Well, this is it. If you people forgot about Sai and the old lady and the other two… Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame on you.
- - -
"Chotto matte kudasai," a silvery voice murmured. The younger woman to Sai's right placed her fingertips lightly on his arm, effectively causing him to pause and wait. When he cocked his head curiously, she gestured toward the other woman, who had straightened up.
"That," she declared passionately, "was the worst retelling of the story that I have ever heard!"
Sai and the storyteller gaped at her. "What – what do you mean?" the storyteller gasped indignantly.
The young woman waved a hand carelessly. "Oh, the way it was told was splendid – brilliant, even! What disturbs me is how you ended it."
The storyteller shook herself and sat up. "That is how it was told to me," she said quietly.
At the old woman's tone, Sai would have pulled back and meekly left, but the young woman only shrugged.
"Yes, yes," she sighed. "Humans do have such taste for tragic tales and noble deeds. Perhaps too much."
Now the old woman was openly frowning. "May I ask how you believe the tale ends?"
Sai felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see the younger woman looking at him. "You should sit down," she advised softly. "When oneesan makes up her mind to tell a story, she finishes it." He nodded and sat down again.
As the older of the two sisters opened her mouth, he observed her, captivated by the emotions that swept her chiseled features.
The younger sister by his side shifted into a more comfortable position. He glanced at her and wondered briefly at the lack of expression on her face before her sister began to speak.
He opened his sketchbook, placed a brush in his hand, and focused intently on her as she picked up where the storyteller had left off.
- - -
Sakura threw open the large door and was about to step out into the inky darkness when a heated voice halted her at once.
"You may hold some power, old woman, but you do not hold all of it!" a familiar voice said sternly. Sakura whirled to see Kurenai striding angrily across the hall to where the elders stood, followed by Ino.
The half-immortal's eyes widened. She would have spoken, but the blonde placed a finger to her lips smugly.
"Kurenai!" the vampire with the staff exclaimed apprehensively. "What are you doing?"
"The council has decided!" the elderly woman cried primly. "The half-blood will go!"
"The council has not been gathered fully, you old fool," a quiet but commanding voice stated. Chiyo hobbled into sight with Sasori and Deidara. Tenten slipped in behind them and gave Sakura a breathless wink.
Sakura's eyes moistened with tears of gratitude. What had she done to deserve such caring friends?
"Chiyo-baa is part of the council, un!" Deidara volunteered helpfully, seemingly oblivious to the glares of the three elders.
"And as young as I may seem, I also am part of the council of elders," Sasori added dryly. "And Kurenai-san, as well."
"We say that Sakura-chan will stay!" Kurenai put in firmly. "Sakura-chan hasn't hurt anybody!"
"Yet," Ami snickered, but shut up immediately when multiple pairs of eyes glared at her.
Sasuke scowled, his face darkening. "I claim my place on the council as one of the Uchiha," he declared. "I say she goes." He glared defiantly at those on Sakura's side.
Itachi's lips tightened and he stepped forward slowly. "I also claim my place. She stays." The brothers' eyes met and locked.
"We are tied," the old woman smiled tightly, turning to Neji and Jiraiya. "What do you think?"
Neji hesitated before replying. "Half-bloods do not belong in the Castle," he said softly. Tenten's fists clenched at her sides.
The old woman's gaze had snapped to Jiraiya, who shifted uncomfortably. "Well," he said awkwardly, "Tsunade-hime would skin me alive if she discovered that I had sent her apprentice away. I am with Sakura-san."
"Tied again," the old woman sneered. "The half-blood must stay out of the Castle while we discuss this. You – "
"Chotto m-matte k-kudasai," a new, female voice interrupted timidly. "I-I vote th-that S-Sakura-san s-stays." There was no hint of hesitation despite the shyness.
Sakura spun to see her savior and came face-to-face with Hyuuga Hinata, who was gazing steadily at the female elder.
"Then it is settled," the male elder with no staff sighed. "Sakura-san will stay, and the council is dismissed."
The old woman snarled but could do no more than shoot Sakura a nasty glare over her shoulder as she left.
An arm slid around her waist, bringing her close to Itachi's side. "I thought I would lose you," he murmured into her hair. "Don't leave me."
"Of course not, Itachi," she answered him fervently, clutching him tight. "I would have waited forever, but now is the best time to live. I love you!" She buried her face in his chest.
"And I you." Even if he had not said those words, she would have felt it through the seal, spreading through her body and warming her heart.
"Matte," Kurenai interrupted. "There is one condition." Sakura's heart sank as they looked at the black-haired woman, but Kurenai was smiling.
"Uchiha Itachi!" Chiyo barked suddenly. Itachi's eyes flickered to her and he mentally snapped to attention. "You are the closest to Sakura. You will Turn her."
"Finish what you started," Ino grinned.
Without hesitation, Itachi bared Sakura's shoulder, letting everyone see the seal, and sank his fangs into her neck directly where the seal was.
His strong arms caught and steadied her as she collapsed due to a lack of blood. She was faintly aware of him pressing his wrist to her lips and urging her to drink, as Shizune had done; only less hurriedly and more confidently.
Then she swallowed, and suddenly everything jerked back into focus. At once she became aware of the faces of her friends.
Standing up with Itachi's help, she bowed to Chiyo, Kurenai, Ino, Tenten, Sasori, Deidara, Naruto, and Jiraiya.
"Arigato gozaimasu!" She straightened up in time to prepare herself before Naruto barreled into her. Sasuke and Neji slunk away quietly. Ami gulped as Ino glared at her. Wisely, she fled.
"Well, I'm hungry!" Tenten announced. "Let's all go hunting!" It was then that Sakura felt the familiar craving in her stomach.
That night, she drank her fill of the red life-giving liquid and felt satisfied for the first time.
As they flew, Sakura looked down and studied the tiny, sparkling lights that pierced the darkness. Coupled with all of the emotion transferred from Itachi to her through the still-active seal, the beauty was breathtaking.
Not as beautiful as you, Itachi smirked.
Sakura smiled gently and, for the first time in her life, finally felt complete.
- - -
Sai looked at his finished sketch as the young woman beside him finished her tale. Her last words hung in the air, echoing dramatically. He let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and closed his sketchbook, hiding from sight the picture of a young woman with lightly touched hair and startling bright eyes.
"May I see what you have drawn?" the younger sister requested. He could not refuse and showed her the picture.
"Sakura-san." The older sister leaned over his shoulder and recognized the person.
The younger sister reached out a slender, paper-white finger and traced the outline of the sketch lovingly. "It is beautiful," she told him. "You will not colour it?"
He shook his head. "I think it looks better in black and white. It captures her innocence and her love of the darkness at the same time."
"Perhaps," the older sister agreed, "but pure black and pure white only exists in stories. Humans exist in grey."
"What about the other colours?" Sai inquired, shutting his sketchbook gently.
The woman smiled as if she knew something he did not. "Ah; all colours are but shades of grey," she replied smoothly.
There was a sudden movement; the storyteller had risen and was towering over the still-seated form of the older sister.
Sai's breath caught, but the young woman observed the older with a serene face. After surveying her pale, marble face, the storyteller knelt and placed her forehead to the ground, bowing respectfully before the girl.
"I was wrong," she whispered. "I was wrong."
"Do not bow to me, obaasan," the black-clad young woman murmured as her sister helped the old woman sit up. "I have merely finished your story, as it was told to me." She stood up to leave, her sister following suit.
"Chotto matte," Sai called weakly. She paused at the door flap, with one hand still inside to show she was listening. "Where did you learn that story?"
There was silence briefly before she met his eyes with her own ruby orbs and spoke softly, curling back her lips to reveal sharp eyeteeth. "My mother."
Then she and her sister were gone, leaving Sai with a story and a quickly sketched picture of a young woman turned immortal.
On his way out, something black caught his eyes. He stooped, picked it up, and looked at it closely. In his fingers was a jet-black feather.
In the light, it seemed to shimmer with a greyish gleam. Recalling the young immortal's words about colours, he smiled and slipped the feather into his pocket. It smelled faintly of blood.
- - -
And I'm done. Thank you sooooooooo much for sticking with this story, and thank you soooooo much for all of your lovely reviews!!!!!! And I'm very grateful for the people who didn't necessarily review but read the story! I look forward to seeing you all soon!!!!