It hit her like a physical blow.
The massive swell of powerful chakra was so intense it washed over her like a wave and set every hair on her body standing on end. As a medic, she was more sensitive to chakra than most and she had to breathe deeply to steady herself against the pressure and the sensation it caused, almost like nausea but nothing so easily identifiable.
The source of the onslaught became clear as she and the other people on the crowded street were suddenly blinded by an enormous…something…in the sky. Voices rang out around her in confusion and fear as the horizon was rendered a brilliant white, and she was forced to shield her eyes as it only got bigger and brighter. It was so huge that the distance of it was indeterminable, but a heated wind rushed past her face, accompanied by another surge of chakra that sent a violent shiver down the length of her spine.
In all her life, Haruno Sakura had never felt anything like this.
A hushed awe fell over the crowded street, and like the citizens of this town, Sakura stood mesmerized by this towering pillar of pure energy. Of pure chakra.
An eternal moment passed, the blinding light eventually began to shrink and fade, and then she was moving.
She took off like a shot, a blurred pink and red streak that frightened and confused the already disoriented crowd. The two startled ninken dogs struggled to catch up to her at first, and then the three of them were racing out of town. She didn't know why, she just knew she had to get there. This sort of thing didn't happen every day – or ever – and there was no way she wasn't going to investigate. The rest of her squad had undoubtedly seen it as well, and would be heading toward it this very moment.
They cleared the edge of town and were speeding through the trees of the surrounding forest when suddenly the forest ended. Sakura and the dogs halted in their tracks, three sets of eyes wide with shock. They'd passed through this forest on their way to town and it went on for nearly as far as the eye could see, but now it just…stopped.
Or rather, it was gone.
What should have been the heart of the forest was now a wide stretch of nothing that was vaguely round and several miles wide. The dogs sniffed the air eagerly, and Sakura noticed the trees surrounding her were blackened and smoking.
"Was it a fire?" she asked the dogs.
"It was chakra; the same chakra we felt in town when it happened," the smaller dog with the floppy ears replied.
Her eyes widened further as she scanned the scene, hardly daring to believe there could really be a jutsu so powerful it could burn half the forest to the ground within seconds. It occurred to her that maybe they shouldn't be heading out here after all…should at least wait for the others before continuing…
No, she told herself, no way is anything alive out here after that, and if it is then it has to be severely weakened and no threat.
Which brought to mind another possibility; according to the trackers in her platoon, Sasuke was around here somewhere. Was he involved in this? It was too much of a coincidence. Sakura took off once more, the dogs reluctantly but obediently following behind.
The blackened, jagged stumps of what had once been trees grew sparser and disappeared entirely as they sped over the razed terrain toward the middle. Whatever happened here, the answers would be at ground zero. Then she saw it; a smaller crater in the dead center of the utter destruction.
Sweating and a bit winded from the long run, she slowed to a jog as it appeared there really was nothing here anymore, at least nothing worth racing breakneck toward. However a moment later the bigger dog barked sharply, and she held a hand over her eyes to block the sun as she peered at the center of the crater. Her eyes went wide as she realized there was something there! It was partially obscured by clumps of blasted earth but it was not a natural part of the ground and it was fairly large, large enough to be…human sized.
Sakura broke into a run again, skidding down the slope of the crater, boots kicking up a trail of dust as she went. Her stomach lurched in alarm as she got closer and realized it was a human…a man…or what was left of one.
Oh gods…is it Sasuke?
Heart pounding, she drew to a stop near the still form and grimaced as she knelt next to the horribly burnt body. Examining what she could make out of the man's appearance, she let out the breath she'd been holding. Not Sasuke. But then who? Was she looking at the victim of that terrifying jutsu, or the creator? His skin was blackened and filthy and in several places burnt off completely. Large patches of hair had been seared away but what she could see was long and blond. Definitely not Sasuke. He was bare to the waist, and in the center of his torso was a gruesome wound that looked as though something had been blown right through him. Or right out of him, judging by the direction of torn flesh around the gaping hole. Slowly, she reached out and placed two fingers against his pulse point. She gasped softly.
He was still alive.
The healer in her reacted instantly. Her hands flared green and she began pumping lifesaving chakra into the ghastly wound in his chest. Minutes passed, and she closed her eyes to concentrate, ignoring the beads of sweat rolling down her temple. She couldn't believe he had survived whatever that was…and with the miniature crater in his torso that matched the one he was lying in, she was shocked he had lived long enough for her to get here.
"This man…his chakra is faint, but it's the same as before, back in town," one of the dogs behind her stated.
Sakura froze and her chakra faltered momentarily. This was the creator of that…thing! Had all that energy come bursting out of the hole she was healing? Who is this person? That jutsu was one of the most powerful things she had ever seen, heard or read about. It had destroyed everything for miles around! In other words…
This person was dangerous. Possibly the single most dangerous person she had ever come in contact with.
And Sakura was slowly but surely bringing him back to life.
A long moment passed as she stared at a face she didn't recognize. She didn't know who he was, but she knew he was dangerous, and probably insane too for doing something like this. She could just kill him. She probably should kill him. It would probably be best if she just walked away and let him die.
But the medic in her, the human in her, would not let her do that to a man who, as far as she knew, was not an enemy and had done her no wrong. He was a human being, and he was dying. She shook the thoughts from her head and closed her eyes in concentration as her chakra flared once more.
Several more minutes passed, and with some relief she could actually see the rise and fall of his chest now as she worked. The gaping hole was nearly closed, and his heart rate was elevating to normal levels. She was without any equipment, but medic's instinct was telling her he was steadily pulling through. Suddenly his chest jerked and a weak hack escaped his throat. She tried to ignore the gargled sound of him choking on his own blood as his air passage cleared, continuing the steady stream of lifesaving chakra.
The sounds didn't stop however, only became more rhythmic and controlled and…
Was he laughing?
Jade eyes snapped open and focused sharply on the face of the mystery shinobi. Did he think he was dead, or was he just crazy? What the hell was so funny about this situation? Her brow furrowed as she looked down at his face, and was surprised to see two striking blue eyes looking back at her.
A strange moment passed as they simply stared at one another. Then he licked his cracked lips and spoke.
"Fucking ironic," he rasped with another chuckle that sounded more like a nauseated goat.
Her frown only deepened as she tried to wrap her head around this increasingly weird situation. "What is?"
"Life. Or maybe death…considering."
Sakura stared at him.
He smirked at her confusion. "I always wanted to meet you again, yeah."
Sakura was absolutely certain of it now; he really was insane. The batshit kind. She was so thrown off that she was having a hard time concentrating her chakra, and that definitely wasn't helping the situation.
"Me?" she asked, bemused.
Did he just roll his eyes at her?
"Yes you, idiot. Do you see anyone else around?"
Idiot? What the fu– Sakura tamped down on her fury, thoroughly taken aback by this mystery person whom she supposedly knew somehow. He didn't look familiar, but…there was something about his voice – that accent – that triggered something in the back of her mind. And something about those vibrant, unusual eyes too…
Suddenly it dawned on her who this man was, and though she tried to suppress her startled gasp and widening eyes, he caught the signs of recognition in her face and a smirk formed on his bloodstained lips.
They had met. Encountered really, several months ago in Wind country. This was Sasori's partner. What had he called him…Dei-something…Deidara? This was the man who attacked Suna. The man who fought the Kazekage and won. The man who'd used Gaara's lifeless body as a fucking sofa cushion and then had the gall to slap their deceased friend in the face just to piss off Naruto and goad him into giving chase. Then he'd tried to capture Naruto and kill Kakashi, and eventually attempted to kill them all in some bizarre suicide jutsu. Only he was supposed to be dead. She'd seen him die with her own eyes, right? He should be dead from whatever happened here to rip his chest wide open, too. What kind of insane freak was he to keep surviving this shit? She wondered suddenly if he would be able to survive her choking the life out of his helpless carcass right here and now…Third time's the charm, right?
Only her fingers didn't inch their way up to wrap around his neck; they merely continued to flood his system with her chakra. She should be seeing red. She should be using her more sinister medical skills to sever every artery in his body at the same time. But she found herself oddly captivated by this bizarre situation. One thing sat forefront in her mind at that moment:
"You remember me?"
He laughed again, or croaked, or whatever that disturbing sound coming from him was. It must be laughter, because his azure eyes glinted with amusement.
"Why wouldn't I?"
She didn't know what to say to that. How could he remember her? They hadn't spoken, and he was too busy avoiding death at the hands of her comrades to notice her standing there, right? She remembered him, but who wouldn't remember someone bloating and warping and eventually exploding right before their eyes. True, she did kill his partner Sasori, but he wasn't there to see it, so how could he…?
He huffed, and this time it sounded more like a laugh than a wheeze. He was rapidly recovering thanks to her efforts, and she didn't know if that was a good thing, or a very, very bad one. It wasn't too late…if she stopped now he would still be too weak to hurt her.
"Are you arguing with me on my deathbed? Some medic you are."
"It's only your deathbed if I let it be."
She did not just say that. What was she thinking? She really should just kill him and be done with it.
He snorted derisively. "That's some power-trip you've got going there."
It was a bit empowering to have one of the most dangerous men in the world utterly at your mercy. Sakura looked down at him, but where she had expected anger and a bruised ego, she saw only intrigue and slight amusement. "I'm a medic; if I choose to finish healing you, you'll live."
And if I stop, you won't, was the unspoken ending that he understood perfectly. His eyes narrowed in suspicion and now they did hold a hint of anger. "And why would you want to do that, hm?"
Sakura stared into that pale blue gaze. Why, indeed? She had no answer, for him or for herself. Yet her chakra never stopped, never wavered. She knew who he was now, what he was, what he had done, and that he was in fact an enemy. Yet…crazy as it sounded, something told her that she was doing the right thing, that everything happens for a reason and there was a reason for this. Something told her it would all be okay. She almost laughed aloud. Okay? What she was doing could technically be considered treason!
If her squadron showed up she could say she did it so they could take him for interrogation, and then let them take him away to Konoha. If not, then…
Sakura shook her head, bewildered at herself. Her sense of compassion and humanity wasn't that strong…so what the hell was wrong with her?
"Your chakra tingles…I like it," he remarked impishly.
Her eye twitched in annoyance, but she ignored the comment.
Not one to be put off, his smirk only widened. "I bet you can do all sorts of…interesting things with chakra, eh?"
She would not be teased while she saved his bastard life! "Yes, I can. Now shut the hell up jackass, before I show you a few things I consider to be very interesting, starting with the reproductive system."
His smirk fell instantly, and he cast her a wary, sullen glare and then looked away.
For the first time since regaining consciousness, he managed to look down at himself. Suddenly his eyes went wide and he jerked violently as he tried to sit up. "What the fuck? Where is it!" he exclaimed in a near-panic, then he coughed several times and fell back with a wheeze, clutching his chest.
Sakura held him down firmly by the shoulders. "Stop moving, dumbass! If you ruin all the work I just did I'm going to leave you here to die like the bastard you are!" She fixed him with a look that had made men twice her size quake in their boots.
He was too agitated to care, and he shoved her hands away with a glare to rival her own. "What the fuck did you do to me?" he snarled.
For a second she hesitated, because now she could see the dangerous killer in his eyes. But her temper soon got the better of her. "What did I do to you? I healed you, you stupid shithead! But if you want to die out here then by all means say so and I'll be happy to oblige!"
"The seal…where is it?" he growled, glancing down at his dirty, blood-streaked, heavily bruised but otherwise unmarred torso again before giving her another murderous glare.
Sakura was certain that if he wasn't so weak, he would have his hands around her throat right now. But she was utterly baffled by his sudden freakout. "I have no idea what you're talking about. What seal?"
His expression shifted to one of blatant dismay. "My chest…there was nothing there when you found me?"
She nearly laughed at the absurdity of the question. "Oh, there was something there alright; a fucking hole the size of my head! If you're that upset it's gone, I can gladly put another one there for you. Just one of the many interesting things I can do with my chakra."
He didn't respond to that and continued to glare at her a moment longer, and then his body relaxed as he frowned and his thoughts turned inward. She returned to quietly healing the minor damage he'd just caused himself. A few minutes later she heard him give a heavy, despondent sigh.
"This wasn't how it was supposed to happen," he murmured.
Surprised by his sudden change in demeanor, she met his eyes again with a small frown. "…What?"
"My masterpiece; the ultimate form of my jutsu. I should have died... "
She was tempted to tell him he sucked at making suicide bombs, because they never seemed to work…but decided now probably wasn't the best time for that joke. At a loss for anything else to say, she simply stated what she already knew; "So that explosion was yours after all."
The smirk reappeared, accompanied by a fervent light in his eyes as he nodded. He winced suddenly at some internal pain, and studied her a long moment before asking, "Was it beautiful? Was it art?"
Art? Sakura didn't know what he meant by art…but beautiful? Her mind's eye recalled that incredible sight that lit up the sky, holding her and the entire town mesmerized; an enormous tower of brilliant light shooting straight up to the heavens, shimmering like some ethereal otherworldly creature as it reached to touch the sun. It appeared all of a sudden, and was gone only a few moments later, but it was a vision she would remember for the rest of her days.
"…It was," she replied softly.
He smiled at her then, not a smirk but a genuine smile that lit his eyes with inner joy. "I knew I would like you, yeah," he said quietly.
Even though he was covered in burns and dirt and blood, she suddenly noticed a few things she hadn't before. One: he was young, couldn't be more than a year or two older than she was. Two: His eyes were really blue. And three: under all that mess, he was beautiful.
The latter thought was not welcome, however true it may be, so she pushed it aside and continued to work, hoping desperately that he didn't notice her blushing.
Several more minutes passed as she diligently healed his internal organs and many of the surface burns that would get infected if left untreated. The bruising and superficial cuts he would just have to deal with until they healed on their own, because she was not going to unnecessarily deplete her chakra for him. For some absurd reason she couldn't explain to herself, she decided to heal all the burns on his face so they wouldn't leave scars. She had to be losing her goddamn mind if she was concerned about marring the handsome features of an Akatsuki.
The entire time he never once looked away from her face, simply watched her with mild fascination. It was not helping her concentration, a fact made worse when he was stable enough to actually sit up and entered what Sakura considered to be an overly close proximity to her. She wasn't really afraid, merely unnerved. He didn't notice or didn't care, and she pretended it didn't affect her as she continued her task.
In the end she decided not to heal him completely. She may be out of her damn mind, but she still wasn't stupid. He would live and avoid later infection if he took care of himself, but he was physically weak, still in a good deal of pain, and almost completely out of chakra. If he attacked her now she could easily kill him.
Suddenly the sound of several dogs barking and baying could be heard in the distance, and the two ninken with her – who had been sitting around for the last thirty minutes in a canine version of perplexity – suddenly rose to their feet with soft woofs of recognition.
Her chakra output ceased and her hands dropped to rest on her thighs. "There. You'll live," she said wearily, the strain of the complex procedure beginning to take a toll on her. "Now get out of here before my teammates show up."
He grinned at her, appearing completely unconcerned with her approaching comrades, though he rose to his knees. "I'll have to thank you properly some other time, yeah," he said mischievously, leaning closer to her.
Sakura felt the blush tinge her cheeks at the glint in his eye and the hint of innuendo in his tone. She covered it by scowling at him. "You can thank me by making better use of your life now that you have a second chance," she reproved, knowing full well that he wouldn't.
His grin settled into what she assumed was probably his customary smirk, and he gave her a long, thoughtful look. She had no idea what he was thinking, but somehow she couldn't help but feel drawn in by something in those vibrant blue eyes.
Their little moment was interrupted by more barking, closer this time, and the ninken behind Sakura barked in answer to their packmates. Her gaze flicked from the dogs back to the man in front of her, a hint of urgency creeping into her expression.
"What's your name?" he asked.
For the first time, a small smile formed on her lips. "Sakura."
She could see the thoughts relating her name to her appearance turning over behind his eyes, but he didn't make that annoyingly cliché comment she was so used to hearing. Instead, he leaned just a bit closer. "I definitely won't forget, yeah. I'm–"
"I know," she confirmed quietly.
He grinned again, and she noted that his smile was just slightly crooked. It fit him perfectly, she decided, and was mortified that it sent tiny flutters through her insides. He rose up on one knee, making to stand, but then suddenly paused and turned to look at her again. The next thing she knew he snaked an arm around her waist, pulled her flush against him, and sealed his lips to hers.
Jade eyes went wide as saucers, and a tiny startled squeak escaped her throat. Her hands lay flat against his bare chest, but much to her dismay, she couldn't make herself push. In fact, she felt her mouth going slack under the firm yet oddly gentle assault of his lips. She wasn't exactly kissing back, but neither was she resisting. For all the urgency of the situation, his kiss felt unhurried, and he brought his other hand up to hold the back of her head as his arm tightened around her waist. It was relatively chaste, but there was a definite promise of more, and another soft sound escaped her – she refused to believe it was protest – as he pulled back and looked at her face.
Flushed and slightly breathless as she recovered from the most exhilarating ten seconds of her entire life, her eyes fluttered open – when had she closed them? – and met his mischievous yet surprisingly warm gaze.
"I'll see you again someday, Sakura. Don't forget about me," he said in a low, husky tone that resonated to some deeper place inside of her that she hadn't known existed until this moment.
And then he was gone.
The barking grew louder, and she could feel the first traces of approaching chakra now. She stood and wiped the dirt from her clothing and knees, checking to make sure she had none of his blood on her. Turning to the two who had witnessed everything, she gave them a slightly pleading look. "Please don't tell the others about this just yet."
The dogs stared at her. "Tell them what?" the smaller one said evenly.
Sakura smiled faintly, reminding herself to bake them some doggie biscuits when she got home. She turned in the direction the mysteriously charming Akatsuki had streaked away to with a look of wonder. She brought her fingertips to her lips and a small smile formed there as she remembered everything that just transpired between herself and one of the most wanted men in the world. If she closed her eyes she could still feel him there, pressing against her.
'Don't forget about me,' he'd said. Her smile widened. She definitely wouldn't forget. Not ever. In fact, she had a feeling she would have a hard time putting this strange encounter out of her mind for quite a while.
The bastard had just stolen her first kiss, after all.
She turned around to see her squad approaching down the slope of the crater, and she waved her hand back and forth over her head in response to Naruto's call. Suddenly she paused, and looked over her shoulder again at the empty expanse and distant treeline. She belatedly realized she had forgotten to ask him what he was even doing out here.
He had said he would see her again someday. That was probably the worst idea in the history of ideas, but a tiny part of her secretly hoped he would keep that promise.
She shook her head and emitted a small, quiet laugh before turning to meet up with her team.