Equinox – an Itachi & Sakura story
By: MitsukiShiroi

Disclaimer: Naruto and all its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto.

Chapter VI – Midsummer

Strangely, the first thought that came to mind when he saw Sakura's broken body sprawled over the collapsed streets of Konoha was that he should've shared his dream for the future with her. But he hadn't because she had seemed so eager and he had let his penchant for teasing filtrate through his carefully maintained exterior. He hadn't been sure whether to tell her already or wait a little longer. Now it was too late and Sakura had already joined the voices that haunted him daily, reminding him that he had failed and that he owed them something.

'Are you going to tell me about your dream for the future today?'

And then she had smiled, much like she was smiling now.

He exhaled softly as he walked over to his subordinate and crouched down beside her, removing a strand of roseate hair from her bloodstained face. Her sea foam colored eyes stared at him without seeing and her full lips were upturned in a last smile. He reached for her eyes and stopped himself from flinching as he touched her cool skin, never remembering anything but warmth radiating from her. His fingers trailed over her brow, brushing against her long pink lashes as he closed her eyes.

Glancing down her body, he grabbed the black spear-like weapon that had apparently been used to finish her off and pulled it out of her, discarding the foreign object next to her lifeless body. Around him, the battle raged on, but Itachi took his time for a moment longer as he rearranged her tattered yukata, covering her up. 'A broken leg, broken ribs, her throat looks like it's crushed and he finished it off with a direct blow to her heart,' he thought, tenderly folding her fingers around the forehead protector that she had apparently lost during battle. He looked up at the Akatsuki member who rested several meters away.

She had managed to incapacitate him with one of the strongest genjutsu he had taught her. The second Akatsuki member at the scene had fled just before Itachi arrived, giving him an opportunity to at least take one of them out. 'I'm proud of you, Sakura. I promise to tell you my dream when we'll meet again.'

A heart-wrenching sob woke him from his reverie as a flash of orange and red appeared in front of him. Naruto cradled Sakura's head and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her up to him. He was shouting, crying, cursing, sobbing as he held his best friend's broken body in his arms and begged her to wake up. Begging her to be joking, begging her to smack him in the face again like she always would and pleading with her to not leave him alone.

Itachi could only watch, trying his hardest to ignore the jarring emotion that was asking for attention, crushing all feelings that washed over him instantly. How often had he seen this before? Five-hundred and sixty-three times, was it? Young Genin and older Jounin, the Third and the Fourth and the Fifth Hokage, his clan, his best friend and now his subordinate. Enemies at the borders, assassination targets, unknown merchants and international criminals. How often had he listened to the rasping of the last breath they took and how often had he felt them grow cold? With every death, he felt like he grew colder on the inside until he wouldn't be any different from the people whose lives he took or wasn't able to protect.

She was the only one in years to have warmed him.

Five-hundred and sixty-three voices and Sakura was the latest addition.

'He means everything to me,' Sakura's voice whispered as he glanced at Naruto's shaking body. 'If he would ever leave me, I wouldn't know what to do.'

Itachi put a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "There's nothing more we can do."

"Shut up!" Naruto roared, turning around while still holding on to Sakura's corpse. Itachi stared impassively at Naruto as tears streamed over his whiskered cheeks, anger and hatred combined with an overwhelming sadness in his eyes. "Why is it Sakura? She's a medic. She's supposed to heal herself. Why did she die?!" He turned his anger to Itachi. "And you! Where were you? I saw the two of you together. I thought I could trust her with you!"

He turned around again, sobbing violently. "I couldn't save Kimimaro and I couldn't save Sakura," Naruto cried, clutching Sakura's body even tighter. "I trained so hard for years to be able to protect the people I love and it amounted to nothing in the end!"

Next to Itachi, Shikamaru landed, staring wide-eyed at the scene in front of him. "Captain…?" he asked softly.

Itachi shook his head.

Shikamaru remained silent.

Around them, three Akatsuki members appeared.

"Uzumaki Naruto. We've come to take you with us," one of them said. Itachi kept his eyes on him, noting the ochre hair that was strikingly similar to the member he had taken out. Six piercings lined the side of his nose and seven were imbedded in his ear. His forehead protector showed he hailed from Rain, a large slash through the middle of the symbol. His eyes however, drew Itachi's attention—lavender with a ripple-pattern. 'Is that another Rinnegan?' he wondered calmly.

Itachi moved in between his squad and the Akatsuki members. 'They all have Rinnegan,' he noted carefully. 'I didn't ever expect to see even a single person with it, much less so many of them. I need to stay on my guard and get Naruto out of here.'

"This is where it ends," Itachi said simply.

"You're in my way," the other man replied.

"Your name?"

"Pein," the man answered blandly.

"Was it you?" Naruto said, appearing next to Itachi. As the Uchiha glanced over his shoulder, he saw Shikamaru holding Sakura's corpse in his arms now, watching the scene unfold in front of him. Naruto quaked with anger and hatred was clear in his usual happy electric blue eyes. "Did you kill her?!" he shouted. "Did you do this?! Did you attack her?"

The man only stared impassively at Naruto. Then, he glanced at the pink-haired kunoichi's body. "It was just like this… that my parents were killed by Konoha shinobi right before my eyes." Naruto kept staring at him, wide-eyed and for the first time did Itachi worry about his subordinate. Rather than rushing into battle like he had expected him to, he stood by Itachi's side like an abandoned shell of what once was Uzumaki Naruto.

"Love gives birth to sacrifice, which brings forth hatred and lets you know pain," the Akatsuki member continued.

Naruto blinked.

When he reopened his eyes, they were blood-red.

"Shikamaru, fall back!" Itachi ordered, jumping out of the way as Naruto's chakra exploded around them. They rushed to a safe place a few meters away and hid behind one of the larger parts of rubble from the earlier explosions. As Itachi looked around the corner he could only see copious amounts of smoke and red chakra filling the battleground in front of him.

Despite having heard the stories about Naruto's transformation before taking him on as his subordinate, Itachi was still surprised when the smoke cleared and he saw seven tails sweeping. A skeleton had formed over what looked to be Naruto's chakra-covered body and as he watched, Naruto's round white eyes stared at the Akatsuki member as he opened his maw and let out a bloodcurdling snarl.

'Seven tails,' he confirmed, checking it once again. "Shikamaru, get Sakura out of here and find the Sixth. Tell him Naruto is transforming and seven tails have appeared and have him send in Tenzou."


"No time for questions, go," Itachi instructed, sending him off.

Shikamaru nodded as he hauled Sakura into his arms and quickly dashed off. Just as he left the grounds, one of the two other Akatsuki members that had appeared jumped in front of Itachi. A large man with a smile on his face stared at him with lifeless rippled eyes before extending an arm and firing off some missiles from his sleeve.

Effortlessly sending chakra to his feet, Itachi jumped out of the way, activating his Sharingan. Another Akatsuki member stepped on in his right side and one of the shinobi that had gathered around the battlefield yelled at him, "Captain Uchiha! The one on your right has the ability to kill you when he touches you!"

Taking a step back, he glanced over his shoulder. "Evacuate this district immediately and follow emergency procedures," he instructed quickly. "Leave!"

They stood there, hesitating to leave him alone but followed instructions. Gathering chakra to his eyes, Itachi avoided yet another volley of shells from the taller man and ducked out of the way as the second one started his attack. A surge of chakra transformed his regular Sharingan into a pinwheel as he activated his jutsu. Catching the Akatsuki member who could kill him instantly in his most powerful illusion, Itachi turned to the second member who had sprouted two extra heads and two extra pairs of arms while ripping his Akatsuki cloak off. 'He's completely mechanized,' Itachi thought, eyeing the large blade-like sash that extended from his waist. 'How is it possible for him to possess the Rinnegan?'

"What is your name?" he asked calmly, preparing his next attack.

"We are Pein. We are God."

'We?' Itachi noted, creasing his eyebrows slightly. 'Six of them entered Konoha. Are all six of them the same person?'

From the back of Pein, tendrils of flesh appeared and reached high above him until something that looked like a missile protruded from the flesh and aimed directly at him. In an instant, he fired the rocket at him and Itachi quickly moved aside, only for it to follow him. 'A homing type?'

Accumulating chakra to his eyes, he moved to use his trump card when the missile deformed and disappeared completely, leaving only a trace of smoke behind. Taken by surprise, Itachi glanced around him and saw the Sixth Hokage standing on top of some debris, ANBU members surrounding him.


"You've done great work, Itachi," Kakashi glanced at him with mismatched eyes, observing him momentarily and then looked at the mechanized Akatsuki member and the incapacitated one. "Tenzou has already reached Naruto and is attempting to seal him away. Help him."

"Yes, Hokage-sama," he answered and stood from his crouching position. "This member seems to be attacking with projectiles only. I received a warning from a Chuunin that the other one has the capability of killing someone when he touches them."

The Sixth nodded and glanced at Itachi one more time. "Is it true that Sakura…?"

He could only affirm the Sixth's worst fear.

"I see." Sadness passed in Kakashi's eyes but was squashed immediately. "Tenzou is on top of the Hokage Mountain. Naruto is fighting one of the members underneath it. Go."

With a short bow, Uchiha Itachi departed.

"Of team seven, I must admit, I was expecting Naruto first," he said with a tiny smile.

"I don't know whether you're happy to see me or sad I'm not Naruto," she smiled back.

Kimimaro looked her over in that intense way of his as he approached her, the slight smile still curling his lips. He was exactly as she remembered him—from his laurel green eyes and platinum colored hair to the two twin dots above his brow and the red lines under his eyes. He was still wearing the lavender colored ensemble he had preferred over the standard Konoha uniform and his rope-like belt. "I'm sad, but not for either of those reasons," his calm voice resonating through the vast emptiness around them.

"I hadn't planned on dying just yet," Sakura said softly, as if he were reprimanding her.

"And yet you did," Kimimaro closed the distance between the two of them, catching her eyes. Her knees buckles under her weight as he reached out and caught a loose strand of hair between his long fingers when they wrapped around her jaw and tilted her head up to meet his gaze. "It wasn't your time."

"It wasn't your either," she said almost accusingly.

Kimimaro simply smiled. "It was."

Two words and enough power behind them to break her. She shook her head furiously, the first of tears gliding over her cheeks. "No. I should've been stronger. I should've done something. I couldn't do anything but watch you die."

"But you saved me," he spoke softly. "I was… scared of living the rest of my life, being fed by a machine and awaiting the day I would die. Without any purpose, what worth was there in living?"

She bit her lip as she forced herself to look at him without averting her eyes. "I lost my purpose, twice." Sakura laughed through her tears. "Remember when Kakashi told us to introduce ourselves and I was so childishly thinking about only being with you? That part of me was still with me throughout the years. I grew stronger because I didn't want to be left behind and I wanted you to acknowledge me. But you died," she swallowed. "And I was forced to find a new purpose. So I got even stronger. And here I am; one of the world's best kunoichi and I died without doing anything, without amounting to anything."

"Exactly," Kimimaro spoke, kindness in his eyes. "Remember during the Chuunin exams when I fell ill and you nursed me and told me that if I would die, you would never be able to forgive yourself and so I had to live?"

"Yes," she said.

"You're not done yet," Kimimaro said, conviction strong in his voice. "This isn't over. You're going to fight. You have to fight. Because it is not yet time for you to be here. You're going to live and you're going to surpass every other kunoichi out there. You're going to fight for Naruto's sake and you're going to fight for your dreams, because if you die, it'll all fade away and you'll have lived a life of regrets."


"And what about your dreams?" Sakura grabbed his shirt. "What about your hopes and wishes?"

Thump… thump…

"You're going to make them happen," Kimimaro said, wrapping his long fingers around her wrists. "But right now, you're going to have to fight, Sakura. Fight!"

Thump… thump… thump…

She closed her eyes and the next moment, pain seared through her throat. Instead of the silence that had surrounded her and Kimimaro, she could hear a battle raging on, the sound of metal hitting metal unmistakable. Somewhere next to her, she could hear a familiar voice calling out her name louder and louder.

'My name is Kaguya Kimimaro. I don't want to talk about my likes and dislikes. I don't have any hobbies… but my dream for the future is to protect those I love and never see anyone die before my eyes again.'

'If I die, I won't be able to honor your last wishes and make your dreams come true… So I'm going to keep on living. I'll protect them in your stead,' she thought, making a massive effort to lift her hands. 'I'll survive no matter what and I won't see you again till my face is lined and my hair turned grey. I promise.'

Cracking open an eye, Sakura could see Shikamaru hovering over her, shock clear in his eyes. He was talking to her then ducked to avoid something. She wanted to answer him, but her throat had completely been crushed and every breath she took was a painful reminder of that fact.

Using the last of her willpower to send chakra to her forehead, she formed a single hand seal. 'Release!'

Far below the Hokage Mountain, a seven-tailed version of Naruto was rampaging about, attacking one of the Akatsuki members, snarling and growling viciously with every move he made. Itachi stood there and watched him while waiting for Tenzou to finish up his preparations to seal the Nine-Tails back into Naruto.

Reports had reached him that Jiraiya was handling the member who kept summoning beasts into the village and the Sixth had been victorious over the mechanized member and had disposed of the one he had incapacitated with Mangekyou. If reports were correct, four of them were now dead or fighting and one of the last two members was fighting Naruto. The last one had started his assault on the Hokage but Itachi was confident Kakashi would survive the attack—several ANBU members would be there in case he needed backup.

Briefly, he thought back at Naruto's transformation and what had caused it.

'Sakura…' he sighed deeply, ignoring the intense emotion that came with simply thinking about the roseate kunoichi. She had fought back valiantly and he was proud of her, so incredibly proud, but how he wished it would've been enough. Again, he had failed in doing what he wanted to do most in this life and it stung him, hard. Sheer willpower kept his façade intact, not wanting to break down when they needed him most. He wasn't sure if he remembered how to cry in any case. Any emotion he would feel would instantly be dampened until it was but a nagging sensation that rang through his body now and then.

'Are you going to tell me about your dream for the future today?'

He should've told her. He shouldn't have left her to chase after Deidara. He should've been there to help her. Yet another thing Uchiha Itachi would never be able to forgive himself.

Looking down at the battlefield, Uchiha Itachi watched Naruto carefully as he chased the Akatsuki member that hunted him, attacking him mindlessly. Keeping Naruto safe from Akatsuki was the top priority right now—if they would catch him, all the careful planning and surveillance of the entire village would have gone to waste. He wasn't about to let this mission become a failure.

He glanced at Tenzou. The ANBU member had summoned several wood pillars around him and was focusing on his sealing jutsu. "I'm done preparing, Captain," Tenzou said, his eyes completely closed in concentration.

"How long will it take to completely seal Naruto?"

"Give or take, ten minutes," Tenzou cracked open an onyx eye. "He's not going to be able to fight anymore when I do though. It's prudent to get him out as soon as possible before he's abducted."

"Seal him," Itachi said and jumped.

Effortlessly sending chakra to his feet, Itachi jumped over the noses of the previous Hokage onto the small buildings that had been built and attached to the mountain walls. Simultaneously, wooden hands stretched from Tenzou's sealing jutsu into Naruto's direction. Itachi leapt over the constant stream of evacuees and landed on the Hokage's administration building. Using one of his copies techniques, he summoned a large wall of dirt around Naruto, allowing Tenzou to wrap the wood around the Kyuubi's almost complete form and seal him away.

Another ochre haired man stood across the street from where Naruto was being held captive. Activating his Sharingan, Itachi leapt in between the Jinchuuriki and Akatsuki member. Noticing several Chuunin and Jounin sprawled around the battlefield, he took note of a single shinobi still alive.

'Another shinobi from Rain,' Itachi noted. The man in front of him regarded him blankly. 'Six piercings in his nose, seven in his ears, two in his lips, also with ochre hair and Rinnegan.' Itachi filed away the information for further use.

"Pein?" he asked simply.

Pein didn't answer and before Itachi could ask him anything else, a ripple went through the air and blasted him backwards to the wall he had created for Naruto. Unable to move his hands for a replacement technique, he quickly amassed chakra to his back and neck and started a medic ninjutsu Sakura had taught him in order to minimize the damage. He hit the wall hard but sustained minimal damage.

"Uchiha!" a deep voice called out. To his right, he could see pug sitting on top of some debris, a Konoha forehead protector tied on top of his head.

"What is it, Pakkun?"

"A message from Kakashi! This man can repel any ninjutsu and taijutsu attack with his mind. Be extremely careful," the dog called out before high-tailing it out of there.

'So, he can push and most likely pull things while using himself as a center,' Itachi deduced, nodding quickly.

His assumption was quickly proven right as Pein lifted his hands and called out, "Banshou tenin." Immediately, Itachi felt a pull towards Pein and gathered chakra to his feet, using the ground as an anchor. Sending chakra to his eyes to activate Mangekyou, Itachi kept his eyes on Pein, increasing the chakra he sent to his feet as the pull became harder. 'What a technique,' Itachi thought almost strangely calm as he formed the seals for a fire jutsu. Sending several tiny fireballs into the Akatsuki member's way, the jutsu finally relented as Pein was forced to step back in order to dodge them

A sharp stabbing throbbed behind his eyes as he activated Amaterasu. However, Pein immediately repelled the black flames with his jutsu. 'It seems there's only a short interval before he can use his attack again.' Calmly, Itachi calculated his next moves as he quickly formed the seals for his family's special technique and formed a massive fireball. Using his doujutsu, he activated his ultimate jutsu—Susanoo.

Pein whirled around quickly as the fireball vanished and used his jutsu again. However the technique proved ineffective and Susanoo's Totsuka blade came crashing down, impaling him swiftly. "This cannot be," Pein muttered, coughing blood.

"All jutsu are elemental in some way. The Yata shield is able to stop any jutsu, no matter how strong," Itachi explained calmly, strutting to Pein. "You're going to be sealed away. Still, I have to say, your abilities are remarkable."

"This is not the end," Pein answered as the last of his life was sucked away into the gourd Susanoo was holding.

Itachi only watched him for a brief moment longer until the jutsu vanished and Susanoo with it. Pein's lifeless body dropped to the ground where it remained completely still. Turning back to the container he had built for Naruto, he broke the walls when he noticed Tenzou's wood jutsu had disappeared, a sign of success. He found the Nine-Tail's vessel lying on the ground, angry wounds covering his face and the rest of his body like his skin had simply started to split open to accommodate the Nine-Tails' transformation. 'He'll need to be healed soon,' Itachi noted as blood began to seep through his clothes. 'The Nine-Tails appears to be healing his body but he sustained a lot of damage.'

Silently frustrated about the fact that Akatsuki chose to attack today, of all days, when he was wearing nothing but a yukata as most other shinobi were during the festival, Itachi slowly lifted Naruto and hoisted him over his shoulder. He made his way to the only Jounin still alive at the battlefield. Faintly recognizing his style of clothing and his bobbed hair, Itachi crouched down beside the boy. "Your name is Rock Lee, correct?"

The boy nodded. "Is Naruto-kun okay?"

"He will be. Can you move?" Itachi asked.

Lee shook his head. "Unfortunately, it seems both my legs are broken," he said.

"Captain," Tenzou said, landing beside him.

"Good job, Tenzou," Itachi said, glancing at the older ANBU member.

The ANBU member nodded almost shyly and looked at Rock Lee next. "Is anything else but your legs broken?" he asked, assessing the damage.

"No," Lee answered softly.

Tenzou nodded, crouched down beside the Jounin and slowly lifted him up his back. "I'll take you to the hospital," he said. "We're going to take it slow though, the damage will only get worse if I run there."

"I'll go ahead," Itachi said.

"The administrational staff has gathered supplies there as well as uniforms for the people attending the festival," Tenzou said, nodding briefly at Itachi's yukata and the remains of Naruto's torn clothes. "It might come in handy."

Just as he was about to set off, a blue and white colored slug the size of a small child came sliding towards them. Overjoyed, Lee raised his hand and waved at it. "That's Katsuyu," Lee smiled happily. "Sakura-san must be protecting us."

Itachi stared at the slug, determining what had happened here. He had held Sakura in his arms and felt how she had gradually started to become colder. He had checked her breathing and her heartbeat. She was dead—he was sure of it. "Katsuyu, who summoned you?" he asked quickly as Tenzou set Lee down again and allowed the slug to start first-aid.

"Sakura-san," the slug answered, a little confused why he would ask such a question. After Tsunade's death, Haruno Sakura had become the only person in the world with the capability to summon slugs.

"Where is she?" Itachi asked quietly.

"The Konoha Hospital," Katsuyu answered. "She's helping to heal the victims there."

With another nod to Lee and Tenzou, he set off quickly while holding tightly onto Naruto. As he looked up, he noticed the air had a hint about it of dawn. Calculating the sun would rise around four-thirty in the morning in July, it meant the invasion had lasted almost a full eight hours now. Even if all of the invaders were all as strong as the one he had battled, they had to run out of chakra eventually.

After avoiding a particularly large summoned centipede and ordering several Chuunin to help evacuate sector G, Itachi finally reached the hospital. Outside, Shikamaru stood, helping victims as they were dragged inside while keeping his eyes on one of the centipedes that had gathered around the hospital, piercing its shell with his shadows techniques. Other shinobi leapt towards it with katana and kunai to finish it off.

"Shikamaru," Itachi called out, reaching his subordinate.

"Captain!" Shikamaru's russet eyes were wide in confusion as he glanced at Naruto's unconscious body. "She's alive. I don't know how she did it. Her heart just started beating again like she willed herself back to life and she activated some jutsu and healed herself completely." Again he glanced at Naruto. "What happened?"

"We successfully resealed him but it seems he was damaged by the transformation," Itachi said, peering inside the hospital. "The fight should almost be over. The last ones are fighting the Sixth and Jiraiya as we speak."

"Good," Shikamaru said, wiping a line of sweat from his forehead. "I've been protecting the hospital. These troublesome summons come here all the time. Ibiki's squad is helping out. Sakura and all the other medics are inside performing first-aid on anyone that is brought in."

"Has the perimeter been evacuated and checked?" Itachi asked.

"Not that I know of," Shikamaru said, shaking his head.

"Check the hospital if there are people with minor injuries and take them to inspect the surrounding areas. Send everyone who is still out there to the underground tunnels. Your house is close by, correct?"

"Two minutes away, sir."

"Bring as many uniforms back as you can along with as much gear as you can carry," Itachi instructed. "The administrational staff brought some but I'm sure we can use more. Any bandages and medicine your family has would be appreciated."

"Yes sir!" Shikamaru said and dashed into the hospital.

He followed Shikamaru into the hospital, not quite sure what to expect and found himself completely incapable of stopping himself from feeling relief as it washed over him like a torrent when he noticed the pink-haired member of his team. No matter where she was, he could always find her in a crowd, like a beacon calling for his attention. She was bent down over someone, healing them quickly while talking to them with a smile, giving instructions to another medic afterwards. Shikamaru was in her vicinity and apparently told her of his arrival as she looked up and searched the hospital until she found him.

A small smile grew on her lips and before he could stop himself, he smiled in kind. 'She's alive,' he thought, and to Itachi, that was all that mattered in that one second of time.

She moved to walk to him slowly but when she spotted Naruto, her speed increased as she signaled for him to put him down in one of the empty futons. She rushed up to them, giving advice to another doctor before reaching them, sliding towards Naruto on her knees as she immediately activated her chakra and searched his body.

"He transformed," Itachi explained calmly.

Sakura nodded. "I've seen this before." She put her hands on her teammate and pushed her chakra inside of him, healing the remnants of the damage and speeding up the repair of his skin tissue. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly, looking at him from the corner of her eye.

"Down on chakra, but fine," Itachi replied. He remained quiet for a brief moment. "I checked your body. I couldn't hear a heartbeat."

She smiled a little hesitantly. "I think I was gone for a while," she responded, glancing furtively at Itachi. "But someone told me to get back here and fight, so I did."

"Your injuries?"

"Healing others isn't the only thing the Fifth taught me," Sakura replied softly.

She looked shocked when he stretched out a hand and gently cupped her cheek. Faintly, Itachi wondered if he was crossing the precarious line they had drawn for themselves but found he couldn't care less about it in this instant as he stroked a rough thumb over her cheek. "I'm glad you're safe," he said simply, tracing his fingers over her jawline before relinquishing his hand.

She stared at him and there was no doubt in his mind that she wanted him to place his hand back on her face and continue his little ministrations, but there were more pressing issues at hand. He stayed silent as he stood up. "I'll secure the perimeter. Keep up the work here. Shikamaru is evacuating the rest of the neighborhood and will bring any wounded back here."

"Yes sir," Sakura replied.

He rushed out again and she could only watch him go.

Extremely tired and worn out, Sakura trudged home through the collapsed streets and debris, avoiding the large cracks in the pavement. Hours earlier, Konoha's victory had been announced—the Sixth, Jiraiya and Uchiha Itachi had killed five of the six intruders single-handedly and managed to keep Naruto secure in his hospital bed while he recovered from his wounds.

The last one of the intruders had managed to get away and was still being pursued by Hyuuga Neji's ANBU squad.

She sighed. So many people had been saved and yet there were those that died during the attack and she had been too late to save them. Gai had been found near the Hokage Administration building, his body completely mangled and pierced with the same black rods they had used to kill her with. Kakashi had held him tightly, thanking him for everything when they found him. Lee had been screaming and crying when he heard the news while she set his bones.

Shizune had been killed by one of the members in front of Ino and Sakura had felt numbed by her death. Shizune had always been like an older sister to her, helping her through the tough times of Tsunade's training. She was the one to give her tips when needed, both in medicine and how to handle Tsunade at her best and worst.

And Hinata.

She clenched her teeth as she tried to push back the tears.

Hinata had tried courageously to protect Naruto from one of the Akatsuki members when he had lost track of Jiraiya and had been taken out in literally no time at all. Jiraiya had found them, but it was too late. Her neck was broken and her body was pierced by a spear like Sakura's had been. Ino and Shizune had arrived to the scene and tried to heal her but their efforts proved fruitless. Neji had sworn on her life to retrieve the final member and restore honor to the Hyuuga name. A stab of pain seared through her as she thought of the lost member of the Konoha Twelve, now reduced to Eleven. She had grown up with the Hyuuga since they were children in kindergarten and the Academy. It was hard to even imagine the shy, sweet girl being gone forever.

How was it that parts of her life could so easily be ripped away from her in a mere instant and she would always be too late or not present to make any difference in the outcome? She had managed to save herself but what if she had been too late and Naruto had been killed? She would never be able to face Kimimaro again.

Placing a hand over her heart, she looked into her shirt and the pristine skin underneath. Not even a scar remained of the wound that had killed her. According to Shikamaru, she had been gone less than ten minutes but it felt like she was absent for hours. Pressing a hand against her throat, she couldn't help but marvel at the work chakra could do for her. She hadn't even been able to normally breathe or talk after Pein attacked her and she was perfectly fine now.

Her path led her past the Uchiha district, relatively unharmed from the attack. Here and there, she could see some roof tiles had fallen off from the quakes and the blasts, but otherwise, it looked as undisturbed as usual. She touched the stone gate with her fingers, wondering if it had really been just a couple of hours since she had been there with Itachi.

"Captain…" she breathed.

She hadn't seen him since he walked out of the hospital. He had been with the other ANBU captains, rendezvousing near the main gate to patrol the area and return to Konoha to report to Kakashi. 'He must be extremely tired,' she thought, turning around the corner. She waved at a little old lady who was clearing away dirt from her porch, glad to see the people in the area were safe and that Konoha's emergency evacuation had been successful.

Finally reaching her own house, she noticed she wasn't alone.

Worn-out and more haggard looking than she had ever seen him before, Itachi sat on the steps that led to her house, watching two children as they played with the dirt further up in the street, squinting his eyes against the bright sunlight. The moment she took another step closer, Itachi turned his gaze to her and smiled faintly. "Are you okay?" she questioned, walking up to him.

A few cuts and angry looking bruises adorned his arms and legs and his eyes were slightly blood-shot, as if he had overused his Mangekyou Sharingan, but otherwise, he looked fine. He nodded and stood, looking over her once more, as if searching for something.

Understanding, she slid her hand into his and opened her apartment door, glad she didn't lock it up that day as her keys had been lost somewhere in the fray. She kicked off the sandals she had borrowed and turned to Itachi who simply stood there leaning against the wall as he stared at her. Growing a little worried, she bowed down to unclasp the protectors wrapped to his ankles and carefully took them away. When he bowed over to take his sandals off, she gently pushed his hands away and took the sandals off herself, reminding her a little of the time he did the exact same thing to her.

A little glance at him told her he was truly completely out of chakra—the fights and subsequent mission had worn him out and pushed him beyond his limits. Smiling sweetly as to not show him how worried she truly was, Sakura took his hand in hers again and led him to the bathroom.

Clicking on the lights, she sat him down on the edge of the tub and unclasped his white vest. Swallowing nervously, Sakura slid her fingers under his shirt and gently tugged it up, revealing his toned abdomen and his chiseled chest. He held up his arms as she lifted the shirt over his head and tugged it off his arms, letting it drop to the tiled floor.

Her fingers found the knot of his forehead protector underneath his hair and untied it. All the while, Itachi kept his dark eyes on her as if examining her. Ignoring his poignant gaze, she accumulated the last of her chakra to her fingers and pressed them against one of the bigger gashes, closing it quickly. Satisfied to see none of the other wounds needed stitches or healing, she grabbed a wash cloth from her cabinet. Dunking it under the faucet, she squeezed the excess water out and started cleaning his upper body.

This was far more intimate than anything she had done with Itachi before, yet it felt like she had to do this and he wasn't stopping her. Still, her fingers trembled timidly as she slid the cloth over his bruised chest. Noticing her anxiety, Itachi wrapped his long fingers around her hand and encouraged her to continue, never averting his eyes from her. She exhaled shakily and continued cleaning him, rinsing the cloth from blood and dirt every now and then.

She was sure she was as red as she could possibly be when she reached the flat plane of his tummy and the distinct line of dark hair that started under his navel and trailed down into his pants. Biting her bottom lip, she ignored the heat of her blush and continued her diligent cleaning, knowing full well Itachi's eyes were still on her. Finally, she met his gaze. "I need you to turn around a bit so I can clean your back…" she swallowed. "Itachi."

Itachi looked almost surprised when she uttered his name but stood slowly and turned around, exposing his back to her. Sakura couldn't help but hiss when she spotted the large bruise that had formed on his back, covering most of it. "What happened?!"

"There was a 'Pein' that could push and pull objects using himself as a center of gravity," Itachi explained calmly. "I let my guard down and got slammed into a wall."

She raised an eyebrow, pressing her chakra into his back. "The damage should've been a bit more extensive than just a bruise in that case."

"I used the medical jutsu you showed me to prevent extra damage," he said simply.

Extremely flattered, Sakura smiled broadly, gently washing away the grime from his back, careful not to hurt him. He sat straight, moving forward a little every time she pressed the cloth against his skin. Even through the musky sweat that clung to his body, Sakura could smell the scent of embers on his skin and wondered how often he had used fire jutsu during that day.

Turning him around again, she cleaned the upper sides of his arms and sat in between his legs on the small bathroom rug to clean his blood-stained fingers, enjoying the feel of his warm, calloused fingers, completely relaxed in hers. "I thought of you... before the end," she confessed softly.

Itachi didn't say anything and while keeping her eyes on his fingers, she continued. "I thought of how lonely I had been for the past couple of years. I felt… cold on the inside, if that makes sense and you're the first one to open up your arms to me and make me feel warm again." She blinked away the tears. "I know that we've been crossing the line between subordinate and captain for a long time now but I hope that we can… continue our visits to each other." The thought of never being able to sleep beside him and feel his warm breath in her neck as she tucked herself into his body was more than she could bear.

She was afraid to look at him when he moved from his place on the tub's edge and sat himself down between her and the tub. His long legs placed on each side of her, Itachi stretched out a hand and touched the pink tresses, picking away dirt from them as the other one cupped her cheek and forced her to look at him.

His dark eyes, usually so blank and impenetrable were now open and soft. In them, she could see the warmth she always craved from him and the caring attitude he always tried to hide away from them. "Ask me," Itachi whispered softly, leaning in closer. "I have two, but I'll share one with you today."

Her mind worked at full-speed, trying to process what he had instructed her when it hit her. Sakura smiled softly, leaning her face into his hand and closed her eyes. "Uchiha Itachi, what is your dream for the future?"

"I dream of seeing Sasuke back in Konoha," he said almost inaudibly.

Her eyes opened wide with shock as she heard his confession and she stared at him, rendered absolutely speechless. He continues to caress her cheek but let his other hand rest beside him. "We overstepped the boundary of captain and subordinate when I stepped into this house for the first time," he said simply. "Let's continue."

She nodded, trying her hardest to stop tears from overflowing, but they came anyway, scalding hot as they streamed down her cheeks. The day's events, the visit to the Uchiha district, Kimimaro's words, Itachi's dream, they all proved to be more than she could handle as she wept into her hands, covering up her mouth and eyes as she tried to move away from him, embarrassed.

Instead, Itachi moved his hand from her cheek to her neck and pulled her against his upper body, stroking through her hair and over her shoulders as she held onto him tightly, weeping against his chest. He cradled her in his arms, stroking her legs and shoulder as he pressed a gentle kiss against her forehead and let her cry to her heart's content. She felt loved and cared for in his arms and despite thinking she didn't need any of that, it felt so incredibly welcome and so amazing that she never wanted to leave his arms again. She could've gladly lived in that single moment forever if he hadn't picked her up from the bathroom floor and carried her off to the bed.

The village bathed in brilliant summer sunlight when the couple set off to the Hokage's Administration building. Clad in dark clothes, Itachi and Sakura talked softly to one another as they passed the Uchiha district, completely ignoring it this day and past the children playing hide-and-seek on the streets.

The tall grass surrounding the village's main building swayed and rustled as a breeze passed by though the sound was almost completely overpowered by the chirping of cicadas in the trees.

More shinobi she knew had assembled at the front gates. Naruto stood in the entryway, holding onto Lee as he sobbed heartbreakingly while Tenten stroked Lee's back affectionately. The Hyuuga family stood a little further ahead, all of them dressed in black ceremonial attire. A man who she could only assume to be Hinata's father stood in the middle, his pearl colored eyes red-rimmed.

Her heart lurched when she realized there would be nobody for Shizune. Her uncle and most of her family had died during the World Wars and Tsunade had been her only connection to Konoha. Ino stood a little further ahead though, crying softly as she held a flower in her hands and started the climb up the stairs. They had been through the medic training together and though Sakura was more proficient, Ino had always enjoyed the training and loved hanging out with Sakura and Shizune when it was over. 'There's someone here for you, Shizune-san…'

Several shinobi came up to them, congratulating Itachi on what he had accomplished and thanking him. Though she didn't know all the details, it seemed Itachi had taken out several of the Akatsuki members on his own and helped Kakashi out with two more. She couldn't hide the admiration from her eyes as she looked up to meet Itachi's eyes and smiled when he looked down at her.

Wispy clouds scudded across the azure sky and did absolutely nothing to shade the roof of the administration office as they reached the top, meeting up with Shikamaru who had already taken a place on the front row. Still holding onto Lee, Naruto followed with Tenten in tow, Sakura and Itachi taking a place beside her. Looking over at the Hyuuga family, she could see Neji had joined the clan, eyes downcast. 'They came so far too… From trying to kill her in our first Chuunin exams to trying to protect her and train her whenever he had time…' she thought. Glancing at Naruto, she couldn't help but feel sad. 'Did he ever realize how much Hinata loved him?'

Photographs of the shinobi lost in action were assembled in a neat line in front of them, a stack of flowers delivered by the shinobi who had missions that particular day already present. She couldn't help but swallow as she noticed Shizune's smiling appearance and Hinata's shy face.

Kakashi stepped to the front, looking a little fatigued and more like the lazy sensei she remembered than the Hokage he had become. Dressed in simple dark clothing, he gave a little speech about those that had been lost during the attack and placed the first flowers in front of the photographs. Forming a neat line, the rest of the shinobi followed, some walking on immediately while others took their time to honor the dead before moving on.

Lee cried heart wrenchingly as he put the flower down and walked away with Tenten, followed by Naruto who had the saddest look in his eyes as he observed everyone's pictures, including Hinata. 'He knew…' she thought, looking at him while he stared at the white-eyed girl's portrait. 'He definitely knew.'

She was up next, laying down a flower on the stack and saying a little prayer for her friends. Itachi quickly followed after making a slight bow. Shikamaru already stood there, waiting for them while talking to Ino, Asuma and Chouji. She felt a little envious—they still had their complete Genin team, whereas team seven had separated and gone their own ways, whether it was ANBU or a position as Hokage or six feet under. Those Genin times had been a few of the best months in her life. 'I guess this is what happens when shinobi grow up,' she thought melancholy before stealing another glance at Itachi. 'At least I had a Genin team…'

Naruto came up to walk beside her and squeezed her hand gently, staring at her with his impossibly blue eyes. She had heard from Itachi how he had completely lost it when he thought she had died and transformed into the Nine-Tails, rampaging around Konoha in search of the Akatsuki members. When he had regained consciousness and saw Sakura looking over her, he had cried like she had never seen him cry before, holding onto her and making sure she was alright, asking her over and over. Even now, a couple of days after the attack, he would still grab her hands now and then as if to affirm her existence wasn't just a cruel illusion. "I'm alright, Naruto," she said reassuringly.

He nodded and smiled a brief smile but didn't relinquish his hold on her hand, keeping it trapped with his strong, rough-skinned fingers. Sakura could only smile at the gesture and looked over her shoulder at Itachi who followed the threesome, his hands pocketed as he took in the sights of Konoha around him, a strange kind of tranquility in his eyes. He caught her staring and smiled briefly at her, something he started to do more and more in the past couple of weeks and it had never ceased to amaze her or warm her. She returned the gesture and as they passed a small Japanese café, she suggested going in for a quick lunch.

Inside, she told them a story about Shizune and how she would be incredibly scared of Tsunade and yet be the only person who would ever tell her off. They laughed at the memories she presented and that in turn encouraged Naruto as he spoke up about Hinata—how she would faint whenever she was near him, how she would one day try to talk to him when he desperately needed to go to the bathroom and couldn't hold it in any longer and how she would always present him with some medicine from the Hyuuga clan whenever he got hurt, even if it was the tiniest of scars. With a sad smile, he stared at his food when he told her how she had jumped in front of him when Jiraiya and he got separated in the chaos and told him she loved him and would do anything to protect him.

Shikamaru put his hand on Naruto's head and ruffled the blond's hair affectionately. "I'm sure she's happy she got a chance to protect you," he said kindly, flashing a tiny smile.

Sakura nodded. "I'm sure too."

Fat teardrops rolled over Naruto's cheeks and he managed a watery smile. "She picked one hell of a time to tell me she loved me though," he said jokingly, but he choked on the final part of the sentence, rubbing the tears away with the sleeve of his outfit.

"But she told you," Itachi spoke softly, taking a sip from his tea. "And she was able to convey her emotions to you in the end."

"Yes," the blond said, nodding.

"She could've remained silent and you would've never known," Sakura said, guessing where Itachi was going with this. "At least now, you know."

"Yes," Naruto said.

"They're going to be back though," Shikamaru said, russet eyes focusing on every single member of their little group. "I knew they were strong but Pein was just ridiculously tough. I'm happy we took five out of six out… but there are more members still out there."

"They'll be coming for me," Naruto said softly, yet confidently. "But I'll be waiting for them next time. I won't ever let them hurt the people I love again."

She glanced at Itachi who looked a million miles away. Somehow, she knew he was thinking about Sasuke. Sakura found his hand under the table and squeezed it boldly, catching his attention as he met her unwavering gaze.

'Your dream is for him to return to Konoha. We'll make it happen,' she conveyed wordlessly.

Itachi stared back for a moment longer and wrapped his long fingers around hers. Next to her, Naruto and Shikamaru kept talking and strategizing but she couldn't bring herself to listen, only staying focused on the sensation of Itachi gently stroking the back of her hand with his thumb as he mixed himself into the conversation.

After paying for dinner, Sakura walked back to the Hokage's administration building on her own, pocketing her hands as she entered and climbed the stairs to the filing room. Lost in thought, she knocked on the door and walked inside. A Chuunin she didn't recognize stared expectantly at her.

"I'm looking for the file on Uchiha Sasuke," she said to the Chuunin and the boy nodded, disappearing behind some shelves and returning with the thickest file she had ever seen.

"Here you go," he said, handing it over.

She smiled appreciatively and picked out a lonely spot by the window. Opening up the file, she noticed the picture attached to the front of the file—a front and side shot of Sasuke, age seven here, a big smile plastered on his face. Another one was attached to it, this sketch of what the Uchiha looked like nowadays.

Name: Uchiha Sasuke
Birthday: July 23
Age: 22 years old.
Height: Approximately 175cm
Weight: Unknown
Blood type: AB
Classification: Missing-nin
Affiliation: Akatsuki (confirmed by Uchiha I.)
Akatsuki partner: Hoshigaki Kisame (confirmed by Uchiha I.)
Clan: Uchiha clan
Bloodline limit: Sharingan (confirmed by Uchiha I.)

She looked up from the file. 'It's July 23rd today…' she thought, counting the days on her fingers. 'No wonder he looked so distracted.'

Ninja rank: Academy student (approximately high-Jounin level)
Ninja registration: 012606
Academy grad. age: Has not graduated.
Academy grades: 5/5 Ninjutsu, 5/5 Taijutsu, 5/5 Genjutsu, 1/5 Cooperation, 2/5 Assertiveness.
Chakra nature: Fire

Tools most commonly used:
Fuuma shuriken
Wire strings

Crimes: Presumed assassination of Uchiha Clan (with accomplice?)
Defected from Konoha.
Akatsuki member.
Hawk subdivision leader.
Numerous attacks on ANBU outposts.
Responsible for capturing the Four-Tailed Jinchuuriki from Iwagakure.
Responsible for attempt to kidnap the Eight-Tailed Jinchuuriki from Kumogakure.
Responsible for capturing the Eight-Tailed Jinchuuriki from Kumogakure.

Current estimation of stats
Ninjutsu: 5/5
Taijutsu: 4/5
Genjutsu: 4/5
Intelligence: 3.5/5
Strength: 3.5/5
Speed: 4.5/5
Stamina: 3.5/5
Hand seals: 4
Total: 32

Bounty: 150 million ryo
Capture: Dead or alive.

'He's extremely talented overall,' she checked the estimation of his stats again, almost certain this would be an approximation done by Itachi as well. She read through the next pages, statements from various academy teachers about their encounters with the younger Uchiha and confirmed what Itachi had told her—as a child he was a happy boy, kind and respectful with a dream to join the Konoha Military Police Force.

In the weeks after the massacre while police was still investigating what had happened, the younger boy had ceased to talk to anyone, simply going to his classes for a couple of weeks more. He had grown cold after the annihilation of his clan, indifferent, arrogant and unreasonable and left the village without a word a mere two weeks after the incident.

The case had gone cold in the years after but investigators were sure this was done by an Uchiha, judging from burn marks found on the bodies, the techniques used to slaughter the clan and the way Uchiha Fugaku's and Mikoto's bodies were found, showing no signs of resistance. As Uchiha Itachi was currently away on mission, that left Uchiha Sasuke as the sole suspect.

Other accounts from ANBU members stationed near the borders were included in the file, stating he showed absolutely zero emotional build up, except for when Uchiha Itachi would be near, whom he had encountered several times over the past couple of years but had always ended up losing against. Sasuke was described as arrogant, underestimating his opponents and being overconfident in battle. Yet some morality still seemed to linger inside of him as she continued through the reports, seeing that apart from his capturing the Jinchuuriki, he hadn't killed anyone, opting to leave people unconscious. 'Like his older brother does.'

She leaned back in her chair, grabbing the picture of him again and taking her time to observe him. His onyx eyes looked happy and his jet-black hair was cut in exactly the same style as she had last seen him—spiky in the back with bangs that would reach his chin. She glanced at the sketch of the older version of him again. Like his older brother, he was incredibly handsome and looked more like his age, the tear troughs lining Itachi's face notably absent from Sasuke's. She thought of the pictures she had seen at Itachi's house, of the happy baby and younger brother who looked at his older brother so lovingly it made her heart clench every time she remembered.

'I dream of seeing Sasuke back in Konoha.'

'You really love him, don't you?' she thought, unable to tear her eyes away from the younger Uchiha's picture. 'After all that you've been through with him, after all the attempts to kill you and what he did to your clan, you still want him back here.'

She stood from the table, putting the file back in order and gave it back to the attendant. Faintly, she wondered if she could ask for Itachi's file too, mildly curious about it, but realized it had to be top-secret like hers. ANBU members were under complete protection as they served under the Hokage. Nobody except the inner circle knew exactly who were ANBU and who weren't as everybody went out for regular missions now and then. Even within ANBU itself, there were many members who would never show their face, even to their comrades.

As she reached her apartment, somehow she knew Itachi would be inside. Her suspicions were confirmed when she opened the door and saw his sandals neatly arranged near the door. Kicking her own boots off, she walked through the house only to find him leaning on the railing of the balcony, looking down at the city. He noticed her appearance and glanced over his shoulder at her.

Sakura opened the glass door and stepped onto the balcony, loving the feel of warm stone against her bare feet. She shook her hair out and walked up to Itachi. "He turned twenty-two today, didn't he?" she whispered. "I just read his file."

His lips curled a little as he turned and leaned with his back against the balustrade, looking up at the cloudless July sky. "Yes," Itachi answered simply.

"No matter what, you'll always love him, won't you?" she asked.

He stared at her for what felt like the longest time and then he smiled. "No matter what he does or what decision he makes, I will love him forever."

She nodded, letting the words sink into her. "I'll help you," she said eventually.


"I don't know what happened that he changed so much… I don't know him and truthfully, I don't like him very much," she confessed, laughing sheepishly. "But when I woke up again after the attack, I promised myself that while I don't know where I am going, I know that I can help others achieve their dreams. I'm going to help Naruto become the Hokage, I'm going to help Shikamaru with whatever it is he wants and I want to make your dream come true." She paused. "Or at least half of it."

Her awkward smile vanished when she caught Itachi staring at her with a look in his eyes she couldn't quite place. Slowly, he snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. It was pure instinct that allowed her to wrap her arms around him and return the embrace, pulling him even closer to her.

Time ceased its flow as they stood there under the brilliant July sun and Sakura wasn't sure how long they held onto each other until she felt Itachi shift a little. She loosened her hold on him, disappointed that the moment was already over, but her green eyes widened in shock when she noticed his dark eyes observing her carefully, peering through his impossibly long lashes. She smiled widely at him as he lifted his other hand to play with her roseate locks. "It's the promise of a lifetime," she said softly, looking up into his eyes.

His gaze intensified minimally as he pushed away a few strands of cherry hair from her face and before Sakura realized what was going on, Itachi had lowered his mouth down to hers and gently brushed his lips against hers.

A/N: Though you can't see me, I'm cackling evilly!

Welcome to the story in which chapters only grow longer and longer! I've had THE hardest time writing the first part of this story. Writing from Itachi's perspective turned out to be incredibly hard, though needed and gave me some interesting perspectives on how the Uchiha's character is going to develop from this point on.

Thank you SO much for the amazing reviews I've received for this story up till now! I can't believe we've already crossed the 100 mark. Always a nice thing to happen! As for the story line, depending on my muse, this 'arc' will stretch on for about two or three more chapters. If I'm still inspired, I have some ideas in my head for a second and even third arc.

As usual, you can find a timeline of Equinox events on my tumblr (check the link on my profile) which'll show you exactly when Sasuke perpetrated his crimes and other interesting tidbits. Also, any ItaSaku or Naruto fans—add me on tumblr! I always like to get to know my readers and share the ItaSaku love on there!

That's it for my jabbering for today. Till next time!

Mitsuki Shiroi