Note: Thanks to everyone who reviewed the first chapter. :) I'm glad to say "The Hazards of Amity" is very nearly complete, and that writing this on the side kept me sane when it came to writing the black death that is context/exposition. As always, reviews are love! Please read and enjoy.
Even in the midst of chaos, the Suna med team was nothing if not resourceful.
Life in the desert had conditioned them to maximize their resources, and the two days he spent unconscious were enough for the medics to transform the cafeteria into a makeshift hospital. He came to once or twice between the bouts of morphine, waking to moans of pain and the blinding white of tablecloths converted into bed sheets.
The noise and light was an assault on the senses and he closed his eyes at the twisting sensation in his gut. Beneath the sheet, his hand travelled up to his wound. The coarse texture of dried blood and stitches met his fingers.
The surface he laid on was softer than he remembered, but that simply may have been an effect of the pain meds. He touched his wound again. It felt strangely soft and detached from his body.
Laboriously, he made the effort to turn his head and look to his side for Sasuke. His eyes slid closed before he could make out the empty chair next to him, the weight of the medication dragging the blinds down. His hand went limp and fell to his side. He slept.
Hours later, he woke to the sounds of muffled shouting. His eyes slid open to fuzzy darkness, the muddled noise clearing out to beeping machines, steady drips, and far-off voices. He swallowed and felt his features contort.
His throat felt raw and parched. The sensation suddenly made his stomach churn, and he reached out to grip the table to turn himself onto his side.
It took great effort. He was short of breath by the time he was resting on one elbow with his face pressing into the cool steel. The chill of the table was a comfort, distracting from the razed sensation in his throat. He opened his eyes halfway as the muddled, shouting voices slowly cleared outside the double doors.
"—told you not to...fourth division can handle...get killed—"
"—outnumbered...what was I supposed to..."
Itachi felt another wrench in his stomach and squeezed his eyes shut. His palm was cold and sweating where he gripped the table. Steeling himself, he braced one hand against his stitches and forced himself to sit up, ignoring the dull pounding behind his eyes.
He batted the tubes away from his arm. Then he carefully shifted his weight off the table and onto his feet.
He didn't know how he intended to get to his destination. He just knew he needed water.
The room was alit with the glow of monitors and battery-powered lamps. His table, thankfully, was flush against the wall, enabling him to lean on it and guide himself towards the restroom doors nearby.
Someone had left the door propped open with a wooden stopper. The powerful smell of bleach and disinfectant washed over him when he stepped inside. Almost instinctively, he slapped his hand over his mouth and staggered into one of the open stalls.
Outside, the shouting voices abruptly cut off and footsteps started towards the infirmary. The harsh, ragged breaths subsided as soon as she entered the room, taking care to open and close the door as gently as possible. A roll of gauze was snatched from one of the tables and pressed to the blood streaming down her face as she knelt looking for disinfectant.
Above her, a jounin groaned and stirred, his fingers curling over the surface of the table. She haphazardly wiped the blood away and wound the gauze around her head, reaching out with her free arm to rest a hand over his brow.
"Shh. It's okay. Sleep."
The man quietened, features relaxing beneath the warm weight of her hand. She remained by his side as she finished wrapping the rest of the bandages, checking his morphine and watching him to make sure he didn't wake up again.
When he remained sleeping, she sighed wearily and dragged herself to her feet. Tentatively, she touched the wound on her head, feeling blood penetrating through the wrapping. She raised her hand into the light to see if the blood was showing on her fingers, only to notice something amiss at the other end of the cafeteria.
Her eyes scanned the room and stopped on the back corner. One of the beds was empty.
Inside the restroom, Itachi was on his knees in front of the toilet, trying to throw up as quietly as possible. The morphine was not suiting him. He flinched, bracing a hand against his wound to keep the stitches from splitting when another violent retch wracked his body.
Gasping, he braced his hands against the tiled walls to keep himself from sliding onto the floor. His face felt hot and tight. The weight of a vein pressed against the skin in his forehead, throbbing heavily.
After a few seconds, he realised he wasn't alone when a quiet voice floated out of the dark.
"You shouldn't be out of bed."
Footsteps approached from behind as his hands slid off the tiled walls. He recognized the voice the second time she spoke.
"Come on. Get up..." a pair of arms hooked underneath his, dragging him up from the floor. "Don't pass out in the bathroom."
She guided him back into the infirmary. He attempted to walk back with her assistance, but ended up being dragged for the most part. He knew he was not light. But she was surprisingly strong, lifting the near-entirety of his weight back onto the table. The momentary ability to let his legs go brought a wave of relief no painkiller could match.
He slumped onto the table, releasing his hold on his stitches. She stood next to him, watching as he caught his breath and kept his face lowered from hers. She waited for a while before finally speaking.
"Do you want me to get the medic?"
He mutely shook his head.
His lips formed the word "yes."
She reached for something on a nearby table. A moment later, he felt her hand hold the back of his head and the cool rim of a bottle press against his lips.
"Small sips," she warned.
The feeling was sheer relief. He was satisfied with the few trickles she allowed him before she pulled the bottle away. Next, she was withdrawing a small pouch from her satchel and taking hold of his wrist. She poured what felt like seeds into the palm of his hand.
"It's fennel," she explained. "Chew it. It'll help the nausea."
The thought of eating anything was enough to make his stomach turn again, but the threat of vomiting outweighed his apprehension. He took the handful and forced his jaws closed. The fragrance of anise burst into his mouth, immediately muting the sour acidity in the back of his throat.
She gave him a minute to gather his bearings. By the time he'd swallowed the fennel, the queasy feeling had subsided from the pit of his stomach. There was a long stretch of silence.
He expected her to walk away, then, and resume her duties outside. But she remained where she was, leaning against the edge of the table with her arms hanging by her sides.
"Where are you from?" she said.
He stilled, raising his head slightly. It occurred to him then that she didn't recognize him. Not as the infamous missing-nin from the bingo books. Nor as the haemorrhaging soldier whose life she'd saved two nights ago. He raised his head to look at her.
Only half her features were visible in the lamplight. She was staring distractedly at the double doors, face drawn and eyes heavy-lidded. His gaze lifted to her bandaged forehead, where a patch of blood was gleaming through.
He tried to speak.
The word came out mangled. The effort to say it seared his throat.
She made a noise of affirmation and held up a hand to keep him from talking.
"Konoha," she repeated, so he wouldn't attempt it again. "Got it."
Then she just stood there, looking pensively out the window.
He watched her and thought of the shouting voices. He had the feeling she was thinking about them, too.
Something stirred through the haze of morphine; an impulse to thank her, for now and for then, even if he couldn't quite get the words out. But he remained silent, more comfortable with anonymity for the time being.
In hindsight, he felt he should have tried. She was in no rush to leave right away. Mental and physical exhaustion spoke through her slackened frame. She seemed to be preparing herself for something.
His brow furrowed, eyes lowering from her forehead to the bruising on his arm.
She should not have been fighting out in the field just yet.
"Okay," she said suddenly, straightening from the side of the table. She turned to face him, but her eyes remained distant and unfocused.
"Take it easy, Konoha," she said, bending down to get something from under the table. "And if you need to puke, do it in here."
A weight dropped into his lap. He felt the sides and realized it was a bucket.
By the time he raised his head, she was already walking away. He watched until she cracked open the double doors and slipped through, her footsteps receding in the distance.
Slowly, he set the bucket aside. A heavy weight seemed to press down on him, coaxing him back onto the hard surface of the table. Exhausted, he slept, through the night and late into the next morning.
The shouting voices didn't come back.
Instead it was the loud slam of the door and the sudden lull in voices that woke him the second time.
He opened his eyes, squinting at the sunlight streaming through the windows. Nobody spoke save for a small commotion taking place at the front of the room.
With some effort, he managed to sit up and raised his head. Sasuke was sitting in the chair next to him, dirty and blood-stained. Like everyone else, his gaze was fixed at the front of the room. His fingers gripped the edge of the table.
The doors opened again and Sabaku no Kankuro entered, dropping his puppets midway with a loud crash before disappearing behind the curtained section. He stepped in the blood marking the infirmary threshold, tracking prints all the way to the curtained area.
Murmurs broke out, only for an odd hush to fall over the room when the Kazekage entered moments after his brother. His gait was rushed, fists clenched by his sides. They caught a fleeting glimpse of him just before he disappeared behind the curtain. A few seconds passed. Slowly, the murmurs resumed.
Sasuke stared at the spot where Gaara had stood seconds before. Then he wordlessly looked at his brother.
Itachi returned his gaze. Whatever he wanted to say was implicit in his silence. He reassuringly touched his hand to his brother's white-knuckled grip on the table.
Then he returned his attention to the curtain. The vision of the regimental commander's face—pale, young, frightened—lingered with painful clarity in his mind's eye.
Several minutes passed before Kankuro emerged again, his face white beneath the smudged paint. He quickly crossed the room with the surgeon and threw open the emergency door exit. The door clicked closed behind them and muffled voices spilled through the cracks.
They knew they shouldn't have watched, but they watched anyway.
Through the small window in the door, the Kazekage's brother was seen sitting down on a bench. He was breathing hard and visibly agitated. His hands ran through his hair repeatedly until he just tore off his hood and leaned back against the wall.
The surgeon spoke in an urgent undertone, his words heeded but not really understood as Kankuro gazed up at him blankly the entire time, nodding but not really understanding.
At last, Kankuro spoke, voice soundless but the movements of his lips unmistakable. "Will she feel anything...?"
The surgeon gently shook his head and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.
Kankuro pressed his lips together, his eyes growing glassy. Then he lowered his head, gripping fistfuls of his hair.
"Good," he breathed weakly, "that's good..." a wavering smile came upon his face and his voice cracked, "because she hates needles."
A long stretch of silence followed. No further words were exchanged from beyond the door.
Sasuke murmured something to get his attention. Itachi slowly looked away, gaze falling to his bedspread. After a few moments, he lifted his head and looked at the bottle of water at the foot of the table.
Regret, he felt in that instant, tasted a lot like a serrated knife. Sasuke's hand found his and he gripped it compulsively, letting it urge him back down.
The Kazekage's frightened face floated up at the forefront of his mind. He closed his eyes and turned onto his side, away from his brother.
It was an agony that was all too familiar.