Illusions of Innocence
Chapter Four – Shattered Lines
No, se puede vivir con tanto veneno,
No se puede dedicar el alma,
Pesa mes la rabia que el cemento.
No, one cannot live with so much poison,
One should not dedicate the soul,
To collecting intentions
Rage weighs heavier than cement.
"Damn it! Not again." For the fifth time that night, Kisame pushed his chair away from the table dramatically, his speech theatrically indignant. The reigning chess champion of Akatsuki, one Uchiha Itachi, began to collect the pieces up without a word. He would never voice his thoughts, but he often wished for a better chess partner. Unfortunately, only Kisame was stupid enough to put himself up to losing again and again, in the vain hope that he would one day outsmart the genius of the Uchiha clan.
"I'm going to bed." Kisame said cheerfully, losing five times having done nothing whatsoever to quell his good-spirits. "See you later."
"Hn." Itachi replied, lining the chess pieces up neatly on the glass board. Kisame rolled his eyes jokingly and exited the room. Itachi knew there was another presence with him in the room, and he recognised the chakra signature immediately. He stayed quiet, waiting for the one standing directly behind him to speak first.
"I could beat you anytime." Haruno Sakura said, a scant hint of amusement buried within the confident statement.
"Hn." Itachi responded, gesturing to the chair opposite him, which Kisame had previously occupied. Sakura moved around and took the seat offered to her. Even in her emaciated state, she had a certain grace to her, he noticed without any particular feeling. She hadn't put on much weight, and although she had only been at the Akatsuki base for a week or so, Itachi knew Konan wished Sakura would eat something other than the instant ramen she appeared to favour above all other foodstuffs. He personally couldn't care less. If she wanted to starve herself, let her.
Itachi looked at the girl, remembering her from the first time he'd seen her, over two years ago now, and tried to reconcile the withdrawn and scarred kunoichi who still had the audacity to proclaim that she could beat him at something, with the naïve child who had been too scared to even look at his clone, over two years ago now. Haruno Sakura was, Itachi decided, one of nature's oddities. Rather like himself.
He waited for Sakura, who was using the white pieces, to make her move before he chose his own. A question formulated in his mind as they began the game. It was a question he knew he would end up asking Sakura; he hated any lack of knowledge whatsoever on his part.
They continued quietly with the game for a while, the only sounds being Sakura's hissed profanities when she lost a piece to Itachi, which admittedly wasn't very often.
When Kisame awoke in the morning, he sat up in confusion, glancing around. There were no chakra signatures in the room apart from his own. He looked over to Itachi's bed. It was still freshly made from the previous day. Whilst this wasn't too unusual in itself – Itachi rarely slept in his bed – the fact that Itachi wasn't even in the room was slightly untoward. He knew what he would find before he even looked over to the couch Sakura slept on. No one. No hint that anyone but Kisame had actually entered the room since he had gone to sleep around ten hours ago.
His curiosity piqued, he hauled himself out of bed and got dressed, before heading straight downstairs, almost crashing into Hidan on his way there. The Jashinist was dripping blood after one of his rituals, presumably. Kisame checked his clothes for any hint of red liquid, but thankfully, he could not find any.
Hidan's face was unusually animated. The normally sadistic individual was almost distinguishably cheerful.
"Hey, Shark-boy, I was just looking for someone to confirm I'm not dreaming," He stifled a smirk, "Come with me."
Further intrigued (and still slightly concerned), Kisame followed Hidan down the corridor to the Akatsuki's main living area. He stopped short as he caught sight of the mirror reflecting what was going on in the living room. He saw Sakura and Itachi, and a chessboard.
Well, it was slightly less alarming than what he had been imagining.
"Fucking hell, not another one."
If Kisame had not seen Sakura's lips move in the mirror, he would never have guessed that the tiny little girl approved of, let alone used such language. He couldn't see Itachi's expression in the mirror, nor what was going on on the chessboard itself, but it was pretty clear that Itachi had just taken a piece from her.
"How long have they been, uh, playing?" He asked Hidan in a low voice, just as Sakura's voice hissed another set of profanities, this time personally insulting Itachi. Kisame and Hidan craned their necks to get a better view of the imminent and inevitable death of Haruno Sakura via a cracked mirror. They were to be disappointed. Itachi said nothing whatsoever.
"Uh," Hidan began to reply to Kisame's earlier question, "I got up at half-four to perform the ritual, and they were already there. So it must have been...since yesterday night?"
Both shinobi wondered for a few moments about whether this could get into the record books as the longest game of chess ever.
Both shinobi stopped in the middle of their thoughts as Itachi said Sakura's name. They glanced at each other. Itachi hadn't spoken a word since they'd stopped to listen. What could the man of notoriously few words have to say to Sakura?
Sakura cursed Itachi, in thought only this time. Why did he have to keep saying her name? And what the hell was it that made her so annoyed by that?
"Hm?" She replied, although she was in no doubt that he would continue speaking whether she indicated her permission or not.
"Why have you joined the Akatsuki?" The question was blunt. It would seem that Uchiha Itachi did not do tact.
Sakura frowned, continuing their game without concentration, her hand moving her castle along automatically. What had been behind her decision? She knew, deep down in her heart, why she had done it, but donkeys would inherit the planet before she'd reveal them to Itachi.
"Ask me when I know the real answer," She said vaguely, her hand shaking a little as she pushed another piece forward.
"Very well. Oh, and Sakura? Checkmate." Itachi took her king with his remaining queen, and disappeared with only a few ravens to show that he'd actually been there in the first place. Sakura turned to face the door and spotted Kisame and Hidan, who were staring raptly at the mirror in which they had watched the scene unfold. Her forehead twitched slightly.
It was that day that the Akatsuki realised that in the cussing-out stakes, Hidan had well and truly met his match.
As Zetsu stepped into his haven, the conservatory in which he nurtured his plants, he sensed another presence. He took a few steps forwards, and turned to see Sakura sitting in the midst of the flowers with a notebook and a ballpoint pen, a hint of a smile gracing her lips.
He cleared his throat, and she looked up. She seemed to have been unaware of his presence up until that point. Whether that was indicative of her weakness as a kunoichi or whether she had just been
too wrapped up in her work to be bothered to pay attention to him, he could not say.
"Sorry to intrude, Zetsu-san," She apologised quickly, not sounding particularly sorry at all, he noted, "I just wanted to see what herbs and medicines you have here."
Zetsu shrugged, not wanting to scare her witless with his split personality. She wasn't used to it yet. It was then that he noticed the baby's breath she had tied into strands of her pink-hued hair. Sakura saw his gaze and its direction, and pointed to the flowers.
"Gypsophila paniculata," She said, using the flower's Latin name, "Do you grow it for pleasure or do you find it has medical properties?"
"Well, you see, I often find..." Zetsu started, beginning to warm to the topic as Sakura scribbled down his every word at lightning speed, an expression of fierce concentration on her face.
Sakura shivered. Not from the cold, although it was February and the frosts had not yet lifted. No. Sakura could feel the weight of Itachi's stare on her, and it unnerved her. It was bad enough that she had to share a bedroom with the criminal and his partner, but the staring she could barely handle. It took all her willpower not to get off the couch she had made her regular bed on and attempt to smash his face in.
Attempt being the operative word, as Itachi would undoubtedly manage to murder her before she even got one chakra-laden punch in.
She was so tired. Sakura had never experienced this raw, gnawing insomnia that tore at her very insides, even after Sasuke had left. She had been running through her first week as an official
Akatsuki member on chakra and adrenaline alone, and she knew she was on the fast-track to a spectacular burn-out. But she couldn't risk going to sleep. Not with the ghosts of the past few weeks hanging over her like a dark cloud. She had a terrible fear that things would never get better, and she would never sleep again. How could she? She didn't understand anything about her torture. Why? Why had her tormentors done it? They weren't meant to be so cruel.
Then again, Uchiha Itachi wasn't supposed to be evil and look how he turned out. The sentence didn't form itself exactly like that in her head, so exhausted was she. I'm not going to be able to get up one morning, she realised with a jolt. Her energy would slowly slip away as she lay in her hazy wakefulness, still full of revulsion and bitterness about all that had happened to her until she finally succumbed to a sleep-deprived death.
I don't want to...die so...easily. Not yet.
Before her brain had fully processed the action, Sakura was getting out of bed. She found she didn't give a fuck about Itachi staring at her in the darkness anymore. She just knew that she had to do something drastic. She didn't care – something that would help her forget for awhile, anything that would build her strength up to what it had been before, to surpass her former standards for herself, even.
She sprinted as best she could from the room, ignoring the sudden stabbing pain in her ankle. She flew down the stairs and into the kitchen, where she halted in front of the table.
Sakura wanted food. And not just the instant ramen she had eaten twice a day for a week. Real food. She pulled open the cupboards, her gaze skimming over the tins, the packets, the loose vegetables. She'd been deluded, this past week, to think it was a tribute to one of her saviours to eat nothing but his favourite food.
Sakura jumped, then shook herself mentally. It was only that mass-clan-killing-twisted-genius-bastard again. And even at half past two in the morning, he managed to make her name sound good. Sakura repressed a low growl as she turned to face Itachi.
"What?" She ground out the word like the worst expletive imaginable. Itachi remained completely unaffected by her evident contempt.
"Tea?" He gestured towards the kettle. Sakura stared at him for a few moments, bemused. "Or would you prefer coffee, perhaps?" Itachi asked. Sakura cleared her throat, remembering how to move her lips to speak.
"Uh, tea's fine." She said, her tone noticeably more polite. When Sakura was polite to people she detested, it usually meant she was a little scared or freaked-out, although she would never admit that to herself. Itachi simply nodded and walked past her to get to the kettle. Sakura tried not to be too suspicious of his odd behaviour. He is not charming.
She went back to the thoughts of food, refusing to let someone like Uchiha Itachi quench her sudden desire to live.
When she found brown rice in the cupboard, she went to the fridge, where she dragged out some chicken. Chicken and rice. It was better than miso ramen day in, day out.
Sakura felt strange as she cooked the chicken and boiled the rice. Who would ever have thought that she would be cooking in the same kitchen as Uchiha Itachi, whilst he calmly made tea without even raising an eyebrow at the late-night cookery session Sakura was staging? Certainly not herself.
When she sat down with her spontaneous meal, Itachi was already there, pouring tea for them both. Sakura took the cup he offered her without a word. She took a sip, then put the cup down beside her plate and picked up the pair of disposable chopsticks (the only form of clean cutlery she had managed to find in the entire kitchen). Sakura acknowledged in that moment that she was not the best cook in the world. Stabbing a piece of slightly-charred chicken gingerly, she brought it to her lips, studiously ignored Itachi, whose eyes were trained on her face, studying her.
It tasted okay. Actually, it was better than that. Before she knew it, Sakura had cleared her plate. She met Itachi's lingering eyes defiantly, feeling properly fed for the first time in almost a month.
"What?" She asked for the second time that night. He gave a small shrug.
She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt – as long as he stopped looking at her. She got up and took her plate and cup to the sink, tossing the chopsticks into the dustbin as she walked by.
"Sakura." Again, not a question. She answered regardless, slightly sharper than was perhaps necessary.
"Who was it who gave you those scars?"
Sakura went cold all over. "W-what?" She gasped, spinning to face him, hoping she'd misheard him. She wasn't prepared to talk about that.
"You heard." He sounded only vaguely interested in her answer, as though he were inquiring after a distant relative's health. Sakura looked at him. That arrogant expression...
"You – you know?" Her hands gripped the kitchen worktop behind her tightly. Itachi raised an eyebrow, replying:
"As with the majority of unknown things, I have a hunch."
Sakura took that to mean yes, he did know, but he was being an asshole. She took a step forwards, hands balled into fists.
"You want to know the truth?" She screamed at him, not caring who she woke, not caring what time of morning it was. "You all want to know who tortured me? Fine then, I tell you – it was Konoha!
"Konoha tortured me."
Until next time.