Lost And Found
At the time, asking Sasuke to take her with him when he left Konoha seemed like a great idea. The outcome of that decision, though, throws Sakura into a predicament which leaves her at the mercy of someone she would have never expected – and triggers a chain of events that nobody saw coming. ItaSaku AU.
Chapter One: Descent
She had walked down that road, the only one that led out of the village, and prayed that she was just being irrational and that nobody would be out there on that dark, cold night but herself.
But then Sakura had seen him, hands in his pockets, slowly and almost casually making his way down the path – but it definitely wasn't just one of the average late night walks that she knew Sasuke indulged in every now and then. At once, the pink-haired kunoichi's gaze locked onto the simple green pack slung over his shoulders, and even though it had just been for a few seconds, the sight was traumatic enough that it felt like a hard physical blow to the face.
He was going to do it. He was serious. He was going to leave them – leave her – and Sakura's terror was immediate and nearly paralyzing. She couldn't let it happen. She just couldn't. She was absolutely, completely sure that she could talk him out of it; this was probably just a temporary fit of mild insanity, and if there was to be a verbal confrontation, her logic would certainly win out.
But then Sasuke stopped right in front of her, glancing her way completely dispassionately, and all of her reserve just about flew out of the window. "What are you doing, wandering around here so late at night?"
Once, she would have been stupid enough to mistake the question as being motivated by caring or concern, but now, it just made Sakura's fingers clench into tight, nervous fists. She didn't want him to see how frightened she was – she didn't want him to see her as an obstruction weak enough to be simply tossed aside before he continued on. "Because…this is the only road you can take in order to get out of the village," she replied, fighting to keep her voice at some semblance of calm and even.
For a fraction of a second, she could have sworn that Sasuke raised an eyebrow at her. "Go home and sleep," he countered dismissively, before walking past her and continuing on down the path.
For a second, Sakura was lost. Her chest hurt fiercely, with the strain of repressing sobs of mixed despair and confusion, her hands were shaking slightly, and she had a pounding headache. Her throat was raw and clenched, and her eyes burned, and she had never felt so damn helpless before – and that really was saying something – because, what could she do? What could she possibly do to keep him from leaving? The majority of her was just tempted to give in to her emotions and try to convince him like that; telling him that revenge just wasn't the right path and that he would be better off staying and being happy in Konoha with her and Naruto, but the one part of her brain that was still functioning intelligently and logically told her that would have no power over Sasuke. None whatsoever. He would tire of listening to it, and subsequently incapacitate her somehow and leave.
"You can't do it alone."
Sakura had raised her voice loudly enough for it to carry through the still air, and even though it had seemed like a good idea in the split second before she had said it, she still experienced a moment of numbing fear as Sasuke turned back toward her very slowly. "What?"
The expression in his eyes and the look on his face were both a little frightening, but she had his undivided attention now – focused solely on her and not on leaving – and Sakura swallowed bravely, taking a few steps toward him. Rationally, she knew that she could never, ever convince him to stay. The next logical step? Convincing him to let her go. "Take me with you."
Sasuke actually made a small sound of derision in the back of his throat, but for the briefest of moments, Sakura had spotted a flicker of some unidentifiable emotion in his gaze, and for the first time, it struck her that Sasuke was only a human; only a boy, and he surely must not embrace or enjoy the idea of taking the path of solitude and revenge once again.
Emboldened somewhat, Sakura reached out, placing an arm on his tense, rigid shoulder gently. "I know I'm not the strongest," she stated, crossing her fingers behind her back and hoping with every fiber of her being that this would work. "But I'm smart and I'm willing to learn and…" – despite her best intentions, her voice caught in her throat, and she looked down at the cold dirt beneath her feet, ashamed at the tears welling up in her eyes and threatening to spill over. "I'd do anything for you, Sasuke-kun," she continued softly. "You know I would. I promise that I'll be nothing but an asset to you in whatever it is that you want to do. Just please don't…don't leave me behind."
For the first time, Sakura wished for her long hair back – for something; anything, to hide her from Sasuke's clinically searching gaze. She didn't want to cry; to be a pathetic little girl sobbing at him and deserving of nothing but his pity, but restraining the tears became harder with every moment that passed.
The silence stretched out for so long it felt unbearable, but when Sasuke finally spoke again, his voice was soft, and tinged with something bordering on incredulity. "Sakura…do you even know what you're saying?"
Her head snapped up, and something inside Sakura gave her the courage to finally look him in the eyes again. "Yes," she replied as firmly as she could, ignoring the clenching pain in her stomach. She felt horrible about it, but wasn't it the truth? "I have family here, and I have friends, but if you leave…" – don't say it, Sakura, don't say it – "…to me, it'll feel the same as being alone."
She almost winced immediately afterward, because laying her soul bare to Sasuke…he would be more inclined to rip it apart and discard it more than anything else, and she knew she wouldn't be able to handle it if he did.
Please don't push me away, Sakura prayed silently, unable to keep her fingers from twisting together anxiously. She felt so nervous and so emotionally spent that she realized if he were to attempt neutralizing her now, she wouldn't be able to put up any sort of physical or verbal resistance.
She looked away, because it was easier. The green leaves were being ripped from the trees as a result of the chilly winter wind, and they swirled back down the path, toward Konoha – toward everything safe and familiar and everything she could never go back to if Sasuke wasn't by her side and everybody that knew that she was too weak and powerless to keep him with their team – in loose, abstractly circular patterns.
Sasuke turned his back to her in one smooth movement and began to walk away without so much as a glance backward.
Sakura stared at him, utterly petrified. Was that…was that it? After all that, was he just going to leave, anyway? Without doing so much as silencing her so that she would be unable to scream for the guards at the eastern gate, if she were so inclined? Had Sasuke's thirst for revenge consumed him so completely that he had actually lost his mind?
Sasuke stopped, turning his head ever so slightly to look at the poleaxed girl standing behind him. "…Are you coming or not?"
Even though Sakura didn't have what she considered to be a traditional shinobi's fighting spirit, she could still sense a challenge when she heard one – and Sasuke's question definitely sounded like one.
And, as a self-respecting kunoichi, she could definitely rise to a challenge when the occasion called for it.
A tiny, microscopic little voice inside her was screaming. What about Naruto, and Kakashi-sensei, and Ino? What about her mother, who regardless of her being almost completely emotionally checked out and not at all involved in her life, would undoubtedly experience some pain at the idea of losing her only daughter?
But at the same time…what about being the continuous third wheel in a team of talented male shinobi, or the one who was constantly overlooked in favor of her infinitely more talented peers? What about the fact that, if she stayed, Kakashi-sensei would probably never train her enough to be more than anything but a chunin-level and completely off-the-field, borderline-civilian tactician or analyst, if that? What about the knowledge that everybody would blame her for being the one who could have and should have stopped Konoha's most promising young shinobi from deserting?
What about the fact that, by even allowing her to follow him, Sasuke had indirectly acknowledged that, for whatever reasons, he needed her?
Sakura lifted her chin ever so slightly. The wind was bracing against her skin and racing along the length of her hair, and it even pushed against her back, nudging her forward.
In a few steps, she had caught up to Sasuke, and within a few minutes, they stopped silently at the barrier in front of the only exit from Konoha. Before Sakura could even blink, Sasuke performed a series of complex hand seals so rapidly that she couldn't even make out the individual gestures. There was a slight, almost imperceptible shift in the chakra fields around them, and just as easily as that, they exited the eastern gate of Konoha.
They climbed for what seemed like ages, straight up a steep, grassy incline. Sakura's calf muscles were beginning to ache, but she was careful to let none of the emotions that raged within her show on her face. Sasuke could still tell her to go back. If he knocked her out now and left her, they were far enough away that she might not be found for a couple of days, at least. She could feel the lights of the village at her back, calling her home, but she ignored them, keeping her eyes fixed ahead. There was nothing for her there; there was no future. If she was going to succeed in this new life, unlike the failure she had been back home, she had to start believing it. This was an opportunity to become a more powerful kunoichi and finally do something worthy with her life instead of being just Sakura; just poor, mediocre Sakura.
If Sasuke knew how deep in thought she was, he ignored it, but when he stopped suddenly, Sakura almost ran into his back.
She hadn't known what to expect – perhaps just the two of them wandering in solitude throughout the world, studying from the strongest shinobi in order to better themselves – but her expectations definitely did not include four Sound shinobi, kneeling on the ground before Sasuke, eyes lowered submissively.
To her astonishment, Sasuke didn't seem surprised in the least. He looked them over, seemingly entirely detached from the whole situation. "So…what's with the change in attitude?" he asked coolly, and beside him, Sakura's shoulders tensed even further, and she bit her lower lip hard. Who were these people, and what had she gotten herself into?
One of them spoke, looking up at Sasuke calmly. "It had already been decided that once you abandoned the village, you would become our new leader. Please forgive the rudeness we displayed earlier."
In the same instant, the four shinobi bowed even deeper. Sakura was now more than a little unnerved – she had taken one step backward completely unconsciously – and unsure whether to be thankful or not that the distinctly menacing-looking quartet hadn't acknowledged her presence in any way. She glanced in Sasuke's direction uncertainly, but he just smirked a little, walking past them and indicating that she do the same. "Like I care," he scoffed.
She didn't want to treat them with such blatant disrespect. She couldn't imitate Sasuke's coldly unconcerned attitude if she tried; if anything, Sakura was just frightened to have them at her back, but at the same time, she didn't want them to sense her fear and interpret that as weakness, either.
Sakura followed, after a split second of hesitation, and once she had caught up with Sasuke, she actually felt their presences rise behind her.
"Let's go," Sasuke commanded brusquely, and while three of them began to follow, one of them refused to move. It was the female; the red-haired kunoichi who was staring at Sakura in a way that made her want to slink behind Sasuke and hide, but she forced herself to stand up straight and meet the other girl's gaze evenly.
"What's with the spare?" the Sound kunoichi asked acerbically, her eyes flicking over Sakura as if she was nothing more than a piece of slime that had stuck to the bottom of her shoe.
Sakura bristled, but Sasuke beat her to a response. "She's with me," he said flatly, in a tone that brooked no argument, and before Sakura could even blink, he had actually enclosed her wrist in a firm, almost protective grasp, as he glared at his supposed new 'team.' "Now, let's go."
Without even checking if they had followed, Sasuke walked ahead, still holding onto her wrist, and Sakura had no choice but to follow. His jaw was clenched, his posture rigid, and it sent tiny shivers of trepidation down her spine.
"An extra wasn't part of the plan," the female was hissing in a soft, poisonous whisper to her teammates. "This could fuck everything up. We're still close enough to leave her behind, or we could just…persuade her to go back."
"Leave it, Tayuya," one of the males cut in sharply, forgetting to lower his voice. "If he wants her along with us, she must be worth something."
The weight of his expectations didn't make Sakura feel any better. Her stomach was a raging, churning knot, and it felt like her heart had jumped somewhere into the region of her chest. She hadn't signed up for this, and right now, she felt like she was walking right into a pit of venomous snakes. Sasuke's presence, and the aura of calm untouchability that he exuded, was the only thing that kept her from falling apart completely.
Last chance, Sakura.
But Sasuke was by her side, and they were behind her, and that was enough to scare her out of even thinking any further about turning around.
You're doing the right thing, she told herself, with every footstep that sank into the damp grass forward, and she repeated this mantra until even the warm lights of Konoha were just ghostly memories in the distance.
They traveled throughout the entire night.
She had never done anything like that before, ever. The Sound Four set a relentless pace on their own, and Sasuke was even faster. He traveled a good several meters in front of them, flying through the treetops as if it wasn't a strain on his body at all, and she had to keep up with him, because she was scared to death of falling behind even one pace and being closer to them. Nobody showed any signs of tiring, but if her muscles had just begunto ache while leaving the village…well, now every fiber in her body was screaming in protest. Sakura had never pushed herself like this; she never had a need to, before.
It was pitch-black outside, and cold. The wind resistance made traveling through the forest much more difficult, and the sounds of the night forest were ominous, to say the least. The glint of Sasuke's crimson bloodline limit was even more eerie in the darkness, and the quiet presence of the Sound team following them at a respectable distance still set every one of her nerves on edge.
Sakura hadn't slept since nine that morning. It had easily been fifteen hours since then, and three of them had been spent running at the most intense pace she had ever experienced. Her legs trembled every time she lit on a new branch, and every one of her instincts was just demanding that she allow herself to sink to the forest floor and find a safe tree to curl up against and sleep.
Sasuke spared a flickering glance over in her direction. "Do you need to slow down?" he asked, the words clipped by the wind.
Oh, kami, yes.
Grow up, Sakura. Prove to him – and them – that you can be worth something.
"No," Sakura responded, forcing herself to keep her eyes fixed on a spot in the distance. "I'm fine."
Maybe she had imagined it, but for a split second, she thought she saw a flicker of approval in his gaze before he looked away again.
The sun was rising by the time Sasuke finally indicated to them that they would stop.
Every muscle from her hips down felt liquefied, and her swollen, reddened and heavy eyelids were on the verge of point-blank refusing to stay open. It took a concentrated effort for Sakura to focus her gaze on Sasuke as he regarded all of them levelly. Briefly, the pink-haired kunoichi observed that the Sound Four looked so rested and refreshed that it didn't even appear that they had just been traveling for eight hours straight.
There was something wrong about them, something completely unnatural, and once again, Sakura resolved to watch her back.
"We have an eight hour head start," Sasuke observed concisely, staring up at the rising sun with shadowed eyes. "It's likely that nobody will even notice we're gone for another few hours, and then we should get another two hours or so of them trying to figure out where we've gone, and perhaps another hour while the Hokage assembles a retrieval team. We can afford two or three hours of a break before continuing on. Is that clear?"
The Sound Four all murmured their assent before dispersing around the small clearing in order to rest. For her part, Sakura's knees simply gave out beneath her, and she slid to the ground, leaning against the trunk of a tree. The bark was rough, but she rested her head on it anyway, refusing to allow herself to think about what would happen next. Her mother would probably find her room empty and assume she had gone on a mission, and she probably wouldn't think twice about the issue again until the Hokage's messengers found her to tell her otherwise. And then…would she even care? Or would she just take this as an excuse to leave the village, as she had been wanting to for the past six years?
All Kakashi-sensei would register was the fact that he was missing his favorite student – Sasuke. Ino, thankfully, was out on a mission and wouldn't learn about this for the next two or three weeks.
Sakura's heart gave a painful twinge, and she turned her head to the side restlessly, unable to ignore the sudden, almost dizzying pang of guilt that had nearly left her breathless.
Sasuke was still standing in the middle of the clearing, she noticed suddenly, looking a little lost. Maybe he had just been thinking along similar lines as she had.
Sakura let her eyes drift shut, too emotionally spent to think any further; a few minutes later, though, she felt a familiar presence settle down at her side.
Sasuke didn't shrug her off when she leaned against his shoulder tentatively, and that knowledge, despite everything else, enabled Sakura to fall asleep with the faintest of smiles touching her lips.
The hair on the back of the Godaime Hokage's neck stood up, as she slowly straightened from where she had been slumped over her desk. "What?" she hissed, narrowing her chocolate-brown eyes at the jounin standing across from her. "Are you sure?"
Kakashi inclined his head a fraction of an inch, and Tsunade could see the stress lines that had deepened in the corners of his eyes since the last time she had seen him, a few days ago. "Yes, Tsunade-sama," he replied heavily. "I had spoken with him last night, and some instinct told me to stop by his apartment this morning to check in." He closed his eyes for a brief moment, before continuing on, in response to Tsunade's unasked question. "There's no question about it. Most of his shinobi equipment is missing, along with the pack he always takes on missions. The apartment was locked from the outside and the landlord said he woke up this morning to find the key on the desk."
All the breath left Tsunade's body in a long sigh, and she leaned forward, bracing her elbows on the desk. "Damn it."
"That's not all, Tsunade-sama," Kakashi continued wearily, and he reached up to rub the back of his neck, obviously uncomfortable. "My other student, Sakura…she's missing as well."
Tsunade's heart skipped a beat as she stared at him. "You mean to say…?"
"She was really attached to him; she would have been as in tune with his…changes in behavior as anybody else, perhaps even more so. My guess is that she anticipated what he was going to do and tried to intercept him on his way out of the village and talk him out of it."
Tsunade pressed her fingers to her temples. "You're her sensei," she began slowly. "What's your assessment of the situation?"
Kakashi hesitated for a moment, looking at her seriously. "Sakura adored Sasuke, but…her mother still lives here, and she has friends here. Sakura isn't anything like him; she takes her bonds of friendship and loyalty a lot more seriously. Unless I'm gravely underestimating the depth of her devotion to him, she wouldn't have left here willingly."
Tsunade's fist came into contact with the sturdy wood of her desk, and a series of tiny cracks spread through the area of impact. "So, not only is Sasuke Uchiha a deserter, but a kidnapper as well. To drag an innocent girl into that snake's lair with him…"
She trailed off, voice trembling with barely repressed anger at the entire situation, and Kakashi cleared his throat diplomatically. "Will you engage a retrieval team?"
"A team of whom?" Tsunade retorted tiredly, pulling open a drawer and studying a roster of the shinobi forces present in the village at the moment. "The majority of chunin and jounin are out on missions right now, and we need the few we have left in the village in case of an attack."
"What about the genin?" Kakashi countered. "Shikamaru Nara is brilliant, and more than equipped to lead a team of our most talented genin – Hyuuga, Inuzuka, Akimichi, and probably even Naruto – after Sasuke and Sakura."
"The idea crossed my mind for about half a second," Tsunade sighed, still staring at the roster as if willing it to change. "Knowing Orochimaru, though, he wouldn't have trusted Sasuke to go to Sound by himself. He would have sent a team of at least four or five to accompany him, and Sound shinobi, with those curse seals…it would be utter madness to send genin after them, regardless of how talented they are. We would likely be guaranteeing those young men certain death, and as Hokage, I find that idea utterly unacceptable."
Kakashi blinked, momentarily stunned. "Then what are you going to do?"
Tsunade reached for a piece of paper from the corner of her desk. "I'm recalling one of the jounin teams from Sand and sending them toward Sound immediately," she said grimly. "We might lose some time, but I would rather take that risk over the idea of potentially losing the lives of such promising young shinobi."
"Very well," Kakashi acquiesced, inclining his head respectfully, even though his mind was a million miles away. He was not looking forward to telling Naruto about this…
He was halfway to the door when Tsunade called his name, and when he turned to face her, the Godaime Hokage looked fiercely determined. "We'll get them back, Kakashi."
"…I hope so, Tsunade-sama."
It took two days for them to get to Sound, and those two days were some of the most harrowing that Sakura had ever experienced.
Every time Sasuke let them take a break to sleep, she had nightmares about the people who would be sent after them. Once, she dreamed that Naruto came by himself, enraged beyond all belief, and he and Sasuke had fought viciously and brutally, nearly to the death.
She could tell that Sasuke was experiencing the same worries, too. Halfway through the first day of travel, he suddenly jerked his head toward Tayuya. "You. …Stay back; hold them off."
Tayuya complied, with a look of barely concealed resentment, and Sasuke grabbed Sakura by the wrist again, pulling her along at twice the speed. Her heart had been racing with apprehension, and her neck hurt from all the times she had turned back to look over her shoulder. Tayuya had faded out of sight quickly, and Sakura could tell that her teammates were more than a little apprehensive. The large one kept looking at the pale-haired boy, Sakon, worriedly. "It's her against four or five Konoha jounin," he whispered. "Do you think—"
Sakon kept his eyes fixed ahead. "It doesn't matter, alright? I know her; if we sense her chakra signature catching up to us within a couple of hours, she's alright. If we don't, she's gone. As long as we get him to Orochimaru-sama safe and fulfill our mission – that's the only thing that matters."
Four hours passed. There was no sign of Tayuya, and the five members of their remaining party all seemed to exhale at the same moment. Even though Sakura thought that, out of the entire Sound Four, she had disliked Tayuya the most and could summon no real grief at the thought that the fiery, bad-tempered kunoichi's corpse was probably lying crumpled at the bottom of the forest floor, the easiness at how Sasuke had effectively sentenced her to death did really unsettle Sakura.
At intermittent, random intervals, though, Sasuke ordered one of the others to stay back and face the Konoha team. Next was Kidomaru, and then Jirobou. None of them returned, and finally, her nerves feeling like they were on the verge of snapping from sheer strain, Sakura grabbed Sasuke by the arm, ignoring his vaguely surprised expression as she pulled him around to face her. She had never confronted him like this, ever, but this was different. This was unconscionable. In Konoha, the primary rule in a team was for each teammate to look after one another, but Sasuke was just throwing these Sound genin to the metaphorical wolves.
"What are you doing?" she hissed, horrified. "If we – or, well, they – all stop and stay back and face them one-on-one, of course they're going to be killed in succession, and now we only have Sakon and Ukon left—"
Sasuke stared at her unblinkingly, no sign of remorse in his eyes. "Sakura," he said, finally. "That's the point."
Sakura blinked, releasing him, as if burned. The words took a few moments to register, and as she gaped at him wordlessly, momentarily, she couldn't believe that this was the boy she and Naruto would lie in the grass with, as they watched the stars and pointed out constellations. She loved Sasuke, yes, but this was a side of him she had never even seen before.
Perhaps he had seen her thoughts reflected on her face, because he narrowed his eyes at her dangerously. "Look," he ground out, through gritted teeth. "We're almost at the Valley of the End. They won't pursue us further. I threw Tayuya, Kidomaru, and Jirobou at them on purpose – it's slowed them down; they'll never catch up to you and I on time, and we're the only ones that matter. The others were expendable – and Sakon's next, so get used to it."
Sakura bit down on her reply, looking away sharply. There were sudden tears pricking at the corners of her eyes; not because she was particularly attached to Sakon or anything, but he wasn't as bad as the others were, and it was the principle of the thing that she found so objectionable.
She heard Sasuke sigh impatiently, and the two of them traveled in tense silence for a few minutes, the quiet sound of Sakon following in the distance seeming to echo in the still evening air. It was cloudy, threatening rain, and Sakura kept her eyes fixed on the ominously dark gray clouds in a futile attempt to get her mind off what Sasuke had just said to her.
In half an hour, he stopped their diminished party of three and told Sakon to stay back. He did so without argument, but when Sakura hesitated, looking back toward him, Sasuke actually took her by the hand, intertwined their fingers together in a vice-like grip, and pulled her forward.
He didn't let go until they finally broke out of the forest, and even though she was sure she had fantasized and dreamed about holding hands with Sasuke a million times before, Sakura could find no joy in this. She wanted to yell at him and ask him why he had to do it – because, yes, the Sound Four were hardly her favorite people by any means, but…they were young, too. Fourteen, at most. They had personalities and friendships and hopes for the future, and she was sure they didn't include being callously sent to their death by the boy they were told to protect.
But then she wondered – if she was a better kunoichi, would she understand why he was doing it and realize that it was the only plausible way to deal with this situation?
Sakura's lips twisted bitterly, and she kept silent.
The sun was setting at their backs by the time they finally came out of the forest, and despite the conflict raging inside her, the sudden sight stole Sakura's breath away. The waterfall was the largest she had ever seen, and they were so high above the pool of water collecting beneath it that it made her dizzy. The spray from the water was cold, and she could feel the chilly mist against her cheeks. The statues were equally larger than life, and her gaze flickered to them for a moment. The border between Fire and Sound. She had seen pictures of the legendary landmarks in the history books she had studied while in the Academy.
"So…all we have to do is cross it?" Sakura asked quietly, staring down into the water. The sun's last dying rays were reflected in the raging surface of the pool, combined with the darkness that had already begun to steal over the sky.
"Yeah," Sasuke replied offhandedly, although she detected the vaguest, most fleeting note of doubt in his voice, for just a fraction of a second.
They stood side-by-side for what felt like forever, staring across the waterfall, into Sound, but predictably enough, Sasuke took the first step…and the next three, before finally turning around and glancing back at her. "…Coming?"
For about half a second, Sakura wondered if he would do it without her, because for all the cold, uncaring façade – for the first time, she sensed something different underneath it. That maybe he had enough vulnerability; enough humanity left, that he didn't want to do it alone.
Maybe it was stupid of her to not try and take a risk and perhaps ask him if this was really the path he wanted to follow; maybe she should at least attempt to persuade him to consider another course of action or way of gaining power…
Sasuke mistook her apprehension for something else, and he slowly, in a rather odd mixture of grudgingly and uncertainly, held out his hand to her.
Sakura bit her lip, but it was too late – and anyway, both of them knew that she would follow him to the ends of the earth if that was what he wanted. Regardless of whatever consequences that it might have.
Ignoring the slight shiver of trepidation that coursed through her spine, Sakura took Sasuke's hand, and followed him across the waterfall, into the darkness.
to be continued
Hello again, guys. :)
I've been thinking about ideas for a new ItaSaku ever since Before The Dawn ended, but it took a while to find the one I really wanted to go with right now. Things have been pleasantly busy at school and with my family (my mom's recovery is progressing well, thankfully), but honestly, I was a little nervous about even starting something new, because so far, Before The Dawn has been my best, and I wanted to do something equally good, if not better. I have faith in this idea, but it is very, very different from my last one.
I apologize for the lack of Itachi in this chapter, but this was intended to serve as a prologue, of sorts. He'll show up soon. :)
Last but not least, thank you to the amazing SwiftKick for taking the time to read this over and critique it. Everybody, if you want to read a fantastic ItaSaku fic (or several), look up SwiftKick's profile right now. I strongly recommend Slant. Great plot, great characterization…all in all, it's lovely.
As always, any and all feedback would be very much appreciated. :)