In which Sakura and Itachi have to work on the same side in order to crash a Halloween party. While dressed up as Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. Neither of them are particularly amused. Completely intentional crackfic.
For the fifth time that night, Sakura mutters a long string of vitriolic profanities under her breath, as she stumbles on through the forest, trying her best not to trip up in the knee-length and highly impractical dark green leather boots. The cold wind blows again, and she shivers – the stupid short skirt and elbow-high gloves do very little to shield her against the autumn night.
The wind howls through the trees, making an eerie sort of noise, and Sakura pauses for a moment, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. Not for the first time, she glances around the dark shadows granted by the trees warily. Perhaps it's just a stupid sort of paranoia, completely unreasonable for a kunoichi of her caliber, but honestly, who would want to be out, alone, at night in a forest on Halloween, of all nights?
A pinecone drops from a branch to the soil, and her muscles tense, despite themselves. Sakura forces herself on her way, practically glowering, and radiating unhappiness. This is all stupid Neji and stupid Shikamaru's fault, for making her watch that awful, gruesome horror movie last night—
The wind howls again, and this time, it sounds oddly more menacing.
Sakura feels her nails bite into her palm, despite the shield offered by the gloves. A voice that sounds disconcertingly like Kakashi-sensei's tells her not to ignore her instincts, especially not on a night like tonight. The pink-haired kunoichi stills, trying to calm her darting gaze and her equally quick-moving thoughts, and listens to the sounds of the night intently…
She stands there for a whole minute before the wind blows again, and this time, it is unmistakable. Voices, coming from somewhere to her east. Two of them, as a matter of fact, soft, carried by the breeze, and certainly male.
Sakura twitches slightly, trying to decide what to do. Nothing, her inner self replies snarkily. They're not affecting you in any way. If you hadn't gone and gotten lost in the first place, we wouldn't even have heard them. Just concentrate on getting to that damn party so we can get rid of the old bastard that's hosting it, and then get the hell back home…
The idea is a tempting one indeed, Sakura has to admit, even as she slips out of the clearing that she is in and stealthily heads east, following the sound of the distant voices. But there aren't any patrols of Konoha shinobi out tonight, and civilians never travel through these forests. Besides, any decent, law-abiding Fire Country citizen would stick to the paths, and not skulk around the forest at night.
Sakura can't help but tug absentmindedly at the ridiculously impractical pink bow adorning the center of her white top; there is a very real possibility that the mysterious intruders may be missing-nin, in which case, a relatively simple mission could get very complicated very fast. But if that's the case, then she definitely has to check this out – there's no way she can let two crazy missing-nin roam Fire Country territory unchecked.
Her quick and relatively silent progress east is halted by a sudden flash of red in the distance, and Sakura stiffens, flinging herself behind a large oak tree, and keeping her eyes trained on the area where she had seen it—
"Kisame, I am most certainly not going to wear that."
The voice is faint, muffled by the trees that separate her from the clearing where the two voices are currently engaged in quiet, albeit heated, discourse, and it takes Sakura a moment to register what has just been said.
When she does, she has to actually stick her fist into her mouth in order to keep silent, but all the same, her knees weaken and Sakura actually wobbles dangerously.
Kisame. Hoshigaki Kisame. The scary shark-man – an Akatsuki. True enough, she hasn't run into him in about four years, since the entire expedition to rescue Gaara, but Sakura doubts he would have defected or anything of the like. Her fingers digging into the aged bark of the tree, Sakura starts thinking as fast as she possibly can, trying to mentally compile anything and everything she knows about the criminal organization.
It only takes a moment for the recollection to complete itself, but when it does, Sakura pales even further.
Akatsuki travels in teams of two.
Hoshigaki Kisame is partnered up with Uchiha Itachi.
And if Kisame is out here, then that must mean…the guy who had spoken earlier must have been…
(At this point, Sakura has to grab her own elbows to keep her hands from shaking any more violently)
She is currently sharing precious forest space, and is within one mere mile, of Konoha's most notorious missing-nin. Never mind that the statue that held the bijuu has been destroyed, which means that the Akatsuki will never accomplish their ultimate goal of capturing her best friend and killing him to extract the Kyuubi, or that before his death at Tsunade's hands, Uchiha Madara had confessed the true circumstances leading up to the Uchiha Massacre…the point is, circumstances may have changed slightly from when she had been fifteen, but Uchiha Itachi is still the most dangerous, psychopathic mass-murderer in the world. And absolutely no amount of new knowledge about Itachi could ever make Sakura feel even remotely at ease about being within a fifty-mile distance of him.
That's right, Inner Sakura chips in, so get the hell out of here, then!
Sakura leans her head against the chipped bark, trembling slightly, and willing herself to take the shallowest and quietest breaths possible. This is worse than two random missing-nin wandering around – there is no freakin' way that she can let Konoha's two most feared public enemies run rampant through the Fire Country.
They're right there, a few minutes away, in a clearing, and still talking softly, even though Sakura has given up on trying to eavesdrop.
Obviously, she has to intervene. Charge in there and inform them that this is territory controlled by Konoha, and that they are intruding under pain of death. And then challenge them to combat, of course, because no self-respecting shinobi would let two infamous Akatsuki members just walk out of their reach without a fight.
Sakura winces at the very thought; dying in a Sailor Jupiter costume, while on the way to crash a Halloween party, will be a terribly undignified and equally unglamorous way to go.
But the Akatsuki being so close to Konoha's borders – or within the Fire Country at all – definitely spells disaster. And in the grander scheme of things, her village's safety is much more important than her own life. Taking a deep breath, Sakura wipes the palms of her gloves on the dark green miniskirt, steeling herself, and praying that she will catch Itachi and Kisame on a reasonable sort of day; meaning that they will merely torture her into near-insanity, and not kill her brutally.
She takes a moment to look up into the sky, offering a swift prayer – her boots are surprisingly silent against the dirt of the forest floor, as she slips closer and closer to them; near enough to make out the shadows of the tall, slender Uchiha, and his toweringly muscular partner. It is a miracle they haven't noticed her by now, really, even though her chakra signature has been completely masked; making her, in effect, completely invisible to any enemy shinobi…
Sakura's eyes narrow, taking on a sort of vicious, reckless glint that is oddly reminiscent to the one in Naruto's, immediately before the Kyuubi emerges. In her next breath, chakra surges through her body, fairly sizzling at every exposed inch of skin – these may be unusual circumstances, but there's no way she's going to give up without a fight.
Her gaze tracks the dark, shadowed figures of the two missing-nin; Kisame flings some sort of bundle at Itachi, who catches it on instinct, before dropping it to the floor distastefully. "Just put the stuff on," Kisame growls. "We need to go."
A cloud passes from over the moon, throwing the clearing into sharp, silvery relief, and Sakura, who can recognize the opportune moment when she sees it, steps forward, into view. "Actually, no. You're not going anywhere," Sakura says evenly, her right hand clenching into a fist.
The second the two men's eyes lock onto her, Sakura immediately feels her heart rate triple, but she stands her ground, staring right back—
Hoshigaki Kisame snorts abruptly, a slight sneer adorning his strong, blue-tinted features. "Or what?" he scoffs. "In the name of the moon, you will punish us? Don't make me laugh, little girl."
From his place slightly behind Kisame, Itachi smirks slightly.
Sakura can't stop her jaw from dropping, before she gestures to her outfit, outraged to the point of disrupting the usual shinobi-to-enemy conversational etiquette. "What the hell? Pink and dark green, asshole. I'm supposed to be Sailor Jupiter, not Sailor Moon! And," – she indicates her forehead protector , which she hasn't yet removed, angrily – "watch who you call little girl."
Kisame just snorts again, obviously unimpressed. "Why would you do that? Nobody cares about the other ones, anyway."
Sakura glares at the shark-man; he is not helping her already considerably frayed nerves. "Not that it's any of your business, but apparently the colors suit my hair and eyes," she grits out. Not to mention it was the only costume Tsunade-shishou had.
Kisame starts to reply, before Itachi cuts in, irritation plainly visible in his eyes. "Enough." His voice is calm and quiet, but it carries such authoritativeness and steel within it that both Kisame and Sakura fall silent and look at him; by the time Sakura remembers that she only ever listens to commands of that nature from her shishou and Kakashi-sensei, and certainly not from the enemy, it is too late.
Itachi glances over at Sakura, his dark crimson eyes sweeping her tense, combative posture – and unusual attire – from head to foot. To her surprise, he inclines his head a fraction of an inch, in recognition. "Kunoichi," he says silkily. "The business of my partner and I does not concern you. Leave. Immediately."
Sakura bristles upon the blunt dismissal. "Like hell it doesn't concern me," she shoots back, giving him a look of utter disgust. "As an honorable Konoha shinobi, the presence of any hostile enemy within our borders concerns me."
Itachi's eyes narrow into thin slits, the tomoe of the Sharingan beginning to swirl in response to the insult. Noticing the palpable tension within the small clearing, Kisame hurriedly steps in between the two, placing a gently restraining hand on his partner's shoulder, before throwing a glance over at Sakura. "Look, kunoichi," he starts. "We've got nothing personal with you, and we have our own mission we need to get to. The location just happens to be within Fire Country, but it has nothing to do with your little village. So, don't bother feeling guilty about things – go back to trick-or-treating or whatever the hell it was you were doing, running around the forest dressed like that…"
"I wasn't trick-or-treating," Sakura retorts, crossing her arms and eyeing the pair suspiciously. "I have my own mission to deal with."
"Then I suggest you deal with it," Itachi replies icily.
"Then I suggest that you tell me where you're going," Sakura counters, equally quickly.
Itachi regards her, an inscrutable expression on his face. "You honestly cannot expect us to disclose that information."
Sakura turns on Kisame, sensing an easier target there. "Look, I'm not even going to consider leaving until you tell me where your so-called mission is. And you know what I'm capable of."
Kisame raises an eyebrow at her, amused, before nodding over at the giant sword strapped to his back. "You know what we're capable of, too."
"You don't want to start an international incident," Sakura attempts a rebuttal, while offhandedly musing about the possibility that the outrageous outfit she is wearing may have given her a considerable confidence – or recklessness – boost.
"Don't," Itachi orders, fixing his partner with a glare.
Kisame lifts his hands defensively. "Look, Itachi – we need to get you into that party quick, alright? Orders are orders."
Sakura blinks, momentarily thrown. How many Fire Country lords are having Halloween parties tonight? Unless…no way. It couldn't be."…Party?" she asks cautiously.
"Matsuhita Haru," Itachi murmurs grudgingly.
Sakura feels her eyes widen to the size of small dinner plates. "The criminal lord?" she squeaks.
"None other," Kisame replies, almost cheerily. "He's been interfering with our…enterprises, and the Leader decided that he's too troublesome to be allowed to survive."
Upon receiving this new – and very much unwelcome – bit of information, Sakura actually smacks herself in the head. "Oh…no," she mutters to herself agitatedly, completely uncaring that she is likely making herself look like a complete head case in front of the enemy. "No way. This is so not happening."
Kisame gives his partner a bemused look, but Itachi figures it out swiftly enough. "Let me guess, kunoichi," he deadpans. "Our missions happen to…coincide?"
At this moment, Sakura decides that she hates her life, and she curses Tsunade-shishou thrice over. "Yes. They do."
Kisame grins evilly, exposing all of his treacherously sharp teeth. "Excellent! Itachi, you'll have somebody to work with!"
"What—" Itachi begins, his eyes swirling dangerously.
Sakura cuts him off effectively, drowning his protest out with her angered snarl. "The hell?" she gestures at Kisame violently. "You're his partner! And there's no way in hell that I'm going to cooperate with the enemy, even though we happen to have the same mission!"
"Look, kunoichi," Kisame drawls, evidently bored. "Calm yourself. I'm not the kind of guy who blends into crowds well, so the Leader only wanted me to accompany him to the outskirts of the target's area. That's a bit of a problem, see, because Itachi's really not the social type."
Itachi's kunai hand twitches spasmodically.
"…Besides, we're both headed for the same destination…"
"And you are obviously lost, and have no idea as to where that destination actually is," Itachi interrupts smoothly, nodding toward Sakura. "Whereas we do."
Sakura blushes hotly, despite herself. "What? Lost? No way!"
Itachi regards her, looking vaguely amused. "In that case, please inform us as to the quickest possible route required to reach the mansion."
Scowling, and determined not to let the obnoxious man best her, Sakura closes her eyes for a moment, deciding to test her capabilities for effectively and convincingly bullshitting a reply. "Head due east for ten miles, before turning south and continuing for seven," she says, in her most cool, self-assured tone.
Itachi gives her a predatory smirk. "Quite incorrect. We need to proceed south for two miles, and then turn west and continue for three."
Sakura considers removing one of her knee-high fake leather boots and slapping him with the offending piece of footwear in question, but then decides against it.
Kisame coughs, to mask a chuckle. "Well, that's settled. And on top of that," – he nods toward Sakura – "you're a girl."
Sakura gives her Sailor Jupiter outfit a meaningful look, before looking up at Kisame again. "How very clever of you," she replies sardonically. "Although I fail to see how that has any relevance to the situation at hand."
Kisame takes a few steps to the right, before kicking the discarded bundle on the floor; the contents spill out of what appears to be a standard-issue mission bag, revealing themselves to be…
Normal, civilian, fancy dress clothes. Which, of course, look very different from the black-and-red Akatsuki cloak that Itachi is currently dressed in.
"Itachi doesn't want to dress up," Kisame announces blandly, as if this is a perfectly normal conversation to be having with an enemy kunoichi. "And we don't know what he could be, anyway. I suggested he could pull off a vampire, but—"
"It is ridiculously cliché," Itachi interrupts dismissively.
Kisame grimaces and gives Sakura a you-see-what-I'm-talking-about kind of look.
Sakura backs away slightly, realizing that she's definitely had enough insanity for the day; actually, she is fairly certain that this little encounter could, quite possibly, fill her insanity quota for the rest of the year. She nods toward Itachi. "Anyway, now that he's very kindly given me directions to the location, I could very well just…go. And leave you two to work your Akatsuki business out amongst yourselves. I see no reason to – cooperate."
Itachi's eyes flash dangerously, and the next thing Sakura knows, she is pinned up against the nearest tree, his face an inch from hers. Outraged, Sakura draws her chakra-loaded fist back, preparing to slam it through his spleen, but one of Itachi's icy hands shoots out with incredible speed, locking itself around her wrist tightly, in a chakra-enhanced grip of his own. Sakura winces as he forces her wrists back against the tree, on opposite sides of her head, with his purple-painted thumbnails stroking the vulnerable skin on the inside of her wrists lightly. Before her astonished eyes, the iron, shriveled vines of his ninjutsu wrap around her arms, locking her firmly in place.
"You asked for a reason?" Itachi asks softly, his scarlet-and-black eyes boring into hers mercilessly.
Sakura sneers at him – the bark is rough against her bare skin, but the wounds to her pride are worse. "You haven't given me one yet." She is pushing him, and she knows it – the Tsukiyomi would throw her into a world of pain, but it would also nearly deplete Itachi's chakra, as well as straining his precious eyes.
Itachi presses her tighter into the tree, and gives her an infuriating, unsettlingly lingering sort of smirk; for the first time that night, Sakura is uncomfortably aware of how…revealing…her costume is. "Trust me, Sakura," Itachi remarks, almost casually, even though his grip tightens around her wrists. "You don't want me to."
Thankfully, Kisame chooses this moment to interrupt – because Sakura definitely does not like where this seems to be going. "Time for a life lesson, kunoichi," Kisame observes. "When Akatsuki asks, nobody refuses."
"Yeah, well, I just did!" Sakura snaps at him, recovering a little from Itachi's unique and highly unpleasant brand of intimidation tactics.
Kisame pauses for a moment, tilting his head. "You know that this isn't a permanent recruitment, or anything. You're just going to help on a temporary basis, because you don't want to suffer the consequences."
Itachi inclines his head in slight agreement, an amused twitch touching the corners of his lips as he regards the infuriated and thoroughly restrained kunoichi. "Well said, Kisame. I just have a slight problem with your first statement – the usage of the word asks implies that you actually have a choice in the matter. Do this, Sakura," he murmurs, "and you will likely never see us again. However, if you refuse, as Kisame said, there will be…consequences."
Sakura looks him in the eye, giving him her most venomous glare. An apprehensive tingle works its way down her spine, and she decides that she really doesn't care for the way Itachi says consequences. "Tuxedo Mask, then," she mutters under her breath, while glancing away, at the bundle of clothes. "You don't have a mask, but you could pull it off."
Kisame looks up from sorting the clothes, obviously impressed. "Hey, you've got a point, kunoichi."
Sakura takes advantage of his momentary distraction to pull herself free from Itachi's ninjutsu and grasp roughly, fighting the urge to inspect the bruises on her wrists, before placing her hands on her hips and giving him a coldly appraising look. "Do you have a tuxedo?" she asks Kisame.
Itachi crosses his arms, leaning back against the tree and watching the proceedings dispassionately. Kisame rummages through a large piles of costume clothing, before finally pulling out a few articles of clothing that would fit the bill. "These work, right?"
Itachi surveys the clothing, and then recoils minutely. "You surely are not serious."
Sakura throws the clothes at him grimly, before turning around. "Do I sound like I'm joking? Put those on."
Itachi frowns at her back, even as he discards his cloak; despite being clad in only black pants and a matching t-shirt, he doesn't shiver in the chilly night air, as he begins to pull on the white dress shirt over it. "I do not care for your tone, kunoichi."
Sakura hears the rustle of clothing and smirks to herself, rightly guessing that he's too busy getting dressed in order to tackle, pin her against a tree, and subsequently attempt to sexually intimidate her. "Yeah, well, I don't care for you. So we're pretty much even."
Kisame tosses Itachi the requisite dark suit jacket, and red cape. This time, he doesn't bother to hide his mirth. "Really mature, kunoichi. Hey, Itachi – you done?"
Itachi tugs on his new clothing a little awkwardly, before fastening the red cape, an expression of deepest distaste marring his aristocratic features. "Kisame, this is ridiculous."
Sakura taps her foot impatiently. "It's not ridiculous; Tuxedo Mask is a real gentleman. Did you remember the hat and bow tie?"
"I do not have a hat," Itachi drawls. "And even if I were in possession of a bow tie, I would definitely not wear one. I find them to be decidedly lacking in masculinity. You may turn around, kunoichi."
Sakura spins around on her heel, and blinks upon coming face to face with her most prominent fictional crush – damn, he's hot, Inner Sakura salivates, practically itching with the need to throw herself at him and finally act upon several childhood to late teenage fantasies, but Sakura's conscious mind swiftly kicks her in the jugular.
Yeah. Sexy fictional crush reincarnated, in the equally attractive form of Uchiha Itachi…who is also known as the poster boy for Evil, Sakura is quick to remind herself.
The kunoichi can't help but scowl. Life is just so unfair sometimes.
"Is this satisfactory?" Itachi deadpans.
In an attempt to hide the fact that she may just be a tiny bit flustered, Sakura gives him a critical once-over. "You're missing something." Before either he or Kisame have the opportunity to ask what it is, she performs a quick summoning jutsu Ino had taught her, and in the next second, a beautiful, fully-blossomed scarlet rose is in her hand; she presses it into Itachi's grip quickly. "There we go."
Itachi gives the flower a repulsed look, as if it is in danger of burning him. "What—"
Correctly interpreting the expression on Sakura's face, Kisame raises an eyebrow at her. "Don't look at him like that, kunoichi – becoming a wanted criminal at age thirteen really does a number on one's social skills and pop culture knowledge, after all."
"Excuses, excuses," Sakura mutters.
Itachi rolls his eyes a little. "We should go," he says abruptly. "It's almost nine."
"Wait!" Sakura exclaims, and Itachi turns around to see her fishing a kunai out of her left boot. She tosses it to her other hand, advancing on him. "Your hair's too long for Tuxedo Mask—"
In a reflexive motion, one of Itachi's hands instinctively goes to guard the low ponytail at the nape of his neck. "Don't," he warns. "Or I will extract your larynx. Forcibly."
Sakura cringes, one of her hands moving to her throat defensively. "Yeah, because there are so many other ways to cut out somebody's larynx," she gripes, even as the three of them begin to head south, toward the target's mansion. "Or perhaps you thought I'd give it to you willingly…what is up with you Akatsuki guys and the whole extraction deal, anyway…"
Much to Kisame's amusement, their forcibly-recruited kunoichi snipes at the unresponsive Itachi and rants about Akatsuki as a whole for most of the journey south, until Itachi looks at her out of the corner of his eye. "…Has anybody ever told you that you're annoying?" he asks silkily.
It is a relatively mild rejoinder, by Itachi's standards, but Sakura stops dead, the color slowly fading from her face, as she spins to look at the elder Uchiha. For a long moment, she stares at him as if she's never seen him before, her expression completely inscrutable, and then she rips her gaze free from his, doubling her pace to stride ahead of them wordlessly.
"Oy, kunoichi," Kisame calls, somewhat puzzled by the inexplicable change in demeanor. "You okay?"
Sakura blinks to clear her eyes, cursing the brief moment of emotional weakness, while narrowly avoiding stepping on an exposed tree root. "Fine," she replies tersely. Now she can see the elaborate lighting of the mansion ahead, which is all very well and good; within the next few hours, she can do what she has to do, complete this stupid mission and return to Konoha, and then hopefully, never see Uchiha Sasuke's damned elder brother ever again.
As if reading her mind, Itachi appears at her side, and Sakura has to bite her lip to keep silent; the costume doesn't make seeing a known criminal materialize beside her any easier. "I assume you already have a plan?" he asks her neutrally.
"Of course," Sakura replies evenly, even though she tries not to look at him.
"As do we. Although," – Itachi's eyes narrow as he gazes down at the mansion – "there will be slight modifications necessary, as it is no longer a solo operation."
"First things first," Kisame interrupts, coming to join them as they survey the target's location from their vantage point. He nods toward the tiny, distant figures of the guards at the doors. "How are you going to get in? A normal henge or genjutsu would work, but Matsuhita and his guards are probably expecting something of the sort…"
Sakura frowns, momentarily forgetting her displeasure at the entire situation as she gestures down at her costume. "I didn't dress up like this for shits and giggles, you know."
Itachi surveys her wordlessly, before inclining his head, and then looking to Kisame, who also nods his approval. "Point, kunoichi; knowing Matsuhita and his guys', uh…weaknesses…it doesn't seem like they would turn you – and Itachi, by extension – away. And," – Sakura tenses when she feels one of his large hands come to rest on her shoulders, but then she realizes that Kisame is just steering her and Itachi back onto the path toward the mansion itself – "you two can work out the rest when you get in there."
"Wait," Sakura protests, her impractical footwear seeking purchase on the rough, downhill dirt path. To her indignation, Itachi takes one glance at her predicament, before grabbing her wrist and holding her to his side steadily as they continue to proceed out of the forest. Sakura nods up at Kisame, making it a point to ignore his partner. "What are you going to be doing?"
The shark-man gives her an amused look; a reaction that she seems to elicit from him quite frequently, Sakura realizes. "I'm staying outside and doing damage control, of course," Kisame replies, as if it should be obvious. "With your reputation, and with Itachi's – don't you think it's going to be necessary?"
"Please, Kisame," Itachi says coolly. "I feel that we deserve a little bit more credit than that."
Sakura winces; Kisame interprets it as agreement, evidently, but it's really just because she never, ever, in a million years, thought that there would ever be an instance where her name was linked to Uchiha Itachi's in that manner. "…Yeah."
"Whatever you say, kids." They are on the road leading up to the mansion, now, and Sakura notices, satisfied, that it is luckily in a very secluded and remote area of the Fire Country – all the better for Matsuhita's criminal operations, and all the better for her; if they somehow end up blowing the place sky-high, after the party ends and everybody's gone, then there won't be any innocent casualties.
Kisame follows her gaze, and makes a face upon seeing the amount of other newcomers that crowd around the doors. "It's just a five minute walk from here," he deduces, before looking at Itachi.
"We can handle it," the Uchiha answers easily.
They both look at Sakura, then, and even though her pale complexion and wide eyes tell a different story, she nods in assent, her jaw achieving an implacably stubborn tilt to it. "Yeah. We can…handle it."
Kisame lingers for a moment. "Like the Leader said: take out the henchmen and any known affiliates during the party, and then wait it out before dealing with Matsuhita himself."
"I am familiar with the plan, Kisame," Itachi drawls, obviously at ease. "We have performed infinitely more difficult assignments in the past, after all."
Kisame grins at the two of them, before disappearing in a puff of smoke, and his rows of sharp teeth are the last to go. "Have fun, then."
Until this point, Sakura hadn't realized how much of a buffer zone the shark-man had been; the second Itachi looks at her, she has to fight the instant urge to swallow nervously. Sensing her tangible discomfort, he smirks slightly. "Shall we?"
Every single one of Sakura's instincts and impulses is screaming for her to run as far and as fast as she can in the opposite direction, the fact that this is a highly important A-ranked mission be damned. Instead, her traitorous, perform-your-duty-at-all-costs, feet carry her forward, toward the mansion…alongside her highly unlikely partner. As if sensing her reluctance, Itachi reaches out and drapes an arm around her shoulder, and it is only the fact that there are at least twenty other people approaching the door with them that prevents Sakura from screeching and breaking his arm on principle.
"Don't even think about it," he whispers softly, his breath stirring the loose locks of hair next to her ear, and Sakura shivers, not because of the cold. It is the kind of casual gesture that any guy would do while out with his date, but also a calculating reminder that she has three pressure points that are completely vulnerable to him right now; not the kind of odds that Sakura cares for.
"Don't touch me," Sakura hisses under her breath, as they climb the magnificent white marble stairs.
In response, Itachi slips his arm from her shoulders to the small of her back, trailing his fingers slowly down her spine as he goes. Sakura grits her teeth, willing her body not to tremble – if she stops for just a moment to really think about the fact that, with a sudden pulse of chakra, he could very easily snap her spine and paralyze her for life, she is afraid that she might actually have a nervous breakdown. "Relax, Sakura," he murmurs silkily. "I am just reminding you of where your best interests lie."
She is saved from the necessity of a reply by making eye contact with the four guards stationed at the head of the stairs, in front of the massive double doors. Sakura's right hand actually twitches with the restrained need to throw a killer punch, as all four of them look her up and down, appreciativeness written in every feature of their faces.
"Ooh, look, it's Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask!" the youngest one whispers to his comrade excitedly.
Sakura twitches again – pink and dark green, assholes, which is so Sailor Jupiter! – while Itachi merely sneers condescendingly.
"Guest list?" one of them growls, as a mere formality.
Sakura offers them her sweetest and most practiced innocent smile; they are so obviously taken that they don't even notice Itachi glowering at her side. "Definitely."
They stand aside, and she and Itachi sweep into the extravagantly decorated hall, which is crowded with a crush of people. Itachi's left eye twitches in obvious discomfort as he pulls her into the shadow of a large ornamental pillar; evidently Kisame hadn't been exaggerating when he said that he wasn't the social type. "We will separate now, and each of us will target as many of Matsuhita's known affiliates as we can in the coming hour, when we will meet back here," Itachi instructs quietly.
Sakura smirks at the opportunity of returning to her element. "Of course."
Itachi nods at her, before melting away into the crowd, his dark eyes already trained on a balding, middle-aged man in a flamboyant costume. Sakura leans against the pillar momentarily, watching and waiting…until she glimpses a handsome, dark-haired young lord trying to catch her eye – a prominent financial contributor to Matsuhita's underground enterprises.
Sakura lets her eyes flutter shut for a moment, before purposefully arching her back and running her gloved fingers through her unbound hair, feigning exhaustion. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the lord excuse himself from his friends, grab a drink off a server's plate, and begin to maneuver his way over to her.
Sakura allows herself a small smile. After the stress of the past hour, this is just what she needs.
The hunt is so on.
It has been three hourly meetings back at the pillar, and, forty mysteriously disappeared criminal associates later, Uchiha Itachi sips from his shotglass of Vitamin Water tersely, observing the slowly-thinning crowd. Almost midnight, and all of Matsuhita's crime ring disposed of, save for the leader himself – not bad. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
Reading the expression on his face, Sakura leans back against the pillar with a long sigh, tossing back her shot of sake. "Feel free to thank me anytime."
Itachi raises an eyebrow at her. "I will do nothing of the sort. And drinking while on a mission is highly unprofessional."
Sakura frowns at him. "It was my first drink of the entire night – and I took down twenty guys. I think that deserves a little something." She absolutely hates to admit it, but working in tandem with the Uchiha has proved to be a smart move; this would have required twice as much time and effort on her part otherwise. "Now, if this thing only ends soon, so we can deal with the main target…" she muses under her breath.
Itachi has other things on his mind; his eyes narrow, and before Sakura has time to react, he reaches out and grabs her hand tightly, before leading her through the crowded ballroom. Sakura's first instinct is to dig her heels into the floor and then break his hand, but then her sharp gaze catches the sudden tension in his shoulders. She quickens her step slightly, keeping pace with him. "What is it?" she murmurs.
Itachi keeps his eyes fixed straight ahead, and his lips barely move as he replies. "There may be an individual watching us."
"What?" Sakura hisses, aghast.
His hand tightens around hers in warning, as they begin to make their way down the dimly lit hallways of the mansion. "There is a slight chance, but we cannot afford to not play it safe. Forty criminals have disappeared in the three hours we have been here, and it would be best to avoid suspicion in any way possible."
They stop suddenly, in front of an unobtrusive wooden door, and Sakura nearly plows into Itachi's back, before she looks at the door. "What?" she asks again, confused, reading the small inscription on the door. "You don't mean – a coat closet?"
In the stress of the moment, Itachi's Sharingan flickers on again, and it takes a good deal of control to force his eyes back to their normal, dark shade. "Just get in," he says, through gritted teeth. "We cannot afford to linger in the exposed ballroom and wait for Matsuhita to put two and two together."
He may have a point, but Sakura shakes her head stubbornly, backing away. "Look, I'll find somewhere else to go, but I am not going in there."
"Why?" Itachi asks dangerously, throwing quick, searching glances to either side of them.
"Look, I'm not stupid!" Sakura retorts heatedly. "I know who you are, obviously – getting into a small, secluded place with you would be basically the same thing as bathing myself in pig's blood and then jumping into a shark-infested ocean for a little swim! It's stupid! And I do not do stupid things, Uchiha! My shishou taught me better than that!"
Itachi advances on her, smirking slightly. "We'll see about that."
Sakura's eyes widen, and she pulls chakra to her fist. "What's that supposed to mean?"
When Sakura regains consciousness, the first thing she realizes is that it's…dark. And it smells clean, like lots and lots of lavender fabric softener. For one delirious moment, she thinks that she is spending the night at Tenten's, and then she realizes that she's actually standing up, leaning groggily against some kind of wall…
"Oh, my Buddha," Sakura croaks, as soon as she manages to pull herself somewhat together; it is a credit to her temperament as a kunoichi that she doesn't scream bloody murder at finding herself a mere two inches away from Uchiha Itachi, who seems to split into two and waver in front of her eyes as she stares at him accusingly. "You – you knocked me out, you asshole! You…I can't believe you…why, I ought to…argh!"
Sakura's tirade is suddenly cut off by Itachi's palm, which settles firmly on top of her mouth. "Silence yourself, Sakura," he orders. "You were being irrational."
Sakura pulls herself free of him; his palm had been cool against her flushed skin. "This is why I didn't want to come in here," she mumbles, wrapping her arms around herself, and unable to believe that she and Konoha's number one wanted criminal are cramped into the same tiny closet, surrounded by at least forty fancy coats.
Itachi raises an eyebrow slightly. "Konoha shinobi are very dramatic, aren't they?" he observes. "After all, we have been in here for the past half hour, and I have yet to…" – Itachi smirks in his unsettlingly predatory way, eyeing her somewhat rumpled costume – "…take advantage of you, or anything of the sort."
At this point, it takes all of Sakura's willpower not to just fall over dead. And kill him on her way out. Instead, she tries her best to flatten herself against the opposite wall in every way besides outright hiding behind a row of coats. "I hate you," Sakura informs him matter-of-factly. "You are a sick, twisted, and sadistic individual."
Itachi sighs in a somewhat martyred fashion. "I doubt you hate me. You do not even know me."
"I know that you're picky with costumes, you're threatening and intimidating, you don't know anything about Sailor Moon, you're protective of your hair for some reason, you make a good Tuxedo Mask, but you think I'm annoying – you damned jerk – and you hate social situations and you're a very efficient assassin. And that you're not above knocking out an innocent kunoichi and forcing her to get into a closet with you against her will. And then you make sexual innuendos afterwards in order to make her uncomfortable." Sakura takes a deep breath after this impressive diatribe, and gives Itachi her most potent glare. "I know enough about you to hate you."
A ghost of a smile flits across Itachi's features. "…Interesting, I doubt that anybody has ever psychoanalyzed me in that fashion before."
"Damn straight," Sakura sniffs.
They exchange stares for a few long moments, and Sakura fidgets, uncomfortably aware of where this could go. If they wanted to, they could fight to the death, right here, right now – she could take out a known Akatsuki member, or he could totally snuff her out like a candle; eliminating one of Konoha's most valuable jounin in the process.
From the look in his eyes, Itachi knows exactly what she is thinking. "Maybe some other time," he suggests dryly. "I do not fight to my fullest capacity while restrained in a coat closet."
At this, Sakura can't help but smile; reluctantly, yes, but it is a smile. "I'll take you up on that, then."
It is one in the morning before the last of the partygoers leave the mansion and Matsuhita retires to the upper levels of his magnificent residence, presumably to sleep. Finally, Itachi and Sakura slip out of the coat closet, stretching their constrained muscles, and Sakura sighs deeply, glancing around at the gloriously candlelit mansion, as they make their way up to where Matsuhita's sleeping quarters should be. "It's ridiculous; if this place wasn't built on drug money and the underground slave trade, it would be so beautiful," Sakura sighs again.
"Ill-begotten wealth," Itachi murmurs under his breath, with all of the smug pride that comes with being the scion of a legitimate clan as ancient as time itself.
"Blood money," Sakura says darkly, before stopping in her tracks, her eyes widening with a sudden idea.
Itachi turns around impatiently, only to see her hastily tugging her long green boots off, exposing the graceful length of her calves and ankles. He raises an eyebrow. "Why, Sakura, if you had done this during our – confinement, I would not have expressed any regrets, but now is most certainly not the time."
"Shut up," Sakura says, although the words are missing any real acrimony. Before his eyes, she turns both boots upside down, and a veritable pile of exploding notes cascades from the depths of her boots. Then she reaches for the pink bow at her back and tugs at the sash, emerging with another ten or fifteen notes.
Intrigued, Itachi walks back to her, helping her gather the immense amount of explosive notes – enough to blow a mansion sky-high. "So, Uchiha," she gives him a rather feral smile. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Itachi smirks, and his respect for the kunoichi inches higher upon this suggestion of wanton destruction. "I believe so. And…" he pauses for a fraction of a second. "You may call me Itachi."
Sakura ceases plastering one of the explosive notes to the wall for a moment, in order to smirk back at him. "Very well."
Their progress through the mansion is quick; they work their way through it from the bottom up, until they are standing in Matsuhita's bedroom, disgustedly watching him snort and snore in his drunken stupor.
Itachi unearths a kunai, twirling it through his fingers.
"Wait," Sakura says abruptly, and, startled, he hesitates for a fraction of a second.
Sakura leans over their target's face, slapping him lightly, until his bleary eyes drift open. It takes them a few moments to focus, but when they do, they land on her with a disturbing amount of intensity. "Sailor Moon…" he moans, obviously completely hung over.
Sakura frowns, and Matsuhita doesn't even realize it when she slaps an explosive note on his chest.
"Detonate in ten," she tells Itachi firmly, before turning her attention back to the completely unaware Matsuhita. "By the way? Pink and dark green, asshole. That's Sailor Jupiter. And, of course, I couldn't have done it without the help of Tuxedo Mask over here…"
These prove to be the last words that Matsuhita Haru hears. Ever.
The second the two hundred explosive notes all detonate, Itachi and Sakura jump out of the mansion's fifth-story window, amidst a large amount of shattering glass, and, due to each of their respective chakra control, manage to land on their feet on the side of the road, right in front of Kisame, who just stares, his mouth slightly open. Itachi smirks, ripping his red cloak off in a rather satisfied manner. "Hello, Kisame."
"…You've outdone yourself, Itachi; that's got to be a record," Kisame manages, at last, while craning his neck in order to marvel at the spectacular degree of destruction behind them. "Holy shit, if Deidara were here, he'd actually cry with jealousy."
Sakura grins, exhilarated, and sweeps a few spots of soot off her costume. "Thanks. I think."
"You're a genius, kunoichi," Kisame says fervently, even as he claps her on the shoulder, before walking toward the burning mansion in order to get a better look. "We should do this more often…"
Itachi raises an eyebrow at Sakura. "This may be one of the very few occasions where Kisame and I agree," he says, at length.
Sakura raises an eyebrow right back at him, wickedly not granting him a reply, before extending a hand to him. "I never thought I'd say this, but it's been a pleasure doing business with you…Itachi."
She had expected him to shake the offered hand, but instead, Itachi withdraws the somewhat-charred Tuxedo Mask Projectile Rose from one of the pockets of his dark jacket. Maybe it is foolish, but Sakura doesn't flinch as he takes her hand, before curling the charred rose into it, inclining his head. "Likewise…Sakura."
Sakura smiles at him then, drawing the charred rose to her chest, before disappearing in a whirl of cherry blossoms. The breeze blows a stray blossom into his hand, and Itachi curls his long fingers around it, before turning and surveying the massive blazing wreck of the mansion with a smirk. He had a feeling he was going to remember this for a very long time.
Until we meet again, Sakura.
The Next Day
"Sakura, you totally have to tell me all about your Halloween!" Ino exclaims, for what must be the thousandth time, while flinging her arms around her best friend's shoulders. "I can't believe I couldn't get back from Suna a couple of days early!"
Sakura smirks at Ino, even though her gaze drifts, almost unconsciously, to the charred rose at her bedside table. "Ino-pig, even if I told you, you definitely wouldn't believe me…"
"Wonderful," Tsunade nods at her apprentice, obviously pleased. "For somebody with so many second thoughts about it, you did splendidly on this mission, if I do say so myself."
Sakura shrugs modestly. "Circumstances just…worked in my favor, shishou."
"In any case," Tsunade says, making a few notes on a nearby scroll. "I'm putting you down for the New Year's party next."
Sakura tries to protest as violently as always, just for the sake of believability, but she can't quite do it.
How many days until New Year's Eve, again?
Meanwhile, at Akatsuki Headquarters…
"Excellent, Itachi," the Leader murmurs, after listening to his report. "You seem to have outdone yourself."
Itachi's expression betrays nothing of his thoughts. "Circumstances happened to work in my favor, Leader-sama."
"Whatever it was," the Leader says, making a few notes on a nearby scroll. "You will be assigned to the New Year's party next."
Itachi tries to make the requisite protests, for the sake of believability, but he can't quite do it.
Sixty-one days until New Year's Eve.
When they next encounter each other, Itachi and Sakura will both deny counting down the days.
Well. This was totally different from what I usually write – completely cracktastic premise, I know, but I can definitely guarantee that you've never read an ItaSaku like this one ever before. :)
Whether you loved it, hated it, or anything in between, feedback is very much appreciated.