To Sleep with Demons
"Itachi. Let's stop here."
Kisame Hoshigaki spoke politely, but the slight growl in his voice indicated impatience.
Itachi glanced sideways at his companion, noting the bright gleam in his eyes, like two dark stones polished until they shone. They had been paired together in part because it was hoped that Itachi's conservatism would balance Kisame's lack of constraint. Sometimes it worked, but not always.
Kisame waited expectantly for direction, but Itachi said nothing. It was best to remain silent. Silence gave one time to think, to choose carefully, and make the best decision. Silence also made other people nervous, and when people were nervous they revealed things they might otherwise keep hidden. People also read into silence what they expected, which made it easier to behave accordingly. What Kisame expected was for Itachi to chastise him, and because he expected it, he saved Itachi the trouble by chastising himself.
"I'm sorry," the larger man complained, though there was little real contrition in his tone, "but I don't want to spend another night under a bush."
They stood together on a hilltop, looking down at the outskirts of a town. It was a ragged little district, likely filled with petty thieves, disreputable moneylenders, gamblers, prostitutes, and other unpleasant company. Still, there would be warm food, and beds, and it was the kind of place where people did not ask too many questions or hassle strangers. They had business to conduct here or they wouldn't need to enter the town at all. Since they had to enter, there was prudence in taking advantage of what was freely available.
Itachi closed his eyes slowly. "Perhaps one night," he agreed.
Kisame grinned, much like a puppy that had been rewarded, but a dangerous puppy with a vicious bite. Itachi respected Kisame's innate sense of his own power, and it was always best to remember that he would use it without hesitation. Still grinning, the other man swung his great sword over his shoulder, carrying it like a cudgel. Together they descended the hill and made their way into the town.
At this hour, the streets were mostly deserted. The outskirts of the town invited riff raff, so there were beggars, drunks, and prostitutes tucked into the dark corners and narrow alleyways of the winding streets. Those that lingered in the open did so in pairs or small groups. They didn't see any ninja, nor expected to, which was partly why a hole such as this had been chosen.
A chill had set in by the time they arrived at a wayhouse, the only establishment in this part of town from which the sounds of ruckus laughter and the clink of glass drifted from the open doorway. Light spilled out on the street, and they were able to glance inside as they passed. It was the sort of place where men found themselves after long, weary days of craving human voices. It was a large open space with a bar on one end, a small, empty stage on the other, and a staircase leading to an upper floor. Men gathered around several tables in the floor's open space, drinking, dealing cards, and betting on the roll of dice. The dice indicated the quality of the gambling, and Itachi assessed the card games at play with a quick glance. No significantly high betters by the look of it, but money and sake enough to keep men playing long into the night.
"I hope this is the place," Kisame said, eyeing a particular card game in the middle of the room with hungry eyes. There was a rather large pile in the pot, enough to entice someone like Kisame who tended to play for high stakes against those who usually didn't. "There's good liquor here, and I think there's even an inn on the second floor. Do you see our man anywhere?"
Itachi had seen him when they first entered the room, and purposely ignored him. The fellow in question sat slumped at the bar with a drink at his elbow. He didn't know the man's name and didn't want to, but he recognized him by description.
"I will speak to him," Itachi told his partner. He glanced around the room without moving his head. "We've already been noticed, so you might as well amuse yourself as you like."
Kisame grinned and swung his sword off his shoulder. They had attracted attention enough as strangers, but if they had been merely noted before, Kisame's presence dominated the room now. His large physique and bluish skin drew eyes even in the most surreptitious of occasions, and in a place like this, he was something of a spectacle. He lowered his wrapped blade until the tip hovered just above the wooden floors. All eyes turned to follow him. Men who might have considered themselves strong sized up both the man and the great sword with skepticism and nervousness. A man behind Itachi muttered "ninja?" in a hushed, questioning voice. No one answered him.
Itachi stood perfectly still, blending in with the rest of the patrons as Kisame hefted his sword in one giant palm, wielding it as if it weighed only half of what it actually did. He swaggered to where six men—the largest group with the biggest pile—sat playing cards in the center of the room. To their credit, none of the men with a hand in the game reacted to Kisame's toothy grin beyond a weighted glance. Once he had their attention, Kisame set the sword carefully on the ground. The men remained expressionless, but when Kisame displayed a change purse stuffed to bursting with rewards from the road, a place was made for him. Kisame wedged his great figure between two men twice his age and half his size, grinning with anticipation. He was dealt into the next hand without introduction or comment.
Business resumed. The occupants in the room returned to their individual affairs. Itachi assessed the mood. After Kisame's semi-threatening display resulted only in a buy-in, the crowd concluded that whatever interest a pair of strange ninja had in their village, it was not going to interrupt their night.
Compared to his companion, Itachi attracted significantly less attention, which was not to say that his presence went unnoticed entirely. It was not lost on the patrons that he and Kisame had come in together, or that they were dressed similarly.
Two women in the room—the only women Itachi could see anywhere in the place—glanced in his direction with a different sort of evaluation. One was a waitress, plain, but pleasant, dressed simply in a low cut shirt and displaying a concentrated expression as she wove among the crowd. The other, though less attractive in the face, was attached to a gentleman at a card table and dressed finely in expensive clothes and jewelry that were no doubt purchased for her by the man with an arm around her waist.
Both women shot him smiles. The waitress looked harassed, her smile strained, perhaps hopeful. The other woman's smile was decidedly meant to entice. Neither impressed him. When he met their eyes directly, both women glanced away uncertainly. It was unlikely they knew what eyes like his meant, but they sensed the danger.
Ignoring them, Itachi made his way to the bar. He ordered tea, much to the surprise of the bartender, but his request was not questioned. He sat beside the man they had come here to meet, and waited. The bartender brought him a steaming cup. Itachi took a sip, luxuriating in the heat of the tea.
The enjoyment of simple pleasures was all he expected of happiness.
"You're Akatsuki?" the man beside him asked quietly. "I was told to deliver this to two men in black cloaks with red clouds. Men who called themselves Akatsuki."
The delivery in question was a small scroll, sealed to prevent anyone from looking at its contents in case it fell into the wrong hands. The man slid it along the counter toward Itachi. He was not a ninja and seemed relieved to be rid of the thing. With a swift exhibition of slight of hand, Itachi slipped the scroll into a pocket under his cloak before his informant had time to blink. The man's eyes focused on the place where the scroll had been, seeming to believe that it had vanished.
The fellow grinned. "That's some trick," he said. He looked at Itachi full in the face for the first time. Itachi returned his stare. The man froze, mesmerized, by the Sharingan. His grin melted away.
"Is there a message?" Itachi asked.
"Just that everything is going according to plan," the fellow replied, licking his lips nervously. "You and your companion are bidden to meet at the same spot at the same time as previously arranged."
Itachi closed his eyes. Another sealing. Things were indeed moving more quickly now.
Even with his eyes closed, he felt a change in the atmosphere. He opened them again, slowly because he sensed no threat, and looked up, glancing beyond the informant's head toward the staircase in the back corner of the room. Many heads in the room had lifted, which was what had alerted him to something worth noting.
A woman stood on the third step, pausing in the act of descending the stairs. She was dressed in a fashion seemingly influenced by the wide obi and long sleeves of a furisode kimono, though it was more of a dress from the waist to the hem. The garment of silver-gray silk was not the attire of a woman in a town with dirt streets and dark alleys, especially with a face like hers. With his Sharingan, even at a distance he could make out the details of her features: a pair of large, luminous eyes feathered with thick black lashes and dark eyebrows over a small, auspicious nose, soft lips, and dark hair that curled around her shoulders and clung to her cheeks.
He was partial to women with dark hair. It was calming and familiar. A beautiful woman who carried herself with grace was always a pleasure to watch, even if watching was all he had time for. The other men in the room seemed to have the same thought.
Itachi glanced away. There wasn't time to waste on women. As a rule, he lacked interest, and what interest there was passed quickly. It had to, because of the complication.
From the stairs, the new arrival caught sight of him. She turned her head in his direction, picking him out from the crowd, perhaps because of his cloak. He looked back, impassive, and waited. Eventually she seemed to notice something that seemed to bother her--probably the Sharingan. He watched her brow furrow. After a moment she turned away, descending the stairs in slow steps to the welcoming looks of the other men in the room.
"Is that all?" Itachi asked his informant. The man seemed to have forgotten Itachi in the moment that the woman entered the room, and when he realized where she had been looking, his face turned a jealous shade of green. He nodded jerkily, looking a little peevish, and shot Itachi a withering glance. Itachi found him unpleasant. "Then I suggest you go."
The informant finished his drink in a single gulp and paid for his sake as well as Itachi's tea. He left without looking back, exiting the building alone and disappearing into the night.
Itachi turned his attention to the rest of the room. Kisame had won his first hand at the table and seemed to be in good spirits. A good amount of money had changed hands and Kisame did not attempt to hide his pleasure at his good fortune. Meanwhile, the bartender returned to collect the fare for the departed man's drink. He noted that Itachi's tea had been paid for and brought him a second steaming cup without asking. He also brought sake.
Given the bartender's generosity, Itachi was somewhat surprised when the man did not leave immediately. Instead he leaned forward, glancing up to catch Itachi's attention, and whispered to him in a muted voice while pouring the sake.
"I have been asked to share some information."
Itachi waited without saying anything. The barman did not look up.
"The man you were just meeting with will betray you."
Itachi took another sip of hot tea. He did not feel threatened, but if such a statement were true it would cause delays and unpleasantness. Yet it could not be ignored. He searched the bartender's face and detected honesty and a willingness to be helpful. The barman was not a fool. A genjutsu would not be necessary.
"What else can you tell me?" Itachi asked.
The bartender slowly refilled his tea. "That man frequents this place often. He's an opportunist to be sure, and the type to turn on a deal as quickly as he accepts one. I know nothing of his plans or who his contacts may be. I was bidden to pass this information to you by another, as well as the drink."
"Who?" he asked.
The bartender's eyes drifted to the left. "The lady."
Moving nothing but his eyes, Itachi followed the man's gaze toward an alcove in the corner where the woman he had seen descending the stairs now sat quite alone. She did not look in his direction. She seemed to be intent on her sake.
"Who is she?" he asked.
The bartender smiled. "She arrived a few days ago, passing through on her way to the Land of Fire, she said, but not too hurried about it. I can't tell you much more. Since her arrival she has conducted no business, nor taken up with anyone as far as I know. There has been some ill-favored talk about her."
"What sort of talk?"
"That she favors only the most distinguished. She has been offered some pricey gifts, and for gifts fine enough, she invites a man to drink and talk, but nothing more. She has angered some of my more influential customers." The barman smiled.
Itachi wondered about that. Perhaps she was merely a scavenger for information, after whatever she could coax out of rough men hungry for something beautiful to look at. A woman who knew how to use her charms could be a formidable spy. Even great ninja could be tricked, manipulated or mislead by their primal natures. It was one reason why he didn't spend time with any women, especially ninja, who were even worse than the regular sort.
"Why would she betray this man to me?"
The bartender shook his head. "I don't know. You will have to ask her yourself."
Itachi had no further questions to ask. Sensing his dismissal, the bartender left the flask of sake on the counter and left Itachi alone.
Itachi stepped off the barstool and crossed the room to the alcove where the woman waited. He carried the flask of sake with him. At the card table, Kisame was losing his current hand and grimaced as he was dealt his next card. Most of the room was at least half-watching the game, perhaps trying to guess what he would do on the next round of bets, and what would happen if he lost.
The woman was not watching. She faced the card table, but her face was half buried in her small cup of sake, and there was a smile on her face of the secretive sort, directed inward at some hidden thought. She did not look at Itachi as he approached, but he sensed she knew he was there.
He sat in the chair opposite her. She set her cup on the table and looked up. Her eyes were even more alluring up close. He refilled her cup with the flask. As if she had known him for years, she reached across the table and poured a second cup for him. They both drank in silence. For several moments, neither spoke.
"I was told you had some information for me," he said. Instead of asking what, he posed the more pressing question. "Why?"
She smiled at him, her face a picture of softness, yet her eyes sparkled with invitation. There was something decidedly calculating about it.
"I didn't think you would be interested in the pleasure of my company alone," she replied. Her voice was as soft as her face, smooth and collected, with just a hint of honey in her tone.
He smiled, though he was not amused. A forward woman then, if he took her meaning, more so than she appeared.
She smiled back. "So I thought I had better add an element of business."
He took a sip of sake and studied her, wondering what she was after. She sat straight-backed at the edge of her chair, hands folded demurely in her lap. This flirtation was a ruse, he was sure, and yet there was an essence of sincerity about it. She was a very attractive woman. He suspected she was very used to having her way, perhaps with no questions asked.
Her dark eyes glittered as she lifted her lashes. They were luminescent. She looked into his Sharingan and did not blink. "You have a lovely pair of eyes."
He smiled. Was that her answer to the question, or a change of topic? Did she know what she was looking at? He was practiced at deflecting attention he did not care for, but her approach was unusual. He studied her again, tracing the curves of her body from her neck to her shoulders to her breasts. Her figure was nothing to scoff at. Perhaps someone had sent her, but he didn't think so.
It would be easy to trap her in a genjutsu. She could be influenced to talk that way, influenced to do many things in fact, but he wasn't interested.
"Have you seen eyes like these before?" he asked.
"No," she said, "but I wasn't referring to the color, or the shape. Red, with an iris like a wheel? It is unusual. You must be a ninja."
An obvious assumption.
"And your partner?" she continued. "He is unusual too. Like a shark from the sea, with that skin and that face. He does not seem reputable. And he seems to know it." She smiled at him, coyly this time, almost mocking. "They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps."
"What do you hope to gain by betraying my informant?"
"I am looking for a man," she answered without skipping a beat. She paused long enough to drain her sake to the bottom of the cup. "A superior man. Someone who can satisfy my requirements."
She laughed at his expression. The sound was rich with mirth, honest and carefree and open, refreshing like the sharp bite of mountain air. It was a sound that promised warmth and comfort. It was pleasant, but he didn't trust it.
"I am looking specifically for a Shinobi. I do not see many ninja in my travels and none yet in this district," she continued. "The man you met with knows what you are. I know he will betray you because he told me."
Itachi raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"He wanted to impress me."
"What do you know of ninja?" he asked her. Ninja secrets were well kept. That being the case, even the most basic Genin level skills were received with admiration by the ignorant, but it was possible she knew more than most.
"A little," she said. "I have never seen one of your hidden villages, but I have encountered ninja now and again, and I have witnessed some of what they can do. You must forgive my ignorance of the particulars, but from what I have seen I can imagine a great deal more. "
"Are you curious?"
She smiled at him, a genuine smile this time, he thought, judging by the sparkle in her eyes and the curve of her lips. She had a lovely mouth. "I would not seek to become a ninja if that is what you were thinking. What I seek is a superior ninja."
"Why?" he asked. "What is it you need?"
"A favor performed," she said.
"Why would any ninja do you a favor?"
"Let's call it an exchange," she said. "I have a taste for dangerous men. Do you know what I mean?"
They stared at each other across the table.
A woman like this…
It was time to cut to business. "What is the favor?"
"He is meeting two others down by the river," she said. Itachi didn't need her to say who. This conversation began with the informant. If she wanted the man dead, and if he was actually a threat to Akatsuki, she might think it easy to procure the service, while at the same time incurring his gratitude. She would be right, though it begged the question as to why. Did he know something about her as well?
"Are you trying to use me?"
Her eyes glinted. "Are you a man who allows himself to be used?"
He wondered about that.
She regarded him with a strange expression and then leaned her elbows delicately on the table, resting her chin against the back of her fingers. "So far you have asked many questions and answered very few. I'll tell you what you want to know. There are some men in town who will offer a substantial reward for anyone with information on rogue ninja who bear slashes through their headbands." She glanced meaningfully up at his forehead. "They will pay double for any mention of persons in black cloaks with red clouds. They are holed up in a bunker by the bridge this side of the river. I have personal reasons for wishing them misfortune. Does that suffice?"
Rather than answer, he moved to refill her sake. There was a bit of pink in her cheeks, and as he leaned toward her, he felt her body heat. Her hair smelled of lavender, not heavy like perfume, but the clean scent of herbal soap or incense. She shifted slightly in her chair as he poured her sake from the flask. He was close enough to touch her without reaching.
She didn't tremble at his proximity, but he thought he might have heard her breath hitch in her throat.
"I can be very dangerous."
When he pulled back he caught her eye. The tomoes of the Sharingan turned. The genjutsu was so subtle she merely stiffened, eyes narrowing slightly as she tried to fight the hypnotism. He felt the tug against his will, but before the Sharingan had turned a full revolution, the illusion seized her completely and she slumped forward. She nodded her head drowsily over her sake, her hands limp around the cup, eyes dull. It was a gentle hypnotism, just strong enough to deaden her senses and lull her in a dream. She would believe they were still talking, and then wake suddenly to find she was alone.
Rising from his seat, Itachi left the sake on the table and moved swiftly through the room to the darkness of the doorway. A few people looked at him as he passed, but a glance into their eyes sent them back to their drinks, dazed and none too sure what they had seen.
Night swallowed him as he exited the building. It was cold, but he barely felt the air. A starless sky blanketed the streets in darkness and an overcast of clouds moved swiftly above his head, blots of gray chasing each other across the sky in a high rising wind. The air smelled like rain.
He followed the road to the river. The town was deserted, everyone having moved to the safety of light and sound indoors after dark, drawn to the communion of fellow human beings. Surrounded by the solitude of darkness, Itachi moved through the streets as a shadow moved. He heard the river before he saw it, the current rapid as it drifted south. The bridge arched gracefully across the bank, and beside it, just off from the main road, a small bunker built of wood hunkered in the mud.
He approached the wall and stood beside a covered window. He could hear voices through the glass. As he listened to the conversation, a light rain began to fall, tiny drops of water darkening the dirt beneath his feet. He stepped sideways until his head was covered by the eaves.
"You're sure?" a man's voice whispered. "Black cloaks with red clouds? And one with red eyes? We can't afford mistakes."
It was Itachi's informant who responded. He sounded confident, almost contemptuous, arrogance coating his tongue as he praised himself.
"They are Akatsuki, no question. One of them even carries a great wrapped sword, just like in the descriptions."
"When did they arrive?" a third man's voice asked. He sounded more cautious, older perhaps.
The informant replied, his voice aloof with scarcely concealed smugness. "I can tell you where they are right now. Show me the money and we'll talk the details."
Itachi's hands moved. Ram. Serpent. Tiger. A shadow close emerged and passed between his original self and the window, circling around the wall and approaching the building through the front door. He was the same as the clone. He saw with the clone's Sharingan eyes.
He didn't knock. The hinges squeaked as he pushed against the wood, but the door swung open without resistance. Three men looked up from a rickety wooden table as he entered. They barely had time to register the red clouds on black, the high collar covering all of his face except for his eyes. He blinked—or so it would seem to them—and two of the men slumped. He flicked his wrist and two kunai knives cut through the air, sinking into the foreheads of the men as they sunk to the grown.
The informant alone remained to face him. He stared white faced at the two dead men and scrambled to his feet, fumbling for the knife in his belt. The knife was a wicked blade, the steal molded into a sinuous curve and serrated on both edges. A blade like that would rip out a person's insides if it managed to pierce the body, but it was clumsy and poorly balanced. An inelegant, grotesque weapon. It was a torturer's instrument. Itachi felt his contempt increase. The way the man was holding the thing, an Academy child would have been able to take it from him.
Before the other man could move, Itachi closed the space between them and seized him by the throat. The man's knife fell to the ground, clattering on its side. Itachi kicked it aside. At the same time, a kunai came smoothly into his other hand. He shoved the gasping fool against the far wall, the tip of the blade thrusting against the underside of his ribs so that every time the man drew breath he felt the prick of hard steal.
The man's eyes were wild with shock and fear.
Itachi was calm. "Explain."
"Please." He paused in what might have been the preparation for a lie. Itachi didn't move. The man stared into his crimson orbs and must have thought better of deceit. "They said they wanted information on rogue ninja, and especially men in black cloaks with red clouds. It was stupid. Forgive me."
"Who else have you told?"
"No one else," the man whispered. "Please. I swear it. No one. Only these men wanted the information. I thought it couldn't hurt just to say I saw you!"
Itachi pressed the blade harder against the man's ribcage. With a twist of his wrist, he cut through the thread holding one of the man's buttons to his shirt. The kunai slipped between the gap in his clothes, jabbing up under his ribs until cold steel connected with bare skin. "You're lying," Itachi said. His fingers dug into the man's throat, holding him steadily against the wall.
"No! I'm telling you the truth. I…."
The kunai cut through flesh as easily as thread. It drew blood, piercing skin and muscle tissue, not enough to kill, but more than enough to cause pain. The man's gasp turned to a whimper, his eyes rolling up in agony. Itachi grip on his windpipe tightened, crushing out his air and preventing his ability to scream. The man kicked his feet, wheezing and jerking away from the kunai, but was held firm. Eventually he stopped struggling, swallowing painfully. Itachi eased his grip.
"All right!" the man panted. His voice sounded strained, crippled by Itachi's crushing grip on his throat. "I…I told a woman. That woman from the bar. You saw her. She's a stranger in this town. We had a few drinks. I didn't give her any details."
"You don't know any details," Itachi said dismissively. "Fortunately for you. What other dealings have you had with this woman?"
"None. We only talked."
He smirked. "Then why did she tell me where I could find you?"
"That's…" The man swallowed. "I don't know! She was just a woman. She doesn't know anything."
Ignorant fool. "And you told no one else?" He pressed the blade against the soft flesh beneath the man's ribs, cutting him again, deeper this time.
A strangled yelp bubbled up from the man's throat. "No one!"
Itachi withdrew the blade from the man's chest and released his throat. The man sucked in air painfully, half sinking to the ground. By the time he looked up, it was too late. Itachi's kunai slashed him across the throat, severing the already-damaged windpipe in one swift motion. It was quick. The man toppled forward, unable to breathe, blood flowing from the wound until a river of it darkened his neck and chest. Itachi returned the blood-soaked kunai to its holster and readjusted his sleeves. The smell of iron hung heavy in the air.
Itachi hauled all three corpses outside to the edge of the river. Rain fell heavier now, pelting the surface of the river with a sheet of needles that rebounded upwards, creating a mist-like shower over the water. He tossed the body into the swiftest part of the current and watched it sink like a stone beneath the splash. By morning it would be carried some distance by the rapids. He stood still for a moment, listening to the rainfall, making sure there was no one around who had seen what he had done, not that it would matter in this place. His sandals sank into soil that was quickly becoming black mud, and it wasn't long before he started to feel the cold. Water plastered his hair to his head and dripped down his face and neck in streams of thick drops.
He let the shadow clone vanish and opened his eyes where his original body waited beneath the eves, well away from the scene of the crime and dry enough in the darkness.
He felt nothing. He rarely felt anything anymore. He was death; inside and out.
Leaving the riverbank, Itachi headed back for the inn, careless now of the water that quickly soaked his robes and plastered his hair to his head. Business was concluded. His mood was changing. Some remnant of himself, the part of him that had once been human, remembered itself and struggled to breathe a little.
He wanted warmth, dry heat, a warm bed, and perhaps a soft body.
He wanted to forget nights like this.
No one saw him enter the inn. At the entrance, his fingers flickered, completing a hand sign before he finished crossing the threshold. A lulling affect spread throughout the room. Even Kisame nodded over his cards, staring over his newly dealt hand with beady eyes. Genjutsu was never his strong point, but his cash pile was growing again. He was doing well. All the better. There would be no trouble, and no reason to have to supervise.
Crossing the room, Itachi made his way to the stairs, leaving a dazed crowd in his wake. Momentarily, they would come to, shake off what felt like a common sort of late night haze, and continue with their activities. He was on the second floor before the first one stirred.
The hallway at the top of the stairs was cloaked in darkness thicker than folds of black velvet. Perhaps the wayhouse could not afford proper lighting, or maybe the customers preferred it this way. Old planks creaked as he moved through the shadows, and the smell of musty wood clouded his nose. He passed doors on either side, not knowing for certain if his guess was correct. A mistake would not deter him, but he did not think he was mistaken.
A door at the end of the hall opened before he reached it. The woman's face appeared in the frame, lit by a tallow candle she held aloft, its flame cutting only marginally into the shadows. Itachi approached without speaking, eyeing her as he neared. A dark silk robe swathed her from shoulders to toes, tied loosely with a belt around her waist. When she raised her arm to hold the candle higher, the material slid down passed the elbow, showing him a shadowed glimpse of her pale skin from elbow to shoulder.
"I wasn't sure," she said cryptically.
"Did you plan it like this?" he asked her.
Her face was expressionless. "Not exactly. Do you want to come in?"
"Then come," she said. "Your friend will not leave the table while there is still money to bet, and that card game could drag on until dawn. Besides, you have been in the rain. You are soaked through. Come in."
She disappeared behind the doorframe, but left the door ajar to allow him admittance. He followed, unsnapping the collar of his cloak as he walked. Water dripped onto his hand. He could not move or touch his clothes without feeling the chill.
He stepped into her room, shutting the door behind him. It was a small space, merely a bed and a chair, the best an establishment like this could provide, no doubt.
She didn't move far from the entrance as he entered.
"I know you didn't have to come here," she said. "You made that clear below. What do you want from me then?"
"Why did you ask me to kill those men?"
"Did you kill him?" she asked. He didn't need to reply. She read the answer in his face. She had wanted them dead.
He removed his cloak, tossing it over the back of a chair sitting empty beside the bed. The clothes beneath his robe were damp in patches, but ridding himself of the cloak was a relief. When he wasn't wearing it, he almost felt like himself. Almost.
She stood completely still in front of him, her bare feet flat on the ground. "He asked too many questions," she murmured. "Are you going to use those?" She pointed at the belt around his waist, at the kunai balanced in the holsters, including the one he had used to kill their mutual acquaintance.
"Do you want me to?"
She gave him a wry smile. No, she didn't.
Itachi unhooked the belt and disarmed himself by dropping the holster that held his kunai and shuriken to the floor. She didn't look at the weapons; her eyes focused on his Sharingan as he closed the gap between them in a few unhurried steps.
She didn't move as he reached out to grasp her chin between his thumb and the knuckle of his forefinger. Calmly, he stared into her eyes. They were brown, and dark, like pools of molasses, but what struck him was the way they reflected the light. They seemed to flash in the candlelight, not with anger or defiance, but a calm, subtle cunning.
"I do not need weapons to control you," he told her.
She trembled under his fingers. Her eyes were wide, staring at his face. It took him a moment to realize that it was not fear that made her tremble. There was also surprise in her eyes, and--he realized in a rush—excitement. Some deep, primal feeling surged through him. How rare. She dug her nails into his forearm, tugging ineffectually in an attempt to break his hold.
He didn't need genjutsu to control her either. His grip on her was sufficient. He bent over her slender form, squeezing her jaw and pulling her wrist away from his arm, forcing her to cease her attempt to escape. A lusty gasp escaped her lips and her body relaxed, wilting like a reed on the bank of a river. He held her fast.
"What do you want with me?" he demanded.
Her voice was surprisingly cool, though she whispered breathily. "Where I come from, ninja are not known. I have traveled a very long way to meet...I had hoped...someone like you."
He could see in her eyes a kind of thirst. It was desire that overwhelmed her fear. He released his hold on her. There were red marks on either side of her mouth, but she didn't retreat from him. She straightened, posture perfect, gathering dignity about her like a shawl. Her eyes met his, her expression flat.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said. Not yet.
She touched her face. "I can't always tell the difference between pleasure and pain anymore. When I think of what I've sacrificed, and what I left behind…" She shook her head. "I'm more certain than ever of what I want."
He agreed. "What is it you want?"
"Right now? Only one thing."
She took few steps toward him, close enough to touch. She blinked, almost lazily, her lashes dropping halfway down her eyes, yet looking at him with a burning intensity. Her breasts heaved as she breathed, just inches from his arm. The redness on either side of her mouth was fading, emphasizing the color of her lips.
He didn't need her, but for the first time in some time, he wanted something she could provide.
He leaned in to kiss her. It seemed the only sensible thing to do. He found her lips warm and soft and inviting, yielding as he applied pressure, and pushing back when he released. His hands found her shoulders, smoothing the material of her silk robe. When she didn't resist, he ran his hands down her arms and slipped them about the waist, pulling her body close. She came forward, her fingers gripping his arms. She leaned against him as his hands explored her back, searching her feminine curves. He found the knots that held her robe together and loosened them. The silky material shrouding her body slipped off as one piece, revealing bare skin from shoulders to toes.
His heart began to beat rhythmically in his chest. Her hands pressed against his stomach as he enveloped her form, his arms draping over and around her body. Soft, creamy skin yielded to his fingertips. There was nothing about her that was tough, no scars, no calluses, no rough marks, bruises, bumps or other evidence of ever having suffered injury beyond a stubbed toe. This woman was all softness and silk, her body lithe and supple in response. But there was something about her that invited roughness.
His lips found her skin.
She shivered when he touched her and he kissed her mouth again to distract her from the cold. The heat blazing from his body would have warmed her even if she had been frozen through. She seemed to feel it and began to work at removing his clothes. The thought of her naked body against his was enough to stop touching her long enough to walk her to the bed and help her undress him.
The candle she had set on the nightstand before he entered her room flickered as their bodies settled on the mattress. Her head fell back, nestling into the pillow, the contrast of her dark hair against the bedding drawing his attention.
"Oh, I hope you know what you're doing."
He cut off her words with a bruising kiss, and this time his kiss deepened. She responded in kind. When he released her, her eyes smoldered, her pupils dark and dilated with lust, feathery eyelashes framing lids that languished with the weight of passion. His fingers dug into her hair, tangled in her dark tresses, and pulled her head roughly to his. She gasped, smothered a cry, and stared into his eyes, panting a little now, head constricted by his grip. He saw exhilaration in her eyes. He felt the Sharingan fade away, overcome by too much sensation to concentrate.
"Oh," she whispered. "Your eyes are even lovelier now."
He kissed her neck, and then her mouth, supporting her weight with his arm as he lowered her to the mattress. He didn't think. He didn't say anything. He just wanted to ravish this woman.
When Itachi opened his eyes, he guessed it to be midmorning. Sunlight glimmered through a few cracks in the walls, scattering dapples of gold across the floorboards. Other than that, the room was dark and quiet and warm. He lifted his head from the pillow, pushing the sheets off his chest as he sat up.
The woman slept soundly on her stomach, her head turned to the side, mussed hair fanning across her shoulders. The sheet had fallen below her waist, leaving the length of her naked back exposed to the air.
He was about to touch her when he heard heavy footfalls in the hallway. He reactivated the Sharingan just before the door burst open.
The noise jarred him, but the sight was an expected one. He wondered if Kisame had barged into every room looking for him.
"There you are. It's late, Itachi."
Kisame was fully dressed, the great sword strapped to his back and his pouches bulging with his winnings from the night before. His beady black eyes darted to the woman in the bed. His lips curved into something resembling a grin, only toothier and full of viciousness.
"You could have said something. I wouldn't have worried."
"Never mind," Itachi replied. "I'll meet you out front."
Kisame shut the door and the sound of his footsteps gradually faded away. Itachi rose from the bed and dressed silently. His robe had dried considerably. Sunlight would do the rest. Still, it was at times like this when he found a life on the road distasteful.
As he finished dressing, the woman opened her eyes and sat up. She pulled the sheets over her chest and watched him organize his shuriken and kunai. Judging by the alertness in her eyes, she had probably been awake when Kisame entered. He didn't know how anyone could have slept through that racket.
She didn't say anything as he gathered his things, and he left her behind without a word. Once he was alone in the hall he paused to take a breath. He was tired. He suspected it would take some effort to forget about the reason for his fatigue in the days ahead.
He met Kisame in the road just outside the building and informed him of the situation with their informant. Kisame didn't say anything about the woman, but when Itachi bought a skewer of dango at their next stop, he badgered Itachi about his love for "sweet things" in a manner that Itachi took to be a mocking jest, however exaggerated. He took steps to assure that the harassment ceased shortly thereafter.
It wasn't until the next night that a thought struck him. He had been thinking about something else entirely—the thoughts that were more usually on his mind—when it occurred to him that she might have been after something even more particular than what he intended to give her.
The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that she had known exactly who he was, that she was acquainted with his history, that she had taken considerable steps to privatize her own, and that she had been waiting for him--or someone like him--in that town.
The moon hung overhead like a white sphere, casting a silver glow across the beaten road that led Lucia Van Alstyne due west. The highway stretched from darkness to darkness, illuminated only by the light of the night sky and sheltered in shadow by the boughs of trees.
The sounds of night creatures blended with the rush of the river. It was a pleasant night, the interconnected murmurs of nature broken only by her quiet footfalls. An eerie night, if one was afraid of the darkness and shy of the moon.
Lucia was neither afraid nor shy. But she was surprised. She clutched her cloak to her chest and walked at a measured pace.
She had been lucky. She could recall the details with vivid accuracy, and touch the bruises on her skin to prove they happened. Satisfaction, when all she had sought was a modest degree of compatibility.
She got what she wanted, and given up little more than her dignity, which she no longer prized. She had not expected to find Itachi Uchiha. Extremely lucky.
The timing was particularly fortunate in the likelihood that he would not live long.
She touched her abdomen questioningly. If it had eyes like his, she would be pleased, and not just for their shape and color, or even for the Sharingan, but also something of the temperance behind them. There were moments when she thought she saw… but even if she hadn't, it was no matter. That part was a matter of cultivation.
Edit December 28, 2008
This story has been updated again!
Sleep With Demons was a pilot outlining part of the back history to another Naruto Fanfic "White Rain."