"Itachi-san…"

He watches with stony eyes as she reaches out to him with fingers that tremble from exertion. His pace, he knows, has been much faster than she is accustomed to.

Silently, onyx eyes observe the faint sheen of sweat that glistens on her face and the way her lips gasp to take in air for her struggling lungs.

"Itachi-san…" she calls out to him again.

Even though he says nothing, he can tell she knows he is there. Her eyes, glazed over from the pain of the wound to her leg, dart around through the foliage, trying to pinpoint his location.

Then from her mouth comes the thing he'd least expected to hear.

"Itachi-san… Tsunade-shishou has… a list of every mission… ever assigned. She didn't have enough… time to look… through them all… But I have. Itachi-san… You are… the bravest person… I know." She smiles softly up at the sky and sighs.

Eyes narrowing, he lands soundlessly beside her. "And what would you care, kunoichi?" he asks harshly.

Her eyes flutter closed, a shocking show of trust in an enemy so close at hand.

"You assume too much," he snaps at her, inwardly shaking at her words and her actions.

She opens her eyes again, looking him in the face. "Maybe," she hums quietly, "but anyone… who can sacrifice so much… for their village… and for their family… deserves to be… remembered… even if you wanted… Sasuke to be the one… to be honoured…"

His face remains impassive, but he wonders if he is that transparent, that she can have deduced his intentions so easily.

"You are wrong, kunoichi," he hisses at her, losing his legendary composure. "It was my family that I sacrificed."

The kunoichi – Sakura, he remembers, from Sasuke's team – chuckles lightly before wincing at the streak of fire that shoots up her leg. "Tch…"

"If you cannot avoid the shuriken of a simple Mist Jounin…" He lets his sentence trail off. She glares at him through pain-hazed eyes.

"A simple… Jounin… says the S-class missing-nin… himself," she sneers. "And may I… remind you… he got… away… from you."

The sight of her emerald eyes, usually bright and sparkling, now so dull and filled with hurting, strikes a normally silent chord in him; but he chooses to ignore the memories of the few weeks they have spent together.

She has gone from being merely bait for the Kyuubi jinchuuriki to being a strangely intriguing kunoichi with superhuman strength, and the green fire blazing in her eyes has captured his attention like nothing else.

"And your point in telling me this?" An aristocratically thin eyebrow rises in question.

She shrugs as best she can, even lying on her back in the middle of a bloodstained forest. "I don't know why… you're still here… or why I'm still… alive… But I just wanted to… tell you… because I have… this feeling that I won't… ever see you… again."

"What makes you think I am leaving?"

A short laugh is startled from her lips. "It's generally hard… to keep an injured… captive… Itachi-san…"

And he nods in acknowledgement. "Perhaps. But I think you underestimate me, kunoichi."

"Maybe," she admits, "but… you won't get Naruto… you know. You should just… give up…"

His lips curl up in amusement, but he straightens up as familiar chakra signatures approach. "This is not the end, kunoichi."

"What – "

But he is gone, speeding away through the trees, leaving her lying in the clearing. He meets up with his clone, henge-ed into a Mist Jounin, who nods briefly and turns back to ensure that the Kyuubi jinchuuriki and his team find her.

Silently, he lets himself wonder what would have happened had he not killed the clan. Images of her eyes, sparkling and happy and directed at him, float through his mind.

Just once, he allows himself to linger in his memories and remember his mother's dark eyes and kind smile and Sasuke's innocent trust in an older brother who never was.

Just once, he allows himself to linger on what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.

And for the first time in so many years, since he stood before his brother in the dark light of the moon, the katana his village gave him stained with the blood of his parents, a tear slips down his cheek. It follows one of the lines that mark his face and disappears into the air behind him.

Behind him, where the past is. Where Sakura is.

He killed the clan, and he left her, and now he's alonealonealone

He closes his eyes for a moment, and when they open again, he is left alone in the dark with only the steady beat of his heart to keep him company.

He needs no one else.

He is Uchiha Itachi, and he has no time for regrets.

- - -

where the light comes to an

end.

the dark begins

- - -

(but that doesn't mean he can't mourn)