BLOOD-STAINED CHERRY BLOSSOM
Chapter Nineteen: The Agreement between Enemies
"Fucking damn it!"
The silver-haired Jashinist swore again as his arm was reattached to his bloody shoulder by his partner, Kakuzu, who looked particularly irritable as he sewed through Hidan's flesh with his black tendrils.
"If you stay still, it won't hurt as much," Kakuzu grunted as he concentrated on his task.
Hidan ignored him and pounded a fist into the rock he sitting on, the remnants of the ground that had caved in moments before the Akatsuki base underneath collapsed from multiple detonations. "You have no idea how much this fucking hurts, you bastard! You try getting your arm caught under a boulder that is falling from the ceiling and tell me how much pain you feel!"
"I thought you enjoyed pain, you sadist," Kakuzu retorted as he stitched the last thread.
"Only when someone else is experiencing it with me!"
Deidara sent a vexed glare at the two bickering immortals. "Quiet, you two!" he hissed through clenched teeth. He leaned against another rock a few meters away from the other three Akatsuki members, his arms crossed in front of him. He had been strangely quiet ever since they managed to crawl out of the hideout through an opening in the ceiling held together by Itachi's Susano'o, but his silence was broken as the arguing duo made his blood boil in rage.
Both immortals turned to the younger Akatsuki member in unappreciated surprise. Deidara rarely addressed any of the Akatsuki members in such a disrespectful manner - other than Tobi – because he was the youngest in the organization and therefore had a lower status than the older members. What encouraged him to talk back to his superiors was a mystery to them. "Hey pipsqueak," Hidan growled, disliking being talked down to by the bomber, "No one asked your opinion. So fuck off, before I sever your head with my scythe!"
"Hm." Deidara wordlessly turned his attention away from them and focused back towards the setting sun, a solemn expression on his face as he watched the light fade into the distance.
Kisame, who was also secluded himself from the group as he sat on a rock in the forest clearing near their destroyed hideout, noted the young man's depressed appearance. But unlike the others, he recognized the source of his despair. He sat up and sauntered over to the lone blonde man and stood before him, but Deidara made no indication to recognize the shark-man.
Kisame studied Deidara for a moment. He was unquestionably upset by something. The look on his face showed complete anger, depression, and confusion. Kisame knew why he was so troubled, for he too had been feeling the same way after the underground Akatsuki base crumbled away.
"Stop staring at me, Kisame," Deidara muttered quietly, never glancing in his direction and he continued a blank stare, lost in his own thoughts and emotions.
"It's her, isn't it? Sakura."
The three Akatsuki members froze and glanced at Kisame at the mention of their former medic's name. Even Deidara turned his attention to the blue man. All was silent as everyone stared in the shark-man's direction, as if he just spoke of a taboo. It had been true, they were all thinking the same thing after they escape the falling structure that was once their hideout: Sakura. Why did she do it? Where was she? But no one had outright mentioned her until now. No one wanted to admit to the confusion and destruction that one girl had brought upon them. How much her final act of defiance had affected them.
Deidara still looked grim as he stared up at Kisame. "What of her, yeah?" he said after a few moments of the tense, unbroken silence, his voice clipped and bitter.
The shark-man scowled at his uncaring attitude, his rage prominent as he flashed his pointed teeth. Suddenly, he reached out at grabbed a fistful of Deidara's shirt collar, violently yanking him upwards and out of his seated position. Before the startled bomber could even react, Kisame spoke. "What of her? Don't give me that bullshit. I know that you, all of you," he motioned to the small crowd of them, "Are thinking the same thing, so don't even try to deny it!"
Kisame turned to face the other members after releasing Deidara. His expression clearly showed his frustration, but his voice was low and controlled. "We all want to know what happened and why it did," Kisame began, "But I can't tell you the answer to those questions. However, I do know one thing: Sakura was our prisoner. She rebelled against us the whole time she was our captive. It was expected. But we have to admit, something changed about her. In the end, before she tried to kill us using Deidara's bombs to explode our hideout, something was different. She was hesitant, unsure, and anxious. She may have attempted to kill us, but she clearly didn't want to."
"Then why did she?" Hidan suddenly interrupted, his stare as cold as the air around them. "If she didn't want to kill us, then why did she try to and almost succeed?"
Kisame let out a long breath before answering. "For many reasons, I guess. Like I said, we were her enemies. We ruined her career as a kunoichi and separated her from her family, friends, and home. We captured her and forced her to serve us as a medic. We disrespected her and may have tried to kill her. She had every right to hate us and defend herself by trying to kill us."
"You speak as if you knew her well," Kakuzu commented, "But I think that you have been deceived by her. We were all deceived."
All heads turned in Deidara's direction at his sudden remark. The blonde strode up to the trio, his chin held high to assert some authority. "We were not deceived by Sakura," he continued, "Because she was our comrade. We each had a relationship with her, whether we want to admit it or not. Hidan," Deidara glanced in the Jashinist's direction, who raised his brow at the sound of his name, "You were the one who told her that we were her comrades when the rest of us were too bold to acknowledge it."
Hidan lowered his head in thought as recalled the last conversation that he and Sakura had before she destroyed their hideout.
"Kakuzu, you were her teacher," the bomber said, gaining the immortal's attention, "She admired your skills as a shinobi, and you taught her some of those skills, making her stronger."
Kakuzu crossed his arms in front of him, but his brow furrowed slightly as he considered their teacher-student association.
"And Kisame, you listened to her medical advice and appreciated everything she did for our organization. You might not have outright thanked her, but she clearly accepted your indirect gratitude." Deidara stated.
Kisame nodded, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards at Deidara's declaration.
Deidara cast his eyes downwards, his hand unconsciously touching his injured wrist that Sakura had cast for him. "Even for me," he said, his voice softer as if he was speaking a secret to himself, "She captivated me at the very beginning, though I never confessed it until the end. I don't know why. Maybe it was her beauty, or her personality, or perhaps just the way she would look at me, but I knew she wasn't an ordinary person. She was strong and determined and resolute. But most importantly, she was a kind soul. She takes the path of virtue in life, even when entering the most treacherous of events, like being in Akatsuki. And her way of life changed us all without question. Are we not different people because of this one girl? I never once heard Hidan consider someone his comrade before, or Kakuzu teaching another in the ninja arts, or Kisame thanking anyone, or me even admiring someone.
"Therefore, she did not deceive us. She was honest the whole time she was with us; never once had she tried to make us think differently. Even when she attempted to kill us, she didn't want to because we meant something to her too. From a logical perspective, she needed to kill us. But her emotions were telling her otherwise. Why? There was a point in time when we exposed our better temperaments and she saw not as criminals, but as people. We were her friends, and she was ours. She is our friend, yeah."
Deidara released a breath that he didn't realize he was holding in. He was also surprised in himself for what he just said. Had he really been thinking that the whole time? Well, it was the truth. As he surveyed the reactions of the other Akatsuki members, they appeared more lively, more resolute, hell, happier. So they agreed with him.
"You are right, Deidara," Kisame confirmed. "Who thought that the youngest, most naïve of us all could be so insightful?" The rest of the members nodded as well, acknowledging the bomber.
Deidara smiled slightly, taking the shark-man's comment as a compliment. But his smile quickly faded as he realized their newest dilemmas. "What should we do now? Our hideout is destroyed, and it is almost dark. Plus Itachi and Tobi are still missing, and I'm worried about Sakura…"
"Whatever Sakura is doing, she can handle things by herself. She managed to spend half a month with us, no?" Kisame responded, laughing a bit. "And I think Tobi can manage… whatever the hell he is doing now. Itachi on the other hand…" Kisame rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a look of concern on his face, "I'm worried about him. His body must be reacting negatively to using the Sharingan and Susano'o by now. Plus he had a rather nasty added injury on his stomach when a stone pillar clipped him, the last time I saw him. I'd be surprised if he was still conscious after enduring all of that stress on his body."
"Should we pursue the Uchiha, then?" Kakuzu asked Kisame, who seemed to be taking the role of the leader in their group.
Kisame hesitated for a moment as he processed their options. "No," he managed to say. He disliked his partner wandering the woods by himself, especially when injured. He never would have admitted it aloud, but he deeply cared for Itachi, his friend. They had spent many years working together in Akatsuki, and they had made a rather good team. No one in the Akatsuki knew Itachi better than Kisame. The Uchiha was the most skilled and intelligent shinobi he had ever met; he would certainly find a way out of his mishap. "Itachi can also take care of himself. He's incredibly clever and will find a way to survive, despite his condition. He always does."
"What about Sakura?" Deidara asked again, "Should we try to find her?"
Kisame shook his head. "Sakura is no longer our concern. She has broken the bonds of her imprisonment from us. She achieved her freedom, and she deserves it. Let her return to the life we tried to take her away from."
"I heard that Sakura was never our concern," Kakuzu mentioned suddenly, "She was solely for the Uchiha, serving the Akatsuki's medical needs only when required. Is this true, Kisame? It would explain why the Uchiha is still missing. He is probably tracking her as we speak."
Kisame furrowed his brow. He had heard of the same rumor too from Leader, but he knew nothing more, like the rest of the members. Itachi had been acting rather strange ever since they captured Sakura. What was his partner planning this time? "I wouldn't doubt it. But what Itachi is doing is his own concern."
"If he hurts Sakura-" Deidara suddenly growled, his hands balled into tight fists.
"Hey now, Deidara," Hidan spoke, "You heard Kisame; Sakura can handle her own. And if either one of them was going to get hurt, it would probably be the Uchiha."
Deidara eventually relaxed, realizing that what the sadist said was true. Kisame still seemed worried. Why was this girl so important to his partner? What did she possess that he needed so desperately that he would pursue her through a dangerous forest alone and injured just to catch Sakura, who would most likely fight him if he managed to find her?
"It's getting dark," commented Kakuzu as he stared into the red sky of the setting sun. "We should relocate to the nearest hideout immediately."
Kisame nodded. "I shall lead the way. I know these coasts well."
Kisame, Kakuzu, and Hidan all began moving away from their fallen base, but Deidara still was rooted where he stood, a look of concern on his face. Kisame noted Deidara's worried expression and strode over to the blonde.
"We are just going to leave?" Deidara asked Kisame in a hushed voice so the others would not hear him. "What about the other members? And Sakura…"
His concern for the girl runs deep, Kisame thought, He had definitely fallen hard for Sakura. The shark-man clasped a large hand on the small shoulder of the blonde before him. "Whatever happens will happen, Deidara," he responded coolly, "We shouldn't try to change what the fates designed. But I have a feeling that Itachi and Sakura are going to be just fine."
"Very well. I will tell you everything."
The fire waned slightly, casting eerie shadows over the snow-covered forest floor around them. Sakura shivered as the temperature began to drop as the last red rays of sun vanished from the sky. The atmosphere suddenly felt tense and unsafe. But her attention remained at the Uchiha. Itachi said he was going to tell her everything about his plans, the plans that he had been making since the day he ruined her life. His plans that involved her. No more secrets. No more lies. Just the truth. That was all she needed to know. Then she would leave him behind and never think about Itachi Uchiha and the Akatsuki ever again.
Itachi's closed eyes cast downwards when he opened them, the fire reflecting in his abyss orbs. He set aside his food and clasped his hands together, his expression solemn as he contemplated how to start this strange tale. Sakura patiently waited for him to continue, but never took her eyes away from the Uchiha.
"Sakura… do you know why I am a criminal?"
The pinkette furrowed her brow at his question. What was he getting at? "You're an Akatsuki member," she stated, "You betrayed the Leaf and joined the criminal organization that hunts Jinchuuriki."
"How did I betray the Leaf?"
Sakura's body tensed defensively. She didn't want to answer his question. The answer was far too disturbing, especially to discuss with him. But Itachi nodded to her, signaling for her to answer. Sakura took in a held breath. "You… you killed your entire clan in a single night…" she whispered, her eyes cast downward.
Itachi nodded solemnly. "Yes, I single-handedly murdered all of the Uchihas. Except one."
Sakura's head shot up to face Itachi, knowing who Itachi was referring to. Itachi lifted his head as well to face Sakura, his eyes cold. "The sole survivor of that night, my younger brother, your former teammate, Sasuke Uchiha."
Sakura narrowed her eyes. What was Itachi trying to tell her? What the hell did Sasuke have to do with this? Although she had many questions, she remained silent and bit her lip as she waited for Itachi to continue.
"You know well of his betrayal of Konoha, I'm sure. He left the village to train with Orochimaru in his quest for power. He desired power so he could be strong enough to defeat me, the person he has long sought after to kill. His goal in life is revenge, retribution for all that I have done to him and our family in the past. There will come a day when he completes his training and will seek me out. When that day comes, I must be ready.
"The reason why the Akatsuki captured you is not because we needed a medic and information about the Leaf," Itachi admitted, "It was because I needed a medic. A medic to heal me in preparation for when Sasuke and I meet once again."
Sakura's hands tightened into white-knuckled fists at his answer. "So, I'm just a pawn in your sick little game with your brother?" she asked, her voice rising with her escalading rage, "To heal you so you have a better chance of killing him? I'm not going to help you do that, even if Sasuke did turn his back on my village and my teammates!"
She wanted to kill Itachi for trying to use her in such a way. She could if she really desired to. He was still too weak to defend himself. Yes, she hated Sasuke for everything he had done to Konoha, to Team Seven, to herself. But he didn't deserve to die. She would rather have Sasuke alive and living the life he chooses –even if he was a criminal serving Orochimaru- than assist Itachi in killing him.
Itachi seemed perfectly calm as he exhaled slowly, never meeting her eyes. He expected this reaction from her. "You are jumping to conclusions," he responded, "I am not proposing that you help me kill my younger brother by making me physically stronger through your ninjutsu. I merely require you to analyze and repair my Sharingan with your medical jutsu."
Sakura lifted an eyebrow in confusion. "What's wrong with your Sharingan?"
Itachi brushed back some of his locks that fell in front of his eyes. "Having a powerful kekkei genkai also comes with potent repercussions; it is the balance of the natural and spiritual world," he began to explain, "The greater you expand the power of the Sharingan, the more energy it drains from you and the more it damages your body as a result. Didn't it seem odd that I am still so weak, even after you already healed my most life-threatening wounds?"
Sakura thought back to yesterday when she was scanning Itachi's body with her medical ninjutsu after he passed out from blood loss. She did happen to notice some strange anomalies with his chakra network, but hardly had the time to consider it.
"After using my Mangekyo Sharingan yesterday, it overloaded my chakra network because of the massive power it brings forth. It damages my chakra vessels each time I use it, and it attacks my body as well because I am trying to conjure the necessary energy required for the jutsu, so it saps my life force in compensation. It is really quite a painful and exhausting experience. It feels like every cell of my body is on fire."
Sakura felt a slight pang of guilt in her chest. If she didn't try to kill him, he wouldn't have had to go through that awful and horrifying event. She couldn't even begin to imagine the pain and fear it must entail.
Itachi noticed Sakura's blatant remorse, and instantly regretted mentioning his pain, for she was the indirect cause of it. "Do not worry. I'm mostly healed now, thanks to you."
Sakura pulled her mouth into a thin line to hide her emotion and crossed her arms. "Who said that I was worried about you?" she lied, looking away from Itachi's analyzing gaze.
The Uchiha shook his head at her ineffective attempt at masking her emotions, but continued speaking. "I know that you are unwilling to offer your medical assistance to me, but I can make you a deal."
Sakura's brow rose in interest and she unfolded her arms. Although making a deal with this particular Uchiha would most likely be her demise considering his scheming nature, it did not subdue her curiosity. "What kind of deal?" she asked warily.
"If you promise to heal me, in exchange for your aid, I can lead you to Sasuke."
Sakura's eyes widened and her chest suddenly felt tight. Was he saying… that he knew where Sasuke was?
Itachi nodded at her silence before speaking again. "If you repair my Sharingan, I will personally escort you to Sasuke and you are free to do whatever you like with the information that I give you about his whereabouts. But keep in mind, if you do contact the Leaf to arrest him or convince him to go back to Konoha, be aware that he will find a way back to me. Our battle is written in the heavens. You cannot change our fate."
Sakura was still in shock from his words. She would be able to see Sasuke again. She could persuade him to go back to Konoha, or drag him there by force if she so chose. She could undo his mistake. He could go back home where he belonged. She could make Kakashi and Naruto happy. Their life could never be returned to the way things were before, but at least they would be happier with Sasuke back home.
"And you would be free," Itachi concluded, interrupting her thoughts, "I will never pursue you again, nor the Akatsuki once you assist me with my request."
Itachi suddenly lifted a hand out in front of him, offering her to shake it. Sakura looked at him guardedly, but his expression didn't falter. Was he telling the truth? Did he really know where Sasuke was? Would he leave her alone after she healed him? She tried to peer through the darkness to read him, but it was impossible, even if the lighting was better. His face was always a calm, neutral expression, rarely showing emotion, never revealing what he was thinking. Could she really trust him, the man that took away her life and planned this whole arrangement for her intervention in the upcoming Uchiha battle?
"Please," she thought she heard Itachi whispered to her, but it was so faint, that it could have been the wind.
"Do you promise that everything you said was true?" she questioned him, her gaze hard.
"I promise," Itachi nodded, his expression never wavering.
Sakura sighed to herself. For Kakashi and Naruto, I will do it for them. I will bring Sasuke back home. "Very well, I agree to your terms," she said, reaching her own hand out and shaking her former enemy's hand. Sakura felt the warmth and strength of his hand as he grasped her own slender hand. What was she getting herself into?
"By our honor as shinobi, we make this agreement," the Uchiha stated, barely audible.
Itachi almost looked relieved as they unclasped hands, but his expression quickly changed to its usual calm demeanor as he took his gaze away from the pinkette and silently stared into the fire. Sakura sighed and did the same, resting her chin on a fist as she watched the orange flames eat away the charred wood. She thought about the recent events that occurred and of her new alliance with the Uchiha. She looked across the fire at Itachi, who also seemed absorbed in thought. She wondered what he was thinking about.
"So, when do you want me to heal you?" Sakura awkwardly asked her newly acquired 'ally.'
Itachi was silent for a moment before answering. "Do you expect something like this to be easy?" he responded as he poked at the waning fire with a nearby stick.
Sakura's eyebrows arched in irritation. "What is that supposed to mean, Uchiha? Do you doubt my medical skills? If so, you better find a new medic to involve in your crazy plans."
Itachi shook his head. "Not at all. Only a highly-accomplished medic such as yourself could ever undertake such a task; that is why I chose you. But I know that even you are not fully prepared for this."
"What are you talking about?" Sakura grit her teeth, disliking her medical skills being challenged, "I have done plenty of eye repairs and surgeries in the past-"
"Not like this," Itachi interrupted, his voice suddenly hard and eyes cold. Sakura instantly closed her mouth at his quick change in demeanor. "I am sure that you have never been taught or have even heard of the reparation of a Sharingan. That is because it is practically impossible. The only way I know how to replace dysfunctional Sharingan is by obtaining new Sharingan from a different person."
Sakura suddenly shivered as she understood what he was trying to say. Itachi noticed her skin pale at his remark. "No, I am not looking for you to replace my Sharingan with my brother's. I just need it repaired for when I battle him. I have overexerted its power to the point where it is weakening me considerably. I just need you to halt the negative side effects for a short period of time."
"But you just said it can't be medically repaired-"
"I said it was almost impossible. There is one person that I know of who has taken such an interest to the Uchiha kekkei genkai that he has spent most of his lifetime studying the Sharingan. He has kept a detailed record of all of his experiments and findings about the subject, including a way to temporarily stop the repercussions of extended use of the Mangekyo Sharingan."
"Who would do that?" Sakura asked.
"Orochimaru," Itachi stated gravely, practically spitting out his name as his featured arched in contained rage. "Nothing stops him from achieving his desires, not even the fact that he cannot synthetically obtain the Sharingan. He had tried in the past, defiling Uchiha graves and stealing our previous hidden documents to obtain our power, performing experiments on Uchiha corpses and taking their eyes to study the anatomy of the Sharingan and extracting various DNA samples. But in the end, he could not reproduce the Sharingan in his unnatural circumstances. But he did manage to find other information, including how to temporarily halt the damage caused by the Mangekyo Sharingan."
Sakura felt herself shaking, but whether it was because of the cold or fear, she did not know. She hadn't expected to be making a trek with the Uchiha into Orochimaru's hideouts, looking for one of his old files. She had heard rumors in the past of ANBU discovering one of his experimental lairs, and all of the members were mentally scarred for life at the gruesome scenes they witnessed. "Are… are you saying that we are going to steal Orochimaru's documentations of the Uchiha kekkei genkai?" Sakura nervously asked Itachi, not liking the idea of the possibility of meeting the evil snake Sannin.
Itachi nodded. "I'm afraid it is the only way for you to obtain the information you need to heal me."
"… I see," Sakura let out a shaky breath, absorbing the information that Itachi provided her. This mission seemed impossible. Break into Orochimaru's lair, steal some of his documents, heal Itachi's Sharingan, and rescue Sasuke? Could she even complete such a perilous task? Well, she didn't exactly have a choice now. She already agreed to help the Uchiha, and she couldn't go back on her word; she would be dishonored and miss an opportunity to save Sasuke. Even if she did want to back out of their deal, she had a feeling that Itachi would forever haunt her until she complied.
Sakura raised a hand to her head and exhaled slowly. Why on earth did she make this damned deal with this bastard? "Fine. But we depart in the morning. The sooner we get this over with, the happier I will be," she stated, attempting to mask her fear. "Goodnight, Uchiha."
Itachi watched as she swiftly turned away from him and marched to their makeshift shelter to prepare for sleep. Itachi sighed to himself. He had clearly upset her, especially when he explained the latter portion of his plans. But if making the pinkette worry made him feel guilty, it was the fact that over half of the information that he gave her was a lie that made him feel truly shameful.
I lied to her, and she trusted me completely…
A/N: Don't worry, this is not the last you will hear from the Akatsuki…
I know, I finally updated. I was going to post this chapter last week, but I temporarily and accidently misplaced my computer charger… haha. I kinda had a spastic panic attack when my computer ran out of battery power. But now I found it, so everything is all better now.
Another reason why I took so long to update: I have been vigorously working on finishing a one-shot before my school finals take over my life. It is now completed, so you should check it out. Speaking of final exams… I won't be updating this story any time soon, sorry. I need to concentrate on my grades. So until then, I will miss you guys, truly. But don't worry, I promise that I will be back soon.
Thanks for being patient and reviewing. Wish me luck, and I wish good luck to those who are also taking exams or struggling with any other stressful tasks in their life.