Existing on the obviously alternate universe pretext of the usual plot device – Sakura, captured by the Akatsuki, in order to heal Itachi's eyes. A series of interconnected drabbles regarding and expanding upon that line of thought.
To this day, Sakura is uncertain of exactly how they managed to take her by surprise – one moment, she is bent over Hyuuga Neji's unconscious form, intent on her careful healing of the wounds slashed across his chest, and the next, there is an awful, blinding, impact against the back of her head, and her vision goes black.
Before she loses complete consciousness, one of her hands drifts there, dazed, and registers the sticky-sweet texture and scent of blood. She is weak, all of a sudden, so very weak, and if it had not been for the suddenness and ferocity of the impact, she would have been able to mark the correlation between the distinctive feeling of emptiness and the massive, equally distinctive sword, which is pressed up against her neck.
Everything seems so very distant, and she hears a disgruntled voice from far away. "You have no finesse, moron…I'm fairly sure that wasn't necessary, yeah?"
The other voices blur into indistinct hums; she feels as if she almost recognizes them, but the blood is trickling down the back of her neck, now, and she is picked up and tossed into the arms of a stranger. Sakura hears the rustling of fabric, and the unmistakable sound of a boot hitting unprotected bone – "What's this we have here, eh?"
Neji, she realizes, with a vague sense of dread, and hatred at herself for being so immersed in caring for him that she didn't even notice these enemy-nin approaching—
"A Hyuuga," and for a moment, there is a painful memory of a long-lost teammate, and she isn't sure why.
There are subtle intakes of breath from all around her; naturally, Neji's reputation precedes him, and Sakura almost chokes on her fear.
"Kill him," a nearby voice rasps. "I remember that one. He's trouble."
That smooth voice again; so calm and dispassionate that it definitely could not have come from her. "Hyuuga Neji," it continues softly. "ANBU Captain. Wounded from numerous, but nonlethal, kunai stabs. The medic was efficient – they are almost completely healed over. He will regain consciousness fairly soon. If we dispose of him now, the backlash from the Hyuuga Clan will be immediate and violent. Every single shinobi from that village will be out hunting for our blood within two days."
Silence falls, in the wake of this statement, and Sakura nearly cries with gratitude at this psycho's apparent rationality.
"Very well, then," the raspy voice concedes. "Can we take this back to Headquarters, Itachi-san? She is bleeding all over my cloak…"
As she is on the verge of fainting, it takes a few moments for the name to register.
When it does, the shock is too much, and unconsciousness finally claims her.
She is chained to an armchair in the middle of what had once been a fine sitting room, but now lies abandoned and unused. Normally, the heavy iron manacles would have provided no obstacle at all, but in the past four days, Sakura has been in intimate and detestable acquaintance with Samehada, that cursed sword – and she is so sore, and so completely drained of all power, that it takes all of her effort to even lift the spoon that comes with her dinner every night.
"You're going to have to undo these if you have any hopes of my healing you," she says, with an air of forced coolness, to the man sitting in front of her, while wondering how long it would take for her fingers to close around his windpipe and force every square inch of air out of it, in her weakened state.
Uchiha Itachi raises his right eyebrow almost a fraction of an inch. For a few long moments, it looks as if he is just going to stare her down with those damned, swirling red eyes, but at last, he deigns to reply. "Doing so…would be foolish. I do not engage in foolish acts, kunoichi."
"Oh, really?" Sakura snaps, too irate to care that the individual she is currently antagonizing has ruthlessly killed other people for giving him considerably less provocation than this. "Your little friends ensured that I barely have enough chakra and physical strength to eat my own food, let alone successfully extricate myself from these chains and ram them up your ass, you…you…"
Itachi regards her thoughtfully. "Interesting. Konoha's standards for shinobi, let alone ANBU, recruitment must have slipped considerably since my days there, if they are allowing such obviously suicidal and unstable shinobi to claim membership among their ranks."
"I suppose you're right," she snarls, fury choking her words, "if suicidal means that I would rather die than heal an enemy of my country, then hell yes, I am! I've been telling you that for the past four days, so why don't you just get on with it?"
Silence greets her statement. "So be it," Itachi leans back, on the black leather sofa opposite to her. "In order to prevent your demise from being in vain, however, I would have to turn you over to Hidan." He closes his eyes momentarily, before opening them again, to fix her with his unblinking stare. "He is an extremely skilled interrogator, despite his usage of rather unconventional methods."
The threat is implicit; her apprenticeship to the Godaime Hokage is well-known, and Sakura can't help but slump in her chair.
"Fine," she hisses. "But I'll still need you to undo these chains."
Itachi makes no move to stir himself from the sofa. "As I said earlier, that would be foolish of me. First, you will swear, upon your honor, that you will make no childish and ill-conceived attempt upon my life…or to escape, not that you would get very far."
Sakura bares her teeth at him. "How about a mature and highly comprehensive attempt upon your life?"
Itachi smirks, and the resemblance to Sasuke nearly drives the breath from her body. "You will have to restrain yourself if you have the will to live."
"I swear, upon my honor as a kunoichi of the Leaf, that I will not make any attempt upon your life, or to escape." Sakura closes her eyes, hating this situation more with each passing word.
He murmurs a quick jutsu under his breath, and the manacles enclosing her wrists spring loose. Despite herself, she nearly moans with relief, bringing her wrists up and rubbing them where the iron had cut into her skin, leaving angry red-and-purple bruises behind.
Itachi is still silent, watching, and waiting, and Sakura realizes, with a feeling of trepidation that she cannot seem to shake, that she must approach him in order to properly examine his eyes. Doing so is highly difficult; every instinct screams that she should be running as far as she can in the opposite direction.
It takes a good deal of her sizeable reserves of courage to sit beside him on the sofa, and she is careful to keep all thoughts of how satisfying it would be to strangle him to death at bay as she reaches toward his face slowly and cautiously, lest he see some reflection of those repressed feelings in her eyes and constitute it as enough threat to kill her right here.
To her surprise, Itachi nearly recoils from her touch; she has the distinct feeling that he is as uncomfortable as she is. In her heightened state of agitation, Sakura almost screams when she feels his long, cold fingers wrap around her wrist. "Is it…possible?" he asks, and in the oppressive, heavy silence, she can almost hear the weight of his hope, almost tangible between them.
The eyes are traumatized, to be sure, and there are all sorts of irregularities she can see within the exterior, and surely the interior as well, the exact nature of which will become clearer upon further observation. The idea of saying no is a very tempting one indeed.
"Yes," she concedes, grudgingly, and she does not miss the light that touches the pair of eyes in question; turning them a clear vermilion instead of the sickly mix of crimson and black that they had been previously.
"Excellent," Itachi breathes, and Sakura almost shivers as she sees the slight expression of satisfaction on his face. "Excellent indeed."
The next evening, the kunoichi informs him that, within the space of five or six healings, she will be able to regain his visual abilities to what they had been when he was young. The thought both excites and sickens him; excites, because he has forgotten what it is like to be able to see properly, but memories of his childhood have always been too painful to bear.
When the kunoichi touches his face for the first time, Itachi inexplicably remembers his mother, and almost flinches away, while cursing himself for this uncharacteristic weakness.
Having her face two inches from his for hours at a time is also unsettling; it is not as if she is physically unappealing, he supposes, but her eyes unnerve him a great deal. They are too large and too open; as easy to read as a book left wide open on the table. She would be a terrible liar. Itachi is well aware that she finds him disturbing and rather frightening, which is predictable enough, but after a while, he comes to suspect that she may regard him as…medically fascinating, which is curious.
"There," she sighs, after their second session together. Her chakra is almost drained, and Sakura feels exhausted to the bone – Kisame continues to leech her chakra out every morning, much to her displeasure; only giving her the bare minimum needed for Itachi's healings. Honestly, she still reviles the concept of healing her enemy and putting him back at optimum fighting capacity, but it's a better option than being forced to expose state secrets. "How does that feel?"
Itachi blinks carefully; once, twice, again, feeling the changes in his vision. He does not enjoy admitting it, but the Godaime has trained her apprentice extraordinarily well. "…Satisfactory." He hesitates for a bare moment, standing up to leave. "You have my thanks, kunoichi."
He reflects that a look of openmouthed disbelief is unflattering on anyone, even this rather unusual medic. As if reading his mind, she pulls herself up straighter, regaining her composure, and gives him an almost civil nod. "You're welcome."
As he turns to leave, almost completely blending in with the shadows of the room, dressed as he is in a black turtleneck and matching, loose-fitting pants, Sakura calls out to him. "Oh! And, um, by the way, my name is Sakura."
It is a rather awkward declaration, and she is sure that he knows her name anyway, but she is rewarded by a tiny nod, before he leaves her alone to her troubled thoughts.
Sakura is confined in the room at all times, alone, save for the nights that Itachi joins her for his healings. On the eve of the last scheduled one, she paces the length of her prison over and over again, throwing desperate, speculative glances out the window.
It is the last session, and Itachi's blood nearly thrums with anticipation as he feels Sakura's chakra lightly probing his eyes, correcting the very last frayed threads that need to be repaired. He cannot help but smirk at the thought that her every instinct as a Konoha shinobi must be to claw his eyes out with her bare hands, and yet, her fingers remain, so very gently, resting atop his eyelids.
"You will be returned to your village tomorrow night," he informs her evenly, even as she sees his newly-capable eyes jumping from detail to detail around the room; enjoying vision that he had been so sorely lacking prior to this.
Sakura thanks him, somewhat ironically, for his kindness; after Itachi leaves, she lies down on the bed, and her shoulders shake with sobs for the first time during the entire duration of her captivity, wracked with guilt, and remorse, and the feeling that after what she has done, she might as well take her kunai and swipe it across the emblem on her forehead protector; she's as good as a traitor now.
As sun sets the next day, Kisame blindfolds her tightly; she despises the sensation of being blind and helpless, but, as he says, with a slightly humorous grin, it's either this or being knocked unconscious, and she would really rather remain in full possession of her senses.
Sakura also resents being carried like a sack of potatoes, but to her horror, Kisame refuses to be the one to do the honors. "Bled all over my best cloak on the way here, you did," he informs her with an air of wounded pride. "And you snore."
Before she can protest as violently as she would like to her slighted honor, Itachi, who had been watching the entire exchange impassively, walks over and lifts her easily into his arms. Sakura tries to restrain a screech of surprise, for the sake of her pride, but she can almost feel him smirk at the discomfort he is causing her. Being alone with him for extended periods of time had been horrible for her nerves, as she is unused to associating with psychopathic mass murderers. However, being carried by him while blinded is almost too much to bear.
Despite her wariness, however, Sakura falls into a light doze; it seems as if the journey is endless, and after two hours of being under Itachi's…care…and him not having dropped her to her death or broken her neck due to a random and inexplicable physical spasm, she relaxes a fractional amount. Were it not Itachi, she may even have enjoyed it a little – after all, she can easily feel the strength of the arms that support her so effortlessly, and her side is pressed against his leanly muscled chest.
At this point, Sakura shoves all thoughts of Itachi and Kisame out of her mind and tries to think the most mundane thoughts she possibly can.
It is another few hours before they reach Konoha; when they approach the familiar borders of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Sakura can barely contain her anticipation, and she feels Itachi's grip tighten on her. "You're not going to make it past the security posts," she informs the two Akatsuki members self-righteously.
Somewhere behind them, Kisame chuckles, and she is shocked to hear a tone of outright amusement in Itachi's reply. "We'll see about that, kunoichi."
When they next stop, it is outside her apartment, and Sakura makes a mental note to speak to Tsunade as soon as possible about more stringent border patrols, as both Kisame and Itachi smirk at her. She crosses her arms and glares at them. "This is not going to be an emotional farewell. You kidnapped me with hostile intentions, and I intend to inform the Godaime tomorrow morning. In addition, since you apparently know my location, you will give me your word to not return here with harmful intent." Sakura crosses her fingers behind her back, hoping fervently that the words sound as brave as she intends them to; it would be the stuff of nightmares, to come home from work late one night and find the two of them lurking inside her apartment.
Kisame bows to her slightly, and she raises an eyebrow; despite his run-ins with Konoha shinobi, the shark-man is hardly evil. "You have nothing to fear from us, Sakura-san. Well…not off the battlefield, at least. We will not violate your…" he gestures at the door to her apartment. "…humble abode."
"Good," she mutters grimly, before turning to Itachi. "How do they feel? This is going to be your last chance for any final corrections."
"They are fine." He looks away for a moment, surveying the landscape of the place he has not called home in ten years. "More than fine. Thank you…Sakura."
Contrary to popular belief – specifically, Kisame, who is choking with surprise in the background – his noble background has allowed him to offer such courtesies when they are appropriate, even though he finds them somewhat difficult. After all, if he meets this kunoichi in battle, all will be forgotten.
These words, identical to the ones his younger brother had uttered to her, six years before, leave Sakura speechless. It is likely that she may never see him again – Sasuke, or Itachi. She had tried not to dwell too much on the similarities between them while at the Akatsuki headquarters, but here, now, on a night so similar to the one which had occurred before…it is so easy to see Sasuke in Itachi – the eyes, the hair, the same proud features. Itachi is taller and leaner, with premature lines of strain on his face, but all the same, something in Sakura snaps.
Kisame nearly faints dead away when the little pink-haired kunoichi executes a perfect right cross, so quick he can barely catch it, to Itachi's jaw. "You're welcome," she says coolly, before beating an elegant, yet speedy, retreat into her apartment.
The punch had barely knocked Itachi off balance, but the look of surprise on his face is nearly priceless. Kisame does not think he has seen him in such a display of unguarded emotion since he had first met him, when he was a mere boy about ten years old. "Ah, Itachi-san," he manages. "Do you wish for us to lure her outside and subsequently kill her?"
Itachi's hand drifts to his chin, and rubs it absentmindedly. "That will not be necessary, Kisame," he says at last. "However, we will never speak of this again."
They are an hour outside of Konoha's borders when Kisame cannot help but laugh. "Definitely a one of a kind kunoichi, if you ask me."
The expression in Itachi's newly-restored eyes is unreadable. "Indeed."
Sakura makes her official report to the Godaime Hokage early the next morning, keeping a straight face and refusing to let any emotion seep through, despite the look of worry on Tsunade's face. At the end, when she admits to performing a complete restoration of Uchiha Itachi's vision, she sinks to her knees at the Hokage's feet, sobbing a thousand apologies.
In the months following Itachi's healing, the Akatsuki's efficiency quadruples, due to this alone. Shiranui Genma has a run-in with Itachi and Kisame, and just barely manages to return his team to Konoha safely.
"That Uchiha bastard," he growls, wincing as Sakura heals a Samehada-inflicted wound. "Trapped me in such a horrifying genjutsu, I honestly thought I was going to die…"
Sakura makes the appropriate commiserations, and keeps her gaze fixed on the flow of her chakra, so that nobody will see the guilt in her eyes.
When Tsunade learns of what she has done, she has no harsh words or reprimands to offer her apprentice; instead, she leaves her desk and envelops Sakura in an embrace, stroking her hair and murmuring gentle, yet futile, words of reassurance.
Itachi's weapons hit the target dead center all the way from the other end of the forest; frighteningly fast and accurate. Deidara leans back against the tree, watching, and thinks, with some small measure of regret, that the pretty little medic-nin from Konoha had no idea of the horror she had unleashed upon them all.
It is an irrational assumption to make, but Sakura just knows she will see him again. She works on her fighting, on her technique and speed, on her power and accuracy, waiting for the opportunity to make him regret the day that the Akatsuki had decided that Itachi was in need of her services.
"There has been a change in plans," the Leader informs them. "We must take the Kyuubi now."
A slightly anticipatory smile touches his face; Itachi can almost feel the change in the winds.
Tsunade paces around her office, obviously agitated. "Intelligence has reason to suspect Naruto's in danger," she says abruptly. "Akatsuki's been making a move toward Konoha. We will step up border patrol and security immediately; Sakura, you're in charge of defending the western perimeter with Shino and Shikamaru. Understood?"
Sakura nods tightly; her fingers curling into a fist. You won't find things so easy this time around, Itachi.
They hold the western perimeter secure for three weeks long; the nights get longer, and colder, and Sakura can almost sense them out there.
Two more weeks pass, and she begins to think that maybe they will not come, after all.
Sakura is patrolling the first third of the perimeter; Shikamaru and Shino are off on the second and third, respectively. It is quiet enough so that she can just barely sense the presence of another, before her hands are pinned at her back and there is a kunai at her throat.
"Remember me?" Itachi breathes.
Sakura twists away easily, evading the kunai, and just barely manages to punch him in the jaw, sending all the chakra that she possibly can into the hit. "Remember this?"
The fight is fast, and breathtaking in its intensity, and before too long, Sakura is bleeding from small cuts on her arms and hands, gasping for air. Itachi is missing such wounds, although he has bruises on his face and chest, underneath the cloak, from the strength of her blows. They stand at opposite ends of the clearing, circling each other warily.
"What's the matter?" Sakura taunts breathlessly. "Why aren't you using your precious genjutsu on me?" She sends a volley of shuriken his way. "Just like you did on my comrades?"
Itachi sidesteps the attack easily. "I am trying to be more sparing," he says tonelessly. "After all, I would hate for all of your careful work to be undone within a few months."
This statement has just the effect he hoped it would; Sakura stops dead, astonished, and he takes advantage of that fact to leap forward, pinning her mercilessly against a tree. She gasps at the force of impact, but his ninjutsu has already taken effect, weaving vines that bind her tightly to the bark. "You…you're never going to get Naruto," she whispers, offering her throat to his kunai. It is pitch dark, but Itachi can see the light of defiance glinting in her eyes.
"Maybe that isn't what I want," he replies impassively.
With that, the vines release themselves from her body, and she pitches forward bonelessly, ready to throw a punch, but she is completely alone in the clearing, and the only sound is that of her uneven breathing.
At the end of her shift and making a report to Tsunade about her encounter with Itachi, Sakura returns to her apartment, desiring nothing but a scalding shower, and a good night's sleep.
The note on her bed is written in unfamiliar paper, with equally unfamiliar script – black ink, elegant writing not given to frivolous flourishes. Handwriting like Sasuke's, but narrower, and more mature.
Do you regret it?
She allows the letter to fall to the floor, as she stares through the open window with unseeing eyes.
She had been tired before, but all thoughts of sleep are forgotten as she speeds through the trees, heading back to the very place she had fought Uchiha Itachi not an hour earlier. Finding the clearing is not a difficult matter; she had felled trees in her rage.
Sakura finds the tree he had pinned her against, and with methodical certainty, she pins Itachi's letter to the bark, before pulling out her best kunai and slashing it diagonally, from one corner to the other.
The note she had written is in green gel pen – hardly professional, but it had been the only thing around. She attaches it below the mangled original letter with tape, and then leaves, knowing that they will be found by the person she intends it for.
Stop playing your sick little mind games.
If you want to settle this once and for all, meet me right here one week from now; same time.
Stay out of my apartment, and stay away from Naruto.
Itachi touches the letter, and smiles, really smiles, for the first time in years.
Sakura gets to the clearing early on that particular night, settling herself under a tree to meditate and ready herself for what is to come. Somewhere in her mind, she is fully aware that challenging the Uchiha Itachi to a duel is tantamount to an outright death wish, but he infuriates her in so many ways that she cannot even name them. He had forced to heal his damned eyes – betraying the interests of her country in the process, and making her directly responsible for the pain of the comrades who had been unfortunate enough to encounter him afterwards. Beyond that, though, she knows what he and his organization intend for Naruto, and Sakura simply will not have it. He has been her best friend for six years, and, yes, she really would die to save him from the fate he will suffer if the Akatsuki succeed in capturing him.
Fleetingly, Sakura wonders if Itachi intends to kill her tonight. If so, tonight would be an awful day for death – despite the gravity of her thoughts, she can appreciate the beauty of the night. The clearing is illuminated by a full moon, which gives her excellent visibility, and a slight breeze stirs the leaves of the trees, which are the color of the darkest emeralds. It's as pretty as a picture, and she wonders, with a slightly morbid smile, if Itachi would be all right with her rescheduling this in favor for a night more conducive to violence.
Almost as if her thought summoned him, he flickers into being on the other side of the clearing; Sakura almost cannot see him, as he has abandoned his distinctive Akatsuki cloak in favor of a black turtleneck and matching judo pants, for better mobility. His hair is tied back, out of his eyes, similarly to hers, but loose locks fall out, framing his face. Itachi's eyes are nearly luminescent in this light, and she almost takes a step back; the effect is unsettling, and not for the first time, Sakura wishes that she were a little more physically intimidating.
Itachi nods, taking a step forward, into the moonlight. "I received your message."
"Needless to say," she retorts, shifting from foot to foot. Her mouth is suddenly dry, and Sakura realizes that she's never been in an encounter like this before; the closest thing would have to be the Chunin Exams, and this time, there is no Genma to stand between them and declare a beginning to the match.
She takes a deep breath, and settles into a fighting stance. "I'm ready."
Her heart is pounding so hard that she feels as if the ground beneath them is trembling with the force of it, and she is displeased to notice that he does not look bothered in the least. "As am I," he replies smoothly.
This attitude is something she is not used to in the least in an opponent, and Sakura hides her unease by lifting her lead foot up and stomping the floor. A giant boulder unearths itself from the ground, and she gives it a smooth scissor kick over to Itachi's direction.
He forms a few rapid hand signs, so fast that they blur into one, and an even larger wall of earth springs to life in front of him, so that the boulder merely bounces off and falls, harmlessly, to the ground, collapsing in a pile of dirt.
Sakura fairly snarls in frustration, and matches his hand signs with a few of her own. Itachi's defensive wall crashes down – to reveal nothing behind it.
She has enough time to curse in frustration, and that is enough for his hand to lock onto her shoulder from behind, so that when she spins to face him, her eyes meet the horribly familiar, swirling tomoe of the Sharingan, and she is locked into the grip of his genjutsu.
There is a blinding ache within her head, and it is almost as if she is forced to take each step forwards seeing everything in a cloak of crimson light, until she is standing in front of him, and suddenly, Sakura remembers her first try at the Chunin Exams, when Ino had attempted to use the Shitenshin on her, and Inner Sakura had overwhelmed Ino. Tonight, though, her inner self is nowhere to be found…and even if she were, Sakura thinks bitterly that she probably wouldn't be good for much, save drooling over Itachi.
Perhaps she will be forced to impale herself on Itachi's own kunai. He would probably appreciate the perverseness of it all.
Sakura sees herself come to a stop in front of him, and when Itachi puts the tip of the kunai to the base of her throat, the Tsukiyomi makes her feel the sharpness of the blade a hundred times more keenly, and despite her best efforts, she cannot move even a muscle. His still-swirling eyes inspect her intently, before pressing the point of the kunai a little closer, so that a bead of blood appears on the edge.
Sakura wishes with all her heart that he was dead.
Almost cautiously, Itachi lifts the hand that isn't menacing her, and gently, awkwardly, presses it to her cheek. His hands are icy cold, as they had been before, and she wants nothing more but to jump back, but the genjutsu is strong, and she is forced to stand, as still as a statue, as he drags the pad of his thumb against the soft skin underneath her right eye. Sakura notices his fingernails for the first time, painted purple, and irrationally, she thinks that it would be rather nice to laugh, even though she is trapped into this sick, frozen tableau.
There is nothing worse than this feeling, of being utterly imprisoned within her own body, and not even able to close her eyes and pray for the swiftness of her impending death. Because being this close to Itachi certainly means death.
He moves his hand from her face to her hair, tangling in the soft roots, and Sakura winces at the feeling of his hands against her unprotected scalp. Despite this, his touch is almost gentle; maybe he just wants to lure her into a sense of relaxation before he bashes her brains out against the nearest tree.
Sakura is so lost while contemplating the horrors at this particular train of thought that it takes a few moments to register when Itachi moves his hand to rest lightly at the back of her neck, before leaning closer and pressing his lips, almost uncertainly, against her own.
There is absolutely nothing that Sakura can do about this, and it is almost worse than the feeling of being unable to defend herself from the thought of a rapidly approaching death, and is this even real, or is it just his playing more of those sick mind games?
The hand holding the kunai isn't, anymore, and she feels it slide down to her hip, where it seems to nearly freeze through her skirt; incongruously enough, for the rest of his body being as cold as ice, Itachi's mouth is warm.
His eyes slip shut, nearly involuntarily, and when they open, they are not swirling with the Sharingan, or even red, but as black as night, as they have not been in more than ten years, and, suddenly, as abruptly as if a vat of icy water had been poured over her head, Sakura is released from the genjutsu.
The next part will be posted within the next couple of weeks, hopefully.
Any and all feedback very much appreciated.