Disclaimer: I don't own the characters to Naruto.
The first time he saw her, it was through a window, and she was clearly on display to attract customers. Usually, he was not the sort of man to waltz through the red-light district, but it had been impossible to avoid when he had been reunited with his best friend, and cousin, Shisui. He would not have been able to miss her, in reality, considering her striking features. Glossy, pink hair framed her face, and a pair of wide, green eyes stared out into the street, clearly not focused on anything.
She was beautiful. He could not deny it. But more than anything, she looked sad.
He almost considered himself fortunate when she was called away from the window, undoubtedly to serve the whims of a sleazy man who had no respect for women. If Shisui had seen him watching her, there was no telling what could have happened. Itachi very well may have found himself waiting to see her next.
Instead, he found himself in a shabby tea house, being served cheap sake by geisha that, even in their prime, could have only been considered plain. While their dirty jokes had certainly been diverting, if Shisui's boisterous laughter was any indication, but his mind was instead distracted by the girl back in the red-light district, by the bird in the cage.
"You should hang around for awhile," His cousin began, his tone displeased. Itachi was hesitant to even answer, and for good reason.
Staying anywhere for more than a day or two was dangerous for him, even in a sleepy town such as this. That was what being a Ronin meant, especially since his brother and father were still trying to track him down, and even his name seemed to invoke fear in common people. He sighed at last, before quietly muttering, "I don't know if that would be the best of ideas."
In fact, he was certain that it would be a terrible idea. He was a man with a bounty on his head.
Ever optimistic, Shisui gave him a lazy grin. "Oh, come on, Itachi-chan! We haven't seen each other in almost five years, and you think you can just leave so easily?"
Itachi almost scoffed. Shisui was well aware that he was no match in a fight…not that Itachi would ever draw a sword on his best friend. There was nothing that could stop him, besides perhaps the local government, and so if he truly wished to leave, he would. The only problem then being that Itachi did not desire to depart so hastily. Even if all logic pointed him the direction of the open road, there was still something pressing on his mind.
He was embarrassed by the fact that anyone could cause him to reconsider moving on, least of all, someone he had never spoken a word to. But that girl, with her exotic hair and eyes, had caught his attention, and he had yet to get her out of his head. And now, because he was taking so long to form any sort of response, Shisui would know that he was seriously contemplating staying longer.
Unsurprisingly, a wide, toothy smile formed across his cousin's face. "We both know that you want to stay, Itachi-chan, so there's no point in denying it," he said, wriggling his eyebrows. "Besides, I've managed to stay in this little village for almost a year without any unwanted friends showing up out of nowhere. Most people don't even stray from the beaten path to get here-it's virtually invisible to the rest of Japan."
Itachi gave his cousin credit. His argument was persuasive.
"I still don't think it would be wise for me to stay," Itachi replied reluctantly, before huffing softly. "But, very well. I will stay for another week, or so."
He would not tell Shisui this, but he was hardly staying for the company of an old friend.
It was raining out, and Shisui was grumbling because of it. Even if it was only early afternoon, the probability of the sky clearing up before evening drew closer seemed nonexistent. Whatever plans his cousin had made for them would likely be canceled. Itachi was unbothered by this prospect, and chose to leave the inn as Shisui continued to mope, taking a lacquered paper umbrella with him.
After all, the chances of being bothered during a rainy day were very slim. Though he originally had intended to find something to eat, he instead found himself back in the red-light district, at the brothel he had first seen that girl. Again, she was out on display, her hair up in elaborate knots, and an excess of gaudy hair pieces making her stand out even more. The paint on her pouty lips were a cheap red color, now that he had a chance to look at her more closely, and her kimono looked somewhat faded. Her obi, tied in the front for easy removal, was shabby as well, clearly having had rough treatment.
Rational man that he was, Itachi should have realized that she was nothing more than a poor, prostitute-one with unusual features-but nothing more than that. What was it about her that had dazzled him so much the night previous? Wide, verdant eyes, like he had seen on no other woman before, suddenly looked up to stare at him. He met her gaze, unashamed to be caught scrutinizing her, before approaching her.
A moment of silence passed between them, in which neither knew precisely what to say. He could only assume that she was not used to being looked at by a man who was not out to gratify his sexual appetite. What he was looking for was not sex, strangely enough. He was more interested on an intellectual level. There was a certain wisdom in her eyes, once he looked past the exhaustion and despair. It was then stark obvious that she was smarter than the common woman, let alone whore.
Still, he did not utter a word. What did one say to a prostitute? Besides snide, perverse comments, that is. He watched as her eyelashes fluttered, and she looked away. Her voice sounded as if she had trained herself to control her tongue when she whispered through the bars of her cell, "Do you like what you see, Samurai-san?"
He paused briefly, before answering her in earnest, "Yes, but not for the reason that you would suppose. I am not interested in the sort of…entertainment you usually give men."
Itachi watched as she lifted a sleeve to cover her face, in an attempt to hide that she was laughing. He could tell she was amused by his frank reply by how her eyes seemed to dance, though, and by the mirth in her voice when she asked, "Then what would could have possibly attracted you to this part of town, Samurai-san?"
He was not the sort of man to beat around the bush. "You did," he answered, certainly not mincing his words.
She did not even try to conceal her laughter. "I assure you, I am nothing special," she told him smartly, before adding under her breath, "If I was, I would not be in a dump like this."
Itachi sincerely doubted that. But he did not have the opportunity to tell her this, because a burly, thuggish man who smelled like smoke and alcohol had stomped out into the rain and marched right up to him. "Sir, we ain't hostin' no free show here. If you ain't got no money to spend on these here girls, then I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."
He looked over the gruff-looking man's shoulder to see two other thugs walk out of the brothel entrance. Itachi grimaced, not really wanting to get into trouble with anyone. The last thing he needed to to make a spectacle that would attract the attention of town authorities. "Money should not be a problem," Itachi replied in a silky tone. With one hand resting on his sword, he reached into his kimono robes to retrieve a pouch of money. It was meant to last him another month or two, but he had the gut feeling that he was about to spend a majority of it.
No matter. As much as he hated to prospect, it would not be hard for him to find a well-paying job to refill his wallet. In this day and age, violence was always the answer, and finding a job as a hired hitman was a simple task.
The man sighed with what Itachi could only presume to be disappointment; clearly, he had been looking forward to the occasion in which he could beat someone senseless. "Well then, sir, I'd be guessin' you wanna be entertained by pinky here, if you can afford her."
"Yes," he replied smoothly, before turning back to the woman in question, "That is, if she does not mind continuing our conversation inside?"
"Of course she don't!" The man answered for her, trying to get business moving along. "It ain't her job to be mindin' anything, unless she'd be lookin' for trouble."
Itachi gave the man a flat stare. "I was asking the lady," he intoned quietly, returning his gaze to her. "Do you mind?"
Flustered by the unusually situation she found herself in, she could only manage to shake her head wordlessly. Satisfied, Itachi then followed the man back into the establishment. He could only imagine what Shisui would think, if he knew he had just spent good gold on a prostitute he only wished to speak with.
Sakura swallowed. Men, she had a firm understanding of. They were vile pigs, the lot of them, and they only wanted a few things out of life. Rich food, strong sake, and a good fuck. As much as she detested that her destiny was to be just a small part of satisfying the male populace, she could accept that her existence was to simply give men sexual satisfaction. As a woman whose education was more sound than most of the men she entertained, it was a sad way of life for her.
That samurai, however, was very different. Not in that he had traveled much more than her usual customers, or that he was more world weary. It was his manners. It was how he acted respectable with a woman like her-who was now no more than a common whore. It was how his eyes seemed to sear right into her. It only had taken him a moment for him to see how miserable she was, despite the plastic smiles and coy laughter she gave everyone around her.
When her father had sold her, even if she had felt the immense pain of betrayal, she had never imagined just how hard her life would become. She had understood that he had been desperate, and she still remembered when those men had come to take her away. She had been frightened and confused, and all her father could do was apologize, over and over again.
Sakura had never seen her father again. Through the first year of misery, she had often contemplated suicide. Taking her own life would have been more honorable than having her body defiled day in and day out by brutish men who had wives and children at home, but had so little respect for women that they visited brothels on a regular basis. She had decided to hate men. Her father had sold her into slavery, the man that owned the brothel treated her with contempt and disrespect, and men came into her room to violate her.
She did not hate the samurai, though. At least, she did not hate him yet. She dared not hope that he was any different from the men that were her usual customers, for fear of disappointment. She tried to straighten her hair slightly when she heard the subtle creaks of weight on the old floorboards of the hallway, even though she knew her efforts were pointless. With as much grace as she could muster, she bowed lowly as he slid opened the door.
"You honor me with your presence," she murmured smoothly, waiting for him to close the shoji door again before lifting her head.
He was silent as he sat down across from her. "That really isn't necessary," he replied quietly. "I'm not really anyone special."
Sakura smiled. She hated false modesty. But she had the feeling that this man, whoever he was, seriously believed he was no one.
"I don't think that is true, Samurai-san," she told him, before offering him some sake.
Declining the sake she offered, he then said, "Please don't call me Samurai-san. I don't need that kind of attention."
She gave him another look-over. Sakura felt comfortable enough using sarcastic come-backs and giving him nicknames, but she knew he was serious. She was certain that he was a talented swordsman, and he definitely looked like a samurai, so what else was should to call him? Feeling self-conscious, she curled a few strands of stray pink locks behind her ear
"May I inquire after your name, then?" Sakura asked with a sly smile, looking at him through her rosebud eyelashes. She had the strange feeling that he would not appreciate any girlish attentions she would usually bestow, but it was all part of the job. He had paid good money to talk to her-a waste, in her opinion-so she might as while make it worth his ryo.
He snorted softly, giving her a soft, awkward grin that could only mean he was not sure how to respond. Though she had only thought so before, it was painstakingly obvious that he was not accustomed to visiting brothels. Most of the time, her customers would be leering by now, but he was respectful, and quietly cleared his throat before answering.
"I am afraid that…considering my situation," he paused, uncertain if he should be honest with her, "It would not be safe for either of us if I gave you my name. Forgive my rudeness."
She looked at him for a long moment, and then, it made sense to her. "You're a Ronin," she stated in a hushed tone.
He looked very close to gaping at her. But her guileless, green eyes showed that she had no intention of turning him in, not that she would really be able to either way. The bounty on his head was surely enough to pay for her freedom, but she was unable to even leave the brothel.
"I hope," he muttered quietly, "that this can stay secret between us." He paused, before quietly asking, "How could you tell?"
Her smile was brittle. How, indeed. "My father was a poor samurai with a penchant for getting in trouble. He was not a bad man, but he liked to gamble. He did not want his only child to be defenseless, and taught me some of what he knew, even if I was a woman," she laughed when she saw his startled glance. "I could never survive a real fight, but I at least know the proper way to hold a sword. Most of the things he taught me were about how to avoid people who are likely to cause problems."
"There is more to you than meets the eye," he intoned quietly.
The Ronin that had paid for her company was not the most interesting of men. He was withdrawn for the most part, and rarely said more than what was necessary, but for some reason, she could scarcely keep him out of her head. She told herself, at first, that it was because he had reminded her of her father without invoking involuntary disgust. That, she later realized, was not the complete truth. He used to be a Samurai, but that was the only similarity he had with her father.
That was when she began to think, she rarely saw such beautiful, ebony eyes, being such a sharp, unforgiving color, yet somehow soft in how they lit up during their conversation. For someone who was supposed to be dangerous, he was rather gentle.
And it was so strange that, despite the fact he had paid a god amount of gold to be in the same room as her, he did not so much as look at her in a way that could have been considered inappropriate. He had to have been the most honorable man to ever enter the brothel. Sakura could not figure out why he would want to speak with her, in the first place.
Surely, a good, honest man like that Ronin had better things to do than talk to a common whore. He had even deigned to listen to-ask, even-how she had ended up working in such a small town as an…entertainer. He could not even bring himself to say the word whore. Sakura knew that was what she was, but he was so genteel in his demeanor.
It had been hard to tell him that her father had reached the end of the line. If he had not sold her, he probable would have been killed for his debt, and his creditors would have taken her in for something much worse than prostitution. Hell, she could have been killed too. Her father had probably intended for her to become a geisha. At least she would have more dignity in that life, but because of her strange features, none of the geisha houses would buy her. They were afraid she would be unsuccessful, entertaining politicians and other rich dignitaries.
Which was why, instead of finding a place for herself in Kyoto's Gion, she was sent to a poor, coastal village off in the west of Japan. So much for a glamourous, more comfortable life. But, her sneaky little mind seemed to whisper, she would have never met him in Gion.
He had listened to her sob story, and even managed to look sympathetic. It just simply did not make sense to her.
But that was not all. He amazed her again by appearing a second time. Surely, she must have bored the man to tears the first time he had visited her! Shockingly, he was continuously polite towards her, never once showing that he had the inclination to do something she would not appreciate.
How was she ever going to survive living as a whore when he left? she would get along, she knew, but nothing would ever be the same again. It had become very clear to her during his second, and then third, visit. Before she knew it, two weeks worth of visits had been paid, and she could only wait for him to grudgingly say he needed to leave.
His announcement came much sooner than she had expected. He had been gloomy all evening, and could hardly meet her eyes. She had gone on as usual, teasing him casually, and urging him to less dull, but she knew it what was coming, and she was not prepared for it. Sakura had always hated goodbyes.
At last, she went silent. Even though he must have known she was giving him a chance to say what needed to be said, he was still sitting there wordlessly. She briefly wondered if their separation would be as difficult for him as it would be for her. Smiling sadly to herself, she got the feeling that he was quite used to making friends and leaving them just as quickly. He lived his life on the road, and though he must have had his fair share of regrets, chances were, she would not be one of them.
"You're leaving, aren't you," she mumbled. It was not a question. She already knew it to be true.
Solemnly, he inclined his head in affirmation. "Tomorrow," he informed her softly.
He watched as she turned her face away. Something similar to unease rose in his chest, and he hardly knew what to do when he saw her pouty, lower lip quiver. Disbelief washed over him as he realized she was crying over him. Surely he was not a man worth wasting her tears over…he was just a Ronin, cursed to wander the roads of Japan for the rest of his days. She knew this as well as he did.
She struggled to smile when she turned back to him, tears flowing down her pale cheeks. "I'll miss you," she whispered.
That was when he was supposed to back off. He should have said that he would miss her, as well. He should have smiled, changed the subject, and continued on his they always had. He should have left that night, never to return, because that was how these sort of thing were supposed to work out. Instead, he did the most unthinkable, idiotic thing possible.
Itachi leaned over, tipped her chin up, and pressed his lips to her. He had told himself that he would never get to that level with her. That he would never go beyond a casual, respectful friendship with her, because the last thing he needed was an emotional attachment.
She was shocked, he was certain, but she did not push him away, as he had expected her to. Humming, he pulled away to tell her, "You're coming with me."
Sakura did not have the chance to argue. It was impractical for him to bring along a girl like her, she was certain. And it was impossible for him to get her out, in the first place. But he was already kissing her again, and it was clear that he was determined.
They fell back onto the tatami mats, neither willing to break the contact, or ruin the dream that maybe, possibly, she could be free, and they could be together.
Sakura woke up the next morning with no expectations. She could live with the thought that everything he had said and done the night previous had been a glorious lie to placate her. He had not wanted to spend his last evening with her crying. It was the only thing that made sense. After all, she was well used to being lied to by men, at this point. It was all they seemed to do.
She had to mentally repeat this to herself several times throughout the morning, because the she was honestly still hoping he had been truthful in promising to break her out of her cage. There was no way he could afford to buy her off the brothel's owner. Whatever savings the Ronin had brought with him into the town would have diminished considerably after having spent night after night with her.
And who was to say she could actually trust the man? He was a stranger, and though she understood that, with his circumstances, it was dangerous, it was still bewildering that he had yet to tell her his name. Did he think that, upon gaining freedom, she would rat him out for some sort of monetary award? Of course, he hardly knew her well enough, after only a few weeks' acquaintance, to realize that she would never do such a low, cowardly thing.
A stricken smile crossed her features. Either way, none of this mattered, because she was not getting out of the brothel, and she was never going to see that Ronin again. She peered out into the street from behind her bars, doing her best to not look too down. Someone would notice, and she did not want to get into any trouble. It was raining again, like it had on the day she had met the Ronin, and it seemed somehow fitting. As if the heavens felt her pain, and were weeping in her stead. That was when she noticed him, across the way, wearing a straw kasa, rather than holding the umbrella, as he had before.
She felt her heart still. His eyes were hidden, but she could see his thin lips form a sort of knowing smirk, and her stopped heart thudded in her chest. His intentions were clear-he was not going to fool around. His hands were practically itching to grab his sword, to literally cut through her cage.
Panicking, she wondered if he was a complete idiot. Surely, it would have been wiser to pay for an hour, where they could easily sneak through her window and escape on the rooftops. No one would realize that she was gone until it was too late, and she was already long gone. He did not seem to sense her alarm, however, or if he had, he was intent on ignoring it as he casually crossed through the traffic.
Her entire being was throbbing with hysteria by the time he had reached her, and her eyes widened when he tipped his chin up to show a pair of shining, blood-red eyes. Sakura swallowed, only then realizing exactly who he was, and why he had never spoken his name before. Her worries of being able to escape with him were soothed, because he was an Uchiha. Their skill with the sword was legend, and nobody, least of all the men that worked in the whorehouse as guards, would be capable of besting him in battle. She was now more concerned about her own fate, even though he had never shown any violent tendencies.
It was too late to stop him now, however, because he had already drawn his wakizashi, and in speeds her eyes could not follow, he sliced through the wooden beams that made up her cage. The other women who had been sitting with her all began to squeal and shriek, but she calmly took his hand when he offered it to her. He lifted her so easily, carrying her with only one arm, while still gripping his wakizashi in the other. Sakura had known he was strong, after having access to his powerful muscles under her dainty fingertips the night previous, but it was still surprising to be hoisted up with so little effort.
"I hope you don't mind the rain," his voice rumbled from deep in his chest, the tomoe of his Sharingan spinning lazily.
She laughed, not sure what else she could do in response. It had been years since she had last felt the gentle pattering of rain against her skin, and it now felt like a luxury. He grinned at her reassuringly, even as a group of rambunctious men filed into the street from the brothel's entrance, swords drawn and prepared to draw blood.
He did not even bother to set her down when they charged, smoothly moving through his steps as he disarmed the men. None of them had faced an opponent like the Uchiha before, clearly, because each of them gaped up at him from the muddy ground. Returning his wakizashi to its sheath, he continued his way down the street in a relaxed manner. Uncertain of what should be done, the few men that had stopped in their tracks to see the short brawl moved out of the Uchiha's way, out of both fear and respect. Most of them were fishermen and shopkeepers, and knew better than to get in the way of a samurai.
"You can't just be takin' one of our here girls!" One of the disarmed men called after him uncertainly.
Itachi did not bother to look back at whoever had just spoken. "I do not wish to kill anyone here, but if you attempt to prevent me from leaving, I will retaliate."
That was when the local police, having heard the commotion, came into the picture. He felt Sakura stiffen in his hold, but she said nothing. Without having anything further to say to anyone in the area, Itachi leapt from the street and to the rooftops, paying no mind to the yells of the armed police below. They made there way to the small town's exit, and he finally set her down.
"I thought that was you," a sly, cheerful voice called to them from the side of the road. Itachi felt himself roll his eyes. He turned to see his cousin walk out from behind a tree, his arms crossed in feigned disapproval.
Shisui shook his head, clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth. "In all the years I've known you, Itachi-chan, you have never been the sort to cause trouble. I almost wish your father was here to see it."
"Yes, that would have been just perfect," Itachi sneered back at him sarcastically. "And Sasuke could have chased me around with that angry glare of his, too. A good, old fashioned, family reunion. Maybe you're mother could show up too, and give you a little beat down."
Shisui lifted his hands in surrender, his eyes dancing. "Would you introduce me to your lady friend?" He asked, changing the subject.
Sakura could already tell she would be good friends with Itachi's friend.
"My name is Sakura," she murmured with a polite bow. "And Uchiha-san just let me out of my cage."
AN: It's been a while since I last posted something ItaSaku. Hopefully this wasn't complete crap. There's no lemon, which I'm sure disappoints some of you guys... and I will not be writing a sequel. Sorry. But this stands alone.
As always, feedback is appreciated. :)