I never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.
A thousand shards splintered, separated, at the impact; they came clattering to the floor. From the wall rolled a brown substance; it pooled at the floor where much more of it had smacked upon decent. A giant blob mixed with flecks of glass, bigger pieces of it with sharp, pointed ends.
Wide depths widened further; lips parted in surprise and shock. Two hands clutched a bag to her chest. She stared into the dimly lit room, at the toppled chair and the table where leaves of salad littered, a glass was turned over and a liquid dripped in tune with a clock ceremoniously ticking on the wall.
She took a tentative step forward. "I have orders—."
"Get out…" his voice came sharply, quiet and loud all at once; a warning as temperamental as the brewing of a storm.
Her eyes traveled from his unfocused black orbs, ones that weren't looking at her; they traveled up his arm and towards the wall where his hand locked on the length of where the kitchen separator ended. His knuckles were white; the wall breaking. A series of small, hairline-sized cracks escaped his grasp.
She swallowed and turned to look back over at his face. He panted, breaths heavy and labored. Sweat was a distinct sheen upon his flesh; human saline rolled between crevices of raw muscle, over bumps and curves of honed fiber.
She took another hesitant step forward, counting her heartbeats.
Faster than she could move he reached for a potted plant off the counter; she could see the sneer in his growl as he flung the item at her. She jumped out of the way, barely, and fell to the floor as the loud crash sounded against the wall behind her; it wasn't far from where the plate of curry landed previously. The contents of her bag nearly dumped a she scrambled to stand and ran for the door.
Her heart was a hammer in hear ears, pounding as he yelled at her this time, to her back. She couldn't hear him as the screen door smacked in her wake, rattling and bouncing against its wood frame behind her. She felt tears pricking at her eyes and she raced down the dirt path, kicking brown sand in her wake.
There's no one who could help that beast, was her final, fearful thought, No one.
"Is that all?"came the distinct droll hum of a voice. A pen tapped on the desk before the speaker. Amber-yellow hues narrowed in trepidation. Her lips parted as her jaw flexed once, briefly.
The dark-haired younger shinobi nodded, eyes closing monetarily. "Yes, Tsunade-sama."
Manicured digits curled tightly around the pen, breaking it, snapping it instantly. Ink rolled down her fingers; in reaction she stared at it before throwing it, harshly, into a garbage can beside her desk.
"Here, Tsunade-sama." Shizune came forward and with a napkin from her lab coat pocket. Her frown was soft and the concern in her eyes evident.
"Thank you," the blonde muttered, taking it and wiping her fingers off. She grimaced distastefully at the black bits under her nails that wouldn't come off. It too was tossed into the can as she stood up and went to the sink in her office. She twisted the knob and water came rushing. She grabbed a bar of soap and began to scrub.
"Should… should I send someone else?"
"Is there anyone else?" she snapped, eyeing her nails and frowning before going back to scrubbing.
Shizune hesitated, not entirely certain if her master was being serious or sarcastic. She bit her lower lip.
"Well?" She snatched a towel hanging off a cabinet knob. The action jarred it open slightly. She turned and began to dry her hands.
Shizune sighed. "We could send Mia. She's—."
"Too green. She wouldn't last five minutes. Next."
Shizune looked back down at the clipboard in her hands, scanning the names on staff. "Daisuke is—."
"Too irresponsible. Make a note: I need to speak with him about tardiness." She placed her hand on her hips. "Ball-deep is not an adequate excuse for showing up three hours late during ER shifts." She threw the towel on the counter behind her. "Next." She motioned with her hand for assistant to continue and crossed her arms over her chest.
Shizune, wearily, looked it back over. Countless names were scratched out with notes scribbled by her. She couldn't count them all. "…Chie might be suitable," she offered quietly, professionally. Her eyes hazarded up from the clipboard to Tsunade.
The blonde looked to be thinking for a moment; she wasn't looking at Shizune. She reached up and scratched her head, jostling her hair in the process as she looked to her left. "…No… no, definitely not. She's got great bedside manner, but, she can be a little too aggressive by herself."
Shizune sighed, heavily and long. "She's no more aggressive than Sakura," the comment was muttered, under her breath in frustration; it wasn't so much directed at Tsunade, because really it wasn't her fault.
The blonde's eyes snapped to her assistant. "What..?"
Shizune blinked and pulled the clipboard to her chest. Her laughter was shaky. "Ah, nothing, Tsunade-sama…!" Had she been that loud? Did it sound snarky? If she were quick she might be able to placate her. "How about I pour you a glass of sake? Jiraiya-sama brought—."
Tsunade shook her head and stalked across the room to her desk. She reached into a drawer and pulled out a few slips of paper and new pen. "What is Sakura assigned with at the moment? Mission?"
Shizune blinked again, startled. "Um… well…" She thought quickly as Tsunade raised a brow at her as she sat. "She's been working with the poison unit in the hospital, Tsunade-sama. Her last mission ended a few days ago with Kakashi, Naruto and… Sasuke."
The blonde narrowed her eyes. "I don't remember assigning her to poison control."
Shizune shook her head. "She wasn't. She's just been keeping herself busy." She smiled. "She figured if she wasn't working on something you would give her something to do.
"Smart girl," the Hokage muttered with a small smirk. She let out a sigh and shook her head. Her voice was heavy with order. "Go get her and tell her I need to speak with her right away; she's to stop everything she's doing and not to plan on returning to it today." She began scribbling away on the paper, eyes drawn there.
Shizune's brow furrowed a moment. "You don't intend to assign her to…"
Tsunade paused, but, did not move her pen from the paper. She looked up at Shizune, as if to say, 'Duh.'
Shizune frowned. "Do you think that's a good idea? …I mean…" her words were broken as she tried to explain. "All considered, Tsunade-sama."
She grunted. "Do you have a better idea?" When her assistant said nothing she dropped her pen, sat back in her chair and intertwined her fingers in front of her face, elbows on the armrests. "Sakura's headstrong, dependable, physically capable of handling anyone with enough gall to try and push her around, and," she emphasized, "it's because of the nature of her relationship with the patient, as well as, his brother that I think it's a good idea."
Shizune nodded after the pass of a long moment. "Very well, Tsunade-sama." She turned, moving to leave.
"Oh, before you go."
"Sake; the batch Jiraiya got for me that you hid."
"….Yes, Tsunade-sama." The dark-haired assistant hung her head humorously.
The blonde smiled once the door clicked shut behind her. She pulled her chair forward and reached for her pen again. Ink left a trail of words across the paper in front her as she settled back into the silence of her duty.
Her mind wandered as she wrote, waiting for her young student to show up.
Shizune had a right to voice… concerns, she supposed. She couldn't help but be a little concerned herself. There were a number of reasons why this situation wouldn't be a good one for the young medic to walk into, but, what choice did she have—really? He was angry, aggressive, hateful, and a danger to nearly every young man and woman who'd stepped foot beyond his threshold. His rage was quiet, painfully so. He wanted to be left alone and had told her so on more than one occasion. Kakashi couldn't even talk to him, and, he was one of the few people aside from Tsunade herself who'd walked into the home whom had left unscathed and perhaps only a little frustrated.
Sasuke didn't want to talk to him and she couldn't really blame the younger Uchiha. It had only been six months since his arrival home, since the end of the 4th great shinobi war; peace, was welcome and widely accepted, but, it didn't come without its scars—emotional or not. Some things couldn't just be wiped over with a salve and wrapped with gauze; it didn't matter what the truth was… memories that hurt both parties kept tension and ache between them; it kept them apart. They couldn't see they needed each other…
Her thoughts evaporated as a knock came at her door. Tsunade looked up. "Enter." She went back to writing out the mission details as the pinkette came in.
"Shishou," she murmured after her soft steps quieted and she stood before her desk, hands behind her back and shoulders respectfully squared.
"Sit down, Sakura."
Tsunade continued writing. She said nothing as her youngest apprentice sat down while she signed her name on the parchment. She listened to quiet shuffling of her feet as she shifted around to get comfortable.
Her pen was set beside the paper and she sat back. One leg crossed over the other as she leveled her gaze on Sakura. She observed her quietly and her lips twisted in thought while she crossed her arms over her chest comfortably.
Finally, she said, "I have an unconventional mission for you. Well," she continued drolly, "It's not so much a mission as it is an assignment. One that will prevent you from taking any extended missions for a time."
Sakura raised a brow. "Will it interfere with any work I have at the hospital?"
Tsunade shook her head. "You won't be leaving the village, and, you will still be able to go about your regular duties if time allows."
"Alright…" It was obvious by her tone she was ready to have it explained to her.
Tsunade allowed her arms to move comfortably to the arm rests. Her voice, when she spoke, was still and professional. "I'm sure you recall the night the 4th war ended."
Sakura's lips tugged into a frown only slightly. "The night Sasuke came back with…" Memories seemed to cloud her mind, stopping her from speaking further.
Tsunade nodded. "That was also the night you brought that same man back from the brink; a miracle to this day, in my opinion.
Sakura nodded, focused.
Tsunade sighed. "You, along with every other resident of this village, have since been made aware of Itachi's innocence in crimes against Konoha."
"Documents uncovered once Root was abolished after Denzou's execution for the attempted coup allowed for that evidence, Tsunade," she replied easily, without surprise in her voice. "He was made a hero for his sacrifices. Everyone knows that; myself more than anyone else." She looked curious.
The older woman nodded again and turned in her seat, her left side facing her student as she rested her elbow on the desk. She idly clicked a pen. "You also know he's been receiving in-home medical care because of his condition for the last six months since then."
Sakura didn't know much about it, but, she knew. He was a sore subject for her dark-haired teammate, former love interest; she just didn't ask and he didn't provide the information. Aside from that night when the older Uchiha was bleeding, dying and barely breathing under her hands, and, the few times Team Kakashi engaged him as the enemy, she'd had almost zero contact with him. Any information she had on him was limited to rumors, the bingo book, and the history books.
"I do, Shishou," she replied.
"For the past six months I've run through well over fifty caregivers; three in the last week alone."
"I'm sorry?" Sakura's brow furrowed and her fingers went to her lips, touching in curiosity.
Tsunade turned her chair back around so she could face the pinkette. "He's run them all off, Sakura. He doesn't want help. He wants to be left alone, as he's told me under no uncertain terms numerous times since the start of his recovery."
"How…?" Sakura had had some unruly patients in her day; some of them could run off a timid green nurse or two, but, nothing so bad that couldn't be handled by an experienced medical professional, nin or not.
"Oh, you know… he throws things at them," she explained with sarcastic, casual indifference, "Plates, cups, chairs, potted plants; he tossed a table at one man.
"He's cussed them, is uncooperative, refuses to do as he's asked. He's locked people out of the home. Sometimes, for the newbies, just a glare is enough, it seems." Tsunade sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "At this point I've run my resources dry. I'd go deal with himself, but, it won't solve the problem; I can't take care of him on a continual basis.
"He needs to be watched after."
The information settled over Sakura. A few thoughts entered her brain; one, why couldn't any other shinobi do it? Then, she realized he needed medical attentiveness—something a nonmedical nin couldn't provide. "And Sasuke?" He wasn't a medical nin, but, couldn't he at least stay with his brother and keep an eye on him for the simple things?
"That's another problem, scamp," she replied as she placed her elbow on the desk and her cheek in her palm, looking lethargic. "You know because he's your teammate; Sasuke's got some wounds to heal."
"Of course… it's only been six months."
"What you don't know is that some reunions aren't always… perfect; suffice it to say, it's no easy feat to start a loving relationship with the man who made your life hell for a while. Nor is it easy for the man who made your life hell to do the same."
That she understood. Hating his brother had been apart of Sasuke for a very long time; he'd betrayed his village and had become an avenger just to destroy Itachi. Therein lay ten years of hate layered between the two men; a lot to uncover to get to the bottom.
She voiced this, "I understand."
"What I need you to do is go over there and see to his needs, the ones he can't manage on his own; which, unfortunately—is most of them." She frowned, released a haggard sighed and leaned into her desk, both forearms laid side by side in front of her horizontally. "This isn't going to be easy for you, Sakura. I won't mince words; he's an asshole and doesn't hide that fact. He's a justified asshole, but, an asshole nonetheless.
"Your assignment, from today on out, is to be his caregiver. Make sure he's well, that he eats, bathes, sleeps, and, that he doesn't overwork himself." Tsunade placed the papers she filled out in a folder and thrust it at her student. She watched Sakura stand and take it. "But, to put it bluntly, you job is to make sure Uchiha Itachi doesn't damned well kill himself."
If it hadn't been said with such a serious subject at hand Sakura might have laughed at the Hokage. But, as it stood, she was frustrated, angry and probably needed something to hit because of this whole ordeal. In short, Sakura just nodded, folder in hand, and said, "Yes, Shishou."
"Good, now get out. And, tell that other brat that I haven't forgotten about the stash she was supposed to bring me quite a bit ago."
At this, the corner of Sakura's lips tugged. But, again, all she said was, "Yes, Shishou," and left, door clicking behind her. She leaned back against it, folder hugged against her chest and gave a sigh. She looked down, green eyes distant.
She couldn't help but think her teacher was right; Itachi was justified. For a man who spent more than half his life using his eyes as his primary weapon, going blind couldn't have been easy.
Not at all.
The grass had been mowed recently, she noted as she eyed the home. It had a small, four foot high fence made of wood with a modest gate. At the moment it was pulled open and resting at something of an angle; one corner dug into the dirt, indicating the hinges needed to be fixed. There was a front porch and a hanging swing seat. Two windows were to either side of the front door; all three were open with screens to keep the bugs out.
It had also had a paint job recently: dark blue. The open shutters were soaked in a deep crimson; both on the second and first story. The woodland that surrounded the home left something of a twenty foot gap between itself and the house; grass and a few fresh wildflowers remained.
All in all, it appeared as though Tsunade sent regular Genin teams out here to keep up the yard and the exterior.
Sakura gave an exhale and adjusted the bag on her shoulder; it carried the folder she'd reviewed and a few other things she thought she might need. Her steps were not slow, nor were they quick as she walked up the worn, dirt path towards the porch. She stepped up and towards the door. As she peered into the darkness that was his home, she wondered, should she knock? Would it be better to call out his name?
She narrowed her eyes and sighed, hand on her hip. "Uchiha Itachi…?" she called out. She waited, listening. "Itachi-san…?" she called again. After the span of about what she assumed was five minutes Sakura just decided to go in. Gently, she moved past the threshold and into the dark home; the screen door shut behind her quietly and without sound.
Immediately, her nose wrinkled and she drew her hand up over it. "Oh… god. What the hell…" She looked around; light coming in from the open windows allowed her enough to see while her eyes adjusted. She scanned the small room that appeared to be the main living space. Eventually, her eyes landed on the mess pasted to the wall, hardened from the extended time it had been left there. Her eyes drew lower to the floor under it where a pile of more of it, mixed with glass, dirt and a broken planter remained. A plant sat lopsidedly, dying.
She decided that would have to be cleaned up first as she turned… annnnd the table too, she realized with much dismay, once she noted the withering salad leaves and drying puddle of some liquid on the floor that had gone sticky because of the sugar content.
She released a breath and ignored the pungent smells; she waved a hand in front of her face, trying to at least alleviate it.
It appeared the open kitchen lights were on. This was the next place she went. She was quiet and slow, observing everything as she set her bag down. She stilled as she spied the wall-divider for the kitchen and the living room. Her hand reached up and gently trailed over the cracking frame. Her lips pursed as she digested the information.
In the kitchen the smell got stronger. And no wonder; stacks of plates and cups overfilled the sink. Several boxes of what appeared to be take-out littered the counters, half eaten. There was distinct hint of mold wafting under it all. Flies buzzed, trying to get a meal.
It was deplorable; unacceptable.
Had this all accumulated in the time he'd been without someone to aid him? Or, had it gathered in the last week between aids? Tsunade had told her there had been three in the last week. Depending on how long it was before they departed would certainly make a difference as to why the house was so unkempt.
Her eyes narrowed, quickly. She tensed.
Dishes rattled in the sink; a glass fell, shattering in the otherwise deafening silence. Her lower back pressed, hard, into the sink's edge where she'd slammed into it; the surface groaned against her weight in protest. Her jaw was tight, her eyes collected and set. Her breath came out evenly through her nose.
One wrist was taken, pale flesh a stark contrast to her black, leather gloves. The other was in her other hand, lower and blocking the attack on her stomach.
She could see his unfocused hues, black with a tint of hazed gray staring beyond her, not at her. Black, long, wild bangs blocked them partially, giving him a ravenous, laden ferocity that cut through her without fear. If it affected her she placed it aside.
She grit her teeth, baring them a moment as she summoned strength sans chakra. Her hands gripped his wrists hard, pulling down. Their arms shook with the tension, with the combined, opposing force as she pulled, slowly, inch by bare inch.
She shoved him away from her; a kunai appeared; the sound was quick and cut the air as she reached for her kodachi. The sting of the pointed throwing weapon sliced across her cheek as she reached up with swift reflexes and blocked his second downward attack meant to cut into her chest.
For a blind asshole his aim wasn't too off.
Her free hand snapped over his wrist. She twisted his arm and turned him around, slamming his chest onto the island to immobilize him. The kunai dropped with a clatter.
Gracefully, in the same movement, she slid the kodachi back into the scabbard on her back. It clicked soundlessly into place.
She took a moment then, relaxing her form, and stared at his bare, unshirted, poised, honed and toned back fibrous with rippling, flexing muscle. She quietly watched his features; his breath fanned across the island top where the side of his face pressed, creating a fog of hot air across the marble surface. Dark black-grey eyes were closed; obvious, haggard age lines descended near the point of his tear ducts. His lashes were long; his features very angular and articulately sculpted. His hair, unbound for the first time since she'd ever seen him, was a swathed, silken, half knotted mess around him.
She observed him without words, listening to the slow rise and fall of his breaths. Idly, she wondered, why he had attacked her to begin with. Doubtful he'd done so to any of his other caregivers. The thought rolled around in her head, settling as she considered all of her actions when she first entered.
It occurred to her that it had become a common habit of hers to allow her chakra to raise and exude when she entered a home in her village, especially that of a fellow shinobi's. Doing so let people know she wasn't a threat and those who recognized her signature didn't jump at her. There wasn't a chance he assumed her an enemy… no, none of the previous caregivers had been shinobi; he assumed attacking her might scare her off. She wondered, briefly, if this had anything to do with her gender; which, was something a few shinobi could scent just from a chakra signature regardless of ever having met them previously.
When she spoke next, her was voice even, but, not threatening. "You will find I'm not a withering wildflower, Itachi-san, nor," she continued, "will I scare as easily as one breaks in the wind."
She watched his jaw tighten, his throat tensing in repressed rage. She was quite sure if he wasn't in his present condition she'd have more than a time with him; then again, she wouldn't need to worry about him at all if he wasn't in his current predicament.
He coughed, drawing her attention; he wheezed, jerking for air under her and spat blood on the counter. Internally alarmed that she could be inadvertently suffocating him by placing pressure on his lungs she let him go.
She didn't step away, though; instead, her face became a wash of concern, lacking the previous seriousness or battle-laden aggression. As he tried to lift himself with two palms flat against the counter she placed a hand on his back, gently. Green-blue chakra surfaced and she began to—.
He spun, smacking her hand away. He looked in her direction, jaw set and teeth barely bared. His eyes, while unfocused on her, took on an air of caged aggression waiting to explode with any movement on her part, any contact.
She stared at him for a while, waiting for him to react, to relax, to move. He didn't; he kept looking beyond her, inhaling sharply through his nose as if he smell her; or perhaps it was that and a combination of his condition. She wasn't sure; this thought occurred to her as she narrowed her eyes, watching in silence.
The moment didn't last before he coughed again and grabbed at his bare chest, eyes shutting tightly as he wheezed again. Blood from his earlier fit stained his lips, his chin in a trail of crimson. He teetered and she cut the distance between them easily, catching him, supporting him. Her hand drew over his back while her other pressed into his chest.
His breath was a hot fan across her shoulder and neck as he shook; his wet lips a bare brush of skin against skin. He didn't move to hold onto her; he didn't push away, but, she imagined that had little to do with how he felt and more about his own energy. That had been wasted fighting her; a vain effort.
He felt solid against her, warm. She could smell the musk, heavy due to sweat and more than likely a lack of proper bathing; it assailed her, but, not a negative way. As a Konoha medic with active duties and missions there had been more than one occasion where the scent of a dirty, fresh-off-the-field-male came under her care. Each one had their distinct aroma, and, unlike Ino she tended to enjoy what that scent represented, the smell itself—raw, natural, all shinobi, all male.
He was raw; the thought crossed her mind without concern or disagreement with her own observation. She had always thought so, even when facing him across the field as a much younger woman than she was now. He was powerful, like Kakashi, but, nowhere near as expressive. She surmised anger, shattered pride and the overpowering feeling of uselessness created the man she held before her.
Hesitantly, after the pass of a moment, and with a slow exhale, she shifted the hand on his back and moved it towards the upper center. Gradually, not wanting to spook him, she released her own chakra and worked on a scan of his lungs.
His hand snapped over her wrist, the one holding his chest; it held, pulsing in and out. The breath on her neck became more erratic.
"Calm down," she ordered softly. "I'm just checking your vitals and your lungs." She paused, thinking in the quiet as she worked. "That is, unless you think you have the capacity or the ability to do so yourself."
She could almost feel him thinking as he unwillingly rested against her, tense and as incompliant as he could manage. Then… his grip relaxed and his let go altogether, his fingers lethargically running down her wrist. The action shot something through her; it was slow and languid, warm and residually calming.
His body lost its tenseness, but, he did not relax fully. Still, it appeared he would finally let her work.
She closed her eyes and sighed, half in thanks and half in latent frustration, thinking perhaps, her Shishou might have been a little too lenient with her observation of not easy.
No, there was nothing easy about Uchiha Itachi.
AN :: Here you go. As always, let me know what you think, if you feel up to it. If anyone can figure WHY I titled the story Nightingale then I'll give out virtual cookies. -grins- Or, you could just google the quote xP.