Title: Hanami

Author: paws-bells

Beta-ed by: FallenTenshi, ItachixSakura Forever, MelissaRose85

Characters/Pairing: Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi

Type: Continuous (InComplete)

Genre: General/Romance

Word Count: 8671

Rating: M (Contains content suitable for mature teens and older)

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-san.

Summary: She saved his life out of compassion, and he took advantage of her kind heart. Before she knew what was going on, he had bound her to him in a way she had never expected, and what scared her the most was that he was never going to let her go.

A/N: I'm very aware, of course, that it has been such a very long time since I have updated this fic. As such, I have thoroughly revised the last five chapters and have also added some small changes to them as well, not to mention the formatting to make them look neater as well as the comments section at the bottom. In other words, I highly recommend a reread of Hanami, for those who are interested, that is.

Chapter Last Revised on: 26/04/08

Chapter 6

Once again, Sakura was running aimlessly down one of the large, dimly-lit caverns. It hadn't been hard to recall the way out of the kitchens; it was a lot harder to rack her brains repeatedly as she struggled to remember how to dispel the various high-level genjutsu that she had met on the way. So far she had managed to identify a miserable six, and judging by the fact that she had been running for what felt like at least an hour already (and had not yet seen the same cavern a second time), she still had a long way to go in this behemoth of a labyrinth. Trapped underground with no natural light whatsoever to guide her, Sakura's sense of direction was seriously screwed, and even though she wasn't claustrophobic, the kunoichi was starting to panic a little.

A whispered sense of urgency filled her with heart-pounding adrenaline and it was all she could do to clear her mind from all the frantic thoughts that kept inundating her. Precious time was running out and she wasn't even sure if she was headed in the correct direction, and was anyone aware that she was missing already??

Sakura gave her head a fierce mental shake and forcefully steeled her jittery nerves.

No, she had to stop acting like terrified prey. Terrified preys don't think well…and always get caught in the end. She had to stay calm and rational…there must be something in these vastly desolate caverns that she could use to her advantage, an edge that she could use at her disposal to surprise the enemy…

Wait a minute…

Sakura slowed to a walk, her face tinted pink from all the running and her breath slightly uneven from the exertion.

Hadn't Kakashi-sensei once mentioned something about underground caverns during a survival lesson when Team Seven was still together? Sakura's face scrunched up slightly in thought as she tried to recall that particular snatch of memory. It had been almost seven years after all, and she had only been barely thirteen then. What was it that he had said…what was that common trait that most underground caverns shared…?

Sakura frowned at she contemplated that question. She needed to recall that answer; something told her that it was going to be her ticket out of this hideout, if only she could remember more of what Kakashi had said rather than the dashing way Sasuke had looked those years ago. Sakura hissed softly to herself; why did her youthful counterpart have to be so foolishly infatuated? Her adolescent adoration of the youngest Uchiha had ended in nothing but so much heartache and disappointment, and Sakura could not help but feel infuriated for now that she had at last managed to shake away the last vestiges of emotion for Uchiha Sasuke, his elder brother just had to enter the picture to muddle her life up once more. Was she ever going to be free of those damned Uchiha?

Utterly preoccupied with her depressing thoughts, the pink-haired kunoichi absentmindedly deactivated yet another genjutsu, watching semi-cautiously as the air around her wavered for a split second before collapsing to reveal yet another newly unexplored cavern. A cold breeze brushed past her and Sakura shivered unintentionally as icy fingers of dread walked down her spine. Emerald eyes stared warily into the darkened area, scanning carefully for any movements or chakra signature. There was none, but Sakura's instincts didn't calm down at all. After all, she hadn't managed to detect Deidara's chakra until he chose to appear before her…

Sakura looked nervously out at the stretch of rocky passageway that beckoned eerily to her. Inner Sakura fidgeted uncomfortably and Sakura knew immediately that something was very wrong. She stared hard into the semi-darkness, trying her best to peer into the murky depths, but once again, she could not detect a thing. Maybe she should turn back…

You won't like what I would do when I return and find you gone, little girl.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

There was still Itachi to consider, and Sakura felt pretty foolish for having temporarily forgotten that he was the one who had put her in this predicament in the first place. Not that anyone could fault her for failing to remember that important fact; she was so busy thinking up ways to dispel all the genjutsu before her that she barely had time to worry about anything else. But now that her attention had been brought back to the dangerous Sharingan user, Sakura was starting to feel a tad nervous once again. She had, after all, disobeyed him, and she had no idea what he would do to her in retaliation. Sakura knew that she was probably taking things a little too easily and that having accidentally bested Deidara was making her complacent, but she never forgot just who she was dealing with. How volatile the Uchiha could be, how insane

Sakura grimaced.

Something told her that Itachi wasn't going to be happy to find her gone, and she wondered vaguely if he had already discovered her missing from his quarters, wondered if even at this moment if he was striding swiftly down the hallway, crimson eyes, killer eyes, glacier-like and empty as he stalked after her trail like a relentless hunter after an unwary prey. Sakura shuddered as she felt herself turn cold with worry. Crap. Crap. Crap. Sakura fidgeted nervously. At the moment there was only one solution that appeared to make sense to Sakura.

Don't get caught.

Sakura grimaced once more. Oh, that was so easy to say, and so very difficult to accomplish. Emerald eyes darted to the icy darkness of the cavern before her once more. This really sucked, and she was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Should she ignore her instincts and continue to forge forward, or should she backtrack in an attempt to find a different way out?

Sakura's brows furrowed.

Immediately, that brilliant mind of hers started to draw a mental map of all the cavern routes that she had traveled in thus far, her excellent photographic memory serving her very well as she quickly processed and identified all the alternate pathways she had yet encountered that could serve as an escape route. To her dismay, she could only recognize four genjutsu-masked walkways and those four were so simply and sloppily covered by illusions that it was very obvious to the kunoichi that they were traps. Sakura stayed far away from those, naturally, nor had she felt curious enough to take one down to see what was lying in wait at the other end. She was too busy trying to escape, thank you very much, and had no interest in inviting more trouble.

Sakura's frown deepened as she stared sightlessly into the ominous cavern that she was now standing in front of. Somewhere deep within the darkness, a pair of unnatural golden orbs blinked open and stared at the kunoichi's silhouetted form near the dimly-lit entrance. It was but a mere second or two, and then the pair of eyes, glowing eerily in the murky shadows, quietly slipped shut again. Darkness once more.

Sakura did not notice. She was too deeply steeped within her meticulous ponderings. It was going to cost her.

Sakura's face grew grim with dawning realization. It did not take long for her to understand that whoever had cleverly created this confusing maze of high-level genjutsu and deadly traps had meant for her to go only one way: forward. There really was no choice for her and if she doubted herself for even a single moment...she was going to be in deep trouble. Paranoia and hesitation had no place in an area as dangerous and as highly booby-trapped as this, and nothing short of absolute certainty would get her out of here alive. It was a certainty that only one of the Akatsuki would have, having lived in these dangerous caverns and possessing intimate knowledge of each and every one of its defenses and secrets. Not her.

Despite herself, Sakura started to doubt. It was only human after all, to experience fear for the unknown and the deadly.

If she overlooked anything in here, and it was extremely easy to overlook something amiss with all the poor lighting and intimidating atmosphere that this eerie place possessed in great abundance, it would mean her death. End of story.

Sakura bit her lip anxiously and glanced worriedly into the semi-darkness before her; she had no choice but to enter. Taking one last careful scan of the murky depths that looked as if it could not wait to swallow her within its dark belly, the pink-haired kunoichi took a deep breath to compose herself and took her first step.

The kunoichi pulled her shoulders back and strode forward, body tensed in ready retaliation for possible threats and wide green eyes wary and alert. Fortunately, nothing happened as she ventured deeper and deeper into the darkness, although the heavy air of dread did not dissipate. Eventually, it became so dark that Sakura had to squint to see what was in front of her and her seemingly confident gait slowed down. Carefully, the kunoichi strained her ears as she threaded soundlessly across the cavern floor but could only hear the distant sound of dripping of water as it echoed against the rocky crevices. Everything was so normal and in place that Sakura slowly began to relax her form, although she kept her senses as sharp and as alert as ever. She was also slowly getting used to the ominously heavy atmosphere of the place, calmly dismissing it as her own fears acting up. Sakura even felt a little more positive about her chances at a successful escape.

Then without warning, the formerly firm ground beneath her feet started to loosen and everything went straight to hell.

He knew she was gone even before he reentered the room.

An innate part of him, the part that had been carefully honed and nurtured since infancy and then finally developed into a superior, almost inhuman ability, had gifted him with an extraordinary talent at reading and accurately predicting the different behavioral patterns of people. It was an undeniably useful edge that had been given to him thanks to the Sharingan, and more often than not, nine out of ten times he was usually correct at pinpointing exactly how a person would react when put in certain situations.

And as fascinating and as rare of temperament as his petal-haired captive was, she was also unbelievably predictable to him.

It was apparent to him from the very beginning that she would definitely attempt to escape.

It had taken all of three seconds for him to understand that her unwavering sense of loyalty towards her country and friends would allow her no other alternatives. Observing her brief and particularly reckless stint as she tried unsuccessfully to rid herself of his seal had also informed him that she simply wasn't the type to sit patiently to wait to be rescued by her comrades. No matter that he had already issued her a clear warning of the consequences should she be caught; there was simply no way that she wouldn't seek to return to her beloved village as long as there was the slimmest chance, and he had read her intentions as easily as he would a book. Until he managed to secure that fierce loyalty of hers for himself, it was inevitable that she would keep trying to resist his captivity of her until she at last succeeded or he could securely bind her down to him, whichever came first.

And that was precisely why Uchiha Itachi was hardly surprised when he was greeted by an empty room when he returned exactly two hours later.

It was he, after all, who had given her the chance.

And it was equally obvious that she had taken it immediately and bolted.

Crimson eyes surveyed the vacant room with seemingly careless disregard.

Then just as quickly they seemed to sharpen impossibly as their owner turned around swiftly and strode out of his living quarters, his gait long and smooth, the deliberate and accustomed tread of a natural born hunter. Predatory.

It was true that he had given her the chance to flee, but then again, it was well known among the Akatsuki that Uchiha Itachi rarely, if ever, gave in to chance and everything he premeditated was for a reason.

And most unfortunately for Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Itachi was never one to do things out of the kindness of his heart.

It was an important characteristic that she was definitely going to remember by the end of today.

Sakura cursed soundlessly to herself as she frantically moved her left foot away from yet another sudden grasping hole in the ground. It was a really good thing that she was quite small in size and thus very agile, for if not, she was very sure that she would have been caught the first time what felt like jagged roots popped out from the rocky ground under her.

Really, the kunoichi thought wildly as she kept running and dodging in the utter darkness, it would make perfect sense that the Akatsuki would have some sort of trap mechanisms planted all over the bloody place! And what was this thing that kept coming after her anyway?! The kunoichi was aware that she was at a distinct disadvantage. She had no prior knowledge of this cavern that she was currently literally running around blindly in, and she definitely had no idea how those horrendously thick root-like things operated. Were they planted all over the entire cavern floor? Did they detect her only by the vibration of her tread? Or was it both?

Sakura was so very tempted to employ a simple katon jutsu to light up the area just so that she knew where she was going and what she was dealing with, but she just could not risk it. Showering her immediate vicinity with light would definitely help a lot in planning her next step, but it would also be like pinpointing her own location like a glaringly lit neon signboard to whoever might be in the cavern or just near its vicinity, if they hadn't already discovered that there was an intruder in their midst. As if she wasn't in enough trouble as it was, Sakura really did not want to invite more.

The kunoichi cursed herself quietly once again. She should have chosen to backtrack. Now it was definitely too late for her to try to turn back; she could not see but she could definitely hear the eerie sounds of quietly slithering roots that were ringing so very loudly in her ears, together with the desperate pounds of her frantically beating heart. Things were looking pretty bad, she had to admit. She would definitely be caught, and viciously attacked, if she even tried to slow down a little in her current mad dash across the dark cavern. To make matters worse, she was also currently defenseless, save for a small pack of kunai that she had filched off the unconscious Deidara earlier on, and since she had no intention of wasting her precious supply of weapons by throwing them wildly behind her, there really was no choice but to choose flight.

The pink-haired female hissed and sidestepped blindly once more when she felt her feet start to sink into yet another loosening pile of rubble. With a soft yelp, the kunoichi instinctively threw herself to the side just in time to avoid being impaled by a lethally pointed piece of vegetation. The rush of wind that ruffled her hair told her just how close she had been to being injured, and with a powerful bound of chakra enhanced feet, the petite kunoichi leapt forth quickly to safety.

Despite the crazy rush of adrenaline that roared through her senses as she was literally running for her life, Sakura was still actually lucid enough to realize something was very amiss, and in the ninja world, things that were out of ordinary were never to be dismissed as mere coincidence, especially in a situation such as this.

And Sakura was highly suspicious; for despite her nimbleness and speed, by her mental calculations, the velocity of attacks coming from those deadly plants should have been able to hit her more than once already.

But they didn't.

It was as if they were just hovering right behind her, herding her towards a specific location.

Emerald eyes widened with immediate realization, and the kunoichi made a sudden veer to the side. Instincts, as well as Inner Sakura, were quick to inform her that she definitely wouldn't want to be where those horrid plants wanted her to be and Sakura was hard-pressed to agree. Mind whirring rapidly for alternatives, the pink-haired kunoichi quickly made a decision.

If she was firmly stuck between the front and the back, then she was going up.

Darting quickly in the direction where she roughly thought a wall may be located, the kunoichi blindly started to make a crazy dash towards the cavern walls, all the while praying that she would not overshoot and knock herself out. That would be kind of counterproductive. Circulating her chakra at the base of her soles in the exact way that Kakashi-sensei had taught her many years ago, the kunoichi tensed her calf muscles in preparation for a vertical dash up the rocky crevices.

Despite the near zero-vision condition of the large underground grotto, the pink-haired kunoichi could vaguely see a large, even darker lump of something looming before her even as she rushed faster towards it. With a desperate burst of speed, Sakura propelled herself quickly towards the rock formation, and in a matter of seconds, she was almost near enough to make a flying leap upwards.

Just a few more chakra-enhanced bounds ought to do it.

The kunoichi hopped powerfully away from the threat rushing up behind her, purposely ignoring the tentacles of vines and roots slithering quickly after her as she focused her tunnel vision on the dark lump before her.

This was it.

Sakura was now near enough to make an attempt. Swallowing hard and praying that it would work, the kunoichi threw her self at full speed towards the face of the monstrous rock formation that loomed before her…

…only to try, unsuccessfully, to dodge midair when something huge materialized suddenly in front of her, slamming against her.


Sakura had tried to twist her body to the side the very moment she sighted the large form that appeared without warning before her but hadn't totally managed to evade the collision. Pain exploded from the entirety of her left side and immediately the kunoichi felt herself falling backwards towards the ground. There was no time to do anything much other than spread herself as wide as possible so as to absorb the coming impact, and when it came, it damn near took Sakura's breath away. The back of her head must have converged against something hard and agony screamed through the kunoichi's brain. Sakura bit the inner flesh of her cheek hard to stop the whimper from escaping her lips, and just too dazed by the high fall to react quickly enough, she could only lie there when the writhing mass of vines and roots descended upon her.

Helplessly limp, the pink-haired female put up no fight when thick, powerful vines wrapped themselves firmly around her ankles, then calves. It was only when they tightened around her unprotected knees and waist that Sakura reacted violently. Forcibly pushing aside her agony, the kunoichi started to struggle fiercely. Pained emerald orbs brightened with anger and desperation.

She could not get caught now!

By sheer power of will, Sakura forced her screaming brain to function. Quickly analyzing what had happened earlier, she was very sure that the 'thing' that had body slammed her was human. How he or she had managed to appear so quickly before her she had no idea, but it was obvious to the pained kunoichi now that she was already discovered. There was no more need to be discreet. If that nin (and he or she is definitely a nin) was able to detect where she was heading, even in pitch black conditions, it was apparent to Sakura that her choosing to remain shrouded in darkness would definitely be a disadvantage to nobody but herself.

And her first priority would be to get these horrendous vines and roots off her body.

Swiftly putting her hands together before the vines could get to them, Sakura quickly started to flash through a series of seals even as she gathered a ridiculously large amount of chakra from her dwindling internal supply.

'This had better work.' The kunoichi thought grimly to herself. She was getting highly pissed from all the crap that she had to take today and Inner Sakura was in full agreement.

"Katon: Ryuuka no Jutsu!!"Sakura roared as she expelled pure chakra from her mouth. Reacting immediately with the air around her, a huge stream of fire coalesced to life and lit up the entire cavern. Sakura was temporarily blinded by the sudden expulsion of light but not before she managed to direct the deafening flames towards the mass of vines and vegetation that had been aggravating her so.

The injured kunoichi was savagely pleased when she heard the sizzle and crackle of burning vegetation as she managed to light more than half of the deadly roots and vines on fire. Expectedly, the dying plants started to retreat and began to loosen their hold on Sakura. The kunoichi wasted no time in wriggling herself free of the horrid mess and immediately stumbled to her feet.

Almost immediately, something damp trickled down her temple and into her eyes, and swiping it impatiently away, Sakura was not the least surprised to find that it was her own blood. In fact, she wouldn't be surprised if she found herself suffering from a mild case of concussion later on.

But now was not the time to worry about that. Taking a quick physical inventory of herself, Sakura was relieved to find no broken bones. She would probably look like one big bruise later, but at least she was still fully functional. Declaring herself still fit for combat, the kunoichi quickly turned her attention to her surroundings, sharp eyes scanning the now dimly lit cavern for the other nin.

She almost missed him the first time she took a slow circuit of the vast area spread out before her. He was almost completely shrouded in the shadows save for those eerie golden orbs and the hem of the distinct Akatsuki cloak.

Sakura stiffened with dismay even as she automatically sank into a defensive posture. Suddenly, she felt relieved for not revealing her kunai to cut herself free. Judging by the growing sense of quiet killer intent roiling from the missing-nin, something told her that she was going to need all the edge and surprises in her arsenal to defeat this guy.

It was all Sakura could do to will her body to stop shaking from its previous violent abuse. Her side throbbed, her head ached and spasmed periodically, and she was only a little more than a third full on chakra. The kunoichi was also struggling to clear her wavering sight; the concussion was coming faster than she had predicted. She was going to have to end this as quickly as possible, and using mainly taijutsu as well so as to conserve her dwindling supply of chakra.

Then the missing-nin finally saw fit to step into the dimly lit area.

Emerald eyes widened.

It was all Sakura could do not to blanch with dread.

He was huge.

And Sakura recognized him on sight. The body resembling that of a venus flytrap, the green hair, the unnatural glowing eyes. He was listed on the Bingo Book as a spy of the Akatsuki. S-class nukenin, cannibalistic tendencies…

Highly dangerous.

This was not good.

Sakura turned pale for a brief moment but recovered with astounding speed. She wasn't the Fifth's prized disciple for nothing. Just as quickly, emerald eyes hardened and turned cold with growing determination. She would not be intimidated; to do so would mean that she had already lost half the battle. Sakura clenched her fists reflexively as a different sort of adrenaline, vastly unlike the one that had fueled her 'flight' instincts earlier, entered her bloodstream like a shot of the most potent of alcohols.


She was injured, she was desperate, and she was cornered. For many it would have been the worst sort of combination, but not for Haruno Sakura.

For it was only in the most adverse of situations that her most vicious and insanely cunning side would come out to play.

The kunoichi closed her eyes and slowly felt herself relax. She took a deep shuddering breath and when she opened her eyes to look at the missing-nin, something changed.

A small, arrogant smirk lined her lips, and formerly large emerald eyes became narrower, more pronounced.

"So, those annoying plants that I destroyed earlier must be your siblings, huh?"

Zetsu, meet Inner Sakura.

Hoshigaki Kisame eyed the aftermath of a certain pink-haired kunoichi of the Leaf with a look of mild chagrin on his face. There was also a huge dollop of amusement lurking in his small white eyes.

Common sense dictated that lying on the cold, rocky ground of this huge drafty hideout was definitely not the most comfortable thing to do.

And yet, there was Deidara, sprawled right in the middle of a deserted hallway and appearing, for all purposes and reasons, to be completely out cold.

Kisame was fairly certain that the blonde didn't just decide all of a sudden to sit down and take a nap in the freezing walkway. The Akatsuki might consist of a fairly odd bunch of people, but none of them were that odd yet. At least, he didn't think that Deidara was that far gone. Sure, the blonde may be a little off sometimes when it came to his art and whatnots, but Kisame really didn't see how this situation had anything to do with art or clay, for that matter.

It was definitely not a clash with a fellow Akatsuki, that was for sure. There would have been a lot more blood if it was, and Leader-sama had specifically forbade fighting in the hideout anyway, so it made perfect sense to the blue-haired man that Deidara must have already met Itachi's charming little female.

It was also equally obvious that the blonde must have come out on the worst end of the encounter; if not, he wouldn't be sleeping like a baby in the middle of the hallway.

Sniggering lightly to himself, Kisame toed his colleague none-too-gently with a sandaled foot. There was no response save for a barely audible snort and some gibberish mumbling that the shark man could not decipher.

His sniggers escalated to louder chortles.

Besides his own partner, pretty boy here always insisted on looking pristine and immaculate. It was downright hilarious watching him now, all rumpled up and apparently dead to the world, mouth hanging wide open in sleep and all but drooling on himself. Kisame was sorely tempted to leave the blonde here and let all the other members of the organization witness this side of the explosives specialist, but he decided at the very last moment to show some mercy instead.

Kisame firmly believed in Karma, you see.

Besides, the poor guy was going to get mercilessly teased as it was for being bested by a little Leaf-nin, and Kisame was probably never going to hear the end of it if it was known that he had walked past the kitchens, seen the blonde in such a deplorable state, and instead of helping, had went off to gather the rest for an extended laugh fest.

So, helping Deidara would be his good deed of the month, the tall Kiri nukenin decided as he bent down, picked the smaller male by the scruff of his cloak, and proceeded to hoist him over his shoulder like he would a sack of potatoes. Deidara wasn't even jarred awake by the rough impact, and chuckling to himself some more, Kisame proceeded to head off towards the blonde's living quarters.

The tall nin hadn't even made it past the end of the hallway when Itachi appeared.

Kisame arched a non-existent brow at his partner. "Tracking down a little Leaflet, I suppose?" he rumbled with amusement.

In response the Uchiha merely glanced at the Hoshigaki's blonde burden with crimson eyes.

Kisame smirked slightly.

"Your little Leaf was quite impressive, it seems. I don't know how yet but evidently she managed to trap Deidara in a genjutsu. He is just going to have to sleep it off." After one last grin, Kisame got serious. "But is it wise to allow her to run around like that? Not all of us would be tolerant of having a captive running rampant in our midst."

There was a long silence, and then the Uchiha spoke.

"Experience is the best teacher," he responded simply.

Kisame promptly raised a non-existent eyebrow. Of course Itachi hadn't lost his little medic. He was too thorough, too meticulous to allow something as careless as that from happening. Everything that the younger male did was done to achieve his own purposes, and it was obvious that the Sharingan-wielder had allowed the headstrong little female her escapade to teach her a lesson. It was all part of a plan, as per usual of the Uchiha's modus operandi.

"Not our type of experience." Not at all tired out by the deadweight on his shoulder, the Kiri nin gave an amused grin that revealed twin rows of razor sharp teeth. "That would kill her."

Hardly intimidated by the toothy smile, Itachi stared stoically back at Kisame.

"She won't die."

It did not take long for Sakura to decide that it was going to be a bloody miracle if she managed to survive this day.

After being slammed against a jagged surface one too many times and having been impaled through her left shoulder by a poisonous root, Sakura wasn't exactly feeling very positive about her current situation.

Taunting the plant man had definitely not been a smart thing to do either. He had ignored her throughout the entire exchange, and all that she had accomplished was to make his attacks even more lethal, each hit closer and closer to her vital organs. Thus far, she was only surviving the fight by the skin of her teeth. Sakura had never fought an opponent quite like this missing-nin before. He was unbelievably large in stature, yes, but unfortunately for her, he did not share the same awkwardness in movement that larger people often do.

In other words, Zetsu was fast. Unbelievably fast.

To make things even worse, he also had this strange ability that allowed him to merge with anything and instantly travel to a new location. Sakura was still figuring out how it worked, but after trying several methods at countering his jutsu and failing miserably each and every time, Sakura had come to one simple conclusion: just keep moving.

It was bad news for her every time he melted away from her sight, and every time she stopped moving he seemed be able to pinpoint her exact location and would immediately rematerialize where she was. So far Sakura was lucky and nimble enough to evade complete capture, but every time that he appeared near her, those vines of his would erupt from his vicinity and head straight for her. It was all she could do to dodge the fierce barrage of attacks on her limbs. It was a battle of speed and endurance, and common sense told her that if he managed to incapacitate her and render her immobile, she was going to be in deep trouble.

At the moment, Sakura was darting quickly away from a huge mass of writhing vines and poisonous roots. She was bleeding profusely from her shoulder as well as from a large gash on her stomach from having partially deflected a deadly strike that was supposed to impale her through the middle. There wasn't any time for her to try to staunch the bleeding, and all the pink-haired kunoichi managed to do was to block off the lethal poison from entering her bloodstream as she continued to run from the distracting projectiles of vegetation, careful to keep a wary eye on the now motionless nin the entire while.

She was tiring rapidly, and it was obvious that the Akatsuki knew it too. It had probably been less than half an hour since the fight had began and already her breathing came in harsh pants, and it was all she could do to keep her wavering focus on the battle at hand. She was badly bruised, her shoulder was definitely dislocated and maybe even fractured, and her head was feeling quite woozy from all the times the vines had managed to temporarily capture and smash her against the cavern walls like a living rag doll. It wouldn't be long before she stopped from pure exhaustion and that was exactly what Zetsu was waiting for.

Evidently, she wasn't even worth a proper fight. Sakura didn't know whether to be relieved by that slight or not.

Both she and her opponent looked as different as night and day. The kunoichi grimaced inwardly at the most obvious difference; namely, the fact that she was bleeding all over the place like a stuck pig and he looked as pristine as ever in his Akatsuki cloak. That might be due to the fact that she had yet to land a hit on him, still. To tell the truth, this battle could definitely not be referred to as one as epic as David and Goliath. A more appropriate reference would probably be something as inane as the Giant and the pesky Fly. For all her vigorous speed training with Lee, she couldn't even get near enough to engage Zetsu in a taijutsu match; every time she tried, his vines would spring up and fend her off successfully.

This match was so hopeless from the beginning that Sakura had no idea why she was still trying so hard to fight. It was obvious that she was going to lose in the end; in fact, it was a miracle that she had managed to survive for so long. For all her attempts at an attack, she might as well be a fly hovering uselessly around this missing-nin, getting swatted away each time she came too near. In fact, the only times she managed to near him was when he came to her-

Emerald eyes widened.

The only times she managed to near him was when he came to her.

Sakura's exhausted mind started to whirl with possibilities.

Every time Zetsu came for her she was busy dodging and evading him. What if she went on the offensive instead? She had not had the chance to reveal her immense strength yet, so there was a possibility that he was not aware of her real identity, and she might be able to catch him unaware with her signature chakra-enhanced sucker punch. A plan started to form in her head. It wasn't exactly the most well thought-out solution, and there were definitely a lot of factors that she had probably overlooked but damn it, it was better than being a sitting duck out here. Naruto had taught her well; improvision was rapidly becoming second nature to her.

The thought of her fox brother had Sakura's bright green eyes softening for a split second. She didn't belong here, and there was no way in hell that she was going to allow herself to die here either. Emerald eyes quickly hardened with renewed determination. She had to win this fight. She had to go home. Her friends were waiting for her, and so was her family.

Sakura quickly decided that she had nothing to lose. Delving deep within herself, the kunoichi decided that she had just enough chakra for one last attempt. If it failed, that was it.

She could not fail.

There was no choice. It was definitely going to have to be a one-hit K.O. She could not fail.

Grimly, the kunoichi mentally rehearsed her plan once before she realized that she lacked a most important piece of information.

Every time she stopped, exactly how long did it take for Zetsu to come to her?

She wasn't sure.

Sakura cursed herself inwardly for not taking note of the timing. She had to know.

There was no choice; she was going to have to perform a dry run.

Almost immediately, Sakura forced herself to slow down, to feign exhaustion. She allowed her panting to become more pronounced, and at last, limped to a complete stop.

There, she pretended take the time to look over her multiple injuries, all the while praying for the aloof plant man to take the bait.

To her secret relief, he did.

Soundlessly, the huge nin started to merge into the ground beneath him. Sakura started a mental count the moment he disappeared completely from sight.




He burst out from the ground beneath her so quickly that she almost failed to roll to safety. Sakura struggled to her feet immediately, biting back a whimper of pain when she failed to avoid a jagged piece of root that pierced through her side. Throwing herself forward in a desperate burst of speed, the kunoichi forced herself into a run again.

Two and a half seconds.

That was all the time it took for Zetsu to rematerialize beneath her. It was one heck of an ability that the Akatsuki had, but by now, the kunoichi had already given up on figuring out how it worked. She already had the answer that she needed. Sakura knew now what she had to do. The newly acquired wound on her side was well worth it.

Deliberately, the kunoichi made herself run further away from the missing nin before she started to fake a pronounced limp, a bloodied hand clutching her side and her face pale with agony. That wasn't faked.

This time, the kunoichi fell to a crouch, her shoulders moving up and down as she struggled for breath. It was evident to the missing-nin that this was it. The useless Leaf-nin was finally at her limit. It was time to attack again.

Sakura watched from the corner of her eyes as the male sank into the earth again. She started her mental count, all the while charging both her feet and right fist with chakra.

This was it.




Her one simple punch propelled her small form skywards, thus saving her from suffering the effects of what she had started.

Immediately, the ground of the cavern groaned and shook as large fissures and cracks started to originate from the point of the devastating impact. Sakura did not care about those; still airborne, her eyes searched frantically for her target. It didn't take her long to find him.

Zetsu was still half submerged in the ground when Sakura began her attack.

Imagine being stuck to the ground during a powerful earthquake.

The sheer pressure and tremendous vibration of the unforgiving ground was enough to kill a normal human being.

S-class missing-nin or no, it was definitely enough to stun the large man.

Sakura wasted no time. The kunoichi landed unsteadily back onto the ground and started to make a mad dash towards the partially stuck Zetsu. Fist cocked back, the petite pink-haired female charged up with the last vestiges of her chakra as she raced towards the immobile male.

Surprised gold met desperate, determined emerald.

The dark side of Zetsu spoke for the first time since they met.

"This should not have happened."

Sakura heard. She gave a huge savage grin as she neared the large male.

"You underestimated me."

A reluctant glimmer of respect appeared in his left eye just as Sakura ploughed her powerful fist into the man's jaw.

The deafening thud of flesh against flesh resounded loudly in the cavern and the force of the impact was enough to uproot the large man from his trapped position in the ground.

Sakura watched as Zetsu flew up into the air in a graceful arc before falling back onto the ground again with a loud thump. He was unconscious even before he landed.

Sakura's strength promptly left her. The kunoichi sank helplessly onto her knees, eyes wide as she stared at the unmoving form of the missing-nin just a few feet away. It took her an entire minute to figure out what had just happened.

She had won.

She could not believe her luck. There was simply no chance she could have won had Zetsu taken her seriously. She had fucking won.

Euphoria set in immediately, and unfortunately for Sakura, so did genuine exhaustion. She had no more chakra left and had overexerted herself greatly, her wounds were considerably extensive now, and she was starting to see triple. The kunoichi tried her best to focus but felt even worse than ever. The urge to close her eyes now was so great that she could no longer fight it. Her eyelids felt like they were stapled to the heaviest weights, and obediently, she closed them.

She was unconscious even before she sank completely onto the ground, which was why she never noticed when the seal on her shoulder began to glow.

The cavern looked as though someone had fought most violently in it, and in a way, that had been true.

Piles of what he recognized to be Zetsu's special vines and roots littered the place and the normally pitch-black grotto was dimly lit by what looked to be a rather powerful katon jutsu. Unless Zetsu had suddenly developed a habit of setting fire to his own weapons, Kisame highly doubted that it was him who had initiated the technique. That left Itachi's little Leaf-nin.

Trailing after his silent partner, the tall shark man carefully sidestepped the large fissures and cracks on the ground that seemed to come from only one direction. Mildly impressed, Kisame arched an eyebrow as he eyed the full extent of the damage that one little, seemingly harmless, pink-haired female had dealt to the place.

Itachi was right; underestimating this little medic-nin would prove to be a very foolish thing to do.

The Kiri nukenin wandered further ahead to where the Uchiha was standing, his crimson Sharingan glowing eerily in the semi-darkness as he stared at the full scope of the destruction laid out before him. Following Itachi's line of sight, it actually took awhile before Kisame managed to see what Itachi had already discovered.

Sakura and Zetsu.

Kisame whistled soundlessly under his breath.

It was like nothing he had expected to see. The pink-haired kunoichi was so badly wounded and there was so much blood that his first thought was that she was already dead. Then he noticed the soft glow of Itachi's seal on her shoulder, not to mention the barely visible up and down motion of her chest, that signified she was still alive.

Zetsu was lying but a few meters away from the little Leaf-nin. There was no sign that he was injured but it was apparent that she had managed to incapacitate one of theirs again.

"She managed to put Zetsu under a genjutsu as well?" The shark man questioned aloud as he walked over to the two prone bodies for a closer look. Itachi moved as well; long, silent strides that took him before Sakura's badly battered form.

Kisame bent down to examine his fallen comrade. What he saw astounded him further.

The sensitivity of the Samehada quickly revealed that there was no residual chakra within the Kusa nukenin.

Zetsu was not under any genjutsu.

The rapidly growing bruise that was starting to encompass the entire left side of his face, however, told the real story. Upon closer inspection, Kisame discovered that Zetsu's jaw was brutally dislocated and, judging by the amount of blood trickling from the side of his lips, he was also missing quite a few teeth as well. Other than for those obvious signs of injuries, the Kiri nukenin did not detect any other wounds from his fellow Akatsuki.

Kisame's whistle grew louder as the implications of what he saw all pointed to one thing.

"Your little captive took out Zetsu in one hit." Kisame sounded extremely impressed as he looked over to the unconscious Sakura.

And to think that she had managed to do so while this severely injured…

Kisame started to grin. What an amazing little female. The blue-haired male looked at Itachi.

"I want to fight her when she is recovered."

The Uchiha gave no indication that he had heard his grinning partner. The younger male crouched down silently before his pink-haired captive, unreadable crimson eyes roving over her bleeding and injured body. Her clothes were badly ripped and dirty, there were large puncture wounds on her left shoulder and side, not to mention a large gash on her stomach, and they were all oozing poison-tainted blood. Large bruises were starting to appear on her porcelain skin everywhere he looked, and her left forearm appeared to be fractured in two places. All in all, she didn't look like someone who had just defeated two notorious members of the Akatsuki.

Common sense and the law of probability indicated that she shouldn't have been able to best Zetsu in such a deplorable state, but yet, she had. Admittedly, her fight with the spymaster of the Akatsuki had ended in a draw, but that was certainly more than what most nin could boast of. Knowing Zetsu's vicious tactics in battle, it wouldn't be surprising if she was suffering from some sort of head trauma as well, and the fact that she had continued fighting, despite everything that she had been dealt, had finally revealed to him her true character.

Her willpower was startlingly strong for someone who was as innocently idealistic as one such as herself and it seemed-

It seemed that he had grossly underestimated her.

Crimson eyes narrowed imperceptibly.

He seemed to be making a lot of mistakes when it came to her. That may be due to the fact that she possessed so many vastly contradicting characteristics that it was impossible to label her under a category and assume that she would behave as expected. She was a complete enigma, as far as he was concerned, but as he reached out to touch the pulsating Uchiha emblem on her shoulder, he could no longer deny the sense of grim satisfaction that filled him as the seal calmed immediately under his fingers.

Today was supposed to serve as a lesson to her but, because of his oversight, it had revealed to him something else entirely instead. If he had to be honest, his carefully executed plan had backfired most unexpectedly, but that was perfectly acceptable to him in this instance. He had gained more than he had lost and that was enough to placate him.

Even though it was purely unintentional on her part, she had proven herself worthy of his attention-

Worthy of his mark.

Soundlessly, Itachi effortlessly picked up the pink-haired kunoichi. It was imperative that he saw to her wellbeing immediately. From the corner of his eye, Kisame did the same with their unconscious comrade, easily hefting the larger Kusa nukenin over a shoulder with a loud grunt.

"This is starting to become a bad habit." The dry comment had Itachi looking over to his partner. "If the little Leaf keeps going through our members like this I'm not going to pick up after her all the time. It won't be difficult to set Zetsu's jaw back for him, but she is probably going to need a medic-"

"That will not be necessary."

At the cryptic remark Itachi started towards the more lived-in areas of the drafty hideout, his strides long and smooth to avoid jarring the unconscious female in his arms. Kisame easily fell into place beside his partner, though he was definitely not as delicate with his own burden. The Kiri-nin eyed the bloodied pink bundle skeptically but did not try to protest the Uchiha's decision. She was Itachi's captive after all; his to do with as he pleased and the tall shark man had no wish to interfere overly much with his partner's affairs.

"If you say so."

The medical supplies that he had requested earlier from the servants had been piled neatly by the futon when he returned with Sakura in tow. Pulling the door shut behind him, the Uchiha wasted no time depositing the injured kunoichi onto the bed.

She was lucky enough to avoid rupturing any major arteries or veins during the fierce fight, and as such, her wounds had already stopped bleeding and were starting to congeal. It wouldn't be enough to close the various injuries on her person, though, and methodically, the Sharingan wielder produced a razor sharp kunai and started to slice his way through the mangled pieces of fabric that were supposed to cover her.

Leaving her undergarments intact, the Uchiha removed the tattered remains of her clothes. Not at all flustered by the sight of the near naked female in his bed, he gave her body a cursory glance and came to the conclusion that even her physical appearance was in direct contradiction to her abilities. She was almost ridiculously delicate in build but the sleek and compact muscles that lined her limber form quickly informed him that she was a lot hardier than she looked. He dismissed her appearance and focused on her injuries instead.

Crimson eyes hardened.

The wet, obscene streaks of red that marred her uncovered form were complemented only by the ugly bruises that bloomed in large patches all over her body. Despite the fact that Zetsu had made the mistake of underestimating the kunoichi towards the end, he had been merciless as usual, inflicting as much damage as he could. Externally, her injuries were quite extensive. Itachi had no way of knowing if she was just as badly battered internally.

Itachi set to work swiftly; years of experience in treating superficial injuries apparent as he efficiently cleaned away the tainted blood and sterilized each wound with the medical supplies at his disposal. The vicious sting of alcohol against raw flesh made Sakura flinch despite her state of unconsciousness, and even after Itachi had meticulously cleaned out the wounds, the presence of potent poison was still unmistakable. It was a mild surprise to the Uchiha that she had managed to remain relatively unaffected by the deadly toxins despite being in contact with it for so long; the Akatsuki spymaster was infamous for his self-created poisons. Apparently, a single drop was enough to take down an elephant within the span of five minutes. Of course, Zetsu possessed the antidote for his venomous cocktail, but unfortunately, he was still unconscious and would not be waking anytime soon.

It was rather obvious to Itachi what had to be done.

This was an unexpected opportunity that had been literally tossed onto his lap. The kunoichi was going to have to extract the lethal poisons herself and he knew just the way to…aid her.

Even as it occurred to the Uchiha that his helping her now could be used to return the favor that she had bestowed upon him when she had selflessly saved his life, the male was just as quick to dismiss it. It was really too bad that Uchiha Itachi was never one to indulge in feelings of gratitude.

Why waste an advantage on something so frivolous when he could utilize it in much better ways?

Twin orbs of Sharingan glimmered.



Questions That I Would Like To Answer Before You Ask:

Well, so I have finally caved to the demand of the masses and posted this. As I mentioned in the last chapter as well as on the header of this chapter (which most of you have probably missed out of sheer disbelief of this update), I have revised the last five installments of Hanami, cleaned it up as best as I could, added some formatting to make it neater and even put in some new segments to make things interesting. I would recommend a reread, for those who are interested and/or have nothing better to do.


And yes, the rating has been changed to 'M'. There's nothing 'M'-worthy about Hanami right now, I suppose, but do check back in a couple of chapters. I can promise nothing at the moment, but the plot is still in the planning, so yes, we will see.


I hope that the fight scene is realistic enough! My betas and friends have assured me that it didn't suck too badly, but I seldom write action scenes and so am quite anxious to know of your opinions, not to mention the supposed 'impossibility' of Sakura taking down an Akatsuki member all by herself. Bah.


Your reviews fuel my passion for writing. So please leave a comment if you like this fic, thank you.