Title: heart strings
Characters/Pairing: Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi
Type: One-shot (Complete)
Word Count: 9477
Theme: LJ Community, 50-shinobi theme #40, heart strings
Rating: T (Contains content not suitable for children)
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-san.
Summary: Follow up to This is my way as a ninja. When all seems lost, hope comes in the most unexpected of ways. She was never going to be free of him, and for that he was never going to let her go.
Chapter Last Revised on: 06/01/08
Mid-Winter, two months after Sakura's defection from Konoha.
Sakura stared unseeingly across the mist-ridden lakes of Nami no Kuni.
The scenery was as breathtaking as it had been so many years ago, still unchanged and untainted by the generations of civilians living here as well as the passing nins. She had first stepped foot here when she was only a twelve-year old Genin, on her first C-ranked mission with her weird sensei, an annoying blonde parasite as well as the crush of her young life.
It was here that she had learnt that being a ninja wasn't all fun and games. It was here that she had given her first kiss to an Uchiha. It was here that she had first experienced Death.
It had been exactly eight years since she last came here, this little isolated island that had a bridge named after her best friend—
Artificial blue eyes darkened with silent anguish.
Naruto was no longer her friend. Both her sensei had severed all ties with her. She was no longer a kunoichi of Konoha. She wasn't even a missing-nin.
She was just a regular civilian now. A civilian with a painful past and a bleeding heart. A civilian who had just moved to Wave Country, because this was the only place outside of Leaf that had held the best memories she had ever had.
But why does it still hurt so damn much?
She was all alone now. She had chosen her path, had chosen love over duty and this had been the result.
He had saved her life in the end, and so she was now alive and breathing—but dead inside.
She wasn't stupid enough to think that his interference had meant anything. On the contrary. Her ex-lover had never liked to owe anybody favors—the fact that she had traded her life for his must have prompted him to save hers as well.
His debt was repaid.
And he was gone, leaving her behind to pick up the shattered pieces of her broken life.
A part of her didn't want to carry on.
Everything that she had worked so hard for was gone. She was so alone, she had never been alone before and it was such a terrifying realization that she was now. There was no one to worry about, no one who would worry about her.
It was nobody's fault but that of her own. She had forced everyone away.
Sakura desperately wanted to be strong about the decision that she had made, wanted to throw back her shoulders proudly and declare to the world that she didn't regret what she had done but sometimes—sometimes she did. She missed her family so damned much. She missed her friends. She missed her home. There were only memories to keep her company now and she was filled with so much regrets—but it was just too late.
And even if Time was to be reversed and she was faced with the choices that she had then—
Sakura knew that she would have done the same thing.
She was a fool blinded by love, she knew, but there just wasn't any other way for her. This was her nature, this was in her blood—and now she would spend the rest of her life paying for it.
It would be so very easy to end it all now, to end it all here. Sometimes, some days, her thoughts flirted dangerously with suicide but she always managed to shy away. Dying would be the coward's way out, and she was not a coward. She was also not ashamed of what she had done, no matter how much it hurt her she was not ashamed of her love, no matter how unreciprocated it was, no matter how wrong.
Sakura drew a deep, calming breath. The cold air of the morning rejuvenated her broken spirit, if only for a little while. Efficiently and noiselessly, she tied up her long brunette hair in a long ponytail before mentally preparing herself to survive yet another day. It had been exactly two months since she had turned her back on her precious people, and she was still living on a day-to-day basis, still stubbornly clinging on to life.
She had not healed yet—but she would eventually. Her heart was raw now, but the deep emotional wounds would close one day and she would be all the more better for it. She was going to be a survivor, she refused to wilt and die away just because she was all alone, just because her loved ones were no longer with her. They could forget about her, deny her existence, treat her as if she was nothing for all they wished, but she would not let her love for them die. They were still her precious people—that will never change.
She could not afford to be weak now; she had to be strong.
Maybe one day they would understand why she had made the choices that she had, maybe not.
It didn't matter at the moment. What was most important now was she had to live—to learn to be happy again, to smile.
For despite her fragile state of being, there was someone who depended entirely on her now—and she would not fail again this time. She would protect, she would nurture, and she would love unconditionally.
Sad blue eyes softened with maternal affection for the little one growing within her.
Sakura lifted a slim hand and laid it gently over her barely swelling belly.
She had known that Itachi would never be able to reciprocate her feelings, but he had given her a piece of himself even though that he was unaware of it—and she was more than contented.
There was hope, after all.
The dark-haired male entered the hospital in long, measured strides. He was dressed in unrelieved black; black cloak, black undershirt, black pants and the harsh lighting of the hospital corridors only helped to emphasize his sharp, patrician features against the bleak backdrop of his attire. He looked a little gaunt but there was no denying the aristocratic arch of his brows, the slanted onyx eyes, the high cheekbones, the thin unsmiling lips. He was lean and tall and very attractive—his cold, impassive demeanor doing nothing to detract his natural good looks.
However, it was the subtle aura of power surrounding him that made people wary and shy away without even being aware of what they were doing.
He was most intimidating.
More than a pair of curious eyes watched as the male with the long raven hair stopped at the nurse station.
Itachi stared at the nurse manning the desk.
"May I know the room number of Haruno Sakura?" His question was worded in the most polite manner but the tone behind that seemingly gentle tenor was lined with steel.
The aged nurse lifted her head slowly. She was a veteran of the hospital, having worked there for almost twenty years already. She had seen all sorts of people in her line of work and it was obvious to her that this man before her was definitely a shinobi of extremely high caliber. What he was doing in a civilian hospital she had no idea; ninjas seldom if ever came here to treat their injuries. Most preferred to visit hospitals run by their own kind; evidently healing chakra-enforced bodies with chakra was a lot more effective and faster than the normal methods.
She was willing to bet though, that he was probably looking for the 'miracle patient' who had all the staff in the hospital buzzing about with excitement for the past two months.
Still, she had to check to make sure. Protocols must always be observed, after all.
The old woman reached for the thick, leather bound book on her desk. "Of course. Can you tell me her physical descriptions as well as the date she was checked in? It would definitely make it easier for me to locate her particulars."
His reply was immediate.
"Five feet two inches in height. Green eyes. Pink hair approximately two feet long. She was brought in exactly two months ago at four thirty-six in the morning. She suffered from multiple injuries; broken ribs, internal haemorhaging as well as other combat-related damages."
She was spot on. He was looking for her.
The nurse closed her book. There was no need to look for that patient anymore.
"I apologize. Haruno-san has been discharged one week after she had been brought in."
The raven-haired male did not seem to react visibly to her answer. However, the way his eyes focused intently upon her alarmed the old matriarch on a most instinctual level.
"Discharged?" He asked delicately. The mildly ominous air around this shinobi was starting to gather and solidify into something—extremely dangerous.
The old nurse found it a little hard to breathe. She nodded with increased wariness.
"Itoe-san, are these my patients' case files?" The doctor who strode by the station could not have made a timelier entrance. The poor old nurse nearly wilted with relief.
"Yes, Dr. Ichikawa." Then she turned to the powerful nin that she had been forced to deal with. The aged matriarch was not ashamed to admit that this man scared her. His aura was unlike anything she had experienced before and her instincts were all but screaming at her to get as far from him as possible.
He was dangerous—it was as simple as that.
"Th-This is Dr. Ichikawa. He had been in charge of Haruno-san during her stay here. You may want to speak to him for more information."
Twenty-three year old Ichikawa Ryuji eyed the pale nurse with mild concern before turning to face the older nin. The man was slightly taller than himself, and looked so coldly intimidating that the normally cheerful smile on the doctor's face faltered.
"How can I help you, sir?"
Frigid onyx eyes affixed themselves onto his, and Ryuji felt a small sliver of apprehension creep up his spine. This man was dangerous.
"I had been told judging by the initial assessment on Haruno's wounds that she would need at least two months to heal completely and rehabilitate as well."
The man clearly never raised his voice beyond his normal, soft volume of speech but he might as well be yelling furiously at the doctor. The sheer lethalness within his chilly tone made Ryuji flinch.
The doctor affixed a shaky smile on his face. Was he emitting killer intent? It was suddenly so difficult to breathe.
"W…we…didn't know that she was a medic before hand." The doctor stuttered slightly. "Haruno-san managed to heal herself completely after she recovered from her chakra overuse. It…it was amazing to watch."
"And you let her leave after that."
The doctor appeared confused by the flat statement.
"Y...yes. There was no longer any reason to keep her here. She left shortly after we confirmed that her fetus was healthy and unharmed by her injuries."
This time, there was a reaction.
The shinobi stilled completely.
Ryuji's mouth went dry with terror as onyx bled into bloody crimson. What the…?
"Fetus?" His voice was so deadly quiet that the poor doctor had to strain to hear what he was saying.
Ryuji nodded quickly.
"Haruno-san was three months pregnant when she was brought in."
Early Spring, three months after Sakura's defection from Konoha.
"Will Kairi-chan be alright? She isn't in any danger, is she?"
The worried mother sounded very anxious as she hovered behind the healer currently diagnosing her five-year old daughter. The cherubic little girl was lying unconscious on her bed, her face pale and her body shivering violently. The female medic with the long brown hair and intense blue eyes sat on the edge of the futon and visually accessed the child's condition. Then she touched the perspiring forehead before placing her fingers lightly against the girl's neck to feel her pulse.
Sakura turned to the nervous woman behind her and smiled reassuringly.
"Don't worry, Yukio-san; Kairi-chan is not in any danger. It's just a little flu and fever. It will pass soon enough." She confirmed. "Her temperature is a little higher than most fevers but that's because she's growing again."
The mother wilted visibly with relief.
"Oh, thank God." She looked gratefully at the younger female who was starting to stand up after covering the child with a blanket. "I was so scared when she fainted suddenly in the kitchen. Will she need any medication?"
The brunette healer walked out of the room with the mother. "Yes, she will need some pills to bring down the fever and to cure her cold. Do not worry, this is just a stage in the growing process, Yukio-san. Her pulse rate is rather normal; I don't sense anything out of the ordinary."
Sakura went to her bag and started to rummage for the medication. The small bottle of fever solution was quickly found, and then the cold pills were added beside it.
"Have her take these three times a day, preferably after her meals and before bed. The medicine will make her drowsy, so she will be sleeping a lot. Try to keep her hydrated at all times as well; the fever will sweat itself out eventually."
The anxious mother accepted the medication gratefully as she promised to do what Sakura had told her.
"Thank you so much, Midori-san. I probably would have worried myself silly if it weren't for you. What with Kairi-chan's father out at work and all…"
The older female seemed to realize that she had said the wrong thing. The woman's eyes widened and she placed her hand over her mouth in a chagrinned manner.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to…"
'Midori' shook her head slightly.
"It's alright. You don't have to apologize."
Yukio looked very sorry as she walked the healer to the door.
"It must be so hard for you; to lose your husband when you need him the most now." Yukio gestured to Sakura's now six month pregnant belly. "Please, if you need any help, don't hesitate to ask for it, alright? The rest of the womenfolk in the village as well as myself would be most glad to help. You have been such an asset to us since you moved here, I just want you to know that you are not alone, Midori-san."
Sakura could only smile uneasily. Talking about her 'deceased' husband always made her uncomfortable, especially when she wasn't married in the first place and the father of her child was obviously alive and kicking somewhere. Lying to these nice people made her feel very guilty, but Sakura knew that there was simply no other way.
She had to start out afresh; with a new name, a new life and a new beginning for herself and her baby. Here was the place to do it; now was her chance.
Despite her increasingly awkward form, the kunoichi bowed deeply towards the surprised Yukio.
"Thank you for looking after me." The younger female whispered. "You have no idea how much this means to me."
Kisame grunted a greeting to his partner as he got up reluctantly from his bedroll and shuffled nearer to the small, smokeless fire of their temporary campsite. Itachi was already up and predictably he ignored his associate, crimson eyes gazing emotionlessly into the orange flames. The Uchiha had been brooding even more than usual these past months, and of course the Akatsuki shark man knew the reason why.
Kisame grumbled inwardly to himself.
This was all Itachi's damn fault. No matter how innocent and attractive and feisty their captive had been he shouldn't have gone and engaged in a relationship with her. The tall blue-haired man understood the little Leaf's allure of course; he himself rather appreciated her stubborn bravery, the will to keep going even in the face of adversity. She was also refreshingly candid; not at all afraid to speak her mind just because she was surrounded by S-class criminals, she rather liked to talk and could hold a conversation hell of a lot better than his emotionally constipated partner.
Of course it made sense that Itachi would have been attracted to the kunoichi. What made Kisame really curious was what on earth the little Leaf had seen in the cold and cruel Uchiha. Love really was blind after all. She had been ready to die for him, and he had been almost ruthless enough to let her. The fact that he had saved her in the end spoke a lot about his intentions towards the beautiful pink-haired kunoichi.
Itachi had meant to keep her, after all.
It was a good thing that he had decided to do so; if not he would have lost not only the mother of his unborn child, but also said child itself.
Kisame approved completely of his decision. Despite the fact that they were amongst the most powerful shinobis in the world, they were not inhuman. At least not to those whom they had claimed as their own. This was completely different from the brutal and cold blooded massacre of his clan. Itachi did not choose to be born an Uchiha, but he had chosen to be with her.
It was the next best thing he could have done after getting involved with the little Leaf. She was a rather rare find after all; a powerful and highly intelligent kunoichi who had been taught by the Copy-nin Kakashi, a sannin and a Hokage herself, who possessed perfect chakra control and was a medic-nin of extremely high caliber. She was also very loyal and emotionally attached to Itachi in a way that had proved to be impossible to emulate. The Uchiha was indeed a lucky son of a bitch, to be able to secure such a worthy female for himself.
Now if only they could relocate Itachi's missing woman quickly so that they could return to the Akatsuki HQ. Kisame would never understand what was going on in that absurdly complicated head of his partner but for a genius the Uchiha sure as hell wasn't acting very bright when he just left the little Leaflet in a civilian hospital unattended and actually expects her to still be there when he returned for her. The pink-haired kunoichi was such a headstrong and intelligent female; with the sudden uncertainty in her life now that she was disowned by her own country coupled by her pregnancy it made sense that she would have slipped away the very moment opportunity allowed her to. It wouldn't be too far a guess to assume that she was definitely feeling very defensive of the child growing within her and like any fierce, protective mother without a mate to look out for her she was probably searching for a safe den to settle herself in and to wait out the pregnancy.
See, Kisame might not understand some things very well but he certainly had no such problems when it came to instincts—and it was most commonly known that maternal instincts were among the most powerful kinds one could ever encounter.
The large Akatsuki hunkered down by the fire as he grabbed a bar of field ration. Taking a large bite out of the completely unpalatable energy bar, the blue-tinged man made a disgusted face as he forced himself to chew and swallow.
"Of all the place to nest in, why did she have to choose Wave Country?" The Samehada wielder grumbled. "It's always bloody cold as hell here in the mornings."
The Uchiha gave no reply to Kisame's food-muffled complains but then again, his partner wasn't expecting him to. The younger Akatsuki had been his usual outwardly apathetic self even when he had learnt of the news of the kunoichi's pregnancy, but the chakra-sensitive Samehada could speak no lie and Kisame knew that the Uchiha had been shaken—whether he showed it or not.
Small white eyes slid over to the side to see what the raven-haired male was doing. The dull glint of metal in his hand revealed that the other Akatsuki was loosely holding onto a Konoha hitai-ite. The metallic plate with the Leaf symbol had a wobbly, uneven strike rent across its surface and it was obvious to the shark man that it did not belong to Itachi. The Uchiha always did things perfectly after all and besides, his own hitai-ite was sitting on his forehead.
It must be the little Leaf's.
Kisame frowned slightly. Itachi's pink-haired kunoichi was ridiculously proud of her country of origin. It must have hit her hard when they branded her a traitor. Kisame himself hadn't held much loyalty to his own village in the first place; so he hadn't been at all upset when he became a missing-nin. Come to think of it, Itachi had been as apathetic as ever when he left his country and massacred his entire clan. Apparently Konoha held a different meaning for Sakura than it did for the Uchiha prodigy.
"That hers?" It was the most redundant question of course; Kisame already knew the answer to that. Crimson orbs moved over and fixed themselves on the large blue-haired Kiri nukenin. Kisame was undaunted by the emotionless stare. "Judging by her handiwork, she must have been pretty upset."
That was an understatement. The jagged, uneven scratch on the hitai-ite indicated obviously that she had been crying and very distraught when she took a kunai to her beloved headband. And she had been left all alone to deal with the consequences of her actions and decisions—and still alone now.
Alone and pregnant with his child.
The Uchiha narrowed his eyes slightly.
Looking for her had been a lot more difficult than he had first thought. Because she had a nearly two months' head start before he realized that she was already gone from the hospital, most of her trail had already gone cold by the time he got to Kisame and they could finally track her. Despite her fragile state of being her mind was still sharp as ever; she had been very crafty and creative in putting out ambiguous leads for anyone who might be remotely interested in looking for her. She was being very cautious and he had no doubt that she was being proactive; throwing off her scent again and again so that any possible hunter-nins who might be sniffing after her would be confused and distracted away from her true destination.
For someone who had never been hunted by the ANBU before she was extremely good at the act of diversion—and improvision had been a great factor in most of her misleading tracks. She had probably learnt the ridiculously effective tactic from the Kyuubi Jinchuriki—and it had worked very well. Thrice they had been forced to backtrack thanks to conflicting clues and it was three times too many. Needless to say the extra time wasted on those long detours had not helped his volatile mood at all.
As if Kisame was aware of what his partner was thinking, the shark man snorted softly to himself.
"We will reach the civilian village that she's in by mid afternoon the latest, thank god. I'm getting extremely sick of eating this disgusting trail mix for the whole of this month," He waved the energy bar about unhappily. "I'm getting sick of your horrible company as well and I'm getting most sick of sleeping on the ground all the damn time too. We will go get the little Leaf and return straight to the HQ, and hopefully you will learn better than to leave her unattended like that again. I cannot believe that I am saying this, but don't you know that pregnant females are always a little, I don't know, hormonal?"
Surprisingly, the normally touchy Uchiha did not react to the Kiri nin's slight taunt. Kisame raised a non-existent brow before returning to needle the broody Sharingan wielder once more. It seemed that nobody had ever taught the brash shark man the saying 'Stop while you are ahead'.
"Have you explained to Leader about this situation?" Pein was not a man to be crossed; although Itachi could probably hold his own against the other doujutsu user, the Leader of the Akatsuki wasn't named thusly for fun and games.
Kisame got his reaction this time. Itachi nodded once, and then he started to speak for the first time since that morning.
"You know as well as I that as long as the goals of the organization remain uncompromised anything we do outside of Akatsuki is at our own discretion." The Uchiha paused for a moment.
"The presence of a competent medic-nin has proved to be beneficial in the five months that Sakura had been kept within the headquarters. Leader was pleased at this opportunity to formerly induct her into the organization."
Kisame stared at Itachi as if he had just grown an extra head.
"You know that she will never agree to join us—at least not voluntarily. And do you really want her to? The little Leaf is pregnant and you want her to don the Akatsuki's colors?"
The Uchiha eyed his comrade calmly.
"She will not be Akatsuki." His voice was firm. "The only connection she will have to the organization will be through me."
The blue-haired Akatsuki appeared a little disconcerted by his partner's unspoken implication. Itachi was even more serious about the pink-haired kunoichi than he had initially thought. It was hard to believe that his seemingly detached comrade was actually capable of emotions other than rage, insanity and arrogance.
"…still, do you think she will go willingly?"
Crimson eyes turned blank.
"It doesn't matter. She will return with us." The 'by hook or by crook' part was rather understood, and Kisame knew that if push ever comes to shove he would help his partner secure the little Leaf if need be. Life was about survival of the fittest after all; Itachi was an extremely powerful shinobi and it made sense that he would be able to protect the petite pink-haired medic-nin as well as their unborn child far better than she could alone.
Kisame shrugged slightly. The Hoshigaki had no further wish to nose into the affair between his comrade and the beautiful pink-haired female. Their relationship seemed rather complicated and he didn't think that he would like to know too much. Little Leaf was a good girl though, so Kisame looked forward to seeing her again.
"Alright. At least the trip back to the HQ isn't going to be as boring as the journey here."
Adjusting to life as a civilian was not as difficult as she had initially thought. If anything, it was almost relaxing compared to life as a ninja. Being a healer was not much different from being a medic-nin and thanks to her expert knowledge on healing there was always something for her to do in this little civilian village that she had chose to settle down in.
Life was simple here; she was slowly gaining respect for her healing abilities and most of the villagers seemed genuinely nice to her. There was no hostile politics, no underlying meanings in their everyday conversations and cheerful laughter and Sakura felt that she could grow to be content here.
If only she could learn to forget her past.
The now brunette took a deep breath and brushed her hand absently over her swelling belly. She was finally in her last trimester, and physically Sakura had never felt better. Emotionally though, it was an entirely different matter altogether. Sakura knew that it wasn't good for her baby if she was depressed but sometimes it was hard for her to not recall the past. But then she would force them away soon enough; just thinking of the little one growing within her womb always filled her with such an incredible sense of joy and awe.
In another three months, she was going to be a mother. She could hardly wait. Would her baby be a sweet little girl or a charming, adorably determined boy? Whose features was it going to have? The baby was definitely going to possess the Sharingan, Sakura was very sure of it; but would it have Itachi's nose? Her chin?
Blue eyes softened wistfully. She still hadn't decided if it would be a good thing for her baby to look like its father. Sakura patted her distended stomach gently, pushing a little bit of chakra into her womb to engage the little fetus. To her delight, the responding soft, fluttery sensation that played across her stretched belly told her that her child was actively, playfully trying to grasp onto the intangible strands of gentle warmth that she had injected into herself.
"Oh, baby." The young mother murmured softly as she rubbed her belly lovingly. "Mommy loves you so much. Grow quickly so that I can see you soon, alright?"
The gentle joy that radiated from her face would have been beautiful to watch if anyone could see her now; curled up on the loveseat in her little living room with a soft smile on her face and a loving look in her eyes.
Sakura sighed softly. Reluctantly she let her hand fall from her body and looked out of the window of her new home. It was a tiny cottage but it suited her needs perfectly; there was just enough space for her and her baby and it was situated at the outskirts of the village, where she could grow some herbs and medicinal plants and gather the rest from the forest just beyond her front door. The fact that this was a rather secluded area would also ensure that the villagers would not get to see and thus question any sort of un-civilian like activities of their new healer, not to mention that if trouble really did come for her she would at least be able to keep the village out of it. .
All in all, this was as good a home as she could find on such a short notice.
Slowly, Sakura uncurled herself from the loveseat by the window. The little afternoon nap that she had taken made her feel so much more refreshed—and rather famished too. The petite female stood up carefully and then stretched like a lazy cat. Inwardly shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, Sakura ran her hand through her sleep tousled hair as she started to make her way towards the kitchen, her belly leading the way of course. A small smile appeared on Sakura's lips; the notion that her baby was probably just as eager to get some nourishment made her feel rather amused—
There was an odd feeling of inconsistency in the air.
Blue eyes narrowed slightly, and Sakura stilled completely in her movement. The air around her was too still, almost unnatural.
It was as if…she was being watched.
Quietly, casually, the kunoichi closed her eyes and extended her senses as discreetly as she could, trying to detect any signs of abnormality within her home.
There were none.
Wary eyes reopened. Either she was imagining things or whoever it was out there was just too good at staying hidden. Sakura felt apprehension slither up her spine. She forced herself to calm down almost immediately. Her breathing was starting to increase and so was her heart rate. Her baby was going to pick up on her worry and get agitated as well.
Once again, Sakura tried to detect what was amiss but could not find anything out of the norm. None of the traps that she had carefully set within her house had gone off and warily the kunoichi moved soundlessly towards her coffee table and crouched down immediately, reaching for the sharpened kunai that she had hid under its surface. It would not help at all if her opponent was a shinobi of great ranking, but at least she had something to defend herself against.
Slowly straightening up again and most mindful of her rounded belly, Sakura tightened her grip on the kunai and—
Then there was a loud knock on her door.
Sakura jolted. Startled eyes flew to the entrance of her home.
Would a hunter-nin be polite enough to knock on her door?
Of course not.
Relief coursed through her system and Sakura felt herself calm down. Suddenly, the kunoichi felt more than a little ridiculous for acting so suspiciously. She was in a civilian village, after all. There were hardly any nins who would come by here in this secluded little island. Of course it was probably one of the villagers who needed her help. As if on cue, the knock on her door sounded again. Sakura quickly dropped her kunai on the table and hurried over to her door.
"Coming!" She called out as she came to a stop before the entrance of her home. She reached out for the doorknob. "How can I help-"
Sakura faltered—and froze.
The red clouds on black cloak.
The scratched hitai-ite.
The painted nails.
"Nice to see you too, little Leaf." Sharp rows of teeth were revealed as Kisame grinned at the shell-shocked female. "You look…" Small white eyes glanced quickly over her pregnant form. "…round. Nice artificial brown hair and blue eyes though; almost didn't recognize you with those. Good thing we were on the lookout for pregnant females; there aren't many here and you were the only one who could heal and apparently had a conveniently dead husband as well."
Sakura could only stare with a great dose of bewilderment as the Akatsuki shark man continued to converse with himself; he certainly didn't require her input.
"…Kisame?" Sakura could only ask haltingly. Stunned by the fact that the Kiri nukenin was standing at the entrance of her humble little cottage Sakura took an unconscious step back. The kunoichi gasped promptly when she collided against a warm, hard surface.
Sakura stiffened, then whirled around so quickly that it shouldn't be possible with her six month pregnant belly.
Her breath hitched in her throat when blue met crimson.
He was here.
Like his partner, he was wearing the Akatsuki cloak. He looked exactly like she remembered. The silky raven hair, the arrogant patrician profile…the marks of exhaustion and stress that were etched onto his pale face.
Despite herself, a niggling sense of concern for him wriggled its way into her heart. He was always pushing himself so damn hard to get stronger and it didn't matter that he could be killing himself doing the things he did but as long as there was power...
Blue eyes darkened—
And she remembered abruptly her current situation.
Sakura reacted. She backed away from the powerful Uchiha immediately, and since Kisame was behind her and blocking the only entrance within her cottage she quickly found herself pressed against the wall in between the two powerful shinobis. Sakura was very alarmed by her precarious position—she had no idea whatsoever of their intentions and worst of all was the distressing fact that she would definitely not be able to defend against anything they wanted to do to her if they so chose to be offensive.
Sakura felt her breathing quicken again with rising panic.
This was not supposed to happen. He was not supposed be here; he was not even supposed to find her!
A wild thought occurred to her. Was he here to…kill her baby? He had made it very clear that she was just a pawn from the very beginning. Did he want to kill her baby? He had killed his entire clan before…would he do the same to his own offspring? Would he commit feticide?
She was clearly petrified of him.
No. She wasn't afraid for herself, and as he watched her put a protective hand over her distended stomach he realized that she was terrified for the baby lying within her.
Crimson eyes narrowed slightly.
It was obvious that she thought him capable of killing his own offspring.
He had never given her any other reason to think otherwise.
However, as he watched intense fear battle with savage maternal protectiveness in her eyes and lose, it was apparent to him that she would do everything within her power to defend the little mass of living being nestled within her; the only way anyone could harm her fetus would be over her dead body.
Itachi could not help but come to an understanding that she would be a much better mother than his own.
Uchiha Mikoto, the paragon of virtue of the Uchiha clan. Good breeding, beautiful, a powerful Jounin, gentle, submissive—the perfect Lady Uchiha.
She had also been the mother who had done nothing to protect her son, who had given him into the greedy, grasping hands of the clan elders almost from the very moment he was weaned. Who had watched as they molded her son into something terrifying, who had stood by and watched placidly as they took him and warped him into something so heart achingly beautiful and perfect on the outside, but twisted and badly damaged on the inside.
Judging by the rising look of protective ire that was starting to surface in Sakura's eyes—
She really was going to be a good mother to his child.
The earlier glimpse he had of her interacting with the fetus within her, the loving glow on her face, her maternal pride and protectiveness had been very obvious to him even then.
Even as the thoughts flashed across his mind, Sakura hunched into herself and eyed him with great wariness. She was also trying her best to keep Kisame in view as well, but mostly he was the one she was afraid of. After all, Kisame would not interfere unless he gave the signal and she knew it.
"What…do you want?" Her voice cracked at the end. Despite the growing bravery in her tone, her fear was almost tangible.
Kisame eyed the small female. Samehada told him that she was slowly gathering chakra to her fists. It was congruent to the rising determination glinting in her eyes. Pregnant or not, her fighting spirit was not the least dimmed by her condition. She was not the type to sit around and cry and wait for help; she would struggle and fight and strike out viciously, and she would do it to ensure her child's safety.
Kisame felt his brow rising slightly. Did she really think that Itachi would kill his own flesh and blood?
A part of him wanted to assure the panicking mother-to-be but Itachi would definitely not appreciate his input. Still, all that rapid breathing she was doing could not be good for the fetus, and if she was allowed to continue to think that her baby was in danger the blue-haired nin had no doubt that she was definitely going to start attacking—just like a fierce mother tigress. Now, he was not an expert on babies and pregnant mothers and the such but it was obvious even to him that any expectant females with a belly as large as Sakura's shouldn't be jumping around and punching things.
And so he decided to help calm down the defensive little Leaf.
Unfortunately though, before the large Akatsuki could say a word crimson eyes flickered over to him.
The command was given quietly but Kisame was hardly offended by the arrogant tone. Itachi always spoke like that anyhow, and he was long used to it. The shark man grunted with acknowledgement.
"Great. I will just wonder around this civilian village looking like a sore thumb then." The blue-haired nin remarked seriously. "Will an hour do?"
Itachi looked at his partner.
"Two hours? That's still not enough for whatever you are going to do?"
Bloody Sharingan narrowed. Sakura could only stare at the Kiri-nin. Kisame was starting to look a little irritated. "Fine. I really don't want to know how you are going to do the little Leaf; I don't want to ruin my innocent image of her." Sakura was starting to look as if she had just been hit hard on the head. "I will be back first thing tomorrow morning. Be ready to leave by then."
He gave a wave to Itachi's frozen little female before reaching over to shut her main door for her, effectively leaving her stuck in an enclose area with the father of her unborn child.
Sakura backed away from Itachi immediately, blue eyes large and wary.
Now that they were alone he could concentrate completely on her, the changes that had occurred in her body, both voluntarily and involuntarily.
The artificial brunette of her hair was clearly a dye, and her fake blue eyes from contact lenses. Performing a henge in her current state would endanger the baby, not to mention that it would be draining to maintain the transformation for long periods of time. Her lithe body had changed; her curves ripened and fuller to accommodate her developing pregnancy. She looked quite healthy; she must have been eating well to nourish the new life within her although there were minute signs of strain and fatigue around her eyes. She wasn't sleeping enough.
"What do you want?" She repeated her question. There was a firmer tone in her voice and her eyes were as fierce as ever.
He looked at her quietly. Her chest was heaving slightly and she was trembling with her agitation.
"Calm yourself down." Compared to the way he had spoken to Kisame earlier his voice was markedly less harsh. Sakura was too worried to appreciate it though.
She drew herself up, looking every inch the protective mama. "If you are here to harm the baby-"
Before she could even finish he phased out before her very eyes and—
Appeared behind her.
"Why would I do that?" He was so near that she could feel his lips against the sensitive shell of her ear as he whispered the words to her. She shuddered despite herself. Immediately she tried to pull away from his proximity.
She stiffened when his arm shot out from under his cloak to anchor her to him. He wrapped his arm completely around her ribs, right below her breasts and touching the soft swell of her tummy lightly. He stepped close, and she could feel the heat of his chest against her back as he gently but firmly pressed her to him.
She had no idea what he was going to do next.
The arm around her loosened, and then retracted a little. She caught her breath. Sakura looked down, and blue eyes tracked his every movement. She watched in a frozen stupor as he moved his hand downwards to her rounded form, fingers uncurling—
"Please don't hurt the baby." She forced out in a desperate rush. "Please."
He did not seem to acknowledge her plea. She flinched when his large hand covered her distended stomach, the long fingers curving around her stretched belly. She sensed him gathering chakra into his fingertips and panicked.
"No!" Sakura tried in vain to wrestle her way out of his grasp. He was too tangled up with her for her to use her inhuman strength; she would suffer recoil if she did and it would hurt the baby. The kunoichi twisted frantically and used her free hand to try to push away from the Uchiha. The desperate determination in her eyes shone clearly as she thrashed and struggled against him but to no avail. He was not letting her go.
Her alarm was increasing drastically. Any time now—
He pushed a surge of his energy into her womb.
She whimpered at her failure and then blue eyes narrowed with renewed determination. If she could not stop him, then at least she could still try to reduce whatever damage he was planning—
Immediately, her left hand flared with green chakra as she prepared to delve into herself to ascertain the baby's health—
The soft tickle of little toes against her stomach made her falter in stunned shock.
Her baby had not been harmed at all. It was reacting to Itachi's chakra in the exact same manner as it always did whenever its mama played with it!
It recognized his chakra just like it did hers.
Itachi had not hurt her baby. Their baby.
Slowly, almost disbelievingly, Sakura turned her head to the side. He was looking at her calmly, hand splayed possessively against her rounded belly, body close to hers.
She swallowed nervously. He was too near.
Their last encounter had ended in a most abrupt fashion. She was supposed to have died but he had chosen to save her in the end. She remembered feeling so cold and hopeless and broken, and then he had taken her into his arms and injected warmth into her dying body. Life-giving, life-saving chakra.
His act had saved not only her that day, but their unborn child as well.
Sakura felt her tensed body relax slightly.
He could have watched her die. He didn't.
That spoke more than words could ever say.
Her baby kicked her again. It was not as strong as it would be when the pregnancy advanced, but the soft flutter against her stomach made her jolt slightly from her thoughts.
He felt the fetus' movements as well.
Cool crimson eyes were tinted with mild fascination as they looked to her for an answer.
"Is he healthy?"
Sakura could only stare at him. Instinctively she tried to move away from him again. Predictably, she failed to budge even an inch from him. She drew in a sharp breath when he applied a slight pressure to her belly, his large hand cupping her firmly, pressing her closer to him. Forced to him and completely immobilized, she had no choice but to answer his question.
"My baby is healthy." She replied tersely. "Now let me go."
Itachi may be the person she could not hate. He may be the one she would try to defend with her life. He may even be the man she loves but when it comes to the life growing within her there was simply no contest just who she would protect more. Her baby would be virtually defenseless without her, and she still had no idea yet what he was planning.
It made her very wary.
Itachi merely looked at her.
"He is mine as well."
Sakura froze again with disbelief.
He's claiming…her baby?
"You-" Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. "It's not your baby." She snapped defensively. "Let me go."
She wasn't the only one getting aggravated by this situation.
Sharingan flashed warningly.
She was lying.
"You lie. Do not." He hissed softly into her ear. She kept stubbornly silent, and the tomoes in his pupils started to spin with agitation.
"Six months ago you were held captive in the Akatsuki headquarter, or did you forget?" His warm breath against the sensitive skin behind her ear made her tremble. "You were my prisoner; chained to my room, chained to my bed..."
Her breath hitched despite her very best efforts to control herself. Crimson eyes gleamed with savage pleasure. She was starting to falter.
"Need I remind you the number of times I had taken you, the number of times you had surrendered yourself to me?" His voice was a silky purr now, dark and filled with a sinful sort of satisfaction that had her heart beating overtime. He was getting to her again, she knew it. She just could not stop herself from responding to him!
"How deeply embedded within you I had been?"
Sakura shut her eyes in defeat.
"…what do you want, Itachi?" She asked in a soft whisper. "Just don't hurt...our child."
Her admittance was all he wanted.
The Sharingan stilled slowly, and stopped at last. Red faded into black, and Sakura gasped when he stroked her lightly. The large hand and long fingers spread warmth over her belly as he roved almost curiously over her rounded form and she stiffened.
She was not some pet for him to reward now that she was obediently acquiescing to anything he wanted her to do!
With an unexpected wrench, the pregnant female heaved herself away from the father of her baby. This time, he let her loose, letting go of her completely only when she was steady on her feet.
She backed away from him immediately; her eyes full of distrust as she stared at him. She was still trying to understand his intention but not doing very well at all. What on earth did he really want? She tensed when he started to walk towards her, but when he slipped past her completely to move into her living room; she could only stare after him with a sense of growing confusion.
Then he stopped in the middle of her small living area, and dark eyes took in his surrounding with great detail. It was as Kisame had mentioned; she was nesting. The interior of her little home was cozy and warm, filled with soft surfaces, gentle contours and little more.
He took a brief moment to etch a mental picture of the room into his mind. His suite of rooms at the headquarters would be modified appropriately to suit her needs.
Then he turned back to face her.
Sakura watched as his hand slipped back within the confines of his cloak. There was a brief rustle as he searched for something. When his hand made to withdraw from the cloak again, she tensed once more. He merely eyed her quietly; his movements deliberate but non-threatening as he brought his hand towards her and waited patiently for her to acknowledge the object sitting on his palm.
Sakura could only stare in a stunned stupor at the very familiar item that he was holding. It had been as good as a physical manifestation of her pride as a ninja, her many accomplishments as a kunoichi and medic-nin, all the bonds that she had forged because of this path that she had chosen when she was six. Almost immediately, her vision blurred with unshed tears.
It was her hitai-ite.
Sakura recognized the Konoha insignia, her maroon colored head cloth, even the shaky, uneven strike that she had personally carved on the surface.
She had been so distraught then, when she took the kunai to her beloved headband; completely heartbroken and in tears. Sakura swallowed hard as she remembered just how emotionally drained she had been when she had woken up all alone in the hospital room.
So painfully alone.
Then the news of her pregnancy became known to her—and everything changed.
In a way, this tall, dangerous man standing before her had indirectly saved her from a long time of misery and mental anguish. With the onset of her pregnancy, she could afford no time for depression—she was needed.
And most importantly, she was no longer alone.
Sakura felt herself become just a little less wary towards the silent Uchiha. Slowly, she started to walk towards him. Her fingers twitched as she made as if to lift her hand towards the proffered headband but she stilled them resolutely when she realized what she was doing. She came to a stop a meter away from Itachi, her eyes never leaving her hitai-ite.
"Take it." His voice was calm. It wasn't a question.
She shook her head. "No. This is no longer mine to have."
He looked at her.
"Your affiliation does not change the fact that you are still a kunoichi."
Her eyes glinted with sadness. "I betrayed my country." She repeated stubbornly. "This is no longer mine to have."
In response he moved towards her. This time, she did not try to retreat away from him.
"It doesn't matter." His eyes were still dark onyx as they probed hers intently. "Your loyalty is mine now."
She stiffened at his tranquil reply.
"That's not what I-"
He interrupted her easily. "Take it, Sakura."
She hesitated for a short moment, and then her hands reached slowly over to his. She touched the metal plate of her headband almost reverently at first, and then wrapped her fingers around it to lift it from him.
Before she could though, he quickly bound her hands together with her own hitai-ite. Stunned by his impossible speed, her eyes flew up to his immediately. She had been tricked.
His eyes showed no remorse for his underhanded action. He reeled her firmly to him and left with no choice she tottered towards him, eyes burning with renewed agitation. Struggling against him would prove to be a lot harder now; the cloth portion of all hitai-ites were enhanced with chakra to minimize wear and tear and it was going to be hell to try to force herself free from her restricting bonds.
Now crimson eyes flickered over to her furious ones. He had tricked her into lowering her guard!
"You need to calm down."
She ignored him. "Why are you doing this?!" She burst out instead, their faces so close together now that their breaths mingled.
"Because you need my protection."
She stilled immediately.
He merely looked at her.
"If we were hunter-nins, you would have been dead."
He spoke so simply that she could only stare at him.
And as much as she hated to admit it, he was right. And he knew it.
"We will leave for the headquarters tomorrow."
Blue eyes flared with agitation. "No!" Her protest was almost violent. "I will not let you take my baby to Akatsuki!"
"You don't have a choice." His tone was flat, unrelenting.
She started to panic again, and he stared hard at her.
"Akatsuki is no different from Konoha or any of the other hidden villages. We work towards a unified goal, we fulfill the same type of missions as the other villages." He was trying to make her understand that her reservations about the organization, though no longer as reviled as before, were unnecessary. "Is an assassination of an innocent man commissioned by a Kage justified just because he is the head of a village and highly respected? We are ninjas. This is what we do, no matter where we go, no matter what affiliation we choose to follow. Killing is a way of life. Is Akatsuki wrong then?"
"Your organization hunts bijuus, one of whom is my friend!! I refuse to be a part of it!" She was still as vehement as ever.
"You will not join Akatsuki." Surprisingly, his voice was equally hard when it came to the matter. It was enough to startle her out of her growing anxiety. She looked at him with large eyes.
"You will have nothing to do with the activities of the organization." His tone was quietly firm. "Our goals as well as the capture of Jinchurikis will have nothing to do with you."
She looked as if she had just been slapped on the face.
"…You will still go after Naruto?"
Bloody eyes refused to budge from her pained gaze.
"Don't fight me." His voice was a warning—and something else.
Blue eyes clashed against the Sharingan.
"I will not let you do this!!"
"Then you leave me no choice."
Before she could react, the tomoes within his eyes started to spin. She tried her hardest to resist the effects of his genjutsu but he dragged her under with little effort. The Uchiha wrapped his arms around the small, pregnant female when she slumped bonelessly against him, all the fight within her slipping away as she fell unconscious.
The genjutsu would ensure that she get the amount of rest she had lacked for the past months.
He stared down at her for a long time.
"You are a fool, Sakura."
Silently, he picked her up and carried her into her room. She was still too light despite of her pregnancy, and crimson eyes narrowed slightly. Yet another matter that he would have to look into. He laid her on her bed with such gentleness that most would not have believed him capable of it, and then covered her with her duvet.
Despite her subtle change in appearance, despite everything that life had dealt her with so far she was still the same kunoichi deep down inside. Fiercely protective of all her precious people, and still so deeply loyal in the only way that mattered despite the fact that she was no longer one of theirs.
But she was his now.
And he had finally decided never to let her go, it seems.
The Uchiha looked at the sleeping form of his pregnant female. There was not a glimpse of self-recrimination in his eyes for choosing to tie himself down to her.
He was a fool as much as she was.
Questions That I Would Like To Answer Before You Ask:
Again, this is something very new for me. Canon-verse Itachi and a pregnant Sakura. I thought that it wasn't all too bad for a first try though, but that might just be me speaking at three in the morning—and I normally don't make a lot of sense by then. Do tell me what you think.
The idea of separate hospitals for civilians and ninjas was something that I had cooked up. I'm not sure if this holds true in the Naruto-verse though. If it doesn't, don't mind me, but the Konoha hospital in the anime seems so…small. I don't think that it would have been able to accommodate a population as large as Konoha but you never know…
Itoe, Ichikawa Ryuji, Kairi and Yukio are all my OCs, created just for this fic. You will probably never see them again, so please do not mind them overly much.
The act of parent nins communicating with an unborn offspring and having the baby respond only to their chakra signatures was something that I had made up. The scene just refused to leave my head until I had typed it out; Itachi with his hand covering Sakura's pregnant belly, communicating with fetus and mother in such an intimate manner that I would definitely love to see a fanart of something like that happening. I have no idea where this came from though—my inspirations come from weird places. Seriously.
Here is the part where I will start about my OOC characters and whatnots (I'm pretty sure Kisame is not that cheerful in Naruto-verse) but I will refrain just this once. Thanks for all your encouraging words and kind support. I really appreciate all of them even though I have to make it clear that I wasn't the one who had received the flame. Rather, I had been so indignant about the review that I just had to go make some noise about it. Still, I'm sure that the authoress would be glad to know that there are so many people out there who do not agree with how that reviewer had handled her careless remarks.
Lastly, I will be writing one last follow up to wrap up this one-shot (double-shot??). Not sure when I will put it up yet, but this is definitely not the end!
Your reviews fuel my passion for writing. So please leave a comment if you like this fic, thank you.