Sakura rolled the bead shaped pebble under her toe back and forth, feeling but not seeing it. Her eyes were hazy and unfocused as she stared into the amber liquid of her drink. Half of it was gone but it felt like if she tipped it over the beer would flow forever. She was already light from it.
There was a shadow that passed over her and then the seat across from her creaked from the weight of the visitor. She lifted her eyes and blinked until the vision in front of her came into focus. What she saw made her grin out of the side of her mouth.
“Oh, I had heard the royal brothers of a far off land were visiting to court the sisters of whirlpool, but I didn’t think I would see one here in this little hole in the wall.”
Sakura blinked and looked up at the window to the outside. She could see the sign hanging but couldn’t remember what the words meant. Her vision was blurred and she had to blink again to see better.
“He’s been looking for you. Have you heard?” Itachi asked.
Sakura blinked and kept her eyes closed while she adjusted her posture in the seat. The places where her skin was stitched back together were all still sore. Not even a single one felt better and it had been days. She always healed slower during the New Moon nights.
“It’s the whole reason we’re out here this far, since there was some business concerning children going missing near the moors. One of the wise women said it was fair folk business and that’s all he needed to hear.”
“Kelpie aren’t fair folk, technically speaking. They’re beasts… sentient beasts, but they just want to eat pretty tasty things.” Sakura’s eyes couldn’t focus and she felt the pebble crack under her toe when she sat up again. “But that’s beside the point, because the moors are plenty of miles west of here and there are a dozen different bars like this one you could have wandered into. What are you doing here?”
She blinked. “What?”
“There are fifteen bars of this par and quality in the city. I’ve been to all of them.”
Sakura hummed. “I thought it was odd that all the princes were going out together to do this courting business like a big happy family, but I can guess better now. You’re the brains, aren’t you? Madara isn’t stupid but he’s sheltered, which is sometimes worse. He wouldn’t know how to find a person without his nose.”
Itachi reached out and grabbed a tankard off the tray that passed him by and when the table maid turned to tell him off he smiled and flashed her a silver coin she took with a blush and a stutter.
“He misses you terribly. Finding you again is all he seems interested in getting out of bed for. He’s turning out to not be what father hoped.”
Sakura raised a finger. “Let me stop you there and read your mind. Ah, the king blames me for that, does he. He says I bewitched or cursed his son and that it’s alllllll my fault. How’s that?”
Itachi sipped at his drink without turning his nose up at it, but set it aside after only a mouthful. “You’re not far off but he has no one to blame for how things went. I don’t blame my brother. He’s had so little kindness in his life it is not hard to believe he’d want to covet what little he’s tasted.”
Sakura swallowed, glancing towards the bar door. It wasn’t busy inside and she could see clearly and easily all the way to the front and back exit. She reached inside her cloak where the shadows were heaviest and pulled out some berries still on the twig. She popped a few into her drink and then knocked the whole tankard back.
“What was that?” Itachi asked.
“Is Madara on his way here?” Sakura countered.
“Maybe. It depends on how fast Sasuke can get to him.”
Sakura hummed and pushed her tankard across the table. “Sorry, but I need to leave. I don’t dislike your brother, but this and that aren’t things worth speaking about. I’m not ready for someone to think so well of me, and I’m afraid of what sort of terrible things he would see if he stayed too long or too close.” She smiled playfully. “Tell him to move on.”
“You think it would be that bad?” Itachi braced to stand but staggered, falling back into his seat. His eyes went wide. “What?”
“It’ll last only a few minutes but the more you fight it the longer it will last. Don’t fret, the effects aren’t long lasting at all.”
Itachi looked at the twig left bare on the table and then the pair of tankards. Sakura made a clucking note and he stared up at her.
“You put something in my drink,” he gasped.
“Nope, just mine, but it was an antidote to the toxin we were both exposed to when I crushed a hag berry under the table. I’m sorry, but I’m not ready to stop running.”
Sakura turned towards the back door and stopped when the pain in her side made her gasp. She covered it with a chuckle and shook her head. Her eyes still swam fuzzy and she could smell her blood in places the shadows clung darkest. She turned and headed for the front entrance, staggering like the other drunks with a sloppy smile.
“Sakura, don’t do this. He’s not the sort of person that will give up.”
Something about the tone of his voice made her turn, hand on the doorframe, ready to leave. She looked back and smiled sadly, believing every word. “I know. I’m still sorry. There are many more miles I need to go before I am done.”
“Done with what? We can help you if you are in trouble with someone.”
Sakura laughed. “I doubt that. Tell your beautiful brother what you need to. Say I was with another man, or two or three, I’m a harlot that doesn’t love. Tell him I have money problems and I used him. Say what you need to, just don’t tell him to keep searching because that will only hurt him longer.”
She pulled the cloak’s hood down and stumbled out of the bar and into the shadows between streets and buildings.
The morbid part of her that liked to press her bruises until the pressure made them sting stopped and dominated her in that instant. She turned and looked back, watching as a pair of brothers too pretty to be peasants raced down the street. Madara passed the Dancing Pig pub, but Sasuke had to yell at him to turn back and Madara cursed about having to scramble. When he turned Sakura saw his face.
It hurt worse than any bruise.
“This is what you wanted, idiot,” she said to herself, backing away and drawing her cloak closer. She hurt all over and only half of the pain was from the bleeding bits of flesh.