Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Naruto or any of its affiliations…I am merely borrowing its characters and settings to indulge my own fantasies and then share said fantasies with other people who equally do not own Naruto. I am not making any profit off this.

Note: This story is rated M!

Chapter Eight: Dark

O O O

You can't come soon enough for me

O O O

There was never enough time, Sakura thought as she walked through a particularly noisy part of the path. Every step suctioned in her boot soles and then protested loudly when she yanked it free. It was muddy and damp and annoying. And unavoidable. Around the path was a low lying marsh and then sparsely populated young forests. The usual ease of travelling over tree limbs was not an option.

Behind her she could her Itachi's slower steps, and it was the only sound coming from him as he had not spoken in several hours. She had tried explaining her actions again, feeling compelled for someone to reassure her that she was doing something understandable, but his mouth had stayed firmly set. "We have the same objectives," didn't move him at all. Granted, she had not gone into deeper details about her intentions, she just needed him to hear her out. It made her chest tighten. Here was another human just within her reach, but she felt as isolated as she had back in the barracks.

It was probably too much to ask a person to trust her after she had personally bonded his will to her own. Bitter with this objection, Sakura bit into another nutrient bar and took the frustration out in her chewing.

"Do you need any more water," she called over her shoulder, using it more as an excuse to eye her company. Itachi looked the complete opposite of how she felt. She stopped short, as she had done many times previous because of her company's pace, and considered the man uneasily.

He looked perfectly passive and uninterested. Itachi probably hated her. She was the most talented at gaining an Uchiha's animosity.

"It's getting late. Would you care to turn in for the night?" The suggestion went unanswered, Itachi walked up to her and then past her without any change in countenance. She quieted a grumble and scanned the local geography for some high ground, deciding that a low mountain maybe a kilometre away would be a good place to stop.

When she altered their direction slightly, there was no complaint.

On the hillside, Sakura contemplated the sparse vegetation. There was moss and ferns and plenty of shrubbery, but nothing substantive. Some distance below where she and Itachi stood was a stream that fed into the swamp area that they had just left. Running down on either side of her were smaller rivulets formed from run-off water. A light bulb, figuratively, went on in her mind.

After a short trek, circumventing the hill a little ways, Sakura found what she had hoped to discover.

"It's gypsum," she announced, referring to the rocky crevasse splitting the land like an upside down V. "Very prone to fracture caves."

Itachi did not react.

"It might be damp, but it's shelter." The ground was fragmented and gravelly beneath her soles, slick despite the water-heavy air refusing to fully accept the concept of 'rain'. While picking her way up to the driest part of the cave, Sakura's step faltered. Chakra immediately lined her palms and she was able to catch herself, but not before a steadying hand had landed on the side of her hip.

It was retracted as quickly as it appeared, leaving warmth from the contact to seep slowly away in its wake. Sakura felt an odd chill pass through her, and decided she would rather ignore the sensation, she moved a little faster..

Inside the makeshift dwelling, the atmosphere was tense. After walking for nearly the entire day with a good amount of distance between them, it was a stark adjustment being so close inside the cave. Sakura had allowed Itachi as much space as she could, but even then he was still within arm's reach no matter where she settled.

She placed an illuminating scroll between their seated positions as a last attempt to cushion their proximity.

Both occupants took to staring at the pleasant orange glow, and Sakura realised, with little surprise, that Itachi had gained absolutely no intention of saying anything. He had settled against the rock wall, having placed his cloak behind him to soften its jagged edges, and looked beyond being bothered by talk. Minutes passed in silence, only the insect life and random water drops providing any sort of relief. Itachi's eyes remained open and focused, but otherwise his body was so relaxed he appeared almost to be asleep.

"Are you comfortable?" Sakura asked, her voice a little hoarse, and she grimaced both at that and the sheer crassness of the question. In light of his situation, it was a shallow thing to say.

Itachi did not answer.

"If you need water or ...well, just say something." She fidgeted nervously, the motion comically exaggerated compared to her companion's stillness. "I don't really know how this works. I mean, if you have to brush your hair from your eyes or something, can you do that?"

Of course, being a former ANBU member, she figured he might have willed "the tickles" and other such human foils out of himself years ago. Because he was a person who could do things like that, Sakura thought. He could probably keep the hairs on his neck from rising, or a sneeze from coming, and here he was under her complete control. As close to perfect a specimen one would ever hope to find in the shinobi world, and yet Uchiha Itachi was operating at her will.

The thought, the reality, made Sakura feel a little ill actually. She tried to keep that sentiment from showing, however, as she continued observing the man across from her. "What was I supposed to do," she said suddenly, "just let you go and risk my life? You can't act all broody and betrayed when you know, you know, that I had every right to do this."

"You did not trap me like this for the sake of preserving your life, kunoichi," Itachi finally spoke, and his cold tone was enough to inspire the hairs on Sakura's nape to straighten. With some bitter humour, she noted absently that she was unable to will the action away. His gaze remained locked on the scroll.

Curious, and hopeful now that he was responding, she asked, "why do you think I'm doing this?"

Itachi gave her a flat look, unimpressed with the question. Did he think the answer was obvious? He had been refiling around in her mind not too long ago, but she was curious about his deductions. "I do not think you fully understand why you have trapped me."

Her eyebrows drew together. "Care to enlighten me?"

Outside the cave the sky was a gradient of light to dark blue, but the heavy clouds served well to obscure it. Only patches of the colours could be spotted. Itachi had moved his gaze in that direction. "You keep insisting it has to do with Sasuke. Because you love him."

The frown faltered. Sakura brushed some stray dirt from her exposed calves. "We've been over this. I don't love your brother, obviously. I'm just..." In love with him, her mind supplied despite her effort to find something else. "Damn."

"You are very deeply concerned with Sasuke," Itachi said.

"I've told myself for years that I love him. Sasuke was always cool and capable, and as a child I was very impressed." The skin above her boots was clean again, she didn't notice this as her hands kept moving. "I began to realise, when we were teamed together, that he was very determined. He was also isolated and hurting. I think I told myself I could be the person to help him through his struggles. All along it's been Naruto, though. Sasuke was looking for you, Itachi. I didn't know this always, but he found that bond in Naruto." Sakura laughed shortly, "not that Sasuke was very eager to accept that idea.

The only thing I know to do, though, is keep walking the same path I always have. 'I love Sasuke, I want to help him, I'm not strong enough to do it.' And press repeat."

"Have you decided you do not love him?" Sakura looked up to find that Itachi's attention had returned to her face.

She ignored the question. Maybe she didn't want Itachi to understand her motivations. "Let's talk about our course of action. Do you think Kabuto knows where Sasuke is? How did you find him before?"

"Are you going to look for him even though you do not love him?"

Enabling selective hearing, Sakura poked at the scroll again and tried to inspire the conversation in a different direction. "I know he had that team with him last time, but it seems they've been separated since you're revival."

"Are you still in ‒"

"I don't care about that any more!" Sakura snapped, jumping to her feet. "You already know what I think of that emotion. Nothing's changed. Even with that technique. Nothing's changed."

Not changing was another thing Sakura was best at. She might get new clothes, a new hair cut, a new teacher, but really she had not changed over the years. Try as she might, she never finished what she started and someone else would come along and save her in the end. Chiyo, Kakashi, Naruto. That was just the reality of her life. "Stop," she said aloud, "ok? Stop."

Sakura really didn't like the direction of this.

Suddenly Itachi was standing too. "You asked."

"Well, I take it back. I don't want to say again why 'love'" -and here she actually used air quotation marks- "is so flimsy." But the rant was on the tip of her tongue. "It's just chemicals. It's all chemicals in the end. I was lonely, saw an attractive guy, chemicals did this and that. But I constructed everything else around some dumb poetic idea imagined in order to make the thought of mortality in this world just a little less maddening."

"I am standing right here, Sakura-san." And he was. There was a ghost in front of her. A living, warm blooded body of flesh and bones, dead man. A dead man was more likely to succeed where she had failed. She felt suddenly winded. Quickly followed again by a familiar sense of fear and incredulity that had been threatening to throttle her for days. This strange resurrected person was more capable in the living world than herself; a damn zombie was outclassing her in emotions.

An urge to pull at her hair seized her, because if she didn't tug at it and curl up in this moment Sakura was certain the odd swelling in her chest and head would overwhelm her until she positively burst. In the cool night air all she managed was an unsteady, sharp gasp. "Kami. What the hell are you doing here?"

A desperate whisper that neither of them knew to whom it was addressed.

"But no, no," Sakura said, loosing some sense of where she was. A cave right? Everything seemed so drastic ‒severe between the orange glow and the encroaching shadows. "You're not infallible," directly to Itachi. "You -you've gotten fooled too."

The man narrowed his eyes minutely. As close as Itachi was, however, she saw the tensing of the muscles easily. It was an expression that relayed doubt and scrutiny. She had seen it before, knew that it meant he clearly disagreed with what he deemed to be a ridiculous notion.

But he was fooled, she realised, and it calmed her. Sakura smiled very slightly, eyes half closed. "You're lonely, too." Quietly, as if she were admitting a secret. "It's no different from being lonely, that love of yours."

"...What?" Itachi was confused enough to express it so both verbally and physically. The word came from him like it was foreign to his vocabulary.

"That's what drives us all. It's why you let Sasuke live, because you couldn't bear the thought of loosing absolutely every one. You loved him because he made you feel happy, and when that state was threatened, you kept him alive to keep yourself from losing that feeling."

Itachi replaced his detached mask. On a sigh, "stop being so presumptuous, konoichi."

But she was right. Sakura knew it. "Except now, here you are, back from eternity, and you've got another chance to understand everything. And it's gotten to you, again, but it's different now. You've no longer any need to limit your happiness to your brother. Those chemicals are telling you something new."

His mouth was a firm line.

"Come on, Itachi. So is it love or loneliness that makes you want to touch me?"

There was a short, derisive sound. The man in front of her looked to the scroll at their feet and closed his eyes. "You should stop talking."

Did he expect her to walk away from this? "You admitted as much inside your own Tsukoyomi," she taunted. "'Greater things than this,' you said."

Greater things than what, exactly?

"That is enough," Itachi's voice was lower.

"Is something upsetting you? I don't know why. I'm giving you permission to touch me when before you've just gone ahead and taken‒"

There was an abrupt landing, knocking the air in her lungs clear out. Sakura was outside the cave, in the dark, back against the ground some twenty metres below the cave. Itachi was leaning his entire weight into her as he pinned her down. The length of his body encompassing her, one arm snaked under her shoulder while a leg nudged between her thighs.

Breathless, she struggled to wrench away and to find oxygen. It came shakily, and her movements to free herself turned into erratic searches for an anchor. Her hands ran from Itachi's arms to his neck, shoulders to the hair pulled back at his nape. Sakura was panting in the damp, cool night air, panicked and quivering as her fingers clutched at the heat and stability above her.

He was breathing deeply; she could feel it stir between them, dance warmly across her skin. Everything thing about him was warm. His free hand found the hem of her shirt and raked under the fabric against her bare skin, drawing a feverish trail up to her breast. A calloused thumb swept over its peak, his fingers pushed into her as they moved, constricted under layers of wraps.

A noise caught in her throat as a thrill quivered from her toes all the way up her spine and down again to settle above the junction of her legs. Sakura was moving, meeting the warmth wherever she could, drawing it to her, clinging onto it. She buried her face into the crook of Itachi's neck, letting her lips brush against his skin.

The hand left her chest in the same instant his other arm pulled out from around her to instead knock her flat. From her ribs down her side, Itachi slid his hand lower, under the line of her shorts.

"W...wha..." she tried, but then there was pressure just below that quivering coil of thrill. She couldn't stand it, writhing to avoid it or to welcome it. The pressure dragged and swayed, building in tempo, beckoning the coil to snap. And then it was thrust inside her, and she was surrounding it, Her hips bucked and a cry scratched out of her throat, several little whimpers.

"For your loneliness," Itachi said, breaths interrupting the rough drawl as he continued to rock his hand against her, "the only company you seek is pain."

O O O

Author's Note: Whew. Well, this is so the right place to stop.