a slightly seasoned kunoichi, but the softness of a girl...
'Which could include you,' he said, and watched for a reaction that might annoy or amuse him either way; and either way, the statement was probably true. One day, maybe.
'You enjoy talking of killing?' She asked, propping her right hand up against the table and resting her face against it, facing him, though her eyes were focused completely on the liquid in her glass.
'Talking of death, then?'
'...You seem as if you yourself have never conversed of this particular subject.'
She frowned and swirled the drink around in her cup, now facing front, eyes still downcast. He had hit the nail in the head with a rather large hammer.
'…Killing. Death. That subject is… irritating,' she had said. He told her to elaborate, and she just rolled her eyes and took a sip of her eleventh cup before doing so (already past a full bottle of sake; she ignored the cup Itachi himself had ordered for her).
'There's no doubt I will die. There's no doubt you will die. I prefer to think of it simply,' she muttered, swirling the drink around more in her cup.
'...Otherwise the subject gets too deep. Death is such an unknown subject… too many variables, you see, and no one really knows anything about it other than you stop working. You break, and you can't put anyone together again. Like Humpty Dumpty.'
Itachi blinked at the childish allusion - were he another man, he might have laughed, but once again; he was not, and would never be, another man - but made a quiet gesture for her to continue. He was nearing a full bottle as well, now.
...At least, he supposed dully somewhere in the back of his mind, he had an okay alchohol resistence so far.
'Your spirit leaves your body, but death is... irritating, I guess, because no one really knows what happens after that. Religious people have faith that you go straight to Kami for judgement, to heaven or hell. Atheists think that you just die, out like a light. It bothers me, I'll give you that - after death. Do you just... stop existing? There are so many different beliefs...'
'…And you?' She gave a sideways glance at him, then looked down to her cup.
'I'm not sure,' she admitted. 'There are so many different beliefs being pushed onto everyone I haev no idea what to think, so I prefer not to think about it at all. Keep it simple: I die one day. Tada.'
'…Are you afraid of death, then?' It came out as a statement rather than a question and she 'harrumphed,' a completely new face overcoming the rather somber kunoichi of just moments before.
'I'm a Jounin kunouchi, one of Konoha's best, why the hell would I be afraid of something like that?' she demanded. He turned his head away a little, smirking, because the girl (no, kunoichi) was funny to him, and he laughed a little – a foreign sound to both their ears – when she turned a little red and commanded he tell her what was so funny.
Instead, he just told her she was amusing for a Konoha kid – she protested indignantly that she was twenty – and stood up, paying his short bill. Before he left, however, he looked down at the woman on the barstool.
'You know my name, but I seem to be at a loss for yours. This gives you a slight advantage over me, kunouchi.'
'And what makes you think I'd tell you my name?' She had replied with a sly grin, though after a moment she offered 'Haruno Sakura.'
Satisfied, he nodded to her and strode out of the bar with light steps.
He hadn't even noticed that he had been exchanging a verbal war with the girl (Sakura, he had remembered) for about three and a half hours. He stopped in the trees when he realized she'd downed at least two and a half bottles, and continued on with a light smirk on his face.
Time passed. (1)
A recon mission had sent him and Kisame, this time, to a different little village that was shadier than the last, which had then sent the two to the Land of Waves – Itachi noted that it was more prosperous than in recent years, though he eventually reflected that as a bit of an understatement because there were no street rats, the stores had plenty of food, and the houses were much more than the shot down apartments he had known before.
Upon arriving, the two had crossed the bridge (Kisame snorted and asked rhetorically what kind of name the 'Great Naruto Bridge' was, though they both knew it was named after the Kyuubi kid) quickly, walking along the well manicured dirt path that wound around the city, passing a grocery store when two others walked out from it. A boy and his mother.
For some odd reason, Itachi felt a little colder.
'Inari, they're all okay,' the mother said, hefting her grocery bag a little higher as not to spill it. The boy – no older than fourteen – sighed a little, pulling his own bag up to prevent accidentally kicking it. Itachi walked forward a little, quietly behind them, ears listening for any information spills; simple villagers were the easiest information source. Kisame tended to like bullying villagers into information submission, but Itachi found that simple eavesdropping was always easier.
'Hai, but Sasuke's still gone…'
'Naruto and Sakura are still all right. Sakura's even taking the ANBU exams in Konoha at this very moment, and they're your friends,' the woman replied.
'Hai, mother. It's just… different. Sakura and Naruto were here last week, and they were different.'
His mother sighed with a small smile and patted him on the head.
'Hn. Not of much use so far, but if I just threaten them for more infor –Itachi?' Kisame looked back at the man who had stopped in the road.
'This is easy, Kisame. A simple recon mission doesn't need two of us. I expect you to take care of it.'
…And he was gone.
Kisame watched the spot almost stupidly for a moment before snorting, rolling his eyes, turning around to continue the recon, and muttering under his breath a few choice words.
Itachi knew he needn't worry for the sharkman; within the next few hours he was within the walls of Konoha (who did seem to produce weaklings, judging by the poor fools who had managed to land gate duty), and easily infiltrated the main arena of the village.
He observed she was panting heavily, with large cuts and scrapes all over her, small sticky sweat beads coating her skin. Her opponent was just as bad; it was the third ANBU exam of three. Itachi remembered it, though he spent no time reminiscing, lowering his chakra signature a little more. He was in the back, concealed in the shadows of the arena caused by the setting sun; his eyes still shone red, though Konoha paid no attention, completely engaged in the match.
Both ninja seemed to be strategizing for the moment. The harm done on the arena was tremendous, though Itachi recalled years ago a disgruntled Deidara muttering about a girl with freaky strength. She was breathing heavily and looked up for a moment, but almost stopped breathing because she was in perfect position to be able to see the red standing out amongst the crowd. Two red dots, shining from the shadows, watching on as Konoha was, oblivious to it's presence.
He had no expectations; he had no opinion of whether she'd win or lose, because he wasn't one to make quick decisions, even if they were as small as betting against oneself.
He only expected for a good remainder of a match, and a long one at that. He expected for one or the other to win, because he knew that with the girl's character she'd do everything in her power to prevent a tie.
What he did not expect was for her to suddenly renew her energy and attempt a jutsu that he was sure she'd only seen and hadn't quite mastered from her shishou, and what he did not expect was for her to be successful in pulling it off, for her opponent was caught in the ground, four slashes creating an 'x' that the man was buried in the center of. Not extremely flashy if she'd done it with her hands, which she'd have been able to, though it would have drained her chakra completely with what little she had left. No, what made it a higher ranking jutsu was that she'd done it by slamming her hands into the ground and channeled the chakra – for everything had chakra, he'd been taught as an academy student – from the rocks and disrupting the natural flow.
The announcer declared her the winner of the match, and she glanced up; he had watched her, and he stepped out a little into the fast dying light, wearing a tiny, tiny smirk on his face, right near invisible, and nodded at her before disappearing.
They continued to meet each other, completely accidentally (or at least he'd tell himself so, and knew it was true, for the most part, anyway); he'd be leaving the Wind Country, and she'd be sauntering in to get a mission done, and their paths would cross. They'd see each other in bars, in the wild, and once Kisame had dragged him into a unisex spa near Iwa that she was coincidentally using as well.
That – needless to say – was something they decided not to talk about.
And even though he insisted in his head and he knew that it was all coincidences, he could find her chakra signature, sense it miles away, and sometimes he'd be a little lighter (though not much, because he was still the Uchiha of Akatsuki) or a little more merciful, and when the chakra signature was within a mile range, he once perked up enough to not kill a man who had asked of his gender. Later, when Kisame called him soft, he had pinned the shark-man to a tree with a kunai at his throat. Kisame hadn't called him that ever again.
He was just a little more satisfied after their verbal sparring, because it was almost like she forgot who he was. Not that he really needed nor wanted her to forget, but she had a way of pulling him into conversations that made him forget, too. And it was like a blessing, a little white speck on an unmarred black shadow. It really was, and the speck was growing.
Whether he wanted it to or not.
Itachi was smart, and that permitted him to know that he would never feel lust, because he was a teenager with hormones once, though he had effectively quashed them and turned into an unfeeling ninja quickly. He did not feel love, because he did not know what the subject itself was. He couldn't comprehend it, and though it had never bothered him much, after he talked to the girl it began to become an annoying itch that wouldn't leave. He eventually asked her when she was going in the same general direction as he (he would always shake the shark-man off, and with ease for just a moment to converse with the girl who quickly became an enigma), and she gave him a surprised sideways glance. She admitted that she didn't quite know for sure.
'There are different types of love. There's… love for… family,' she said hesitantly, for she had often forgotten their roles in life, though she'd remember if his eyes flashed or she said something that hit him in a weak spot. She continued when he said nothing and did not change.
'Then there's love for friends. Love for friends…' He could tell she had never quite thought about it; she was able to keep up with intricacies of hastily put together but complex mission plans, and she had a vast knowledge of many subjects, but like death, this was something she hadn't pondered much, or hadn't wanted to.
'Love for friends is just happiness when you're with them, I guess. Like you wouldn't give up on them if you had a fight, or if you were on a suicide mission you'd want to protect them. Then there's romantic love.' He had glanced at her, silently prodding her to elaborate. She gave out a little smile and a nonchalant shrug.
'I've never felt romantic love, so I'm not one to explain it. Little girls like to think of love as when they have a crush on a boy.' She snorted to herself a little, and he decided to listen to her continue instead of question. 'But more experienced people – like old couples, I guess – say it's just when you're happy with someone. You're content to spending life with them, and you'd die for them. Sort of like friendship, but it's different. I suppose I'm not good at explaining that aspect,' she had laughed a little to herself, thought it sounded like she was rather laughing at herself.
It went from strangers to an impossible relationship. He was content talking to her, and still did not know what love was, therefore leaving their relationship status alone in his head; he was just a little happier when he saw her, and for the life of him, he couldn't understand why.
'I'm assuming you passed, then.' He had spoken dryly as the rather tired ANBU operative - seperated from her team, whom she had forced to go on ahead from the looks of her tired visage and lonely company - turned to the man lying against the rock and screamed shrilly. Itachi raised an eyebrow, but he supposed at the time she screamed because he was leaning against a rock and a little more than bloody.
She rushed over – once again forgetting their positions on the playing field – and, with a slightly quivering lip, began to heal him; a broken rib and a gash running across his arm, down to his stomach. She asked him how this had happened, and he offered a combination of bad eyesight, a surprise attack, and slight weariness.
And this, in itself, was amazing because he admitted weakness to the one person who forgot who he was, who made him forget who he was.
She had scolded him, but only half-heartedly because she said he had to take better care of himself because he had numerous wounds littered around his body (she didn't dare touch his torso, but the blood seeping through was something she couldn't seem to ignore) and placed her cool hands placidly against the gashes and cuts across his skin, marring it badly, making him hiss in slight pain when she began healing it.
Eventually he sky had darkened, and suddenly the warm sensation running through his flesh wounds stopped; Itachi opened his eyes and found the kunoichi, her own eyes closing blearily, her hands dropping and herself passing out, falling forward onto him. She had wasted all of her chakra to heal him, and this was another thing that made no sense to him; she was more of an enigma, just when he'd began to start to figure her out, she did something to completely throw him off. So he quietly stood, setting her down and hefting his unconscious partner (whom he'd neglected to tell Sakura to heal, but oh well) over his shoulder, glancing back at the girl. He looked away for a moment, and then pulled his cloak off to cover her small form in the oncoming coldness.
She would always forget their positions on the playing field.
And that was what he liked about her; the ability to suddenly become ignorant, at least for a little while. And the fact she had the ability to pull him in, too.
It was something that he had never experienced before, and the only thing he could relate to it was when he was young, with his outoto. But even those memories were scarce, and he couldn't remember the sensation of drifting away she could give him, and suddenly he would forget the positions on the playing field, too, and though he never told her, he viewed it as her gift; her own genuine talent.
There were so many memories with the girl, and he the one thing he knew he would never understand was how a simple kunouchi would be able to ensnare his attention enough to make another one, make him want to see her again. Week after week, month after month, year after year. So many years. So many memories.
…And he reflected all of these memories for a moment as he staggered forward in the snow, tainted by the blaring red that was scattered all around it, tainted by the blaring scarlet life liquid that was leaving him faster than consciousness. He reflected all of these memories as he moved into the clearing because he could feel it again, and it was that feeling that made him a little warmer inside. He reflected all of these memories as he looked up from the eerily silent (so silent, silent enough to believe he was dead, why couldn't he hear anything?) ground of the barren forest to find her sitting and breathing heavily because she was broken, too, in the middle of the clearing.
'…What are you doing here, all alone?' he asked quietly, voice hoarse and rough, but it rang through the clearing cleaner than a bell.
She looked up slowly and a smile graced her lips.
'Death is a lonely business,' she replied with the smile, but it looked demented, in a way, because she was as bloody and torn as he was, if not more. He slowly walked towards her, his leg throbbing a little as warm, damp stickiness continued to wet his left pant leg.
If he lived, he would have to amputate it. But he needn't worry about that.
'Only if you make it to be,' he replied in a sort of rough whisper as he pitched forward, finding that the snow was much softer than the unforgiving ground. He winced but dragged himself forward a little as she crawled over to meet with him in the middle.
'I guess both Konoha and Akatsuki underestimated the Sound,' she grinned a little, and for once he offered back a smile; suddenly they both knew in that instant that they were too beaten up, too broken up to get up again.
'…Guess so.' He rose to a sitting position to face her and grew a little colder as he noticed how blue her lips were beginning to be, how her jade eyes were just a little duller with the gray sky behind her, how many scrapes she had along her body and the long, nasty gash that glared at him from her stomach, how her short pink hair was more red than pink at the moment.
He coughed a little blood, and it dribbled down his chin and landed without a sound on the snow.
Her lip quivered for a moment, and then she embraced him tightly. And all the times before, it had been scarce because he would never return anything, because he was Uchiha Itachi. Uchiha Itachi, the unfeeling murderer. The S-class criminal who would never return emotions because he couldn't forget quite like she could. He would never return anything, because he would know that he would wake up the next morning and she'd be in danger, be her friend or lover.
He wrapped his arms around her quietly to return the embrace.
'When you were explaining… love… friends and lovers… embrace each other… right?' he had asked, and she smiled brightly (though he noticed blankly the light was dying fast) and replied with a yes.
And when he let go, she slowly descended, lying on her back to face the heavens, and he followed her example.
He wished that he could lie in white snow, spontaneously, because he had never had the chance – ever – to stare up at the sky in the numbing frosted whiteness.
And here he was, grasping the chance in his hands, but the snow was starting to grow red around him, and it was starting to grow red around her, too.
And, quite suddenly, he was content.
Content that this was how it ends.
Content that, suddenly, the perfect shinobi with no emotions was not him; that it was impossible, or that he had failed in that aspect, even if just a little.
'…I always wondered what death would be like. After we had talked, I asked a few people what they thought… and everyone said it was just leaving, all by yourself.' He felt a sudden grasp on his hand, her own icy cold hand grabbing his in a desperate attempt to feel, just feel. He turned his head to look at her and she looked over and smiled.
'But you know what I think? …I think that you don't have to leave by yourself.'
And she grasped his hand a little tighter, as if to make sure she could feel it because both of their hands were blue, bluer than their lips.
'…You scared?' she whispered. He looked to her and smiled a genuine smile for, perhaps, the first - the last, maybe, and he didn't remember - time in his life.
'No.' She smiled at this, turning around on her belly to hug him, to squeeze the last little bit of feeling on the embrace, and he knew he was too soft for an S-class criminal to be hugging a pink-haired girl - no, woman - kunoichi, but he was fine with it.
He was content, and his red eyes faded to black as he looked at her, straight in the eye, and a little blood dribbled down her chin, landing merrily with the softest plink on his own chin; but she only smiled and said,