Author's Note: I'M ALIVEEEE! I've actually had this chapter done for about a week now, but I wanted a Halloween update :P Happy Halloween everyone, remember to stay safe! In other news: I whipped up a cover image :D You guys like it?
A HUGE thanks to everyone who subscribed/favorited/reviewed! I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate the support! For those of you that are fellow writers, you know how much even a single review can get the creative juices flowing :)
To neccromancer2000: I couldn't respond to your message since it was written as a guest. I scrapped "A New Legend" a few years back because I lost all motivation for the story and fandom, not to mention I've rewritten that story like three times and I'm still not happy with it. . . If you're curious about what was going to happen (and since I don't plan on rewriting it again or reposting it), you can PM me for a summary of everything that was going to happen :)
Disclaimer: Clearly, I own Naruto. This is fo' realz, people.
~ Chapter 5: Limited Supply ~
"Perhaps I could give you something you wanted," she said, completely oblivious to what her words were doing to the man, or where the words led his thoughts. He suddenly shifted around, forcing a cough.
"Fine. What do you want?" He said, coughing once more for good measure.
"My chakra. However much you can give me. And I want to be in the same cell as him," she pointed to the cell next to her, indicating who she was referring to. She didn't know if the guard knew who Naruto was, but he would probably recognize the name of the Kyuubi container, even if he didn't recognize his appearance.
Gaku remained silent for a while. "Fine," he finally said. He walked to face Naruto's cell and joined hands together in front of him, beginning the to unseal the door.
"Wait!" He stopped mid-seal as Sakura called after him, "You never said what your terms were."
He turned to her. "How about a very large IOU . . . or something to that effect?" She was skeptical about this, but considering her terms and the position she made them in, she agreed. Honestly, if she had been in any other prison or with any other guard, this deal wouldn't even be happening. She doubted she would even be able talk if this were any other situation. "For now, at least, my terms are that your chakra usage be limited to healing and nothing more," he added. Considering everything, his request was quite reasonable. Sakura nodded.
Gaku continued to unseal the door. After he disappeared from her view, all Sakura heard was a combination of grunting and cloths dragging on the floor. He returned to her view, dragging Naruto on the floor. Seriously? Dragging? Sakura felt a burst of anger at his stupidity for dragging a potentially injured man on the ground, but she refused to let her anger surface.
He doesn't look too bad, Sakura thought, sounding skeptical even in her mind. He was unconscious, but from the looks of it, they hadn't hurt him. Gaku unsealed her cell door and dragged Naruto to the center of the floor. They both stood still for a moment before he stepped over Naruto and approached her. Remembering the last time he tried to approach her, she forced her body not to jerk or react in anyway that would make this man not remove the shackles suppressing her chakra. He seemed to also remember because his movements were slow and predictable to not cause any unneeded surprises.
"I can only take the wrist ones off," he said. She responded by forcing both her good and bad arm above her head. He sent a small burst of chakra through the thick metal bracelets, unlocking them. They fell from Sakura's wrists and collided with the cement floor. He picked them up and exited the cell, sealing the door behind him.
Sakura didn't feel the instant gush of chakra she had been anticipating. Instead, her chakra slowly seeped through the previously blocked channels, starting in her chest and coursing its way through the pathways until she could feel its warmth in her fingertips. Of course, the chakra only reached her torso and arms; the ankle and neck shackles limited the areas her chakra could reach and how much she could use by trapping chakra in those areas. She figured that was why he only took the wrist ones off; she was capable of healing with her feet, but it was completely unorthodox. Not to mention it just looked weird, and it was inefficient in all sorts of ways.
Before she lost herself in the relishing of her returned chakra, Sakura had to remind herself why she had the chakra in the first place: to heal herself and Naruto. Measuring how much chakra had become available to her, Sakura found that only forty percent of her reserves were available to her; the rest was trapped by the other restraints. She knew she should feel lucky to have chakra at all, but Sakura couldn't help but feel disappointed.
Forty percent was certainly a lot, but it would require precise monitoring and rationing if she wanted to make it last. And part of that monitoring was setting priorities. Right now, Naruto's wellbeing took precedence over her own, but she needed two usable arms if she wanted to be efficient with her healing. She began to heal her injured arm, which didn't take long. Healing broken bones was almost second nature to Sakura; it was the one type of injury that everyone from shinobi to civilians got, which meant broken bones were everywhere at the hospital. Her arm healed nicely, and Sakura turned and flexed it to make sure everything was at it should be.
With both arms healed, she looked at the slumped pile in front of her that was Naruto. She looked at where she was, and then where Naruto was. Sighing, she realized she would have to move to reach Naruto. Dragging her body to where Naruto was, she immediately regretted leaving the support of the wall. Along with holding her up, the wall forced her back to be straight, avoiding the pain her broken ribs were causing while they bent into her lungs. She let out an exasperated sigh, and began dragging Naruto, as well as her worn body, back to the wall.
She rested her back against the wall again with her legs stretched out in front of her. Now that she was able to be a bit gentler with Naruto's body, she gingerly placed his head in her lap. She gave him a quick lookover and found no wounds except the scratches caused by all the dragging. She palpated some crucial areas for damage, doing her internal injury scan manually to further preserve her limited chakra. Her shoulders sagged as she exhaled with relief. He was fine.
She had seen Naruto asleep many times before on missions. Even when the team was tense, he managed to contort his body in strange sleeping positions, while his mouth hung wide open with drool seeping down his jaw. He was not a peaceful sleeper. But, the sleeping Naruto that was in her lap was the epitome of peaceful sleeping. Not a single muscle twitched; even his eyes remained still in their sockets. She placed her thumbs on his eyebrows, taming the excited hairs and enjoying the feel of the hairs knitting together. Those eyebrows were normally moving everywhere, creating the most extreme expressions that Sakura hadn't even known were possible for facial muscles.
Her hands had moved on their own from his eyebrows to tracing the bridge of his nose and then his jawline. She had seen his face so many times that it seemed almost silly to be doing such things, but her hands continued nonetheless. Having Naruto here with her was bittersweet. She was relieved that he was alright, and his brother-like presence calmed the boiling anxiety she had from her current state. But, Naruto being with her meant that he was also here in Kumo, not in Konoha. If only she knew how to summon his toads, then they could reverse-summon him to the safety of their world. For now, she let her fingers sink into his hair, keeping some sort of physical contact as though the feel of Naruto's hair was confirming the solidity of his existence. Oh, Naruto . . . what am I going to do with you?
Itachi's chest expanded and contracted evenly as his mother combed her fingers through his hair, which was long even as a boy. His head was resting in her lap as she hummed, taking the dry cloth off his forehead to replace it with a freshly dampened one. Itachi remembered this scene with great clarity as it had recurred frequently in his childhood due to his illness. As an adult, he now coughed blood and gasped through the sponges in his lungs alone. In fact, if he didn't know better, he was sure his mother believed he'd outgrown his childhood illness.
But there was something wrong with this scene. Itachi's eyes flickered down to his body, and he was clearly not a child. And Mikoto hadn't shown him such motherly affection since before his induction as a jonin. Returning his gaze to his mother, he inspected her features. She certainly looked real, but then again, his mind had plenty of references to make his mother life-like in his dreams. But what of how it felt? His exhaustion from desperately grasping for air was so overbearing, and the feel of his mother's touch was just as soothing as he remembered. Surely such things couldn't be replicated in a dream?
If Itachi had been anyone else, they would have left these questions alone and enjoyed the comfort of a warm, nostalgic dream. But Itachi wasn't everyone else, and as a Sharingan user, Itachi knew better than most the dangers withheld in dream-like states. In a mixture of curiosity and caution, Itachi began to think of way to test the limits of this world. There was no better way to test boundaries than to interact with it.
"Okaa-san?" he said in a neutral tone. She smiled at him, but slowly shook her head. That meant nothing to Itachi; for all he knew, his mind was recalling the movement from a memory. He had to get her to verbally respond to him. He started again, "Okaa-san, where are we?"
Her smiled remained, and she spoke in her delicate voice, "I wish I knew, Itachi." Itachi frowned at this. The clearing they were in was a frequented picnic spot in the Uchiha forest. His mother, even a dream-version of her, would know this place.
"You're not Mikoto, are you?" He asked. Perhaps this was a merely a projection, a personified fragment of his mental machinations?
She shook her head. "No, I am not. But you need me just as much as you need Mikoto." A little presumptuous, aren't we? Itachi scoffed.
"Why do I need you?" Itachi said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
She began tracing the bridge of his nose, and then across his brow, circling down to his jaw. "I'm here to remind you to wake up." Wake up?
Itachi's eyes narrowed. He continued to stare at the upside-down image of this woman, whose smile only broadened under the intense scrutiny. She exhaled slowly, the air minutely shifting the dark threads of hair covering Itachi's forehead. She lowered her head, gently placing her lips on his forehead, so the skin only grazed his own. She didn't move from this position, and Itachi didn't dare move either.
"Itachi . . . my dear Itachi." Her lips brushed his forehead with each word. "You must go back."
Itachi, emboldened by the reassurance that this was a dream, reached up to feel the black curtain of hair encircling his face. As he touched it, however, he felt something warm and sticky. Retracting his hand, he saw red smears covering his hands, as though the pulverized remains of a squashed strawberry coated his palm.
Shocked by the blood, he sat up and turned to look at the woman properly. But he only got as far as supporting himself with his elbows before he felt his lungs shrivel and his breath turn to wheezes. Fuck . . . Itachi distantly thought as his body shook with cough after cough hammering his chest.
The woman's hand cupped his cheek, forcing him to look up at her. In his pained haze, he no longer saw Mikoto's features looking upon him, but an empty face. "You must go back," Mikoto's voice repeated as the now faceless woman dug her nails into the cheek she had previously been caressing so tenderly.
Itachi didn't get a chance to look upon the faceless woman again as another coughing fit overtook his senses.
It had been almost an hour of silence as Naruto rested in her lap, unmoving and breathing regularly. Her first tip-off that something was wrong was when a small hum left Naruto's throat. She had mistaken this for him possibly waking up, but she revisited her suspicions when his breathing picked up and his hands started twitching. Twitching became shaking, and she had to hold his shoulders down to keep him from rolling off her lap. He began to cough, the sound was dry and hoarse, and droplets of his blood were spewed across her pants, joining the preexisting red stains.
Sakura rarely doubted herself, but when she saw Naruto cough up the blood, her mind backtracked. She ran and reran through every muscle, bone, vessel – every cell of skin that her hands and chakra had felt. She didn't understand. What did she miss?
Naruto's body heaved again, and a fresh spray of blood was added to the macabre splatter painting on her thigh. The action tore Sakura away from her self-depreciation and gave her a new focus: find what she missed.
She repositioned herself to kneel beside his body. Tearing off what remained of her long-sleeve shirt, she balled it up and tucked it under his head. She gauged how much chakra she had left and found her 40% was now down to 25% after healing Naruto and her arms. Her previous explorative exam used up an insignificant amount of chakra, but it had clearly not been enough. But how much chakra could she afford to use on a more in-depth exam? When Naruto's body caved in with another round of coughing, Sakura found her answer.
She pushed his shoulders back down and yanked his jacket open. She lifted his shirt up to his neck and was greeted by an expanse of enflamed skin, shining from a sheen of sweat. She placed her hands on his chest, starting with the cardiovascular system since that's where the coughing was most liking originating from. She drew her chakra to her hands, training her senses on the feeling of it seeping from her hand to the sweaty skin over his sternum. Her chakra spread like a cool gel over his chest and traveled through the porous tissue.
Her chakra sank through the skin and sought out the rapidly twitching muscle that was Naruto's heart. Wrapping it around the muscle, she directed a stream of chakra through the arteries, checking for any functional issues. There weren't any. Naruto's heart was strong and resilient, and its accelerated beating was a reaction to something else in the body.
She detached her chakra from his heart and went on to check the lungs next. As she attempted to envelope his two lungs, a barrier deflected her chakra. She focused harder, attempting to breech the lung tissue from a single point instead. The barrier didn't budge. She tried again and again and at many different points. What the hell is around your lungs, Naruto? Sakura thought, straining her chakra against the fortress. This was all a waste of time, and Sakura knew it. But, Sakura couldn't help but feel as though she should do more. She had withdrawn all this chakra from her limited reserves, and now it was floating uselessly in Naruto's body.
She sank from her kneeling position to a seated one, and Sakura held her chakra still while she considered her next move. She couldn't fix Naruto's cough with that barrier in the way, she couldn't reabsorb the chakra to heal herself – what could she do? She could use the chakra to wake him, but she would rather he wake up naturally; forcing a person awake had a chance of minor brain damage, depending on the state of the patient. It was a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.
After mulling it over, Sakura decided to heal all of Naruto's bruises that she had deemed unnecessary during her first healing. With the bruises healed, Naruto would have little to no pain upon waking. Sakura, on the hand, was definitely going to be in pain. She had only healed her arms in an effort to conserve as much chakra for healing Naruto or any emergencies; As Konoha's golden boy and the future Hokage, Naruto's well-being preceded her own. As noble as that was, it meant Sakura still had some wonderful senbon just hanging out in her skin, and they were only the beginning of her pleasant list of injuries.
Sakura's adrenaline high was wearing down, and she was beginning to feel the accumulated effects of her injuries. Her breathing was more labored, and she felt a fog creep over her senses. Vaguely in the background, she heard the guard asking if she was alright. Is he capable of asking anything else? Sakura thought.
Her eyes once again drifted to Naruto. She couldn't lose her senses now, not when he could have another attack. She needed to clear her head, and she needed to do it now before she passed out. Any healing she did right now would be sloppy and insufficient, so it wasn't even worth the energy. How else could she clear her senses in this situation? The fog was thickening, but Sakura still managed to distinguish one thought.
She needed more adrenaline. She needed a fresh injury.
Her sight was fading, so her hand blindly felt her abdomen for senbon. She yanked out three of them. Grasping all three in a fist, she slammed them into her thigh.
The pain was immediate, but so was the clarity. The wound began to bleed, painting her hand red. She brought it up to her face to smother a whimper, but her shaking hand missed her mouth and smeared the fresh blood onto her cheeks instead.
As her hand failed its task, her whimper traveled to the ears of the Kumo guard. He was shouting something now. Shut. Up. She begged in her thoughts. She was bleeding, in pain again, and barely gripping onto consciousness. The last thing she needed for someone incoherently yelling at her and expecting a response. The man wasn't a mind reader, but she sincerely wished he were.
In a moment of cruel irony, Sakura noticed the guard unlocking the door and approaching her. Her brain had woken up, but her body was still rebooting. Her was now mirroring her kneeled position, hovering hands over her. He was so close, his voice refused to not be heard.
"Um, Ha-Haruno-san? Are you okay?" Gaku said. You're using honorifics? You are aware that I'm a prisoner, right? Sakura thought, trying to focus on his hovering hands and when he was going to decide to stop moving them. She looked up at him, giving him the most nonplussed look she could muster at that moment. He seemed to get her hint cause he subsequently decided to place his hands on her shoulders. She noticed one hand was apparently still antsy as it resumed its hovering, this time over her bleeding thigh. Don't touch it, don't touch it, don't-SHIT! She flinched away from the hand and its damnable curiosity. In Gaku's defense, he was quick to realize his mistake and ceased prodding the wound.
Her body wavered for a moment, and it occurred to her she may have been too overzealous with the stabbing. The guard's hands returned to her shoulders, and against her better judgment, she let him lean her body against his side. He wouldn't kill her. Probably.
Itachi couldn't remember a time he'd been so exhausted. He knew he'd been asleep , or at least passed out, but the hours he'd logged unconscious had done nothing for his energy levels. Itachi also couldn't remember a time he wasn't in at least a little pain. Breathing problems aside, he felt pretty good – great even. His bones felt good in their sockets, and his muscles were warm.
Although his body felt good, he felt a few unidentifiable objects touching him. He recognized the cold metal as the shackles and collar restraining his chakra, but there was something soft under his head. Prison cells don't come with pillows, so Itachi went to sit up and investigate the object. As he opened his eyes, he saw a Kumo ANBU cradling the Haruno girl in his arms.
Moving as fast as his body would let him, he used his arm as a lever and propped himself into a sitting position. As he moved, though, his peripheral vision saw orange. Following the flash of color, his eyes landed on his very orange chest. He was still Naruto. He wondered how the henge was still holding up, but thought it unimportant as the Kumo shinobi went to take off Sakura's chest bandages. Itachi was quick to grab the man's hand.
The shinobi appeared stunned by Itachi's movement, but even more so by the fact that he was no longer a lifeless body on the floor. They both held their positions, and neither made an attempt to speak. It wasn't until Sakura groaned that Itachi broke eye contact with the Kumo shinobi.
"I, uh, well . . . you're awake," the shinobi said. Itachi sincerely hoped all Kumo ANBU were this stupid; it would make their escape that much easier. Remembering to play his part, Itachi decided that Naruto would have been nothing but boisterous and vocal at this point.
"Of course I'm awake, you idiot! Get your damn hands off Sakura-chan!" He yelled. He moved to attack the shinobi, with no real motive other than the fact that Naruto would not have held back from strangling this man.
The guard curled his body around Sakura, pulling her away from Itachi. The man put Sakura down behind him, crouching on the floor with his hands in a battle-ready position. "Do you . . . do you know her?" He asked. Was the man attached to her or something? Itachi may not know the feeling of "love", but he'd read enough about the condition to see it in others. Itachi had prepared himself for many situations that Sakura could have gotten into. But, Itachi had not thought to prepare for a love-struck Kumo shinobi; he would have been less surprised to find Sakura dead.
Itachi growled, "Do I know her? You have no right to ask that, teme!" He launched himself at the man – an idiot move, but then again, so were most of Naruto's actions. The two of them wrestled for a few moments, but they both became still at the sound of someone approaching the cell. Itachi allowed the Kumo man to shove him back. The shinobi sprinted out the cell, locking the door, and resuming a stiff posture.
"Gaku! What the hell is going on down here? I thought you could handle a few Konoha scum." Another Kumo ANBU's voice echoed down the tunnel of cells as he approached.
"I can, sir. It's just," the guard paused, looking down at his shoes, "It's just that, uh, the girl's injured. I, um, went in because . . . because I wanted to make sure she wasn't dead." A lame excuse, but the man clearly wasn't clever enough to come up with anything better.
"Who the fuck cares? If she's dead, let her rot in the cell. We have the Kyuubi kid, and that's all that matters," the ANBU officer said. A strange glimmer appeared in the guard's eyes.
The officer was about to walk away, but the guard's voice stopped him. "If it doesn't matter – you know, whether she dies or not – could I, uh, could I take her?" . . . What the . . . Itachi's thoughts came to an abrupt halt. Maybe this is more than just a crush, he reluctantly admitted. Was he really going to whisk away Haruno? What worried him even more was how normal the officer treated the request.
"Teme, you can't take Sakura-chan from me!" Itachi yelled, "If you take her, I'll kill you!" If Itachi had ever been thankful for his Naruto henge, it was then. Perhaps the prospect of Naruto being violently uncooperative with their plans would cause them to keep Haruno here; taking Sakura would add an unnecessary complication to their already bothersome position.
Just as Itachi had hoped, the officer acquiesced. "I'd normally have no problem with it, but she might keep the kitten's hissing at bay. Kami knows I don't have the patience for that shit."
The guard visibly deflated but nodded anyway. The officer's brow furrowed, questioning the guard's peculiar attachment to the girl. Clearing his throat, he once again addressed his fellow Kumo shinobi, "If I have to come down here again, I can guarantee you'll be their neighbor. Maybe some cell time will teach you to be a better shinobi."
The officer's threat hung in the air as he turned to leave. The sound of his clicking heels disappeared with him down the underground corridor.
Itachi looked at the Kumo shinobi again. He looked pathetic. Hunched over and rejected, he was staring at the ground with such sadness Itachi thought a literal raincloud was going to appear over his head. With the shinobi wallowing in . . . in whatever it was he was wallowing in, he felt safe turning off his Naruto-persona and assessing Haruno.
He turned to see the girl propped against the wall, her chest bandages partially ripped from before. He crawled over to her, releasing the henge on his eyes. But as he went to shift Naruto's blue eyes into his red pinwheels, nothing happened. Hm, that's . . . interesting. He filed away the information for later but resumed assessing the myriad of injuries she'd collected.
They were crusted with yellow puss and reeked of decaying flesh, save for the senbon embedded imbedded in her thigh and actively bleeding. Other than the three senbon, Sakura had other weapons sticking out of her skin, like they'd made her into some kind of human pushpin doll. She had on the same shackles that he had, but someone had recently taken off the ones on her wrists from the look of the raw skin there. If her wrists were free, why didn't she heal herself?
It was at this point that Itachi looked at himself for injuries and got the answer to his question. He was in flawless condition; not a scratch or cut to be found. She'd used her released hands to heal him. But who released them? He turned to the shinobi guard.
The Kumo shinobi had turned towards them, watching Itachi inspect Sakura. He was staring in particular at the chest bandages he'd ripped. "I . . . I wasn't going to do anything," the ANBU said, "I just wanted to help her."
"Were you the one who took off her wrist restraints?" Itachi asked. There was probably a more Naruto-like way to ask, but he highly doubted this shinobi would notice the difference.
The man nodded. "She was injured, and I – I thought," he paused, looking at Itachi, "I thought she would heal herself. Not you." He mumbled an apology as an afterthought.
"I don't suppose you'd remove mine?" Itachi smirked. The joke was lost on the shinobi, as he seemed more bristled than amused. "I'll take that as a 'no'."
It would be rather convenient if the shinobi extended the generosity to him. The shackles seemed to be interfering with the Naruto henge; Itachi was stuck in this appearance. It was most likely due to the fact that the shackles had been put on in the midst of the jutsu, so the trapped chakra had become frozen in an activated state in his pathways. He'd never heard of such a case, but once Sakura awakened, she would have more information with her med-nin background. But, his inability to shift his eyes to his Sharingan posed a unique complication.
The Kumo shinobi coughed. "Is she your girlfriend?"
Itachi considered the question. His automatic answer was that, no, she wasn't. Then again, this twisted crush that had developed was something Itachi would have to deal with sometime. Why not now? It seemed like a logical idea until he remembered that when Sakura woke up, it would be revealed as a lie rather quickly; Itachi's understanding was that Naruto and Sakura had a strictly brother-sister dynamic.
"No," Itachi finally answered. The guard's eyes shimmered. Great, Itachi thought. He was trained in almost every shinobi discipline, but this infatuation crap was getting really old, really fast.
After the short interaction, they both went silent, relaxing into seated positions. The Kumo shinobi was staring at the opposing wall lost in thought, and Itachi was staring at Sakura, waiting for any sign of her waking up. The hours passed like this, with the both of them staring at their chosen targets.
Eventually they greeted their second visitor of the evening, this one lacking the echoes of approaching boots stomping down the cement corridor. This visitor reminded Itachi of the Nara boy; he wore a bored expression, and his hands were buried in his pockets. The man approached slowly, taking his time.
"They stuck you with guard duty, huh?" He said, laughing through his nose. The guard didn't bother getting up; these two knew each other.
"I didn't get 'stuck' with it. I volunteered," the guard replied, sighing at the man's jab, "What are you doing down here anyway, Yaku? Shouldn't you be swindling some poor guy?"
"Well, lucky for you, the Kaikage has given me a nice vacation for being such an upstanding citizen." The man posed with his hands on his kips and head held high. They both smirked in silence for a moment before Yaku cleared his throat. "Actually, my act as an upstanding citizen is why I'm down here. I'm here to relay a message." Finally, some useful information, Itachi thought. He had only been awake for a little while, but he still knew nothing of their situation. And even if Sakura knew something, he couldn't be debriefed by an unconscious body.
"A message? For who, me?" Gaku asked.
"It was for the lady," he nodded his head in Sakura's direction, "But seeing as she's not in any condition to receive a message, yes, it's for you."
"You know Haruno-san?" Gaku asked. The other man lifted a brow from the Gaku's use of honorifics. Itachi wanted to laugh; the guard must be the only one who doesn't think it's strange.
"No, but I owe her. She willingly let me take to the Raikage and take credit for capturing her." Itachi refocused on their conversation.
Gaku smiled. "She seems like a nice person," he mused. They exchanged a series of weird looks before Yaku shook his head and sighed.
"When she wakes up, tell her this: tomorrow, in the town plaza, they're going to hang her."
Author's Note: DUN DUN DUUUNNNN. Hope you all enjoyed it! Please read and review :)