Revised this slightly on 05/09/09
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Warning! This is severely AU- Itachi does gain the mangekyou sharingan but the clan isn't exterminated. He is not part of Akatsuki… He has detached himself as much as possible from his family (more or less) and is one of the most senior commanders at a main ANBU base on the outskirts of the Eastern Fire Country border (the coastline)…. Just to be clear. Lol. However, most of the events that do occur in Naruto do occur. (Sasuke has the Cursed Seal during Chuunin Exam- Daddy not happy as one can imagine. Tsunade is Hokage, Orochimaru's still on the rampage. Bless him.)
Pretty green eyes,
So full of sparkle and such light.
Let me remind,
You chose not to cry.
Ultrabeat- Pretty Green Eyes.
Chasing the Moon
Chapter One- Daybreak
Fresh morning light streamed through the bedroom window, staining the white linen a fiery copper. The pure sounds of early morning hummed through window shutters, caught on the cool breezes. But despite the room's brightness, a young woman of barely twenty-years slept like the dead. Utterly undisturbed, she breathed peacefully, unaware of the new dawn. Outside, birds of every colour, shape and size soared through crisp, if slightly humid air chasing a mass of swarming dragonflies.
Light splashed over her duvet, but she did not stir, and she would not stir until the early morning hours ticked by and the sleepy village awoke. The Sun moved through the morning sky, altering the sunbeams' directions until they shone like translucent gold across her youthful face, coaxing her eyes to flutter open.
With a heart-felt moan and minute flicker of weary eyes, the young woman finally stirred from that deep sleep. Her pupils shunned the light, and lazy arm lolled across her eyes, shielding their sensitivity.
"Just five more minutes…" She moaned sleepily, voice slightly croaky, as if even the Sun would adhere to her meagre protests.
However, now that she was awake, the body clock was wailing like a siren.
It would be safe to say that she was not quite the most enthusiastic morning-person ever known to grace Konohagakure. How some people could rise at the crack of dawn to appreciate the first-light was beyond her comprehension. She was, if anything, a fan of lazy, hung-over lie-ins.
How could they ever be awake enough to enjoy anything? She'd wonder in complete and utter bewilderment. Then again, this attitude was all probably due to being subjected to Hatake Kakashi's horrific tardiness. Being woken for daybreak and then watching the morning tick by as if one hour were worth a day was worse than any torture.
She lay there a little while longer, warming her skin as it came into contact with the ribbon-strands of light as they escaped past the shutters.
Soon, her senses woke and the reality of the hour began to sink in. When her mind became awake enough for rational thought, the young lady shifted under the covers. She sat up stiff and arduously, with a hand smoothing her cheek, eyes remaining resolutely closed until they were required. She twisted her legs out from under the duvet and placed her feet on the wooden floorboards, wincing as they found the creakiest floorboard in the room.
Why do I do that every flaming morning…? You'd have thought she'd learnt by now, but the kunoichi had always been stubbornly attached to habit.
Struggling with head-rush as she stood, the young woman stumbled about before managing to acquire the needed momentum for walking. She moved towards the en-suite bathroom, eyes still closed to avoid the searing light. She met few hazards; her feet knew where to step.
Her hand twisted around the door-handle and she stumbled through the threshold leaning on the door as it swung open. The light was more forgiving in here, so she let her eyes fluttered open, though still somewhat reluctant. She stood before the bathroom mirror, watching blurry-eyed at her reflection. She didn't need her full vision to reach a verdict.
Well, you look like absolute shit.
The toils of the night before had clearly taken their toll; her skin was deathly pale, almost grey. Her eyes were still blurry, but she could see the angry capillaries turning them a horrible wishy-washy scarlet. Smudges of charcoal eyeliner had spread into giant, blotchy rings around her eyes and eyelids, and made her appear remarkably similar to a hung-over panda. Flakes of mascara stuck to her cheeks and top of her eyelids, as if she'd rammed the tip of the applicator all over her face to emulate freckles. Her hair was dank, greasy and unusually dull, given one could not have been born with hair much more vibrant than bubblegum pink.
Turning away from the mirror she stripped off her pyjamas, which were composed of a white string-top and tiny matching shorts, then stepped into the tall, tiled shower. She twisted the knob controlling the water pressure and temperature, giving a surprised squeak and slight widening of her green eyes as a gush of frigid, ice-cold liquid touched her skin.
After a long, chilly moment, she realised the knob was turned the wrong way.
"Shiiit-!" She yelped, quickly twisting the it the other way. Her thumping heart slowed back to a contented beat as warm water washed over her shoulders, rinsing the night away. The slight odour of cigarettes disappeared from her shoulder length hair, replaced by the scent of watermelon. The sticky feeling, induced by the beer tipped down her top- an accident partly induced by her own intoxication and just one other drunken imbecile (most probably Naruto) at the pub- disappeared without a trace. She soon felt clean and fresh- ready for another day, smelling like lush wild flowers.
After the shower, she towel-dried her hair and then wrapped the towel around her body, one end stuck into the other so it stayed in place. Next, she dressed in her usual, a black skirt that reached just above the knees, red zip-up vest with leg guards and black shoes, very much the same attire she had settled with nearly six years ago.
She let her hair dry naturally for the moment, not caring about the kinks and waves forming. She was thirsty, so she decided to get a glass of water and check the mail before drying her hair properly. As she wandered from room to room, memories of the night before began slipping back, most a blur of extreme embarrassment.
I wonder how Sasuke and Naruto are doing… All three had got smashed, although Naruto could still stand without help, she and the acclaimed Uchiha prodigy had been propped up on each of his considerable shoulders. First, the laughing blond had dropped Sasuke off at the Uchiha Estate. Despite her lack of clear-thinking, she had been a little worried about leaving him there, as the other Uchiha who had arrived back at the mini-village did not seem particularly worried about taking the legless Sasuke home. All they seemed to do was stand there and howl with laughter. Sakura remembered announcing in an awful, drunken slurry that it was "a des-s-s-picable thing to do".
It wasn't as if Sasuke-Kun could do anything, anyway… She wondered if he did manage to make it home. Naruto had made sure she did, at least, in his annoyingly chivalrous way.
Upon acquiring a handful of mail and water, she sat down at the kitchen table, yawned and then proceeded to flick through the letters.
Junk, junk, bank, junk… Where do these people find my address? Junk, ooh…
A summoning to see Lady Hokage. She stared at the cover of the letter, knowing a mission summon was inside. She immediately felt a tingle of anticipation shoot through top half. She'd been entered into ANBU little over six weeks ago, having spent the majority of the past years engaged tirelessly in the hospital. She had only been assigned the tedious scouting missions since.
She hastily opened the letter, slipping through the envelope with her nails and read the official summoning, surprised to find it was not so much a mission, but a proposal for transfer, and it was from the Hokage herself.
I'd like you to know there's a very recent opening for new medical officers at the Eastern ANBU base. They were attacked by Mist Nin the night before and have suffered heavy casualties at the medical building. I think this would be a brilliant opportunity for you, and that you should take a position…
There was more, but Sakura couldn't be bothered to read on. She blinked at her luck- there were hardly any medical vacancies at the Eastern base, not for someone with her qualifications.
They never have casualties! Her brow scrunched in surprise and confusion. The Eastern base was renowned for its small fatality numbers, as well as its beauty and proximity to the Coast. They are barely attacked.
Attack? That was a strange thought. It was remotely attacked, despite being one of the largest soldier units within the Fire Country. Thoughts swam through her mind as she considered who or what would have attacked. It was not often seen, but her best guess would be this was an assault lead by the ninja of the Water Country. They were, naturally, with the base situated on the Coast, the nearest of all the other Countries. And Fire and Water were never known to mix well.
Even with this ominous thought, Haruno Sakura could not stop her wide grin from spreading.
Her answer would be a definite yes.
His light feet strode through a field of tall, dew-topped grass, following a wild route only they knew. The vast ocean laid spread before him, crashing and somersaulting against the jagged cliffs, as if it wished to devour the land whole. The thunder of morning waves mingling with cries of pearly-white gulls swooping over-head.
He breathed in the salty air, and wondered, just for a second, whether he truly needed to walk back, away from this blissful haven, back to the mundane humdrum his life had become. This was his bubble of beauty and escape.
Unfortunately, he knew the answer immediately, but that never caused the proposition to become any less attractive.
Morning, or rather, very early morning, was always the best time of day in his opinion. It was cool and crisp, and completely uninterrupted. But best of all, it was totally private, and privacy was something he craved most, even in infancy.
Privacy, as it would seem, was something he could only achieve here, where only the grass and gulls and the tumbling waves would witness his morning excursions.
Moisture clung to his trousers, tingling the smooth skin beneath. His dark eyes glittered like the sea under a midnight moon as they gazed up into the golden-orange morning, sombre with the thoughts that lay behind them. Splashes of the previous navy night could be seen casting a shadow way above the trees behind him, a small slit of darkness slicing the horizon through the tall, snow-topped mountains.
An amber Sun laid split in half across the horizon, seemingly balanced on the water as it spilt its spectacular glow like an overturned pot of golden paint. The waves shimmered like a swirling liquid mix of diamond and topaz, dazzling to any who took the time to notice.
Dazzling to anyone who has the grace to notice.
The morning rose like a soaring phoenix above the waves, and the same fiery, eternal spectacle began once again, just as his day had begun once again.
He had been a morning-person his entire life; the deep lines on his soft cheeks clearly depicted his clear lack of sleep. It would seem logical to anyone who knew, that he would forever be there at daybreak, forever be there to see the prelude to a new battle or take the first strike against any invading enemy Ninja.
Somehow, he knew.
Every time, he knew. People would whisper and gossip. He was a legend; an oracle that could predict the future.
An ironic smile, a smile that only the morning sees, captures his features at the very thought.
"Ridiculous…" He scoffs to the pleasant wind, still grinning.
If only, if only… He could not foresee the future. That was a talent only a seldom few were blessed with, and, alas, he was not one of them. Although that did not mean he wished for such a gift.
The future was not something to be tampered with or revealed; the future could be a terrifying thing, and people had gone mad knowing what they would commit, knowing that they had no way to stop it… One could not change the future, no matter how hard they tried, or what they may sacrifice. All souls balanced on a life-strand, as thick as knife-edge, and there was only direction in which they could walk.
He did not like the Present. He did not like the Past. All he had now was the Future, and that was something he did not wish to hate…
For what would be the purpose of living to see it?
A sea gull screeched high above his head, momentarily distracting his thoughts. His face turned and eyes watched as the creature dived amongst the newly formed, translucent clouds, swirling in majestic loops and somersaults- clearly bravado. It glided around the threshold of land and sea for a minute or so, before diving headlong and out of sight into the deep, golden ocean, and didn't rise for a good half a minute.
The young man, dressed in black, with eyes the colour of midnight and long raven hair loosely pulled back in a disheveled ponytail had finally stepped out of the long grass, his legs free. He walked unhurried, holding himself with a confidence he was always unaware of to the end of a grassy promenade where the cliff jutted out in a thin, triangular shape.
When he reached the point's pinnacle, he sat down in a comfortable bed of soft grass and pretty white flowers, gazing out at the ocean beyond. He closed his eyes, drawing attention to his other senses, sighing as the sounds and smells of the ocean washed over him as if the air were as heavy as the waves below.
How could anyone not take time to notice this place? To him, it seemed a crime. The small things in life were forever being pushed away for larger, more ostentatious things- fickle and superficial things. All he wanted was this; peace and true tranquility.
After a time his eyes cracked open, enticed by the ball of brightness steadily lifting from the shoreline into a clear, azure sky. He noticed today that the Water Country was surrounded with a denser mist than normal; only the dull grey of its nefarious outline could be deciphered through the thick shroud that hid everything like a layered, hazy coverlet.
His eyebrows creased minutely as he examined the situation. Mist usually meant they were up to something suspicious, especially heavy mist. Only two nights ago, there had been a heavy attack on the ANBU base he was partially assigned to command. It had luckily ended not so poorly for the Leaf, although Mist had attacked the medical building and caused serious casualties to the medical staff… The Leaf Base had been shaken at the foundations, and he instinctively knew that Mist would not miss any opportunity. It had been, and he felt no pretensions over this situation, a shock to the system. There was usually an informant, a bribery here and there, but nothing had been heard. The Leaf were not warned.
Although it was not directly his fault, the ninja felt horrendously guilty.
I'll have the captured Nin interrogated. He silently decided his course-of-action, knowing far too well how adept Konoha Interrogators were. They were some the best in all the Five Countries. He'd even done his own interrogation work in the past, but had known immediately it was not for him. His greatest talents lay in the intricacies missions, both individual and team-related. The thrill of battle was, ashamedly, something he had come to live for, to thrive off; he desired the test of strength and abilities, although he could never remember a time when his own had ever been compromised. Most of the time he was simply searching for someone worthy, someone else with a reputation, but all those he'd fought had failed his expectations.
He was feared by Mist Ninja, feared by all foreign Ninja. Hell, he was even feared by the soldiers under his command.
However, since acquiring his senior-position within the ANBU base, those missions had been few and far between. Paper work and supervision was his S-Rank equivalent now. Three years of being locked in a stuffy office had made him restless, and given him an irritable reputation, making him colder and crueller than usual. The job had certainly made himmore detached. It had also sparked various other ways of burning off energy.
Not that he hadn't been interested before, as sex, he had to say, had always been plentiful at the Eastern Base, especially for someone with a body and face like his, and within his Commander status he could not find much else to occupy him. Going home back to Konohagakure was not an option, and anyway, a consistent flow of different shinobi and kunoichi were circulated, so he'd usually pick numerous kunoichi and plough through them, so to speak. It seemed cold-hearted, a pastime solely for his enjoyment, ending always with a broken heart on the other side.
It became a game, a game that gave him an infamous reputation, a reputation he was slightly uncomfortable with, but didn't feel so opposed when he heard he'd pissed his father off.
Heartbreaker. He'd heard the title often used, but wasn't quite sure why he was dubbed it. All his whirlwind relationships were nothing but flings, yet so many women became completely infatuated so quickly, and he'd have to break off the tryst. It was ridiculous, he made it perfectly clear that he wouldn't be tied to anyone- he wasn't even particularly nice to them- but still they'd whine and cry while he watched them with contempt. He "ate" hearts, apparently, and left emotional devastation in his wake. He couldn't count how many women he'd had, that count had been lost with so much long ago..
And truth be told, none ever made a lasting impression.
So finally, after all he had achieved from such an early age, not even the incidents and feelings he'd locked inside himself would become what he was known for.
It seemed that Uchiha Itachi would be known as nothing more than a notorious womaniser.
The cool air filled with a soft chuckle, for Itachi could not help but find this idea hilarious. It was true; he could never deny it. He was a notorious womaniser. But to be remembered for only that… To be remembered solely for that was truly a discredit. He was twenty-four and his ANBU career had begun over eleven years ago… Not to mention the occurring events of when he lived in Konoha, within his family and his lineage. The memory of his prodigious talent seemed to seep away.
No, Uchiha Itachi would not be remembered for that, and he'd make sure of it. It would be a bitter disgrace, He decided.
But for now, as the Sun grew bolder and light engulfed the sky, Itachi knew he must leave, for duty was duty… Konoha would be sending the replacement medic-nin and he'd need to make all the appropriate arrangements.
Taking one last look at the brilliant scene before him, the Uchiha Prodigy stood up, brushed the stray grass from his trousers and made his way back to the Base.
"Yes," She said, with smiling eyes. "I'm happy to take the place, Sensei,"
"Good," Tsunade gazed up at her pupil with an approving, yet sad expression. "I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to further your career,"
Hospital won't be quite the same without you, though.
In all her years as a medic-nin, Tsunade had never come across a pupil quite like Haruno Sakura. From the moment she'd entered into the Hokage's tutelage, Sakura worked hard and her skills grew rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that Sakura had been working shifts, without being shadowed by a higher-ranking doctor, at the Hospital since she was thirteen. The young medic would be an asset to the Eastern Base, and not to mention the change of scenery would be a beautiful benefit.
However, there was a catch that could not be over-looked.
"But you must understand, Sakura," Tsunade said, her honey-toned eyes narrowing and voice sharpening. "As you're probably already aware, relations between the Shinobi Countries are unstable, and I fear the Eastern Base will not be as peaceful as it has been."
Sakura nodded resolutely. She understood her Sensei's growing worries. Friendly relations were rotting away- well, peaceful relations, anyway. The Water Country and Fire Country had never been on friendly terms. Not many countries had ever been on friendly terms.
Thank goodness for Sand… Thankfully, the Wind Country was more than a firm ally and could always be relied on, with the young Kazekage a welcome friend to the village. A knowing smile lifted her lips as she remembered what bound the two countries so closely.
"I understand Sensei, and I promise to do my utmost no matter what the situation may be; just as you've always taught me to do so,"
Despite herself, Lady Hokage smiled warmly. She knew Sakura would never let her down.
"I know you will, and that's partly why I'm sending you," The blonde shifted in her leather seat, flashing a set of immaculate scarlet nails whilst rooting through the considerably messy desk. "Ah, here it is," Her hands closed around three sealed envelopes, tied together with a thin red ribbon. Tsunade undid the ribbon and passed the first envelope to Sakura. The other two she placed in front of her in preparation for the other medical staff she'd summoned for later. "In there are all the details needed, read them before you leave. You and the others I selected are to arrive at the gates for noon sharp. You're expected to arrive in the evening,"
Sakura gazed at the letter, then back at her former sensei. She nodded.
"Any questions?" Tsunade asked and leant back against the chair.
"Um, yes, I have a question, Sensei," Sakura said and waited for approval.
Tsunade leant forward slightly. She balanced her elbow on the desk and supported her face with her hand and gazed up at her pupil openly.
"Hm?" Her arched eyebrows lifted.
"Oh, I was just wondering who else you were considering to send to the Eastern Base,"
Tsunade sat back. "Well, ideally, I've considered Nakamura Kiyoshi and Uchiha Shizuka. I'm expecting them after you,"
Sakura nodded and applied the names to faces. After applying the names to faces, she applied the faces to situations. She was close to neither mentioned but knew them by reputation and sight.
Firstly, Nakamura Kiyoshi was a boy of sixteen, a fresh-faced Chuunin with a surprisingly adept talent for Medical Ninjutsu. He held a very nervous disposition- not a particularly desired trait in a doctor, but his knowledge in herbal remedies and thoroughness within research were Konoha Hospital-renowned. But…
I can't imagine him taking the place. Sakura pondered her Master's decision and was almost certain the boy wouldn't take the place. He was more highly-strung than a sheep dangling by a microscopic thread over a bubbling pit of steaming tar. Maybe he would take the position, but the signs of impending war shimmering along the Fire Country coast in the guise of milky sea mist made this seem unlikely.
Nah, no way, Kiyoshi won't take it… Although, on the other hand Shizuka-Sempai…
Was legendary. Every ninja within the medical sector knew Uchiha Shizuka was not a medic-nin to be reckoned with. She possessed the famed Uchiha beauty as well as the similar loyalty, pride and ambition Sakura had seen in Sasuke since they were young classmates. She was close to forty, but her tenacity never wavered, nor did her skill. Sakura had had the pleasure of meeting her on numerous occasions, as she and Tsunade were friendly acquaintances. She was also a cousin of Sasuke.
Speaking of which… She checked the clock hanging high above Tsunade's desk. She'd have to hurry to Team Seven's preferred eatery, seeing as this surprise meeting had made her late for breakfast already.
The Eastern Base was not a glamorous place. It was a large complex of four buildings, each reaching higher than the masses of trees that surrounded them. One was used as the "HQ", another a Hospital and the last two were used for weapon storage, cells for unwanted foreign ninja and accommodation for the ninja presently stationed. The highest floors had the best sea views, but they were in reserve for the only the highest echelons of the ANBU Officers stationed. They were ugly things; each were just a mound of concrete plonked together into a square-shaped heap, then hastily sprayed with a thin, cheap layering of whitewash. In time, the damp had savaged their exteriors, with creeping vegetation crawling up along the high walls, determined to penetrate and twist their solid branches into the space inside. Nearby was one of the many large fishing ports dotted on the Fire Country's wide coast. The port doubled as a tourist attraction, generating mountains of cash from the crystalline oceans and smooth, silky beaches. But of course, tourists weren't allowed anywhere near the base.
Itachi ran his probing eyes over the buildings, frowning slightly as they reached the pretty beds of delicate wildflowers rooted at the buildings' foundations.
How could anyone build a monstrosity like that amongst such beauty?
Inwardly, Itachi was encouraging the wisteria to spread and grow and consume; to envelope these eyesores so they'd cease to irritate his eyes every time he had to look at them. So that whenever he breathed in, the heavy stench of damp and heady moisture wouldn't constrict his lungs. He was bored of looking at them, and the wisteria seemed to take so long to grow.
"Sir?" A feminine voice said timidly from behind him, accompanied by an aromatic waft of strong coffee caught on the warm breeze.
The interruption stirred Itachi from his reverie. His eyes gazed up at a clear, indigo sky.
And so the gauntlet begins. He sighed inwardly and turned slowly, as seemingly composed and unconcerned as usual.
"I have your coffee and mail sent from Konoha, Sir," The girl who'd interrupted him, Uzuki Yuugao, held out his steaming coffee, just as she did every morning since she'd taken the place as the legendary Uchiha's secretary. Her real occupation was a coder, but at the time she thought the extra work would fill up the days, and seeing as the opening had been made available shortly after she first arrived, it seemed all well and good. However, with hindsight, she wouldn't have touched the position with a barge pole. Itachi-Taichou was a tremendously hard worker and seemed to single-handedly run the base, despite there being another commander, as well. She hadn't been in the job long to realise Itachi had little time for his fellow commander. The man was nothing more than an archaic shinobi, a relic of the olden days. He was hardly suitable for the job at decades past his prime.
Swallows chirped in the swaying trees as Itachi eyed her. Her face coloured and Itachi found the flush in her cheeks as amusing as ever. Nine months and the girl still found it traumatic to barely look him in the eye.
"Thank you," Itachi took the mug gently, slipping it from Yuugao's grasp. Deliberately, he let his fingers brush hers in a way that clearly made her flustered; yet the act appeared entirely accidental.
"No problem, Sir," She said, managing somehow to raise her head slightly and keep her voice collected. If it weren't for her blatant discomfort Yuugao'd be quite convincing.
Still watching her, Itachi took a long swig. She was pretty, with long deep purple hair tied in a loose ponytail and a clear complexion. Her figure was tall, slim and well-defined- the body of a warrior hardened through years of training and devotion.
"And your mail, Sir?" Yuugao demurely motioned to the sealed envelopes in her arms.
"Leave them on my desk," Itachi replied nonchalantly, and his eyes swivelled quickly from her to the surroundings. "I'll look at them later,"
Yuugao took this as her cue to leave. She bowed, turned and walked towards the central building, the HQ, and was quickly out of sight.
Itachi didn't watch her leave. Instead he observed with as apathetic an expression as usual the sleepy ninja who scurry to-and-fro across the courtyard, exchanging pleasantries with their comrades and friends, all heading for the mess hall and a hearty breakfast with a good gossip. Most inclined their heads towards the Commander as they passed, and he in turn nodded back, polite as ever.
Sakura rushed into the bustling café. Upon opening the door, a pleasant aromatic waft of fresh coffee tantalised her senses, and the desire to consume the much needed caffeine filled her as she strode towards the seats occupied by those she considered some of her dearest, closest friends.
Uzumaki Naruto, (blond, cheerful and tanned) spotted her immediately. Whilst stuffing his face with something deliciously greasy, he smiled crookedly and waved, still holding his fork. Uchiha Sasuke (tall, dark and beautiful) sat pale and sickly next to him, flashing Naruto a seething look of jealous disgust. Hatake Kakashi, as always, was buried in one of his most favoured porn epics, his shiny silver hair a springy mess.
"Morning, morning sorry I'm late!" Sakura said, her spirits even chirpier than usual after the events of earlier this morning. She took the empty seat next to Kakashi. The copy-nin gave her an accommodating smile.
"It's cool, your coffee's coming now," Naruto grinned. His tolerance to such substances as alcohol was always a shock. He speared a massive fried egg with his fork and spooned intact into his mouth. Sasuke glared and shook his head from side to side slightly in disbelief.
"Kakashi said Tsunade-Baa-Sama had some super important assignment for you," Naruto piped in, mouth full.
"Ah!" Sakura whipped eyes sideways to her past mentor. "Do you know then? What do you think?"
There was an ominous pause.
"Congratulations," The Copy-Nin finally replied, and as the ominous pause had indicated, his voice did not convey the enthusiasm Sakura had hoped he'd show. As per usual, Kakashi had ordered nothing to eat or drink. "It'll be an interesting new beginning for you, I'm sure…"
Sakura watched him, wide-eyed.
The "but" was on the tip of his tongue.
Naruto sat quietly, eyes switching between the two sitting opposite him, wondering what the hell was going on.
Sasuke was… barely living.
"However…" He stretched the moment, and a heart-racing tension appeared to engorge the air around the table they sat, until he flipped his book shut and smirked with a small laugh. "You're still too gullible,"
"Kakashi…" Sakura shook her head, Naruto grinned and huffed. "For fuck's sake!"
"Sorry, sorry… and again, well done, Sakura. You'll do well there, I'm sure," His eyes stretched with a warm smile. "It's nice, down that way,"
Sakura smiled with mock-sweetness. "Thank you Kakashi, dearest," Now, she turned to Naruto and Sasuke. The Uchiha looked up at her with blood-shot eyes.
"Care to tell us now?" He said, voice crisp and sharp with morning grumpiness.
Sakura grinned. "I'm being transferred!"
"Where?" Naruto almost choked.
"To Eastern- you all right?" Sakura poured a glass of water for her comrade, completely unaware of the strange look received from the seemingly hindered Uchiha.
Blood-shot eyes ablaze, Sasuke glared across the table at Kakashi. The silver haired man looked down, and whipped out a treasured volume of Icha Icha to hide his face in.
"I'm leaving at Noon, by the way,"
"Yuugao-San?" Itachi called from his desk.
"Have the prospective medic-nin's information been wired through yet?"
"Yes, they came an hour ago, should I collect them?"
Itachi harrumphed, thinking that was surprising efficient for Konoha. "Please,"
Yuugao tapped away at the digits on her phone, and Itachi listened as she ordered the documents to be dragged up another few floors of the building. It was Noon already, and he wanted to be briefed in plenty of time, maybe even be allowed the chance to conduct his own research or ask around. Normally, Konoha wouldn't have sent the blasted files before four o'clock and he'd be none the wiser.
The door beyond his room squeaked open, and footsteps echoed outside. There was a little conversation between Yuugao and whoever was chosen to take the files upstairs. By the depth of the voice, Itachi classed them as male.
After a few minutes of flirtatious giggling from inside her office, Yuugao entered and handed Itachi the file. A silly, girlish grin stretched her lips and she made very little effort to hide it.
"Thank you, Yuugao-San," Itachi said and let her leave, grin intact.
Uchiha Itachi flipped open the three-page synopsis of his new recruits. He gazed soullessly at first person, finding it difficult to breathe. A pair of dark, dark eyes, identical to his own, stared through him as if he were as transparent as glass.
Cousin Shizuka. Typical. How could he not have guessed his family would use this opportunity to spy on him? Why is he so surprised? Perhaps all he's feeling is annoyance.
This did not bode well, and Itachi flipped Shizuka's profile face-down. It seemed like a joke; he of all people knew what his cousin was capable of. The Uchiha were one of the most insular of families and even rivaled the Hyuuga in the depth of their secrets. What an insult it was. Of course there were other Uchiha enlisted, but they were not as permanent as medical staff.
Itachi had very little love for the ambitions of his family, and he had no desire to be included in their squabbling clan politics anymore. The fact that he was the heir to the leadership was something he did not like to discuss or even consider.
Moving on, he whisked the second page into view. Some kid stared from his picture, eyes like a frightened rabbit in the glaring stare of a fox. A boy, young and mid-pubescent. A child as naïve as a lamb and highly inexperienced. Most probably weak. How long would he last? Itachi approximated a week at most. Due to the elitist nature of the shinobi world, Itachi saw this as a flaw in Konoha's relatively new Hokage. He cursed Tsunade for using his base for a child completing his work experience.
Itachi flicked Nakamura Kiyoshi's profile atop of Shizuka's. He was feeling thoroughly disappointed so far, and was sure the next candidate would most probably be even more frustrating.
That's why, when Itachi gazed at the flush green eyes of the next profile, he sat quietly taken aback for more than a second. He recognised this young woman, a girl with striking pink hair, a cheerful, complacent façade, and those bright green eyes… It was undeniable, he recognised her description. His surprise welled. The name only confirmed those initial suspicion.
Haruno Sakura? His brother's beautiful, trusted comrade stared before him, her gaze holding the confidence of a medic-nin whose skill was nothing less than elite. He had met her once, years and years ago, when Sasuke had gained his Leaf headband and graduated from the Academy. She had been nothing less than a giggling schoolgirl back then, no reputation or noticeable talents, quite bog-standard and nothing particularly useful. He had heard her intelligence and vigour in study was laudable, but on the field she always fell short. Itachi imagined she'd grown up in her teammates' shadows, a late-bloomer, and her confidence questionable. Looking at the young woman now, he wondered how much she had matured. From the letters he received from Sasuke, Itachi could tell she had changed much from back then, but he had not paid too much attention to what he said about Sakura at that point. The Uchiha Commander placed Sakura's profile on the desk, face-up, away from the others. He sat up, and paced across the room towards a tall filing cabinet. He performed a small series of seals, and the file clattered open, shaking slightly as he fingered through the papers. He took out a large cluster of old letters, bound by a thick elastic band. Itachi unhooked them, eyes scanning the figures and characters, looking for one name in particular.
His brother, as it stood, seemed to be rather enigmatic when writing about his comrades. Naruto featured most out of the two, usually included in some description of a recent idiocy or battle. Sasuke only mentioned Sakura briefly in most of them. He would comment on how much she'd improved that month, or how much taller he and Naruto had become against her. Once, he mentioned how pretty she'd ended up, but there was little else.
However, Itachi did notice that she was the only woman, apart from his female relatives, to be mentioned within these letters.
The thought of a relationship between Sakura and his brother flashed into Itachi's mind. It was lit with a warning, a bright scarlet light, and the elder Uchiha pondered what his little brother would be thinking. Surely Sasuke would know by now? It was past Noon, and the team would be heading east right this very minute.
He wondered how long it would take Sasuke to send him his next letter, and the thought conjured a knowing smirk, for Itachi knew there were many layers hidden beneath an Uchiha's impassive façade. The blank mask was simply a mask, a veil, and if anyone could predict Sasuke's true feelings it was Itachi.
Another thought, another calculation, emerged from Itachi's inherent observational talent. He had a splendid knack for predicting the acts of others, of reading their deepest thoughts. He wondered how entertaining it might be to have Sasuke under his command, as his right-hand man. The young man would always be amazingly loyal, of course. And this girl, of whom Sasuke obviously held in high acclaim, might just be the unknowing instigator of a very interesting time.
How long will it take for you to follow her, little brother?
A small, composed crowd congregates just outside the gates of Konohagakure, their voices sharp in the quiet afternoon. Birdsong soars loud and clear, whilst through a cluster of bright clouds, a brilliant Sun bursts, pouring a wave of light over the leafy city in a wreath of liquid copper. Sakura observed the village. It had been her home, her dwelling, the place where she always returned to for so many years. She was sad, melancholy, even, but the chances and paths that lay ahead of her now were new, refreshed, and above all overwhelmingly exciting. It would be a complete change.
The Sun warms the skin, and Sakura was thankful for that added favour. It was little past Noon, and soon she would have to journey to the Eastern Base, along with he fellow medical comrades. Nothing had changed; much to her surprise Nakamura Kiyoshi was present, though as quiet and nervous as ever. He had smiled at her sheepishly, cheeks lightly flushed.
Sakura whipped around, eyes lighting with joy as she recognised that familiar, smouldering voice.
"Sasuke-Kun?" The honorific had never been dropped. It was as if the two words had merged into one after years and years of use.
Sasuke stepped towards her quietly, gazing around their little area, obviously eager to avoid the other eyes and ears of the throng. His deep eyes were suspicious, alight with focus and past their hung-over state. After surveying the scene once more to be sure, Sasuke turned his attention back to Sakura with a vigour that appeared slightly startling.
"Stay safe," He said quickly, voice tainted by an awkward tautness Sakura was not sure she had heard before. "And beware of certain people…" His eyes swivelled to the ground, and Sakura understood immediately.
"What? Your brother?" Sakura whispered, moving closer to Sasuke as his eyes snapped back to hers, questioning.
"So you do know about Itachi?"
"Umm, yeah, who doesn't?" Sakura said. She had, of course, heard rumours about him, Itachi, but it would be interesting to hear it from the brother that rarely spoke about him.
"Is there something... bad about him?"
Sasuke harrumphed, clearing his throat. "He is… a, err, a bit strange, though he is a genius, I suppose, and he's like me- and you're used to me… He looks like me," He watched, dubiously, before moving into her direct vicinity and continued in a whisper against her ear, "Just watch out for what he does, says, or wants from you. Just don't confuse us, Sakura, don't confuse him for me, I don't want to see you hurt from this,"
Sasuke moved away from her, the tickle of his breath still tingling her neck, her ear. His words ran in anxious circles around her mind. The warning had been thick in his voice, the worry sharp. Sakura stared at her friend in bewilderment, her hand rubbing against the place on her neck where his breath had tickled, as if wanting to hold on to the feeling.
To Sasuke the gesture did not go unnoticed, though he had no time to act, as Naruto boomed down the road in a blur of loud yellow, orange and blue.
"Sa-ku-ra-Cha-nn!" He roared, slowing and panting as he came to a steady halt in front of the two. "Heh…" Naruto grinned boyishly, his face typically full to the brim of good nature and love for his friends. But Sakura couldn't help but detect was a sadness, an aching behind that cheerful smile, which no amount of grinning could ever mask.
"Oi," Sasuke snapped at the blond. "Get here on time you worthless buffoon,"
"Ah bugger you! I was here as quick as I could be. Wasn't my fault Tsunade-Baa-Sama dragged me into a fucking meeting," Naruto growled, mock-prodding the Uchiha with an annoyed finger. "I whinged and she only just let me go, alright?" He shuffled in front of Sasuke, darting to Sakura.
She grinned, the reaction brought on simply by gazing in his cheerful, happy-go-lucky self. "Naruto!"
They jumped into a tight hug, taking comfort from each other's warmth. It was going to be strange, being parted from them, an extension of her family. Even when she'd been on missions for weeks at a time, Sakura would usually be either with them, meet them at some point within the mission, or shortly be reunited with them at the end of the endeavour.
The Eastern Base was a different story altogether; she would not see anyone for months or longer. And the busy lifestyle Sakura was sure she would find waiting at the Base would take up the majority of her time. There would be little time for correspondence.
Feeling possibly the last, large comfort of Naruto's bulk flush against her chest, a fear of loneliness and foreboding twisted her stomach into knots. It was difficult to release him, but it had to be done. When they moved away from each other, both had tears glistening down their cheeks.
Sasuke stood uncomfortably, pretending to be occupied with other thoughts. It was here that Kakashi appeared from a side street, his single visible eye curved in an optimistic smile.
"Kakashi-Sensei!" Sakura cried, and flung her arms around his neck. The copy-nin patted her back, and placed a hand atop her silky hair. He ruffled it slightly and wished her all the best in his calmly muted way.
The next half an hour or so moved in a flicker. Sakura bid farewell to her family, and to other friends who had turned up later. She and Kiyoshi formerly exchanged pleasantries, and both realised that they were still missing a member.
Five minutes passed, and the Sun was red-hot, high in its untouchable zenith. Sakura wondered whether it would be sensible to ask Sasuke where his cousin was, but her dark-featured friend waved away their worries.
"Cousin Shizuka tends to do what she likes," He said. "She is successful, well-trained, powerful, and although she's getting on a bit, is still unmarried. The Uchiha Elders want her for child-rearing," Sasuke made a face at this comment, his eyes narrowing clearly in disgust. Sasuke quite enjoyed bitching and about his clan to her, Sakura noticed, much more than he did so to Naruto or Kakashi.
"But she's stood strong, flashing the 'duty-to-the-village-card', and she has managed to avoid any cumbersome attachment,"
Naruto and Sakura listened intently to Sasuke's clan politics, whilst Kakashi shrugged nonchalantly at her lateness. "She's quite the girl," The Copy-Nin remarked.
"Ask Itachi, if you're more interested," Sasuke said, somewhat bitterly. "He can predict the acts of this clan with an uncanny precision, and, I can him viewing her Shizuka as a nuisance, and probably thinks of her as too close to home,"
"Why aren't there more Uchiha stationed at the Base?" Sakura asked.
"Oh, there are a few, maybe one or two others, but they're in constant circulation- the medical staff as you know tend to be more… permanent,"
Permanent. The word had been said, the taboo been uttered, mentioned. Sakura and Sasuke fell silent. It was another reminder, another kick in the stomach, that made everyone realise this would be the longest time they'd spend apart. The thought burned in the back of their minds' like a nasty itch.
Sakura waited, and waited, steadily growing dizzy in the midday Son. Most of the crowd had died away, and she was left with only the rest of her teammates. A handful of people still hovered around Kiyoshi.
It was then that Uchiha Shizuka decided to appear. Sakura took in the sight of the older woman, barely managing to mask her surprise. As was common of all Uchiha, Shizuka walked straight and proud, her head held high and elegant. Her dark, tall beauty was dazzling; nothing seemed to be withered with age. She was fit and stunning, powerful and intimidating, intelligent and observant. Her walk was like a flowing river, timed and measured, whilst the stare of her dark, deep Uchiha eyes was as sensuous as the wildest sunsets.
All in all, Uchiha Shizuka was a walking fantasy, desire personified, and the woman's mere presence shook Sakura to the core.
I'm tired of waiting, The Uchiha Commander thought bitterly, eyes whipping to a clock whose face never seemed to change. It felt like four o'clock had come and gone time and time again, but only a minute or two had trickled by. If only he could master time, wouldn't that be a true talent worthy of notability?
The group would most likely arrive in about two to three hour's time, and Itachi surveyed his list of things to do before he would greet them. He had seen to the general running of the Base, allowing each department to get on with whatever task he had assigned them. The Border Patrol Report for this afternoon had come back without any evidence of disturbances, and Itachi was confident the tightening of security was foolproof. He had devised it himself and its reliability was sound.
They had nothing to worry about tonight.
The only subject that had not been reported upon was the interrogation of the captured Mist Nin, and Itachi wanted to know why. It had been seven hours since the order had been sent. They may be withholding valuable information, and Itachi would not let them go to waste. He had not got this far by taking needless risks, or wasting resources.
The chair squeaked along the floor, and Itachi stepped round his large desk towards the door. He wandered through, and strode past a Yuugao lost in work.
The woman's eyes perked at the sound, and she watched the beautiful man walk to the outer door, his feet gliding with a graceful fluidity lost to so many.
"I'm going to see how the interrogations are doing," He said, pausing in the doorframe. "Seeing as no report has been sent,"
"Shouldn't you wait an hour, sir? Perhaps they are not quite finished yet?"
Itachi did not fancy waiting around for another hour or two. Though undoubtedly a Master in the art of patience, when faced with the opportunity of conducting something himself and with no other matters to attend to at the present, he could not sit and wait for news. Itachi would go there directly himself.
"I'd rather see to it now. If anyone comes looking for me, then they shall have to wait," He said firmly, and Yuugao nodded in acceptance. Itachi then continued on his way, at a comfortable, reassured pace with a relaxed step. He descended through the corridors, soon emerging from the stuffy building out into an equally stuffy courtyard.
Itachi was met with a silent, respectful awe from the ninja lining the space. He swivelled past them, heading into the slightly smaller of the Residential buildings where he knew the Mist shinobi were being held.
He stepped through the heavy doors, exchanged glances and shallow bows with the receptionist.
"Are they in the usual place?" He enquired, dark eyes boring into the small woman flicking nervously through her papers.
"O-Of course, sir, just downstairs like they normally are," She managed a smile.
Itachi strode to the stairs, quickly making his descent through the steep, low-lit stairway. The smell of sweat, blood and damp was rank in the air. Audible whimpers could be heard from the cells ahead, along with the malicious goading and taunting from whomever took it upon themselves to extract the information.
Although, having spent time in such a unit, he was not at all shocked by these conditions. Low, dire lighting without a hint of warmth, and little comfort in the cells added to the prisoner's sense of oppression, of weakness. It was a smart, practical idea to have these dungeons fitted, and Itachi commended whosever initiative it was.
His presence was eventually felt and someone, flustered and obviously exhausted, came to greet him.
"Commander, we were not expecting you," The nin said, the nervous tint of his voice far too blatant for Itachi to stand.
"I sent the order hours ago, a report was expected," Itachi said sharply, eyeing the man with impatience. "Why have I not been informed already?"
The man's mouth fell agog, too surprised and intimidated even to form a logical response. A thin dribble of sweat formed on his twitching brow. Itachi gave him long enough. His dark eyes glared into the man with their trademark, eerie impassiveness as he stepped forward, fully intent of walking through the fool.
The man stumbled gracelessly out the way.
"Go get some sleep," Itachi shot, his back to the strange nin. He heard him stagger away up the stairs, tripping on the cold stones.
With disappointment poisoning his mood, Itachi wandered down the lamp-lit passageway, towards the echoing cries and taunts. As he came closer and closer, the man's face failed to leave his mind.
I didn't recognise him. That was not such an unusual thing, given the size of the troop, but it was still strange that Itachi had no recognition at all. And he was so ill at ease, the sweat on his brow too heavy, too nervous. Itachi was feared, certainly, but it still seemed ridiculous. He stank of blood, but Itachi would suspect as much. Still, Itachi could not discard his instincts.
He was not part of the interrogation team, I'm sure of it.
His gut instinct was sparking. He did not trust the situation, not at all.
Taking the small, compact walkie-talkie from his belt, he switched it on and held it to his mouth.
"Yuugao-San," He whispered.
"Sir?" The voice crackled back.
"A man is leaving Residential Building A, I didn't recognise him. Call the nearest patrol team immediately,"
Itachi switched off the walkie-talkie and attached it back to his belt. As he neared, a woman's scream bounced off the cold stonewalls. If he remembered correctly, there had been no women counted in the five captured nin.
The scream triggered a malice that swirled through his limbs as if it were the blood his enemies, charging him, his chakra ready and deadly. Itachi's eyes bled to red and the marks of his lineage swirled in ominous, black circles.
How many of you are there still here? It was four at least. That much was clear.
Itachi sped down the corridor, cautious and alert. The screams were louder now. The light from the cold room becoming brighter, the wooden door nearer. Itachi's heart thumped, adrenalin pumped through his veins preparing his lithe, fit body for action.
A kunai slipped like second nature into his palm, preparing him for killing.
Seconds later, something flickered from the door like a flame in the wind, a form that disappeared as quickly as it had a ghost. To any other, it would have been too quick to pinpoint, but Itachi's sharingan followed it with ease.
The first Mist-nin attempted to smash into Itachi, utilising his superior bulk and weight. The Uchiha leapt out of reach, clinging to the ceiling, before dropping back down on his assailant, slipping the kunai easily into the side of his neck. The man howled, his face contorting in pain as his last moments were ripped away, eyes wide in the shock as they stared into Itachi's unreadable sharingan.
Feeling the man limp under the attack, Itachi tore the kunai from his flesh and budged the corpse aside. He awaited a second attacker, but none came. He strode forward, itching to punish these cretins for trying to escape from his base, thinking they could get away with this atrocity right under his nose.
The impudence hurried Itachi on, and soon another chakra made itself present. In the doorway another nin stood blocking the way. Itachi did not slow; instead he sped up, his sharingan predicting the movements of his enemy. The Uchiha avoided any blows, and his knee soon connected with the man's jaw-line, the force knocking him dead instantly as his neck elicited an audible snap.
The room was now in plain sight, and Itachi stared with eyes narrowed in anger as the bodies of his staff littered the granite floor. A whimpering kunoichi sat bound and bloody against a wall. She dared not look at the Commander, her shame and degradation was too great.
Itachi's focus left the girl, until they rested upon a skinny man who appeared to be the final wannabe-escapee. A medic-nin, eyes thin and cruel snarled at the Uchiha, his gaze completely uncompromising and unyielding.
Itachi would surely make him pay for such an insolent, arrogant act. No one showed disrespect without reaping the consequences.
Attaching the kunai back to his belt, Uchiha Itachi let his eyes bleed black, a small dark smirk adorning his perfect lips.
The girl shuddered on the cold floor, and the Mist medic-nin cocked his head slightly in confusion- what could this man be doing? His eyes wandered the room, grasping for an alternate escape route.
Itachi closed his eyes. "Run… run and attack me,"
The Mist-nin did not move. Tension clouded the air, its affects almost as suffocating as the rancid stench of the blood and vomit already in the tiny, enclosed room.
"I dare you," Itachi said, smirking deeper now, eyes still closed. "You've got no better choice, no better escape route. The only way out is this door. This is your only chance. I shall not be as generous as this a second time,"
The medic-nin was shaking now. The thought of the man's fear repulsed Itachi. He could smell it on his sweat. He knew he had one chance, and only this chance. He would most likely die, but this small, stinking room was starting to unnerve him, and now he was all alone.
Alone, and with nothing else to lose.
He charged, foolish as the decision was. Itachi, of course, was ready for him. The fool deserved to die, really. Such stupidity should be punishable.
As the man neared, Itachi's eyes flashed open. Red and black swirled. The medic-nin was faced with something terrifying, something black and red, and he in turn was spiralling down, and down… deeper and deeper…Until Itachi appeared before him, larger and more imposing than ever before. The medic-nin's eyes whipped around and around- he was not in the room anymore, he was somewhere else. He fell to his knees in chaotic bewilderment.
"How dare you," Itachi said deeper, angrier, voice sharper. "How dare you shame this place, this under centre my command, my responsibility, my pride. How dare you think you can do such things to my ninja whilst still in my territory, and then think you can escape so easily,"
Itachi's body shrunk back to normal size. He stepped in front of the man, his foolish body quivering. The medic-nin jumped as a katana emerged from Itachi's palm.
"And now you'll pay, in my dimension,"
The purperly twilight bled into day, and the sweet songs of birds were soon replaced by the pale beginnings of twinkling stars in the sky. Sakura observed this from her steady pace, feet stepping from tree to tree with uncanny fluidity.
Not far now. She thought with relief, as the journey taken longer than expected even at their flat-out pace and the shortcuts used.
Sakura watched her two companions, wondering how striking the difference between them all must seem.
Kiyoshi, scared, nervous and sheepish.
Shizuka, stunning, dark and fully self-assured with a confidence that could silence Naruto.
Not much conversation had been exchanged, and Sakura imagined this was because their main objective was to arrive as soon as possible. To sleep outside would be a pain, and to journey on through the night would mean they could not start properly tomorrow.
At least the sooner we get there, the quicker we eat. The thought was quite encouraging, considering Sakura had had little since before leaving. She pondered on the distance travelled, of the time spent running. It must only be less than an hour now, and that thought was quite reassuring.
The team soldiered on, and about forty-five minutes must have passed as the light drained from the vast skies. The horizon was now the colour of deepest ink, the stars and the milky moon at their most brilliant.
"Sakura-San," Shizuka broke the rule of silence, her sensuous, lyrical voice cut through the forest's sounds like a sharpened katana. "We're almost here,"
Sakura glanced up and met Uchiha Shizuka's gaze, dulling the temptation to look away. The woman, nimble and perfect, leapt from branch to branch with the balance and precision akin only to felines. She did in fact resemble a cat, her features large and small where they were most suited. Her eyes, large and coloured like the deepest depths of a summer midnight, made her appear elfin, mystical even.
"Yes," Sakura replied, swiftly escaping from the woman's hypnotic gaze. Her eyes were straining to see much, but the outlines of the mountains were still sharp and crisp. Just a mile beyond these mountains and they'd arrive. "A few minutes, if that?"
"Yes, we'll all hit the thicket very soon," Shizuka said, shooting a quick glance at the determined Kiyoshi. An approving look graced her features. "You have not been here before?"
"No," Sakura shook her head. "Have you?"
"Oh yes," The Uchiha smirked. "Many times… it's a pleasant enough place, although I'm sure you're aware of some nefarious shit that's heading our way, hmm?"
Sakura giggled slightly at the reference. That sounded like Tsunade- a close Tsuande- if ever she heard one.
"Yes, yes she did," Sakura said and the laughter soon died, though Shizuka's expression never changed. "It's a pity,"
Shizuka harrumphed. "Maybe, though peace cannot last forever- and some would even go as far to say there is no such thing as peace,"
"War is peace?" Sakura quoted, and Shizuka cocked her head to the side slightly, as if measuring the younger woman.
"In some respects. Though, I'd say it's more or less relative to which country you're referring to,"
"So… in relation to the Water Country…?" Sakura's eyes narrowed, her thoughts troubling. "You would say that statement's correct?"
"Precisely," The Uchiha medic smiled, a little too knowingly for Sakura's liking. "The Leaf and the Mist have never been friendly. Water and Fire have never been compatible, and never will be,"
The conversation ended on those bitter, jarringly haunted words. Shizuka turned to talk to Kiyoshi.
Must be rallying the troops? Sakura thought, one eyebrow raised, feeling slightly stung. She could not hear their conversation, so was once again left alone with the forest's wondrous cacophony. The melodies of the crickets' songs clashed with the occasional hoot of an owl, or the sweet flutter of bats' wings. The Moon was higher, its brilliance burnt into the velvet sky as if it were an engraving of sliver ink.
I could quite easily get used to this. The Moon was different here; wilder, sharper, huge and entirely ethereal. There was no light pollution from the windows and lamps of Konoha to dull the night sky.
After a few minutes something tall and harshly cut against the towering trees caught Sakura's eyes. It looked to her like a building, or perhaps a shrine? She could not tell in this light. Turning to her comrades, Sakura found they had both fallen silent. Shizuka glanced quickly at Sakura, nodding to answer the kunoichi's silent suspicions.
This is the Eastern Base?
And as if on cue, four separate chakras made themselves readable. The team ground to a halt as four sleek Anbu officers leapt onto a large branch in front of them, raising their hands in greeting.
They're here. Itachi sensed it. Every inch of him tingled in a well-masked mixture of trepidation and excitement. He was leaning against the wall of the HQ, watching the degraded group of Mist (or whomever was left) as they sat tied to a pair of unmoveable posts in the middle of the courtyard. Only two were left. They were the two to have escaped from the compound. Itachi had accidentally terminated the skinny one with a slightly over-powering Tsukiyomi.
It was not a terribly great loss, to say the least.
A list of those the nin had tortured was posted on boards in front of them. Itachi had made sure they were large enough for all those leaving each building to see. As courteous as they tended to be, the Leaf ninja were not exactly accommodating.
They tortured comrades needlessly, wasting their time for escape. The fools deserve to die for their recklessness. Itachi glowered, watching in dark satisfaction as his soldiers shot nasty glances and insults at the bastards. Some had even gone up to them and smacked them around. They resisted less than rag dolls. So pathetic.
Appraising glances snaked their way to where Itachi was standing. Cautious, yet commending comments flowed in the night air.
"A coincidence?" Itachi heard someone exclaim from the masses. "Fucking hell! How does he do it- what, three down?-"
"-yeah, nicked 'em in seconds, apparently-"
"-yeah! Those fuckers right there-"
"-had the scum strapped to the posts-"
"-best place for the slime-"
"-killed that fit bloke, yeah, the blond one-"
"-now I heard she's being treated for shock-"
"-I hope they rot-"
And so the hostile banter continued. Itachi listened, and waited, knowing his new permanent arrivals were mere feet away. Sensing their closeness, he moved and walked towards the other side of the courtyard. Ninja shuffled out the way, eager not to step in "His" sinister pathway. Heads turned, eyes gleamed in a sea of admiration that Itachi brushed away. To any other, he would seem arrogant and stuck-up, but it was simply his way- brushing away what he didn't want and taking what he did want came easily to such a man.
As he neared the thicket, a sizeable group emerged from the dark foliage. The Anbu Officers he recognised and deciphered immediately. Each saluted as they sensed his presence. The others, watching the Anbu group followed suit, though from the tallest member he knew this was not without a look of ridicule.
"Good work," Itachi said to the Anbu staff. "You may leave us now,"
They did as commanded, and Itachi indicated for the three to move forward, into the soft lights of the courtyard. Kiyoshi wandered forward first, his gaze fearing and slightly awe-inspired. Itachi greeted the nervous boy as pleasantly as he could muster.
This shall be an experience, he thought sceptically, and felt a shiver of annoyance as a slither of audible amusement escaped Shizuka. Glancing up and with words of encouragement Itachi directed Nakamura Kiyoshi to the other ninja, all watching curiously at the fresh batch of new faces. Itachi just hoped the child wouldn't explode.
"That was quickly done, Cousin," Shizuka said, her smirk just like that of every other wretched Uchiha. Her appearance was nothing less than ghostly; she looked far too young for her many years, her skin too plump and eyes too knowing. He watched her, measuring, as her own calculating gaze smouldered across the courtyard. "Nice to see things never change here, you should see Konoha now,"
"I have," Itachi said smoothly. "I've seen the new Konoha in pictures sent to me by Mother and Sasuke," Out of the corner of his eyes, Itachi noticed the pink-haired girl's eye light at the mention of his brother's name. Steadily, he moved on, "I trust they're as well as you appear to be,"
Shizuka grinned. "Thank you, Cousin, and yes, Mikoto-San's very well, as is your father. But Sasuke…" She wandered closer, eyes locking with Itachi's. Between them, the familiarity in looks was bizarre. Shizuka kissed Itachi's cheek, just as a sister would, and held his shoulders fondly. He was very aware of the many eyes staring. "I think you should ask Sakura-San…" Itachi glared through her. "She knows all about Sasuke-Kun." She let his shoulders go and stepped backwards. "We'll talk later, longer, after dinner,"
Itachi remained impassive. The woman had not arrived for two minutes and was already infuriating. After some consideration he nodded. "Till then,"
"Sakura-San," Shizuka waved, and sauntered away, swaying with animalistic grace into the bustling crowds, reacting to exclamations of jovial greetings as people recognised her beautiful form.
Snake. Itachi's inward voice half-snarled. That is what you remind me of… Shizuka. A vicious, gaudy treacherous snake. Itachi would not trust that woman as far as he could throw her. He cursed the Elders for her presence, for her watchful, deceitful glance. She will be trouble.
However, he had no time for those thoughts. Itachi turned to the other one, the promising one.
Haruno Sakura, his brother's friend.
The girl smiled back, quickly asserting her confidence, though she did feel intimidated. He could feel her smooth body quiver with anxiousness.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," She said, and Itachi noticed how rosy, how lovely her voice seemed. She was a very attractive girl, pretty in a much different way to that of Shizuka. In the poor light, Itachi managed to decipher her colours; the bright pastels, the stark contrast between that luminous hair and those pretty green eyes. She met his gaze with ease, unknowingly bearing a spark of familiarity Itachi had hardly expected. "I look forward to serving under your command, sir,"
"Thank you," Itachi replied. "I've heard much about you, from Sasuke," He added a slight emphasis on his brother's name, smirking as Sakura flushed. I can see why he likes you. Itachi's eyes roamed her body skilfully, undetected. What a beautiful girl indeed. She'd make a fine prize. "I'm sure you will find this place accommodating enough, it is one of the better Bases, after all,"
"Yes," Sakura said. "It does seem very nice here, much better in the light I guess?"
Itachi smiled slightly, nodding. "It's best in the morning, when it's quiet. Early morning especially, as the Sun rises over the sea,"
Sakura's eyes widened slightly, watching the man who looked so much like Sasuke. His eyes hazed with reminiscence.
"It's also better in the early morning because you can hear the sea even from here," He said, voice quietening. "The waves bathed in the golden light of a morning Sun will be better than any fabled scene of Konohagakure, I assure you,"
Sakura stood, like a rabbit hypnotised by the mesmerising gaze of the a wise, predatory weasel. Her large eyes looked back and forth into his, searching, searching for more glimpses of Sasuke. He looks so much like him. It shouldn't have come as such a shock, seeing as they were brothers. They were bound to look alike. They had matured almost identically. Sasuke had warned her too, hadn't he?
But the resemblance is more than uncanny. Sakura thought, her gaze never leaving his. She was intrigued by the slight taint of surprise hidden in those deep orbs.
"You see Sasuke in me," Itachi smirked. Sakura's eyes widened in embarrassment, her cheeks reddening.
"You… um… do look very alike,"
"Naturally," Itachi said matter-of-factly. He turned from Sakura, quite abruptly, and indicated her to follow. "Come to my Quarters. You and the other new staff are to be welcomed officially there. Dinner has been served,"
Sakura followed the Uchiha, mindful of the curious, sometimes hungry eyes that followed her slim form. Kiyoshi was quick to come to her side, whilst Shizuka seemed to wander around the crowd, seeming very nonchalant about the whole affair.
Sakura followed Itachi, like a sheep, through the crowds of congregated ninja. The sights and smells were new, but she would become accustomed to them eventually. As she walked, her eyes were transfixed on the swish of Itachi's ponytail, the raven hair reaching down his strong back.
So much like Sasuke. Minus the hair, they could be identical, and the thought worried her.
She thought of his words, his speech. His face was near the same, but it was obvious that he as a person was much different to Sasuke. I must be careful not to confuse them... She thought, remembering how Sasuke had forebodingly warned her earlier.
And yet, even with this ominous thought looming like an angry black cloud in the back of her mind, Sakura had a strong feeling that times were about to be come much more interesting, if not dangerous, if all suspicions and actions were to be proven correct.
Thanks for reading
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