Disclaimer: Naruto and any of its characters do not belong to me.
The Air We Breathe
"I think I've figured it out. You're in denial."
"It's obviously the reason why you never come around anymore. You're upset that you didn't get to go on that mission with your team and now you're drowning yourself in work at the hospital, pretending that you're not bothered by it when in actuality you are. I think you might even be jealous that Hinata took your place."
"What are you? My therapist?"
Sakura was ready to bang her head on the table, maybe even put a foot through the window of the restaurant. Ino was certainly off in the cause, but maybe not so much the diagnosis. But then again, she always thought denial was too strong of a word. She was just…avoiding the truth for the time being. The truth that happened to come along with a certain Uchiha. The truth that had crawled its way through time and memory and childhood curiosity.
"You've got it all wrong, Ino."
"Then tell me where the hell you've been and why you look like someone whose puppy just died."
Ino snorted, rolling her annoyed blue eyes. "This 'classified' better be a man. A hot man. Like one of those mysterious ANBU fellows with the dark eyes and deep sexy voice."
"Haruno Sakura, you're to report to the Hokage's office immediately."
"Oh hell, speak of the devil." Ino straightened, eyes wide with a little bit of shock.
A flash of concern immediately crossed Sakura's eyes. "Is everything all right?" She asked the ANBU shinobi.
"I'm not at liberty to say."
Nodding, Sakura turned towards Ino, lunch suddenly forgotten. "I've gotta go, but I promise to make it up to you."
"You can make it up to me by finding yourself a man. That is if you haven't already." The blonde wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"And I expect details the next time I see you!" She shouted to her retreating pink haired friend.
Sakura only tossed a nonchalant wave over her shoulder before disappearing.
A retrieval mission.
Three of their own had been captured and their conditions unknown. For all they knew, they could already be dead. But bodies were needed and Sakura hoped they would still be alive by the time they made it to Cloud.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Sakura cracked the stone wall of the fortress and watched it crumble to the ground. When the dust cleared, Itachi's genjutsu was already in place and with Shisui's body flicker technique and the combined numbers of both his and Genma's kage bunshins, it would seem like they were being attacked by a small army rather than being infiltrated by four Konoha shinobi.
With his Sharingan spinning, Itachi and Sakura raced down the corridors and stone steps, nothing but dark shadows in the torchlight. Footsteps thundered from around the corner and it wasn't long before they made contact. Her kunai slit across a throat, her fist crushed a jaw and her knee ruthlessly broke a set of ribs. And after Itachi swiftly dealt a killing blow to the last soldier's chest, he nodded and she took five steps to her right, summoned the perfect amount of chakra to her hand and brought it down on the hall floor.
Moments later she was plummeting on a circular slab of crumbling stone to the underground floor, landing with a roll among the echoing sound of hard impact. Two guards came at her, no doubt the two watching Konoha's captured shinobi but they hit the ground before they could even attempt to attack, Itachi's kunai embedded in their throats.
Hurrying over to the heavy wood door and after collapsing it from its rusty hinges with the force of her blow, she followed Itachi inside.
What she saw made her breathe a sigh of relief.
They were still alive.
Tortured almost to the point of non recognition but hell, they were still alive and that's all that mattered to her. Sakura easily snapped the chakra chains holding their unconscious forms upright. She then hefted two on either shoulder, Itachi lifting the last after placing exploding tags around the room and on the dead guards. Taking one final look around, they fled the bloody room just as shouts and the pounding of running feet grew louder and louder.
Shisui and Genma saw them emerge from the opening in the wall, three shinobi in hand and while it was a sight to see Sakura flickering with two grown ninja thrown over her shoulders as if they were feather light, they wasted no time in completing the last phase of their mission.
Wrapping an arm around a ninja's shoulders, Genma easily broke his neck and pinned one of the last exploding tags on the now dead body. When Itachi and Sakura made it to the perimeter of the fortress, both Shisui and Genma swiftly followed. And in the relative safety of the forest, under the cover of darkness they activated the tags and listened to the fiery eruptions go boom in the night.
Leaning tiredly against the rotting wood of an abandoned lodge, Sakura wiped the sweat from her brow and gratefully accepted a canteen of water from Shisui. They were about four hours away from Fire's border, having had no choice but to stop in order for her to take care of the three ninjas' major wounds.
"How are they?" Shisui asked, taking the place beside her and stretching out his legs.
Sakura swallowed the lukewarm liquid, glanced at the three sleeping jounin. "They'll make it. I've healed most of their major injuries but I'd be running the risk of chakra depletion if I continue."
"Don't wear yourself out, Blossom. We still have a long way home. As long as they're out of harm's way, it'll be enough."
There was a stretch of calm silence before Sakura spoke. "Tiger?"
"How do we do it? How do we leave everyone behind time and time again, knowing that we might not come back? Knowing that we could very well end up like them or worse?"
"We're shinobi, Blossom." He said quietly.
"Is that the same as emotionless machines? The same as humans bred to kill and serve without question?"
A laugh dipped in irony escaped his lips. "You sounded just like Weasel when he asked me the same questions."
"And what did you tell him?"
"That even though we may kill and destroy, we also protect and save…heal. We walk a very fine line, Blossom." Shisui answered with a wry smile. "In the end, it's either us or the countless innocents…our countless innocents…all the mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, our siblings and friends…our lovers. We are much more expendable than a whole village. What are three, four lives versus hundreds….thousands?"
And as the dying leaves whistled in the wind, Sakura closed her green eyes and released a steady breath. "Is it worth it?"
Shisui remained quiet, thoughtful.
And after what seemed like forever, Sakura answered her own question in a hushed whisper. "I like to think so…hope so. We're beyond just duty and honor, Tiger…beyond just being willingly expendable for the good of the village. We're genuine love and unbreakable commitment." She glanced at Shisui, saw the small wonder and sparkle in his obsidian eyes and smiled with understanding. "We give just as much…or maybe even more than we take." She turned away, a faraway look in her green eyes. "I think I'm starting to see that."
"Ours is not an easy life to live, Blossom."
As her breathing evened out, Shisui thought she'd fallen asleep but she hadn't.
"You're much more appreciative of my wise words than Weasel ever was."
"That's probably because he already figured everything out by the time you were done talking."
He laughed softly. "Blossom?"
"What is he to you?"
A long pause filled the space between them, both unaware that Itachi had been listening the entire time—and was still listening, intensely curious to hear what kind of response she would give.
Sakura eventually answered, quiet and truthful. "Everything I've ever wanted since I was a little girl…everything I'm unsure of…curious of…" She sighed. "…the air I breathe, whether I want to or not…"
A week later and a few hours before dawn, Itachi showed up on her doorstep.
"Couldn't you have waited a couple more hours to give me the scroll?" Sakura asked, more than a little peeved.
He turned stiffly and Sakura saw the three parallel gashes running down the back of his shoulder.
"Wait, no scroll?" She looked puzzled for a moment, her mind still fogged with sleep.
But Itachi only gave her his usual stoic expression and upon closer scrutiny, she could tell he was a little more tired than usual.
"You really should've gone to the hospital."
"Why would I when you're much closer?"
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Sakura motioned him inside and felt the chilly morning air against her bare legs, the oversized t-shirt doing nothing to keep her warm.
"Make yourself comfortable." She told him after shutting the door.
A little while later, she joined the silent Uchiha on her sofa with a wet cloth. He'd already stripped down and she was able to get a clear look at his wound. Kneeling on the sofa behind him, she gently cleaned it and found the gashes to be shallow and nothing serious.
"A solo mission?"
He nodded and it was only in her presence he seemed to relax, to let go a little.
"You should be more careful." Sakura whispered.
Drawing chakra to her hand she began to heal him, warm and soothing as she drew the lacerations to a close. It wasn't long before she finished, fingers brushing over his now unmarred skin. And they sat there in silence for what seemed like an eternity, the air around them suddenly thick and almost tangible. Sakura was finding it harder and harder to breathe with each moment that passed until she forced herself to stop touching him, forced herself to scoot away and stand up.
"Would you like some tea?" Sakura didn't wait for an answer though, already making her way towards her small kitchen and throwing away the now bloodstained cloth.
'Would you kindly get out of my apartment so I can breathe and stop thinking about how nice it feels to touch you?' was the question she really wanted to ask but didn't because it'd be impolite and would reveal far too much.
"You're running away." Itachi bluntly said as he stood and tracked her movements.
"I'm not." She reached into her cupboard and pulled out two mugs.
"Yes. You are." He murmured silkily into her ear as he pressed his body against hers from behind.
"No. I'm not." Sakura bit out as she pressed back, a sudden flare of anger igniting her emerald eyes.
She missed his flash of amusement, the smirk that lit up his features as he goaded her into action. He wanted to know how far she'd fall before she let him catch her.
His hand trailed along the outside of her naked thigh, traveled up and up until he hooked a finger under her panties and pulled, heard her gasp as it snapped against her heated skin.
"Prove what?" And Sakura nearly crushed the black mug when Itachi's hand smoothed over her hip, curled around to her front and palmed her breast.
"That you don't want me, Sakura."
She tried to squirm her way free, but Itachi would have none of it. His hold tightened, his breath fanned across the back of her neck.
"There's nothing to prove, Itachi."
He tsked. "Now you're being difficult." And she wanted so much to kick him out her window but damn it, he felt too good and he was making her all fuzzy and white hot.
"Tell me Sakura, when was the first time you saw me?" He spoke softly into her ear, but she could hear that razor sharp edge just beneath his deceptively yielding tone.
"When I was five."
"In the market streets." She murmured.
"Did I have your heart then?"
"Maybe…but I think you stole it the second time."
"Aa. In the rain…"
"You saw me?"
"You're quite difficult to miss."
"What about these missions then?" Sakura asked.
"Learning about you. You intrigue me…have ever since I was ten years old."
He pressed even closer, surrounded her with his masculine intensity and scent that made her heart race and knees weak. And when his hand came dangerously close to touching her there, she just about lost herself to this Uchiha.
"Are you mine, Sakura?" He whispered huskily, fingers skimming the inside of her thigh.
She nodded, released a heavy breath.
She bit her bottom lip, threw her head back when he touched her and she so easily caved under his merciless pressure. "…I've always been yours…"
When Sakura turned her head around, drowned in his burning black eyes, as her fingers curled in his ebony locks and his in her silky pink strands, he crushed his lips against hers. Consumed her very heart and soul with his mouth as he slid his tongue through the seam of her rosy lips, tasted her and devoured her and took more than Sakura thought she could ever give. And she melted into his lingering touches, suddenly craved his lingering touches like some wanton little thing bent on all things carnal and so very raw.
He lifted her up onto the kitchen counter and she wrapped her arms and legs around him, met him with equal fervor and a white hot need that had years to bloom and blossom. And as they got lost in each other, as they finally gave in to intrigue as dark as sin, nothing had ever felt so good.
One month later…
"I can't believe you!"
Itachi languidly gazed at the pink haired woman beside him, clothed in nothing but his shirt and sporting a rather peeved expression. Ignoring her feeble protests, he roughly pulled her closer and inhaled her intoxicating scent that now permeated his room…his pillows…his everything.
When she dangled the ring hanging from a silver chain between them, he understood. But didn't very much care.
"You never gave it to Sasuke!"
"I never said I would." He replied simply.
"But…" Sakura released an annoyed huff. "Okay, so maybe you never did but still." And then she mumbled more to herself than to her significant other, "No wonder I never saw him wear it. He never even got it!"
Itachi snatched the chain away and threw it across the room, fully intent on reducing her to feminine moans and sighs.
He threaded long strong fingers through her satiny pink hair, dragged lips and tongue along the smooth column of her neck. "No more talking…just…" He breathed her in. "…feel…"
And as he stroked, burned hot kisses and touches onto her skin, onto her bruised and beautiful lips, as she dived over the edge, crashed and shattered into a million little pieces in his arms, whispered sweet nothings and I love you into his ear, Itachi knew he'd never get enough of his cherry blossom come to life…knew he'd never let his little forest sprite go.
A/N: Damn, I'm such a sucker for happy endings. Alas, there's nothing this ridiculous author can do about it. I blame it on my fickle muse. I do however want to thank everyone for giving TAWB a chance. For reading. For reviewing. For everything. Much thanks and appreciation.
-from both my Muse and I