I graduated. So…I have 8 months before college starts. ^^ Guess I'm going to be spending some quality time with these characters and my wonderful readers. Sorry for not updating for so long, it's my A-level year.
Thanks for all the reviews and for adding this fic into communities. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.
Disclamier: Don't own Naruto, Edward Green, iPods and Young Forever performed by The Ready Set.
"You are going to meet the council members. And that isn't something to be taken lightly. They are the ones who govern all vampire families that have agreed to be under the council rule for the sake of harmony - that is typically almost all the vampires within Japan."
"So they are like the government?"
"Not quite as democratic."
There are some people I never want to meet.
"I assume you have done your job sufficiently well and therefore should know this: who is she?"
"Sakura Haruno. Seventeen. Currently a high school student."
Petals of Blood
Hesitant but Unstoppable
And then, there are people I wish I never did.
It was amazing how Kakashi seemed completely at ease within the tense atmosphere. His hands were in his pockets, his eye looked relaxed and he went through all the routine checks with a lazy air around him.
The guards just beyond the twin entrances of the building frisked the both of us, thoroughly checking my backpack. They took away some of Kakashi's weapons which he voluntarily handed over - I had no idea he was even concealing them…somewhere.
None of the guards even spoke a word.
Oppressive atmosphere didn't even begin to cover it.
The entrance hall was large and quiet with white marble flooring and high ceilings. Artificial lighting brightened up the area while the large glass windows were all darkly tinted. Leather sofas were stationed on the one side and above the reception desk, a row of clocks showed the time in every major world city. The entrance hall looked like any typical entrance hall to anywhere. A bank. A concert hall. A multi-billionaire cooperation.
Kakashi did all of the talking at the reception desk, simply stating my name and that "She was summoned by Tsunade-sama." The lady behind the desk was an immaculate blond, dressed very professionally in a pencil skirt, a long-sleeved black top and four-inch heels that clicked on the marble floor as she led us up the staircase at that was situated to the side of the reception area before coming to a (totally unnecessary) landing and then ascending into another straight flight of stairs.
Click, click, click.
This seemed similar to the typical reception you would receive if you were at a headquarters of a large corporation, notwithstanding the extensive security checks. Distant, polite, intimidating.
I probably took comfort in the fact that Kakashi was alongside me the entire time, still looking as if he was accompanying his girlfriend shopping – slightly bored but dutiful. His visible eye made contact with mine as he glanced down at me. He winked conspiratorially.
The blonde receptionist gestured to the elevator, bowing slightly to us.
We were taken to an elevator with walls of mirror and I could see myself fidgeting from all directions. I thought the design of this elevator was chosen very purposefully.
Bunch of high-class rich snobby people – sorry, vampires - trying to intimidate us, aren't they? Inner Sakura commented.
Nevermind that, how in the world are we going to get through this?
Don't attract any attention to yourself? Inner Sakura suggested.
If they requested to see me, I doubt that they won't notice me melting into the wallpaper. I thought to my subconscious dryly.
That's another question. I bit my lip. Why did they request to see me?
The ding of the elevator cut through the silence. My breathing was unnaturally loud. I stepped out of the elevator as the doors opened on the twentieth floor.
As we walked out of the elevator, our shoes sounding resolutely on the marble floors, Kakashi leaned in from behind me. "If you are just meeting Tsunade-sama, it's fine." Kakashi whispered in a low voice. By the time I turned to throw my questioning look at him, he had already straightened and looked expressionless.
Unsure of what to do next and mindful about Kakashi's warning ("And always, always remember – there is nothing that goes on in there that they don't know about."), I turned back to walk into another huge lobby. It was slightly less sterile white, glass and intimidating. Instead, the lighting turned to whitish-orange and the large desk was a huge intricately carved polish wood. No one stood behind it but there were four hooded people, wearing black from head to toe, standing at the corners of the large lobby, the orangey light casting sharp shadows across their figures and hiding their faces.
I blinked, swallowed deeply and pretended the hooded people didn't exist, pretended that nothing was odd, as I continued to walk down the hallway that branched from the lobby. The back of my neck prickled as the hair on my nape stood on end. The air around felt charged, putting me on edge.
The hallway was slightly curved, as if we were walking along a circular perimeter, and scarcely furnished, only the walls had any detailing.
Finally, we arrived at a large set of double doors. Kakashi stepped in front of me to grasp the door handles and he pushed them open unceremoniously after he tapped sharply.
"KAKASHI." A feminine but strong, unwavering voice sounded from the other side of the two doors.
"Uh, yes, Tsunade-sama?" Kakashi stepped over the threshold of the doors, holding it open for me.
I took a deep breath, only after realising that everyone in that room (or perhaps building) were probably vampires so they would have heard me trying to get rid of my nerves. Sighing at my own lack of refinement, I stepped into the room as quickly as possible, like the speed would give me some of the courage I needed.
Strangely and so Sakura of me, but my first thought was: I was right, they are all vampires.
Ino was there, as was Naruto and Sasuke. Another black-haired woman clutching a stuffed pig toy stood by the large desk and behind it stood a formidable-looking blond woman with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Well?" The blond woman's voice boomed across the large room. Her brown eyes were hard and unforgiving.
Kakashi remained silent. Millions of thoughts burst in my mind while I tried to put some context to her question. In the end, with a lack of an answer, I went for a default.
"Hello, I'm Sakura Haruno?" I cursed myself again for sounding like I was asking a question.
Assertive, be assertive Sakura! Inner Sakura commanded.
Her brown eyes scanned me from head to toe before she said, in a voice full of authority, "Come in and close that door behind you."
Okay, I introduced myself, now what?
I closed the door before looking at Ino, Naruto and Sasuke in turn, trying to take in the mood of the room.
Ino looked curious.
Naruto looked cheerful and he smiled when he caught my eyes.
Sasuke looked murderous.
Assessment of the situation process: zero percent.
I stared at Sasuke, trying to read the reason behind his expression. But as usual, the expression was something I couldn't comprehend. I bit my lips. Sasuke tore his gaze away from me, stepped up to the desk and he said in a dangerously cold voice, "What are you planning?"
My neck prickled and a shiver slid down my spine. Sasuke's question wasn't addressed to me, but I still felt like I committed a grave crime by coming here.
"Uchiha-san! Please address the Fifth Hokage with respect!" The black-haired woman reprimanded. It was then I noticed that the pig she held was no stuffed toy – it was a real live pig, about the size of a fat cat.
Assessment of the situation process: negative percent.
"Teme, what-" Naruto began before Sasuke cut him off.
"What the hell is this?" Sasuke said, not paying any heed to the warning and instead glaring fiercely at the Fifth Hokage.
"That's quite a reaction there, Uchiha." The Fifth Hokage said coolly, crossing her arms over her ample chest.
Sasuke's jaw clenched. I wanted to diffuse the situation somehow but had no clue what was going on.
Tsunade sighed loudly and brought her hand to her forehand, rubbing it slowly. "I play no role in this Uchiha. I was asked to order Kakashi to bring her here."
Tsunade dropped her hands to her sides, looking Sasuke before glancing at me directly. "The ones who asked her to come were the Elders." The emphasis of the last word, making it seem as though it came with a capital letter.
The double doors swung open suddenly.
"Tsunade-hime, we were informed that Sakura Haruno has arrived." An elderly woman spoke, authority ringing in all of her words. The old woman was dressed as if she just stepped out of a time machine from the time of the Meiji Restoration. She wore a kimono, a strong Japanese style amidst the overlapping layers, but rather than looking pretty and delicate, the old woman looked hostile and ready for battle. The old man behind her held himself in a similar way, his posture rigid and his face expressionless. Two hooded figures stepped in behind them, their steps soundless and their faces hidden.
It was difficult to pinpoint the age of the elderly couple, but I guessed they were well over sixty. The old woman's forehead was wrinkled and her eyes were pinched downwards. However, she still managed to send me an indescribable look, her black eyes flashing as she scanned me from head to toe slowly.
Her eyes….they were so old. Too old, old beyond all I could imagine. I was wrong – she probably lived well before the Meiji Restoration.
A quirk came to rest on the side of her mouth as she swung her militant gaze back to Tsunade.
"Now do you see the problem that exists right in front of us, Tsunade-hime?"
Tsunade rose swiftly from her seat, her brown eyes settled on the elderly woman's face in a glare. "No, Koharu-sama, I'm afraid I don't quite understand the point you are trying to get at."
The elderly woman glanced at me, her eyebrows rose with distaste. "Look at her." Her cold eyes pinned me on the spot. "Surely, the Fifth Hokage can do so much better than this. Why, if I had known that you would be chosen the slave to the famed Uchiha home in such an incompetent manner with the lack of forethought or any thought at all really, I would have delegated the job to someone who understands the importance of upholding the reputation of the royal families."
Suddenly, between one blink and the next, I found myself staring at Sasuke's back as he stood in front of me, partially blocking the elderly woman's access to me. "I chose her myself. I see no problem in that since she would be serving me." His voice was clear, but the steel within it was palpable.
The old woman looked at Sasuke with no fear in her eyes, despite the tension I could feel rolling off him. "Sasuke Uchiha-sama. You are very busy with numerous missions and house duties. No one blames you for your unfortunate choice of your slave. No matter, this problem is easily revisable."
Unfortunate? Problem? Revisable?
I sucked in a breath of surprise before I clamped my lips down, shut and tight. I stepped closer to Sasuke's back so I could hide my expression of anger and shock as I willed the snarky remarks on the tip of my tongue to settle down. The flash of anger grew within me. She was talking about me like I was unwanted object that they were forced to come into contact with - like gum stubbornly stuck to the bottom of someone's expensive pair of Edward Green's. Unfortunate – she spoke as if I forced Sasuke to take me as a slave – out of pity.
"I have no wish to revise anything." Sasuke sneered the word.
I stared down at the ground, taking in the pattern of the carpet and the lines of the back of Sasuke's sneakers. Closing my eyes and biting my bottom lip, I tried to tame the anger that was boiling to the surface.
Something touched the back of my hand that was clenched into a fist at my side. I startled at the cold touch and my eyes snapped open. I had released my left hand from the fist I was making in my surprise. Cool, long fingers curled around the tips of my fingers. My eyes followed the long, pianist-slender fingers up a pale hand, wrists and forearm before meeting the black material of Sasuke's long-sleeved shirt folded to the elbow.
His hand tugged my fingers, pulling me to stand further in his shadow. Then he released my hand.
"Sasuke Uchiha-sama, this is really unlike you." The elderly man spoke for the first time as he stepped to stand beside the old woman, staring down Sasuke like a united front.
Sasuke scoffed, his voice low and dangerous as he spoke, "You don't know anything about me."
"I like to think I know enough. You were never the one to do things without a purpose. A specific purpose I might add – everything you do is to uphold the Uchiha name. Uchiha pride runs through your veins, much like the rest of the Uchiha members in the past. You of all people should know when your actions are illogical and unnecessary. Having a young, human slave distinctly falls under the category of illogical and unnecessary." The old man spoke slowly, weighing down the atmosphere.
I concentrated on listening to the conservation, forcing my breathing to quiet as I tried to not bring attention to my young and human self.
"You seem awfully involved in this simple, administrative matter of picking a slave. We, as part of the council, are more than capable of choosing a more than adequate, helpful, loyal slave that will expand his or her capabilities to help you and the Uchiha clan. I don't see any logic whatsoever in any circumstance that would involve bringing a hopelessly young, human girl into this matter." The old woman spoke, her voice loud and self-assured – as if she knew she was right.
My hands clenched at her words – no doubt she was insulting and demeaning me. Hopelessly young, human girl? What's wrong with being young? What's so wrong about being human?
"Unless there is something that you failed to bring to light, Sasuke Uchiha-sama? Something that you didn't speak of?" Her voice was tinged with haughtiness.
I lifted my head to stare at the spot between Sasuke's shoulder blades as I thought through her words. In my peripheral, I caught sight of Naruto shifting from foot to foot behind the elders.
"No." Sasuke stepped away from me, no longer serving as a barrier, his hands leisurely placed into his pockets. "I just don't like you forcing your away into my business."
"Uchiha-sama, of course we respect your decisions. However, we feel that the council is better equipped to pick the very best for you. We have many candidates already chosen ahead of time. I'm sure you received our recommendations." The old man said, his hands resting lightly on the cane in front of him.
Sasuke shrugged. "I didn't read them." He said easily, his tone mocking.
"Well, all of them came from prominent vampire families, all very willing to serve the Uchiha household. Many of them are highly trained in combat as well as administrative matters; no doubt each and every one of them will be a great asset to have on the missions assigned to you. I assure you that they will give you no problems and only help accomplish all of your duties." The old woman said. She flicked one of her wrinkled hands and one of the hooded figured took the necessary steps towards Sasuke.
"Uchiha-sama." The hooded figure spoke in a decidedly masculine voice. He tilted his head down in a fast bow and presented the stack of papers bundled into a mauve file he whipped out of his cloak to Sasuke.
Sasuke made no move to take the file away from the hooded man instead focusing his attention to the elderly couple in front of him.
"I don't need your recommendations."
"Sasuke Uchiha-sama." The old man sighed deeply, as if he was addressing a problem that was beneath him. "What could a human girl, seventeen years of age offer to you? She's not particularly skilled at anything nor does she have enough experience or education to be of any help. She's a young child, barely out of her mother's womb, what could she possibly do? She has no training, and why bother to train her when you have dozens of better trained vampires that you can choose instead?"
"Take it from us, Sasuke Uchiha-sama, with age comes experiences and knowledge. With experience and knowledge, comes result. We, including you, can't expect anything out of a human girl this young. She knows nothing of the vampire world and by the time she would have learnt, she'll probably would be close to passing." The old woman said, her black eyes flashing to mine for a moment before moving away, like I wasn't even worth more than a mere glance. Even while she talked about my death.
A low growl sounded in the room. I should have recognized it to have come from Naruto but I was too wrapped up in my own anger and indignation.
She's one to talk; she looks old enough to keel over any minute. Inner Sakura snapped.
I took a step closer to the elderly couple, my first movement since Sasuke pulled me behind him. "I'm sorry-" I didn't sound sorry at all to my own ears. "- but you can't just say that. You can't just talk about me and my death in front of me as if I am not even here." I took a deep breath. My voice continued to shake with anger. "I didn't choose this. I did not coerce, force or beg Sasuke to make me his slave. I don't know what gave you that idea but you shouldn't-"
"Shouldn't what?" The old woman interrupted me, throwing my words into the breeze like they were nothing. I felt all my flaws pop out of my skin from the coldness of her gaze. "What exactly do you feel that I have said incorrectly? It is true that you are a young, human girl with no remarkable talents at all. It is true that sometimes vampires take humans as slaves, but that is usually for cases where the human holds significant power in the society." The old woman said, sickly sweet, and she looked at me from beneath her hooded eyelids. "That can't be the same for you, can it? After all, you're just a young girl, with no parents, no siblings, no money, no opportunity, nothing to your name. Your worth-" she paused, holding my gaze for the first time since she stepped into the room. She smiled, her eyes wrinkling at the sides, and I felt it like poison in my veins, "-is nothing."
Her words were clear. The room settled in still, impenetrable silence as the old woman's words washed over me.
"Now, leave us. This matter is closed."
I had to blink a few times as I registered the fact that she was dismissing me. Since I remained unmoving, one of the hooded figures came to stand by my side, making no move to grab me but also obviously meant to escort me out of the room.
I shifted my gaze to Sasuke's face, not sure what I was searching for but desperately grasping for something to anchor myself in all this confusion.
And anger, Sakura sweetheart. You're feeling angry at the unfairness.
Sasuke's hard unforgiving glare morphed into an unreadable expression as we made eye contact. He tilted his head unmistakably to the door.
Completely and utterly confused, I slowly walked out of the room, hearing the solid slam of the double doors behind me.
The hooded figure directed me to another large room that resembled a library. It had high ceilings and a theme of cream colours but I did not place my attention on the sights, instead sinking into an armchair slowly.
I was so damn confused and angry.
That…old woman and old man. It was unbelievable of how lowly they thought of me. They never even met me! They insulted me, not even directly to my face, instead playing it up like I was furniture. I wasn't stupid – if they didn't mean for me to hear those words, they would have never made me come here. They purposely wanted to reprimand Sasuke on his choices right in front of me. Telling him, and me, that I was the wrong choice – no, I shouldn't even be a choice. I was never one to fool myself into thinking that people in this world were all nice, but this – this type of hostility and cold attitude, was something I never expected directed at me with such viciousness.
These people treated humans, especially young ones, like a disease. We weren't even good enough to be slaves.
Something in me cracked and flared. They could seriously stick their prejudices up their own asses. With old-fashioned thoughts like that, they would never move forward, never learn from their own mistakes.
Young people – what made them great was the fact that they knew how to take chances, knew how to make mistakes. And when a new venture doesn't end up a mistake, that's when something amazing happens. Being young is being innocent and beautiful.
They didn't understand that. They wanted all the control, over their people, over Naruto and Ino and Sasuke. All because they thought they knew best. They were stuffed up with their prejudices and pride. So, so much pride.
They may be hundreds and hundreds of years old, but they didn't understand.
What it meant to be young.
"You see, Sasuke Uchiha-sama? Submissive as she may be, she was utterly useless to your cause. Pretty face, but really nothing beyond that is there?" Koharu Utatane said. She waved the second hooded figure that didn't escort Sakura out of the room forward. He walked towards the south wall, pushing a panel on the wall that swung outwards. The only skin visible on him was the thin patch uncovered by his gloves and sleeve.
A large plasma TV screen came into view and soon everyone's attention was on the clear vivid image of Sakura Haruno sitting on an armchair in the grand library.
"Now, as much as it is a chore, we'll have to keep an eye on her. She's probably no danger to us unless her lips run loose. We cannot risk the chance of her destroying what we worked so hard for. Perhaps the only solution we have is memory modification? Tsunade-hime, I'm sure that's appropriate, right?" Koharu continued to speak, ignoring the tense atmosphere and the fuming occupants of the room.
Naruto was growling lowly deep in his throat, despite Kakashi's restraining hand on his shoulder, he was ready to lunge at the elderly couple and wallop them something good. He felt righteous anger bubbling over within him – how dare they speak like that to Sakura, to his friend with real smiles and hesitant feelings.
Ino was hiding her thoughts better than the other blonde, but she was no less enraged, her bright neon orange nails digging deep into her palms to prevent her from committing treason by murdering the elders of the council. Her light blue eyes were flashing with anger.
Tsunade pressed her palm to her forehead, fighting off a headache that was a symptom of 'too-much-crap-and-not-enough-sake' syndrome, often reoccurring whenever the Elders were around, like a chronic pain.
"Sakura is not going to tell anyone about vampires." Sasuke spoke, all the more hostile, his posture was rigid and his glare was honed onto the elderly couple. He clenched and unclenched his hands unknowingly.
Homura Mitokado turned his gaze onto the Uchiha, his stance proper and polite but his eyes flashed with knowledge, confidence and bitterness that came with age. He had eyes that have seen thousands of sunrises, the rise and fall of empires and death, so much death. He spoke calmly, distantly polite, as if he was announcing the takeover of company. His voice did not conceal the hardness and ruthlessness of the words. "If, or perhaps when, she does, I am very sure you are well aware that you are the one who is going to hunt her, Sasuke Uchiha-sama."
Sasuke scoffed and instead focused his attention on the plasma screen. Sakura was sitting in the armchair, her feet hoisted up to her side, and Sasuke felt a small tinge of pride that came with seeing Sakura place her feet, dirty shoes and all, onto the upholstery of the eighteen-century Victorian armchair.
Sakura, with her messy hair and expression filled with restraint anger, was a complete contradiction to the grace and old-worldness of the furniture around her.
"What is she doing?" Naruto asked, staring at the screen as Sakura plug in her earpieces and scrolled quickly through her iPod.
All the vampires in the Hokage office found themselves staring curiously at the screen, intrigued/wary/disdainful to the pink-haired girl.
Sakura's lips moved, unknowingly making a mockery to the elder's previous words: her lips run loose.
"Let us hear the sound." Koharu barked.
"We can be like prisoners
Yeah, and we can be alone
We can make a mess like no one knows
And risk it on our own."
"She's…singing?" Tsunade noted curiously.
Sakura continued to scroll through her iPod, seemingly nonchalant but under her breath, she was softly singing the same song that was playing into her ears. Only by raising the volume on the live video were the vampires able to hear the words.
"Nobody can touch us
And we run and we run and we run."
A grin split across Naruto's face, slightly savage but his luminous blue eyes were twins in their mischievous light.
Koharu's eyes narrowed as she absorbed the image of the pink-haired girl on the screen. Her spine stiffened at the absurdness of how a mere human could get such a rise out of her.
Kakashi smiled under his mask as he thought of his previous words to the pink-haired girl. And always, always remember –there is nothing that goes on in there that they don't know about.
Ino's tinkling flirtatious voice filled the office as well, singing together with Sakura.
"Hey, hey, we'll be young forever
We'll be young forever 'til forever stops."
Homura walked to the screen and with a push of his cane, shut it off. The entire office got the message loud and clear.
Tsunade turned and sent a reproving stare at Ino who grinned back and mouthed: It's a catchy song.
"Uchiha-sama." Koharu said in a low voice, all the sweetness had disappeared. "It seems we cannot dissuade you from your choice yet. However, it is in the council's right and interest to make sure that your slave is well capable of being of use to you."
"Where are you going with this Koharu-sama?"
Koharu briefly glanced at Tsunade who had spoken. "Merely stating the fact that it's entirely appropriate for the human slave to accompany Uchiha-sama on all his missions."
"No." Sasuke voice was loud enough to be heard over Ino's gasp.
The elderly vampire swung her gaze back to Sasuke and smiled thinly. "There shouldn't be any problem since you insist that the human slave is able to be of service to you. Accompanying their masters on missions is something slaves do quite commonly. But if you don't think she's up to it, then pick." She pointed to the stack of slave recommendations.
Sasuke didn't make a move towards the recommendations but stood tall, more than a foot of height above the elderly woman, and gave her a dismissive look. "Fine. Sakura will come with me."
The elderly woman made no move to back off either. "Then we understand each other for now. I do hope she proves to be capable of staying alive...for at least a while." She smiled the same sickly sweet smile and walked out of the room, the old man beside her and the hooded guards trailing silently behind them.
A thick silence blanketed the room before Naruto broke it.
The other four people's thoughts echoed the sentiment.
"What do I have to do? What do I do?" I frantically whispered to Sasuke as the four of us climbed up the marble steps leading to the entrance of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.
Sasuke glanced back at me briefly before speaking, "Just stay close to us. And act like you're visiting the museum."
"Like a tourist? Do I have to speak a different language?"
Naruto laughed, low and deep. "Nah, Sakura-chan, just be a seventeen year old girl out with a couple of her friends for the evening." He quickened to reach the same step I was on. "Don't worry about it. This mission is easy – retrieval. Danger level is practically non-existent."
"If the danger level is low, why in the world would they send Sasuke, Ino and even you?" I knew the three of them were powerful vampires. No doubt they got sent on all sorts of difficult missions where the danger level would definitely not be "practically non-existent".
"Ah ha. That is highly classified information…but since you're pretty, I'll tell you." He gave me an exaggerated wink that relaxed something inside of me. We walked through the entrance of the building, the numerous conservations around us allowing us to hold our own without being overheard.
I looked at Naruto expectantly, not really paying attention to exactly where we were going, trusting Sasuke to know where to lead us and Ino, who had my arm tucked in hers, to lead me along.
"We are here-" Naruto peeked around us fugitively, earning him an eyebrow raise and a small smile from me. He grinned back and leaned closer to whisper into my ear. "-to retrieve a family ring."
"A family ring?"
"You know vampires – we just got to have all sorts of symbols for power, prestige, family, etcetera etcetera." He ticked each word off his fingers before wriggling them at me. "Super easy mission since we are retrieving the family ring from the council's protection back to the family that the ring belongs to."
"Mmkay…so why are we retrieving a family ring? They don't want it under protection anymore? Is there some use for it or something?"
Sasuke abruptly placed a stiff card into my hand. I looked down to study the entry ticket. "Pay attention to the exhibits to make your act believable and not just to Naruto." He muttered.
I restrained a laugh. I couldn't resist ribbing him a little though. "I can't help it." I said in a breathy voice, "he's just that adorable." I looked up at the good-looking blond and battered my eyelashes absurdly.
"Aw, I love you too, Sakura-chan!" The good-looking blond turned into a grinning fanatic, picked me up and hugged me to his chest.
"Put her down, you moron. You're attracting too much attention!" Ino whacked him upside the head. I shook my head at their antics. She's just going to draw even more attention to us with violence like that. I finally paid attention to my surroundings, noting that several people's gazes were upon the three (ridiculous) people with me. There was a class of middle-school students in the same exhibit hall as us, the girls had their eyes tracking Sasuke's and Naruto's movements, while several boys checked out Ino shamelessly. I snickered. That's what she got for going out in public in a dress that short – a bunch of under-aged boys at their peaks of puberty mentally memorizing her for their later dreams.
Sasuke pulled out his cellphone, checking the time with a brief glance. "Ten minutes before the CCTVs get turned off in the Joerou Kitsune Retrospective exhibit hall." He tucked the phone back into the back pocket of his jeans.
Naruto grinned. "Shikamaru's the man."
"We're stealing from the museum?" I whispered harshly, stepping closer to the other three as we walked through the huge exhibit hall.
"It's not really stealing since the ring belongs to the family." Ino said. "The breakdown is: the Chiba family asked the council to protect their family ring, they believe it would be safer within the council's protection rather than taking care of it themselves. But recently they decided that they want to protect it themselves. The council then hired us to collect it from the storage place which just happens to be in this museum."
"So the museum doesn't know the family rings are here?" I asked bewildered.
"Yup. Anything that involves the family rings is always very cloak-and-dagger. We don't want any trouble with the museum security so we can't sneak in at night to retrieve the ring. We're just going to breeze in, go to the correct exhibit hall, through the secret door into the secret storage area, get the pain-in-ass ring and go."
We entered the adjacent exhibit hall. The museum was slightly more crowded in this area. There were several small pockets of tourists along with the middle-school class. I cast my gaze around looking at the large art exhibits. Right in the middle of the hall stood a massive exhibit consisting of many small old-fashioned televisions stacked together to form a pyramid. The sign in front of the exhibit proclaimed the piece to be still under construction. There were several workers milling about in the marked area. I stepped closer slightly to avoid bumping into several of the middle-school students.
"Should we try plugging it in?" One of the workers, a bald man with broad shoulders and thick biceps, asked his co-worker, a smaller man with hair up in a short braid down the back of his head. His friend shook his head, slipping under the ropes that barricaded the area. "No, don't do that. Every time we test this baby out the electricity trips. We might need a separate generator for this exhibit. Who knew so many old televisions required a heck of a lot of electricity to run?"
A cold grip enclosed my wrist.
Sasuke looked over at me. "Let's go. Two minutes."
I nodded and let him lead me to the next exhibit hall.
True to Ino's words we breezed past lots of the exhibits, quickly losing the herd of middle-school students who unsuccessfully tried to follow. We passed through another large hall before coming to a stop near the next exhibit hall, proudly proclaimed to be Joerou Kitsune Retrospective.
Naruto slipped his cellphone from his hoodie pocket. "Countdown. 5…4…3…2…1. Let's go!"
Ino and Sasuke shot him weird and exasperated looks respectively. Naruto pouted. "This is an adventure guys! Can't you be a little excited?" He looked back and forth between them. Their expressions remained unchanging. "Oh, come on! At least pretend for me? I don't get out much y'know."
Ino rolled her eyes, took my arm and dragged me into the exhibit hall. I gave Naruto a quick pat on the shoulder along the way. He caught my hand and followed us in.
Sasuke walked up to a completely white wall with random translucent and dark glass embedded into the wall between two giant metal monuments. The one on the right was called '太陽' which meant sun. The one of the left was 'ムーン', meaning moon.
Sasuke reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and drew out a wickedly sharp knife. The blade was slightly longer than my middle finger. He whipped the knife across his thumb at lightning speed before smearing his blood across one of the dark glass. His blood was stark red against the black backdrop. He licked across the flat side of his blade, cleaning it of blood before slipping it back into his jacket. Using his wounded thumb, he pushed the dark glass. It slid backwards into the wall before a gentle click was heard. His hand shifted left then, the dark glass sliding together with it as if the blood was glue, sticking the glass to Sasuke's thumb. A tiny gold knob appeared out of the space that the glass hid. The knob was craved carefully into a complicated series of dragons, several twining together. Sasuke raised his other hand and slipped it into the shallow hole and twisted the knob three times.
Soundlessly, the wall moved inwards, becoming a door right before my eyes.
Following Sasuke, I stepped into the hidden room. "Hold the door open. It will be quick." Sasuke instructed to Naruto who nodded and pushed against the wall-door, using his body weight to hold it open.
I wanted to ask Naruto if the door was as heavier than it looked but I was sidetracked by rows and rows of lockers that lined the walls of the storage room. Sasuke walked confidently to one along the far wall. I peered at the lockers, trying to distinguish them but they were not labeled or color-coded or anything. The hundreds of little lockers completely resembled each other. Sasuke kneeled and retrieved a little royal purple pouch from one of the numerous pockets in his jacket. Tilting the pouch, a small gold key slipped out. He fitted it into the keyhole of one of the lockers and after a few moments he rose again as he placed the gold key back into the pouch along with a dark red box, presumably holding the family ring.
"Wow that was anti-climatic. No matter how important family rings are, they really don't have to send all three of us, plus Sakura, onto a mission as simple as that." Ino spoke, spinning on her heel to walk out of the room, bypassing Naruto.
The sound of her heels clacking against the hardwood floor suddenly stopped. From where I was standing I would barely hear her suck in her next breath before she said in an urgent voice that sent shivers down my spine, "Incoming."
Before I even registered that the repercussions behind her word I felt a hard arm grip me around the waist and then Sasuke was hauling me out of the room. Naruto let the door swing shut behind him as he too took a defensive position in front of me. The door still made no noise, nothing to cover the soft growl that came from Naruto.
"What is it?" Ino asked, her head strained forward even as her hands stayed at her sides, trying to listen hard at something I couldn't hear.
"Vampires." Sasuke put me stepped in front of me, putting me behind both him and Naruto. I was closed in. The wall-door behind me, the sun and moon monuments at each of my sides and Sasuke directly in front. "Many of them. Coming in fast."
"How do you know its vampires?" I asked, surprising myself at my ability to be calm. But even while caged in a small space, I didn't feel afraid. Naruto, Ino and Sasuke were all here.
(safe. safe. do you feel safe anywhere?)
"The sound of their footsteps. Too coordinated. They seem to be trying to not alert us of their presence in the museum." Naruto said in a low voice. With a slight tinge of shock, I realized this was the first time I had seen Naruto's serious side. Maybe I should feel afraid if even Naruto is being serious.
Ino let out an unladylike snort. "They shouldn't have sent twenty over people then. Covert operations like stealing a family ring should be more inconspicuous."
People suddenly rushed into the Joerou Kitsune Retrospective exhibit hall. I went onto my tiptoes, trying to see over Sasuke's shoulder. Unconsciously, I rested my hand against his shoulder blade to balance myself.
(who do you feel safe with?)
Naruto gave the newcomers a wolfish grin, and I had a brief thought that he and Kiba would probably make really good friends.
"Now…what do we have here?"
The newcomers were dressed in civilian clothing but their faces were hidden with black cloths over their foreheads, nose and mouth that they must have pulled on when they arrived at the parts of the museum where there were no humans. Only their eyes were exposed – eyes trained on us.
No answer came from them. Verbally at least. They seem to access Ino, Naruto and Sasuke carefully. Ino pulled a blade from her purse which created an odd sight. Naruto stepped forward aggressively, still smiling that wolfish grin that spoke of controlled violence.
Sasuke turned abruptly, catching me by my upper arm and waist when I stumbled from the lack of balance. He pushed me back further into the wall, crowding me in with his hard body. He bent forward, looking into my eyes intently. "Stay still. Stay here. Don't move." He looked back over his shoulder, giving the entire exhibit hall a sweep with gaze.
My breath caught in my throat at his expression when he turned back – his lips were pressed together harshly, his brow furrowed very slightly and his eyes…were burning.
Something about his eyes told me very clearly that despite Naruto and his wolfish grin, Sasuke would be the one to cause the most violence.
He moved his hand to my shoulder, pushing me back against the wall. I stared into his dark eyes, seeing a tiny image of myself reflected back. "You can close your eyes and think of England, if you like. You don't need to see this."
Sasuke stepped away and I sagged slightly against the wall when his support disappeared.
After several measured steps, Sasuke stood beside Naruto, with Ino a few spaces to the left of them.
"No one is going to get pass us."
I squeezed my eyes shut.
I focused on my breathing as sounds of blades clashing against each other and the scuffing of booted feet on the marble floors sounded in front of me.
It was strange. Usually in the face of danger, people didn't look away from the threats. They focused on them, honed in on them, tried to get away from them. Instead, I was pressing myself into a wall, breathing hard and my eyes were closed.
I wasn't thinking of England, but I kept my eyes closed.
I knew then – I knew I was still afraid of what it meant to be in this world, even while I resign myself to the fact that I was now in too deep, too deep to be ignorant. The knowledge still scared me. Vampires were different. They lived differently. They had different inhibitions. They lived by different rules.
My friends were all vampires, and yet I, by some instinct, treated them separate from unknown vampires who behaved like a threat.
I could close my eyes and trust vampires to keep me safe from other vampires.
Some vampires were a threat. Others, to me, had a face, a voice, a laugh, and feelings. And I treated them like people.
"Sasuke! Permission to kill?" Naruto's voice sounded nearby.
There was a loud scuffle in front of me, sounding several feet away. "Not authorized. They didn't expect an attack." Sasuke sounded calm and cold. His voice rang with authority.
There was clicks on the floor, the clicking of the heels Ino wore before a loud crunch of bones breaking.
Obviously, my best friend kicked some serious ass.
"Keep them away from her!"
"I know." Sasuke's deep voice sounded closer now with a slight growl of annoyance laced in the tone.
"Seven minutes before the CCTVs turn back on."
More sounds of fighting surrounded me despite the controlled calmness of Sasuke's voice. More bones crunched and there were numerous clangs of metal hitting the marble floors. The attackers never said a word about their intentions. They just kept coming.
"That's the last of them." Naruto laughed, sounding infinitely happy that he managed to take the last one down.
My eyes snapped open and I stood upright.
"We got another problem, boys." Ino shoved another vampire down to the floor, her hands holding him down for a second before she clocked her fist into his temple viciously. He slumped to the floor, knocked out cold, a bright red stain spread across his shirt.
"Shit." Naruto cursed. "The humans are coming to investigate the noise. Couldn't you be quieter while fighting, bastard?"
"It's a pity your ears aren't functioning as well as your mouth."
"HA! So you agree that my mouth works well." Naruto shot Sasuke a grin so full of masculine smugness that I had no doubt to what he was referring to.
Ino had no doubt as well. "I'm sure that is for Hinata to decide. Can you pull yourselves away from the male pissing contest for a second to get rid of the problem we have on hand? Hmm?"
"We can't make all these bodies disappear before the humans arrive. Bloodstains on the floor have to be taken care of as well. We need to stuff them into the hidden room before we call Shikamaru for cleanup." Naruto pointed to the wall behind me.
"We can pull the fire alarm. Get all the humans out of the museum so none will investigate this area." Ino said with her hand gripping the fallen vampire's shirt. She dragged him towards the hidden room.
"We don't need more attention on this museum." Sasuke gently set me aside before swiping the blood off one of the cuts on his arm and pressing it onto the dark glass again.
The door swung open quickly and Ino braced it while the two males pushed, pull, shoved, threw vampires inside.
"You need more time to get all of them into the room, right? Just more time?" I asked, a half-baked plan forming in my mind.
All three heads turned towards me as one of the other vampires let out a low groan.
"You got a plan?"
I nodded and started to sprint towards the entrance to the exhibit hall, towards the sounds of the humans. "I think I can make a small distraction!" I shouted over my shoulder as I ran.
Quickly, I ran through the exhibit halls, towards the more popular exhibits near the front of the museum. I didn't see anyone else until after I passed another two exhibit halls. Trying to seem discrete, as discrete as I could be despite my anxiousness when I saw the security team rushing past to investigate, I creped towards the massive exhibit still under construction – the tower of old televisions. Grabbing the huge power strip that had numerous power plugs attached to it, I wrenched the power plug of the strip into the electric socket hidden under the panel in the floor and flicked the power switch. Immediately, darkness surrounded us and many panicked voices could be heard above the loud instructions of the security guards.
"Stay calm! It's just a blackout! There's nothing to worry about!"
I tugged the power plug back out and crawled away from the exhibit. It was completely pitched dark since the museum did not have any windows so as to reduce exposure of the art exhibits from external agents. I moved towards a large crowd of people. Blending would be the best for now. I hope they finished moving all the bodies and cleaning the blood.
My thoughts seem so morbid when taken out of context.
Better than thoughts of how I might have just damaged a priceless piece of art.
Nah, you just switched on the exhibit for a while. Technically it supposed to be like that anyway. There shouldn't be any damage. Inner Sakura said.
I let out a sigh. This day seemed too long.
I sat in the passenger seat of Naruto's car as he drove me back to the Uchiha estate. After the blackout incident, they caught up with me and we exited the museum without a hitch. Sasuke drove us all back to the council building but Naruto and I didn't enter as Sasuke went to deliver the ring. Ino insisted on going with him.
I was too tired after my adrenaline rush to ponder about why.
"Great job today, Sakura-chan. You kicked ass."
I twisted in my seat to look at Naruto. "I didn't kick any ass. It was all on you guys. You didn't accidently kill anyone, did you?" I asked jokingly, but not really – I hoped they didn't kill anyone.
Naruto laughed, deep and throaty. "Who you do think we are? Anyway, they were vampires, a little bump on their heads won't kill them."
"Bump on the head….right." I drew out the word, shaking my head slightly. He reached over to ruffle my hair. "All in the day's work." He clucked his tongue. "That is probably one of the easier missions even."
"Really? Even though people who shouldn't attack attacked us?"
"Well…" Naruto drew out the word in a similar manner. "No one died did they? And humans continue to be ignorant of our existence. Thanks to you. A huge success in my opinion."
"I guess. So…I have to go on these missions now?" I asked, thinking back about the time they told me about the Elder's demands when we came out of the council building.
Naruto let out a loud sigh. "Yeah. The Elders are being a pain in the ass. Again."
I turned back to face the road, not really sure what to think about the new situation.
"Don't worry. You'll always be with Sasuke and he won't let anything happen to you."
The silence that hung in the air was so tense that Ino felt that she could cut it with blades hidden in numerous places on her person. Her breathing was harsh and deliberate, she felt so small in the Uchiha's presence. It was hard to organize her thoughts, but she knew she had to follow this though. For her, for Sakura.
She thought about all the cruel things vampires did while on missions.
She thought about all the things that could have happened. Sakura bleeding, Sakura hurt, Sakura dead.
She thought about the types of missions Sasuke Uchiha usually got sent on.
Ino rubbed her hand against her forehead tiredly. "She could have died." Leaves crunched under the soles of her high-heels as she turned to face the expressionless vampire.
Ino glared fiercely. Sasuke didn't care whether it was directed at him, at the council, at the Elders or at the situation.
He stood still and Ino wasn't entirely sure he was listening. She strode closer, inches made vast difference.
"The Elders did it on purpose." She bit out the words, trying to cut into him. "They want her dead. So they can flick her off and pick another perfect vampire slave for you."
Ino felt like screaming from all the injustice of the Elder's decisions, they didn't stop at anything to get what they wanted. And Sasuke – Sasuke for stubbornly keeping Sakura at his side. It wasn't safe.
"Sakura…she supposed to be SAFE! HAPPY! Sakura doesn't need this. She doesn't need to go on ridiculous high-risk missions especially since the people who send her on them want her dead."
Sasuke tensed slightly and said stoically, "She won't die."
Ino sputtered. "How do you know that? You going to protect her?"
Sasuke turned his head to look at her from the corner of his eyes. His long bangs slightly covering his eye. Ino barely noticed the flash of red in his eyes. "How long Sasuke? How far Sasuke? How far are you going to push this until she's gone forever? You…you don't even need her. Taisetsu or not doesn't matter. It doesn't mean love. Taisetsu means best match - but not love. Lots of vampires go their whole existence without finding their taisetsus. Heck, I haven't met mine. And yet I'm not half as screwed up as you are. You can let her go."
The wind howled around them, creating sound and spreading the icy feeling.
Normal people would have shivered.
"You're Sasuke Uchiha. You're an avenger." Sasuke didn't miss the sneer in her voice. "You don't have feelings. You're alone. You have been for a long time. You never needed anyone. You don't even care about taisetsus or whatever, do you? What changed? You can just let her go and the Elders won't be trying to gun her down at every turn anymore." Ino Yamanka was not capable of guilt it seemed.
But if she looked hard enough, maybe-
Sasuke didn't speak but his eyebrows was slanted in annoyance.
Ino huffed, took a breath and continued to spit fire.
"You don't really need her. You're just hurting her by making her stay by your side. There's absolutely no reason for you to put her there. Why…god why, are you so adamant on having her with you?"
Sasuke felt like using physical violence just to get rid of the annoyance which is Ino. "Shut the hell up." There was the underlying statement of 'I don't have to explain myself to you'.
Ino glared at him hotly. "And god forbid you actually love her."
Blues eyes, laced with unhidden fury, widened.
"Sasuke… do you love her?"
(Drip. Drip. Drip.
I can pick up your broken heart –
But I wouldn't know what to do with it.
"I don't expect you to."
Sasuke stood facing the opened window in his dark cold room. His face was devoid of all emotion. He had been staring at the fluttering petals of the cherry blossom tree ever since he arrived at the Uchiha estate.
His sharp, alive but somewhere deep down flooding with nightmares eyes focused on a petal floating in the wind as it sailed through his open window and lodged itself in his hair.
His hand rose up and plucked the petal out of his hair.
Why did sakura flowers even try to grow when they withered and died so easily?
They tried every year.
They died every year.
They were weak.
His eyes shifted down to the lone pink petal in his pale hand. He held it carefully.
They were beautiful.
But they died.
Sasuke wasn't weak. He wasn't like the petals. He died once -
Long ago, deep inside his heart, his soul shattered
-but he wasn't going to fall another time.
He will avenge them.
He had sworn to.
He couldn't afford another casualty, another tragedy.
He couldn't love.
His hand clenched and the pink cherry blossom petal crushed under his fingers.
People around him died.
And he was an avenger.
Love…or whatever…was impossible.
She was trying to calm her nerves. She felt so tired but she couldn't stop thinking about what happened in the museum. She sat at the edge of the pond in the Uchiha compound just staring at the serene water. There was no fish. When she thought about it…there wasn't a single animal or insect around.
Sakura shook her head side to side furiously, clearing her mind. Her long pink hair swished in the air, same shade as the cherry blossoms fluttering in the wind around her. The strands brushed her exposed collarbone and covered her back.
The wooden paneling she was seated on was rigid but comfortable. Her legs began swinging in the cool water, creating ripples. She picked up the charcoal pencil again and flipped to a new page on her sketchbook. Absently, she began to sketch.
It was late in the night, she thought. She welcomed the darkening skies however.
Sakura Haruno love stars.
She thought back to the times when she was younger in the orphanage, there used to be this boy that was slightly older than her. He used to be tell her this tale that stars were actually rescuers from the skies sent to save people. He told her that story only once, late in the night when they were both still awake. When Sakura first heard him tell the story, she thought he was trying to tell her there was hope. But now, she thought maybe to him it was just a story.
'Rescuers from the skies' Sakura smiled at the thought. She knew it was silly now, but really if vampires exist what else is there?
She bent her head back to look at all the stars in the sky above her. The stars were surprisingly bright here, even though the Uchiha estate was still in the midst of Tokyo.
She hugged herself, feeling cold.
She stared, looked, and fixated herself – trying to believe.
He stared, looked and masked his face – trying not to care.
Cherry blossoms fluttered down onto the water and ripples appeared alongside the ones Sakura created.
(Ripple. Ripple. Ripple.
Tangle your heart with mine.)
She didn't see him.
She didn't hear him.
But suddenly he was there -
- looking down at her face as he stood at his full height.
Sakura startled, and splashed as she abruptly stood up in the knee-height water. Her sketchbook fluttered after it hit the wooden paneling; open on the page she just sketched.
The vampire in question smoldered down the unwanted feeling that came when he heard her say his name.
The rosette girl searched his face, trying to understand his intentions. She was wary. He appeared without warning.
"Get back into the house."
Green eyes glinted dangerously as she narrowed her eyes. Her lips twisted upwards as she smiled angelically.
A shock travelled through her. Nothing big – she was still standing upright, but it had hurt. "Hey! I thought we agreed you stopped that!"
"Do not make me force you." His voice was hard.
A pink tongue darted out of her lips. She had stuck her tongue out at him.
His eyes flickered crimson before turning back to onyx. He was slightlytaken off guard. No one dared to rebel against a direct command of his so outwardly.
Especially not humans.
Someone he could kill instantly.
Sasuke took in Sakura's profile. Her jeans were wet from when she splashed. Long pink hair flowed past mid-back. Shining emerald eyes. A stuck out tongue. She was petite, on the short side even. Her cheeks were rosy. She was human.
Ino's words came back to him.
Do you love her do you love her do you love her do you love her do you love her do you love her do you love her do you love her –
Sasuke's hand clenched tightly as the anger took over.
Sakura blinked, "what?"
Fingernails dug into his palm, drawing blood.
He was an avenger. Avenger avenger avenger avenger avenger -
Gone was the short emerald-eyed, pink-haired girl in front of him. Instead, images of his past flashed in his head. They reminded him of his ambition. His purpose. They reminded him of everything.
His eyes shifted red again and the there tomoes of the sharingan started rapidly spinning, chasing each other. He kept his head down so as to not meet her gaze, so he didn't see the bright green eyes that appeared in his dreams.
He barely heard the whisper of his name as she uttered it.
Blood dripped from his palm to the wooden paneling he stood on.
(Drip. Drip. Drip.
He couldn't love.
He strode towards her, rippling the water violently and making water splash all around them and onto the wooden platform.
Her eyes widened and her head spun.
Because he crashed his lips onto hers.
(Sasuke. Sasuke. Sasuke.
She was drowning in him.)
Strong arms wrapped around her small waist.
He crushed her to his frame.
He pressed her closer to him as he held the back of her head, preventing her from moving anywhere else but closer.
His lips were pressed hard against hers.
(Thump. Thump. Thump.
I think I might be going insane.)
Her whirlwind of thoughts just increased as she tried to comprehend what exactly was happening.
His lips were hard against hers, as if he didn't even want to kiss her. This kiss wasn't a hesitant or gentle of a couple of their first date, nor was it a kiss of a man driven mad by lust. This kiss was as much desperation as it was unforgiving. Sasuke wasn't desperate to kiss her. He was desperate to prove something. His grip tightened on her waist, stealing Sakura's breath.
It was raining cherry blossoms.
Sasuke Uchiha was kissing Sakura Haruno.
And then it was over.
Sakura was quiet and it felt like her lips were on fire.
She stared into his hooded eyes that were once again as dark as night.
A gasp escaped her bruised lips as he ripped his arms away from her body so fast that she couldn't see it.
But she could feel it.
Before she could utter a word, whether pleasant or not, he was out of the water and looking down at her from the pond side with an impression she couldn't read.
"I don't love you."
He disappeared, leaving Sakura wet with pond water, under the rain of cherry blossoms –
- and feeling very alone.
I can't love you.
I slowly climbed out of the water on autopilot, bracing my arms on the wood of the platform before pushing myself up. My thoughts – what am I thinking?
What just happened?
Why did Sasuke do that?
I shivered as a wind passing brushed against my sodden clothes.
I pushed my palms against my closed eyes, trying to once again calm my mind to allow thoughts to be processed properly. But the effort failed even more than the last time.
I was so goddamn confused.
The situation was never something I could understand, or control. My anger grew and I was torn between wanting to kick Sasuke in the face and never looking at him again.
I felt like screaming as his words continued to repeat in my mind.
"I don't love you."
I flung my hands down, barely registering the pain when it smacked into the paneling.
My gaze fixed onto my open sketchbook.
It was his face. In the museum. Before he told me to close my eyes.
(his lips were pressed together harshly, his brow furrowed very slightly and his eyes…were burning.)
It was Sasuke's face. The first face I ever completed drawing.
The world was crashing around me.
How's that? I'm super rusty, and this was a difficult chapter to write. Finally a meeting with the council and the awaited first kiss. The last scene was a throwback to the original storyline (old fans might recognize it.)
Anyways, I'm having ... a contest? Sort of, - to enter, send me a review that tells me your favorite scene so far in the story and why. The chosen winner would receive a part of the next chapter as early as when I finish writing it.
:D It will be fun. And I'm happy to know more about my readers and what they think. ^^