Here is How You Will Forget to be Human (Again)
Rating: R for sex, though it's not particularly graphic
Genre: Introspective? Kind of a character study.
Characters/Pairing: Itachi/Sakura (of a sort... uh, warning for the fact that this is probably the most UNItachi/Sakura ItaSaku fic ever... and how I managed that, I don't know O_o)
Spoilers: For some of Itachi's motives and the Uchiha-centric stuff, I suppose.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi. Standard fanfic disclaimers apply.
Notes: This was written to fulfill a kinkmeme request and sprawled out of control. So I'm posting it. Enjoy!
One rarely goes to a doctor for a cure.
You think you do, but there are certain diseases - more than not, in reality - which cannot be cured, and which will not be cured, and doctors, as with medic-nin in shinobi villages, are of little use for these.
One rarely goes to a doctor for comfort, because a doctor is of no comfort.
There is little to be found in medical journals; no warmth resides in the cold scientific writing which bestows elaborate names upon sufferings of the body, which tricks the tongue with words from long dead languages and forces the mouth to stumble its way over strange configurations of syllables. These read not so unlike the mission reports which Itachi filed and wrote in long years ago, with ANBU; and perhaps - but you will never know, will you? - perhaps he is different in this regard.
Perhaps he does find something familiar and pleasant in those precise, merciless details. Perhaps within him there does reside a mind that delights in lines and angles, in as much as it delights in anything. No one would claim him as a man of sentimentality; he sees through it.
Here is the key: Itachi's fading sight is too perfect.
Soon, he will see nothing. But for Itachi, seeing everything has forever meant seeing nothing. He opens his eyes to a silver world of strange clouds and watches the lines of the rain; the way it falls straight on some nights, and the way it slants on other nights.
But it is never like the edge of a kunai knife; nature is never flawless in its symmetry.
Kisame sits behind him and cleans his sword and Itachi stands silently on the rolling hills, watching the fireflies. There is little in nature, he thinks, that runs in straight lines, that adheres to mathematic precision. It isn't natural at all. The fireflies don't make these plans. They come up from the earth and beat their wings; they glow brightly, and they find one another. Then, they die. There could be nothing more natural.
There is nothing more natural than dying.
This is how you will remember you are a human, too.
"Hey," Kisame says, behind him, "The signal's coming in."
Kisame is like a nudge on the shoulder: a presence that directs without force; easy and bemused and slow to anger. He gives a wide distance, and when he asks, it's not as if he particularly cares for an answer; does not expect Itachi to give him one, and, truly, expects nothing much from Itachi at all. They are silent, much of the time, until Kisame makes an observation to no one in particular, and Itachi acknowledges his observation with a glance.
They lift their hands and close their eyes.
Itachi and Kisame enter the lightless places of the world - the dimensions where it does not matter how little human you are.
The light of the fireflies fades off like a million golden heartbeats.
One rarely goes to a medic-nin for a cure, and one rarely goes to be comforted.
Sakura does not intuitively know this, and it is best that she does not. Knowing such a thing, as you may naturally suspect, would be a detriment to her morale, and above all else, her strength lies in her morale, not in her ton-crushing fist. Sakura is one of those kinds of people - those who number in the majority in fact - whom Itachi has often profiled and often understood and yet never understood.
He could see her, if he were nearby; he could track the motions of her chakra and watch its colourless colours as they churn inside her and dance along her fingertips. He could explain to you about the positions of her legs as she enacts this or that stance, about the arc of her swing; he could tell you something of her heart rate and her visible indicators of stress.
He's seen men die and go insane around him from the time when he first learned to speak; he's led men.
He's led women, as well.
He knows these things.
But while he can tell you which muscles she smiles with, he does not understand a smile like that, a face like that. All these people, going around with smiles and talk - easy talk, among one another - with laughs and these nervous starts.
Worrying, crying: maybe it's a performance result that's about to come in, this time: maybe that's what causes a look of consternation and a hand tapping away at a table.
Itachi remembers his mother at home, staring too long out the window. He remembers the graveness of his father's face. Itachi has a face like his father did. Grave. Mikoto's body softened Sasuke into something else, something different - Itachi could look at him and think perhaps he was the lucky one. Perhaps he had gotten away, Itachi remembers thinking, the day he graduated the exam, as Sasuke had looked at him with envy.
Perhaps you've gotten away, Brother.
But I like when you call me Brother. That's who I am, to someone.
Who I was, the mind corrects.
Mikoto is gone. Fugaku, too.
Maybe Sasuke will still get away. Maybe he can still be a human, and not an Uchiha.
People rarely go to doctors for cures or comforts. They go because it is human. It is the most human to die, but it is also human to talk to others before death. The resistance to the most human outcome is a part of the journey there, and nature will tell you that a dying creature often returns home before the end comes.
As surely as the salmon swims upstream, as surely as the snows come with the cold, nature takes its course.
It is for this reason that Itachi returns to Konoha.
"Examine me," he tells her, and he recognizes the look that flashes across her face: fear. But it's brief and contained; her eyes are expressive and she has no idea how to conceal her body language, such that Itachi can determine she's warring with herself, with her impulses - which is a thing he has done only once in his life.
(It looks like it would add to the experience, though, to be indecisive with some regularity.)
"Examine me," he says again. Commands is too harsh a word. Itachi speaks softly; Kisame sometimes accuses him of mumbling.
They are standing where he has accosted her: in the hallway of one of the training buildings, one which has been built since Itachi's departure. It has that new and polished look to it; it's nothing like the places where Father used to take him, where he used to show Itachi this or that, until lists of names floated through his head, rigid and monotone and unending. He remembers Father's slightly - only ever slightly - warm hand as he lifts his own, stretches his digits, points with the right ring finger on which his Akatsuki insignia stands out like a scarlet letter.
The girl's hesitation is giving way to contempt. She looks pointedly at that ring; do you have no shame, coming here like this? Yes, that's what she's thinking. Something like that.
"Go," she says, instead. "You have no business here."
"Did someone set you on repeat?" Sakura demands. "Get out of here! I don't want to stain the wall with you, but - "
Itachi stares at her. Stares through her, more accurately.
"Look, I'm going to count to three, and if you're not of here by then, I'll go find - "
"Did you really love him?"
Sakura's eyes go wide. And then she sees what Itachi wants her to see, which is that world with the black shapes and the silver skies, where the rain that falls is merely a background echo, and she does not scream, as Itachi knows she would not, because she's a kunoichi, because he can see her reminding herself of that, gathering and maintaining her composure in her balled fist; standing here, standing like this, even though she won't win and knows it. Knows it, like the Fourth knew he was done for. Like Hatake Sakumo must have known, when he made his decision to take dishonour in exchange for his values, and die that way.
Like Itachi knows.
He won't win, and there's rarely honour in values.
(When Sakura opens her eyes again, back in her own body, back in the hallway, Itachi is gone.)
Does she love him, still? Did she love him before?
But here's a better question: Does Itachi love him, and did he ever?
He has to admit, he wonders about that, too.
He's done everything for Sasuke. You may or may not realize that. Itachi goes everywhere pretending otherwise - pretending to be different things for different people. He has great experience in pretending, by now. He pretended to be the son his father wanted.
He pretended to be the shinobi his village demanded. He pretended to be the shinobi his clan demanded. He pretended all these things, and more. Everything in life is a challenge; his father would like this attitude. Seize the day and rise to your tasks. Pretend to be a dutiful Akatsuki member. Be a double agent, always a double agent. Do your duty.
Perhaps it is not pretending, then. Perhaps it is dutifulness.
Was it for love or dutifulness which prompted his decision?
So, finally, back to the question at hand: Does Itachi love Sasuke? Did he ever?
He wants to believe the answer is yes.
He needs to believe it, in the end.
When next they meet, it is her own dutifulness that Itachi brings against Sakura. She has her duties, too. As a medic-nin, one of those duties is to her patients. Patients defy common laws: missing-nin or not, the sick are all the same. They all require treatment. But Itachi knows this isn't the sickness that brings them together; it's not the blood on his fingers that he produces from his lungs, expels gently onto his hands with no show that it bothers him overly. It's not anything so physical as that which seems to cause Sakura some uncertainty in his presence.
It's not the effects of the tsukiyomi - the silver lighting and angry red clouds like the Sharingan eyes - although Itachi knows this shook her.
It's Sasuke. The after effects of Sasuke. She's drained most of him out of her system, Itachi thinks, and maybe she thought she had drained all of him . . . but that isn't the case. Remnants of Sasuke still cling over her skin like a film not to be washed away, not to be purged. And maybe he'll always be there. Maybe she does love him.
Maybe she wants to see in this man a vision of what could've been; he's taller, more scarred in the literal sense (and perhaps the figurative), more of Fugaku's iron and strictness set deep into his veins. This is Itachi, not Sasuke, but there's a little or a lot of Sasuke in Itachi, and there will always be a little or a lot of Itachi in Sasuke.
The clan guards its own, ensures that its bloody legacy passes on, even as it dies.
"You have to promise to leave after this," Sakura tells him.
"I promise," Itachi says, tonelessly.
Like the promise of a clan killer means anything.
The two of them are standing on the banks of the Nakano River. Itachi remembers learning to swim here. He remembers, somewhat more vividly than he remembers numerous other things, the day Shisui pretended to attempt to drown him, and this he remembers more vividly because of the fear associated with the memory: the fear, the sense of self-preservation that had activated his Sharingan. Fugaku pulled him from the water, and Mikoto wrapped a towel around him. It had to be done, Itachi remembers hearing Fugaku tell her. A situation had to be sufficient to cause -
But Mikoto wouldn't hear it. You've done enough. You had your way.
And placed her arms around Itachi. He remembers her scent, and Sakura smells nothing like home. Ironic that Shisui's fake attempt at a drowning, all those years ago, was what placed the idea in Itachi's head for how to activate another kind of Sharingan - only that time, no one was pretending.
(Or is he always pretending, still?)
Itachi's Konoha is not Sakura's Konoha, and Itachi's Nakano is not Sakura's Nakano. For her, this river holds different memories altogether. Perhaps this is where she once picked flowers with some female friend. Perhaps on these banks, she once daydreamed of Sasuke loving her. He can see all these experiences in her that he knows of, but does not know, and never will. She is one of those kinds of people who belongs with other people; one of those living people, as he has never been.
He can read a thousand emotions great and small in her eyes, the motions of her face, and the way she fumbles around with her slender fingers as he lays back for her - relaxes into the sweet-grass and listens to the birdsong; closes his eyes and feels Sakura's uncertainty as her hands roam him.
For her, this is a sacrifice. A time spent healing a dangerous man, a Not-Sasuke who wears something akin to his face. Duty and honour. Duty to her physician's oath.
Duty to Konoha.
What is honour, Itachi wonders, when you cannot sink into despair for your suffering, and when you are no longer certain if you suffered, or if you loved? It should hurt, he thinks. Not his dying body. It's -
She's mouthing the words, and he's watching her lips move in that slow, aching way. Terminal.
As expected. Everything falls into place.
Itachi can read everything in his surroundings, can see Sakura, see into her, and through her, but people are always living around him - and he is never among them. A weightless world of possibilities which he reaches into as necessary. It is night, and in the forest, the trills and gurgles of a nightingale are carried forth. A fitting dirge: play for me before I die. The final song I hear.
Sasuke will live.
Watching her mouth, Itachi thinks -
Pulls her down, suddenly.
There is no force to it; the movement is languid, plunging them into an illusionary world of iced lightning. He wonders what he thinks he's doing, then: if he thinks, perhaps, to taste Sakura's grief, or her anxiety, or her spontaneous little gestures which dominate everything, which are nothing like Itachi, which are everything like the sparkles in her eyes. One song to hear before I die.
This must be how her love for Sasuke tastes, and how different, he almost asks her, does it taste from his own?
Love must taste like dying, for now. The world inside the sharingan turns madly, so that he does not know - and it does not matter - if this is the real Sakura, or if this is another cloud about to split apart. But he thinks there may be a truth to this Sakura, as the lips kiss in a manner that reads more like curiosity than passion. Kissing like she's reaching for Sasuke, like she hopes to feel him out with the slight, hesitant press of her tongue. Like if she applies a little more pressure, then Itachi will become Sasuke; will transform like a bunshin.
Perhaps these are her hopes, and perhaps Itachi, in some manner, has touched them, has touched her while she was touching his body. She is, in her own way, much more receptive than he, much more feeling. He wonders if this is an abuse, then - if he's manipulating her, in some manner, playing off her old feelings. Digging them up in this calculated way.
Sakura loves her Konoha, Itachi does not doubt. He thinks he must love his Konoha, as well. And when she kisses him, he is left with the sense that she wishes to enter his Konoha: she wishes to know what it's like to be called a prodigy. She wishes to know what it feels like, to have that power, those talents: that natural drive which she herself once lacked.
There's a coldness to her motions even as their bodies grow hot. She undoes his pants - makes the decision to wrap her mouth around him beneath that alien sky. It's like a formula. Like he's tasting her love and she's tasting his nature; there's this great desperate raging want inside of her that he can almost feel, very nearly, and it's not a want for him.
He doesn't even think it's a want for Sasuke.
When he was thirteen, Itachi was engaged to be married to a girl his family - Father, more accurately - had selected for him. He met her a few times.
They had not consummated the relationship.
But he has never wondered much about this act; he's known how it would go. He's heard stories, seen things. He's not blind or deaf or dumb. It's just like what he figured, except more awkward.
They kiss, and touch, and she, Sakura, in all the spontaneity he will see and see through and never fully understand, touches him as if she's drowning in some private delight at disobeying some rule somewhere, because what she's enjoying is maybe the wrongness of it all: the fantasy. The chance to do something like this once and never speak of it again. As I lay dying - Dead men tell no tales.
She's always wanted to do something like this. He is so sure of it: some daydream kept all to herself, behind the flowers, behind Sasuke loving her, beside the white wedding gowns. Something she cannot admit, and Itachi finds it intriguing: what desires there are, hidden in such an expressive person, and this is why such people will only ever exist around him, but not with him.
Still, their bodies move together; she pins him with her strength and there's a touch of desperation (frustration?) to the way she bites at his stomach and his thighs. Sucks him down with a relaxed throat, like she wants to take another part of him into her.
Itachi shudders as if on cue, comes to the sight of the bloody sky; mouth partially open and tight. And then she's leaning over him with this scrutinizing look. And now, he thinks, she's the one examining him.
Did you love him? he hears, and is unsure if she has asked him this, or if the tsukiyomi is feathering through his eardrums; and it's all a mirage, it must be, because now they are filtering together: him into her and her into him, so that their questions merge, and everything merges on Sasuke.
Or what Sasuke represents, whatever this is.
I do, Itachi decides.
Sakura's Konoha and Itachi's Konoha collide.
Trees and grass and people, so many people, and the scent of Mikoto's cooking; her smile - the first sight he saw in this world - and his memories of taking it from her when he took everyone else. Sasuke, at his side, trailing through the backyard. The Fourth - Itachi was five when he met him. Wanted to grow up to be like him.
A great something rises up in him - this sudden wash of hot ache - and this must be what it feels like, he thinks, to hurt for all that is gone, and to mourn all he has taken away, and all that is held inside, confined by endless pretense, suffocated in his lightlessness, in the darkness that goes deeper than his soon-blind eyes will provide.
I do love you, Sasuke.
And Sakura does, too.
There must be all kinds of love in this world, and some kinds of love may yet exist in lines and angles and things unnatural. The fireflies come for a season and die, and this is natural, and as Sakura's Konoha is not Itachi's Konoha, then Sakura's love is not Itachi's love. Sasuke's love may be a stranger thing, still.
The tsukiyomi finishes, and they are clothed, and nothing happened.
Or perhaps it did. We can pretend. Because pretending is the truth, isn't it?
It always is. Here is how you learn to be human, again.
"I can't do anything for you," Sakura says.
As if she's not. Because she has. But she hasn't. And this is satisfactory. This is what Itachi expected. Strands of nothing, spots in time. This is all just a dream.
"Go now, please," she says.
And he nods.
She will stay with Naruto, and her village, and take care of them. She will not leave. She does not ask to go with him. She does not want to. The shadowy places of the world do not call to her anymore, if ever they did. And maybe Sakura's Konoha is the Konoha of tomorrow, and a Konoha which has passed Itachi by, or which he has passed by.
He gazes once more at the flowing Nakano, at the reeds and the churning, restless waters; hears the song of the nightingale, and looks at Sakura's thoughtful expression.
I almost wish I could have known you, he thinks. You are so alive.
But does not say.
Itachi leaves Konoha again - and this time, it is final: leaves to find his light, and asks no more of the world. Only listens, until loving is like not feeling at all, and a sight that sees through everything is total darkness, and while all the woods are full of sound, he sinks back in.
Tomorrow it will be time to forget to be human, again.