Author's Notes- An unhappy little fic that appeared when a drabble somehow ended up twenty-odd thousand words too long. It's a memory loss fic, although Itachi isn't going to wake up wide-eyed and naive with the mental age of a six year old, and people around him are not going to completely absolve him of all blame. There's currently ten chapters from start to finish, but I might slip a cheeky extra chapter in here or there, since I am enjoying writing it very much.
Any feedback at all is very, very welcome!
Disclaimer- I don't own any of the recognisable characters or concepts. No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
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"Morning, old lady Tsunade."
Tsunade didn't jump, but her fingers twitched slightly on the stethoscope as Naruto's eyes opened. She nodded, favoured him with a small smile, and listened. His heart was thudding away, strong and sound as a sturdy little engine. After the massive damage he had sustained, Naruto shouldn't have woken for days. She wasn't surprised in the least.
Naruto stretched slightly, winced at some small pain and smiled up at her from under his bandages, a smile as weak and bright as dawn light breaking. "What happened?"
"The Kyuubi began to break loose," she said, and the smile faded slowly away. "I'm sorry, Naruto."
"How- wait," he said, frowning, and then he startled as his memories began to fall into place. "Did I hurt-"
"Jiraiya is fine, Naruto," Tsunade said, a little dryly. "We legendary sannin can take care of ourselves, thank you."
Naruto made a small, disbelieving sound, and rolled his eyes. The frown had not entirely smoothed out, perhaps remembering the last time it had happened and his mentor had almost died. Tsunade began to unwind a few of the bandages around his ribs, prodded gently, and was again unsurprised to feel the bone already knitting back together where it had shattered inwards under the dense chakra shield. Still tender, perhaps, not that Naruto would let it show in front of her.
She straightened, packing her stethoscope back into her bag. There was a small wrinkle between Naruto's eyebrows, still thinking, and then Tsunade was just quick enough to stop him as he tried to sit up. "Old lady, he was there-!"
"I already know," she said. "Don't worry about him. He didn't hurt anyone" She gave Naruto a brief smile as she pulled the sheets back up over the bandages that pained her every time she saw them. The necklace flashed brilliant in the pale light, the central crystal as bright as a frozen teardrop, and she tucked it back safely underneath the covers.
"Hmph," Naruto already looked fully awake. "Sasuke better hurry back to the village soon, otherwise there's going to be none of his brother left for him." He gave her a confident smile that she returned, maybe only a second too late.
"You did well," she told him, and left it there.
Tsunade left the examining room, heavy medical bag swinging at her side. Shizune was tripping afterwards, her arms full of files and folders. It would be a long day for both of them, the start of many long days followed by short nights they would not be able to sleep through anyway.
"Yo," Kakashi said, appearing from nowhere to fall in line with Tsunade, book still in hand. His single visible eye did not lift from the pages as he weaved around a trolley, and stepped over a pile of files left carelessly outside one of the rooms.
"Naruto will be fine," Tsunade said, glancing sideways. "Are you going to see him?"
"Later," he said. "I'm escorting you now."
"You're on leave," she said, and watched him shrug, uninterested. A small wrinkle of displeasure formed between her eyebrows for a moment, and then smoothed away. Kakashi should not be here, and as a medic nin, she should order him to stay home and rest. But Tsunade didn't know what else Kakashi lived for now. As far as she knew, there was no family, few acquaintances, and few real interests outside the mission.
An ANBU member was posted at the end of the hall, sleek and lean and genderless in uniform and pale fixed mask. Tsunade did not know who watched from behind those blank eyeholes. It nodded at her, then Kakashi, and moved silently aside.
"The hospital have taken all precautions," Shizune said, breaking the silence with a voice strung just a note too high. She was riffling through her files in the way that meant she was unsettled, running through the facts to reassure herself. It was not news to Tsunade. Itachi Uchiha would be sedated, chakra drained, ANBU members posted at the door- and those famous eyes locked away behind metal.
"They had to let one of the doctors in to stabilise his injuries," Shizune added. "Only one, and an ex-ANBU medic nin."
Any more staff allowed access, and they would risk an assassination. Although the only other known Uchiha was far from the village, there would be plenty more who saw Itachi as a threat too dangerous to let live. Tsunade could not blame anyone who did take action. Any information about Akatsuki or Orochimaru would be invaluable, but they already knew that they would not receive it.
"Stay, Shizune," she said at the door, throwing her arm out as her apprentice attempted to follow her into the room.
Shizune protested, and Tsunade relented. She was being cautious, and perhaps unnecessarily so. In a battle against the Uchiha, she'd hesitate to let even her very accomplished apprentice join her, but there was no real threat here.
When she had returned to the village and toured the hospital, Tsunade had appreciated how bright each of the rooms were. In her experience, patients needed light and air as much as they needed medication. During the war, they had to line their wounded up side by side in cellars and sheds and tents, anywhere they could find space to lay them out. In that suffocating, hopeless atmosphere, they had seemed to wilt and die like tropical flowers starved too long of sunlight, as though death circulated in that trapped air.
This was the only time she had seen a window shuttered, and the light blocked out altogether. It was unlikely that any ninja would pass by a room on the second floor of a hospital, but they had taken no chances. As the door opened, a single square of light fell into the dark room, a stark contrast to the bright autumn world outside. She breathed antiseptic, and for a moment, Tsunade could have been stepping into another miserable shelter thirty five years ago. Her hands still burned with the ghost-memories of hot arterial blood long spilled.
"I need light," she said, and the room blazed surgery-bright.
Oh, Sasuke was her first thought, a wave of sadness breaking over her for the boy she had only known for such a short time. This was perhaps how he would look when they next met, when he was lost too far into his dreams of revenge. Sasuke had the same silky, blue-black hair that spilled like ink, the same elegant, narrow features emerging from the last of his baby fat. And perhaps one day, his Sharingan would reflect back all the blood he had spilled, and his eyes would be bruised black with exhaustion.
But now, Itachi's eyes weren't visible at all, lost behind a smooth sheet of metal locked into place. With the eyes covered, the rest of his face looked as smooth and expressionless as the mask of the ANBU guard.
"The injuries are stabilised," the ex-ANBU medic nin said quietly, rising from his chair.
"So it's just the sedative keeping him under?"
He hesitated. "As far as we know."
Tsunade knelt slowly, fingers rummaging surely through the small vials clipped into place in her bag. The contents gleamed jewel-bright, enough poisons there to kill a thousand men, and enough antidotes to bring them all back if she chose. She unwrapped a new needle and drew up half an inch of liquid that looked as clear and pure as fresh water. Shizune's fingers curled at her side, and Kakashi straightened minutely, from where he was leaning against the wall.
"I see," Tsunade said, and sank the needle into the bluish veins of Itachi's forearm.