Pistols at Dawnthis is me reaching and you wanting to run
Sakura Haruno is fifteen years old when she betrays Konohagakure.
Itachi remembers it clearly, because that was the day his brother came home from the end of the war, blind in one eye and and an unconscious, bleeding Naruto slung across his back.
He stayed in the hospital for three days, watching over his older brother and his teammate. As it turned out, Sasuke’s blindness was reversible, and Naruto’s injuries, though severe, were never life-threatening. It was either by virtue of Tsunade Senju’s medical prowess or the sloppiness of the enemy nin that both survived, and Itachi wasn’t sure to whom he should be more grateful.
But the third bed laid empty like an unspoken question.
When Itachi worked up the courage to ask, Naruto’s expression crumpled like a house of cards, his heartbeat spiking on the monitor. Sasuke turned his face away, staring out the window with his single unbandaged eye, his raspy voice guttural - angry and sharp.
“She said she was tired of following orders.”
The realization lanced through him, that it was Sakura Haruno who nearly carved his older brother’s eye out, who was responsible for the fresh scars on Naruto’s body. Disbelief permeated him; it was also Sakura Haruno who single-handedly sustained and healed their vanguard, Konoha’s crucial push into Kusagakure. It was Sakura Haruno’s fists that destroyed the Kannabi Bridge and cinched Konoha’s victory. And years ago, it was Sakura who-
Memories of the emergency room, the murmurings of overworked medics and nurses, slowly unfurled in his mind. As he sat there, next to his father and mother, wondering if his aniki, the heir to the clan, would lose his prized doujutsu, if the fourth Hokage would lose another family member, he anchored onto the whispered hope.
If they had cut deeper, the Hokage’s son would have died from blood loss.
If they had managed to swipe any lower, Uchiha-sama’s eye would be beyond saving.
Sloppiness, indeed. Eleven-year-old Itachi sits in his plastic chair, and witnesses the break of Konohagakure’s infamous Team Seven. Naruto’s beeping heart monitor punctuates Sasuke’s deafening silence, and everything comes to a quiet and terrible sort of sense.
Itachi learns, as he enters ANBU and rises quickly through the ranks, to detest violence. Moreover, he learns to hate war. Seven years later, Itachi is still cleaning up the consequences of the Third Shinobi war. There is no justification for such wide-scale destruction and needless death. Entire villages are left ravaged, wiped off the map, caught in the crossfire. Vagabonds who have no place to call home form dangerous criminal rings. Orphanages are near to bursting with not enough resources to feed the children through winter. Ninja villages that were on the wrong side of the war still rumble in discontent and increase border activity.
Among the muddy waters, Konoha intelligence catches wind of an group more sinister and organized than simple B-class missing-nin.
And then, one by one, the jinchūriki end up dead.
When Minato summons Itachi to his office, he doesn’t expect Senju Tsunade to be there, with a thunderous scowl on her face.
“I need you to meet our spy,” the Yondaime says without preface. He sifts through the paperwork on his desk until he comes across the scroll he wants, “at this disclosed location. You are to go alone.”
Itachi takes the proffered missive and unravels its contents. The rendezvous location will be at the destroyed Kannabi Bridge. Behind his porcelain mask, Itachi’s lips tighten, and an uncomfortable picture starts to form in his head.
His scroll erupts into flame, until there’s not even ash left.
“I was not aware we had a spy in Akatsuki,” and then he adds belatedly, “Hokage-sama.”
“This is our first direct contact since they were implemented,” Tsunade answers. She steps forward and gives him a look that could level mountains, “Let me be clear here, Uchiha. Nobody but the people in this room knows about this. If you compromise-”
“What Tsunade-hime means,” Minato interjects, and her teeth click when she snaps her jaw shut, “Is that this mission is of paramount importance. What our mole will reveal will determine how Konoha will react. As our top agent we’re trusting this task to you.”
Then, Minato smiles his smile that he thinks is disarming, but really, just reveals the lethal shinobi he is underneath.
“You tell no one.”
Not your superiors, not your clan, not to Sasuke, and not to Naruto.
Itachi hears his orders loud and clear, and disappears in a wisp of smoke.
He has it figured out by the time he arrives at the rendezvous point an hour early, so it’s no surprise when he finds one Sakura Haruno resting underneath the shade an oak tree.
There a sort of quiet tragedy about her, but that air disappears when her eyes flutter open. They are chips of ice, drilling into his porcelain mask as if she could divine who he is underneath. It’s been nearly ten years since he’s been face to face with her, and a selfish, indulgent part of him wonders if she ever remembered the little boy she saved once upon a time.
Sakura takes her time rising from the ground, brushing off her garish black and red cloak. Itachi stands still and watches her movements. She moves deliberately, hands out in the open and not hidden by the cloak’s sleeves. Though Sakura has become infamous enough that every hunter-nin in any country knows she can kill without use of hand signs or a weapon. Tsunade had been thorough in her training.
Days before this meeting, Itachi thought of a thousand ways of how their conversation might go. There’s a certain anticipation that had been building within his chest, squeezed tight like fist when he sighted her. There were questions he wanted to ask that went beyond his station. He wondered if it would be cruel to tell her about her old teammates. How Naruto talks about her like the war took her, how Sasuke talks about her none at all. He wanted to tell her about how Konoha has been without her there - because if she was willing to forsake her home in order to protect it, shouldn’t she have a right to know? All these thoughts swirled in his mind as Sakura squared her shoulders to fully face him. Then, she speaks first and shatters all his imagined expectation.
“You are ill.”
He smothers his natural instinct to flinch. Sakura cocks her head infinitesmally, staring at his chest as if she truly could peel back his layers and see the disease festering there. He finds it more ironic than amusing that with just three words she’s revealed his longest kept secret. Not even his clan knows. She flicks her eyes back to his mask when he doesn’t reply.
She moves forward - glides really - towards him. Her tread is silent as she sidesteps the bridge rubble now overgrown with moss and lichen. She pulls back her billowing sleeve, revealing her pale, slender wrist and brings her fingertips just below his collarbone, where his black under armor meets his ANBU vest. His Sharingan flares in response, but it’s not combat chakra that envelops her hand.
Her healing chakra feels the same as it did ten years ago, and unbidden, he closes his eyes as it sweeps through his chest.
“Breathe in deeply,” she says, and he does. Itachi can immediately feel the difference, how his breath doesn’t sound wet or hitch in his throat.
“Hold it,” Sakura murmurs and he opens his eyes to find a small wrinkle in her brow. His Sharingan reveals to him what the naked eye doesn’t; the striations of green in her eyes, the faint spatter of pale freckles, how her lashes are more dark pink than brown, the stray candyfloss hairs caught in those same long, delicate lashes. She has a faint scar on her right cheekbone and Itachi clenches his fists to keep from touching it, to see if her skin is as smooth as it looks.
He breathes out slowly and wonderment seizes him. The pain is gone. He feels sharper now that he doesn’t have to divert his energy in suppressing his symptoms.
That’s twice now, he wants to say but doesn’t in risk of sounding foolish.
“It’s gone,” he says instead and lets his gratitude shine through in his tone.
“For now,” Sakura murmurs, and lets her hand fall away. There’s a crinkle in between his black armor and vest. A note.
“Whatever reasons you have for hiding that,” she taps his chest once, looking up at his mask, “Is surely not worth your life.”
He has no words to rebut her statement without sounding childish, so he inclines his head once.
The first threads of dawn filter through the canopy and Itachi has a strange premonition that this will be the last time he will see her. The lines seem deeper on her face as she turns away.
“They’re well,” he blurts, and stops her. After a pause, he says in a quieter voice, “They miss you.”
He doesn’t need to say any more. Over her high collar, he can see the ice in her eyes melt. She gives him a small smile, like spring breaking through winter’s frost. In that moment, as she coalesces into cherry blossom petals, he wishes fervently, vehemently, naively, that somehow, some way, he could bring her home.
When Itachi goes home that night, bone-weary and tired in places he can’t name, he brushes off his family’s concerns and goes straight to bed. He lies there, blanket drawn to his middle and hands laced over his chest. He stares at the rafters of his room, the dust motes floating in the moonlight cast from his windows. He closes his eyes and sees petal pink and mournful spring green eyes. He remembers the grace of her hands when she pressed her delicate fingertips against his chest. Healer’s hands. Never had he knew a more subtle tenderness until that day.
And when he slips into sleep, he dreams of what he had wanted to do differently. He dreams of curling his fingers around hers, to see how she might fit in his hand. To feel her skin and see if she was as cold as she pretended to be. He dreams of what he wanted her to do. To mention the day she saved him as a child, that it was a memory that she thought of often. He wanted her to speak his name, wanted to know how it sounded in her lilting, womanly voice.
When Itachi wakes up the next morning, he is once again Uchiha Itachi of Konohagakure. He slips on his ANBU uniform, piece by piece in methodical silence. His vest, his armguards, shin guards. His tanto is strapped to his back. He pulls his bone white mask over his face and flash-steps into the cool morning, towards the Hokage’s Tower.
The Yondaime is waiting for him.
But he pauses.
Itachi grips the scrap of paper Sakura had slipped into his vest, its weight like lead in his fist. He unfolds it and drinks in her elegant handwriting. It details the other members of the Akatsuki organization, and their goals, their targets. The kind of information his comrades have died for.
He should go to the Hokage right away. He should be reporting this information so the village can mobilize, gather allies, and strike before the start of another war even begins.
(No more tragedies, no more orphans, no more Sakuras.)
At the bottom of the note, there is a single emphatic line, different from the almost clinical tone she had listed the information.
‘Protect him, please.’
The air leaves his lungs.
He is eight again, Sakura’s long pink locks flutter in his peripheral, surrounding him with a pleasant floral fragrance despite the wear of war. There’s a wide bandage on her cheek. The rush of adrenaline still lingers in his system. His would-be kidnapper lays unconscious among the wreckage of felled trees. The scent of splintered wood and churned dirt is thick, but Sakura’s gentle knuckles under his chin draw his attention to her face. Her regard and concern is a heady thing, and there isn’t quite a word to describe the clarity and verdant of her eyes. He is eight years old again, and her concern is novel and strange, but not unwelcome. Her thumb brushes against the cut on his brow, the healing chakra cool and soothing. He almost protests when she withdraws her touch, but her eyes keep him silent. They are kind and compassionate and Itachi is starved of those things - he drinks them in greedily.
“Are you okay?”
Itachi is eighteen again and he is an ANBU operative for Konohagakure. He’s sworn his complete loyalty to his village and to his Hokage. Haruno Sakura is a traitor and an S-class missing ninja. His mind flips through the cold, impersonal facts about her listed in the Bingo books. Her appearance, her height, her known jutsu, her last known appearances.
It doesn’t mention how the green of her eyes changes in filtered sunlight. It doesn’t mention the fragile line of her shoulders, weighed down by the burden of being a double-agent. Doesn’t mention what breaking the trust and love of her friends cost her. Not the kindness she still harbors, not the unwavering loyalty to her village that turned its back on her, not her stalwart and unerring sense of duty.
As Itachi steps through the threshold into the Yondaime’s office, he draws a line in his mind. The dream he had, the memory of her saving him as a child, the grace of her hands as she cured his illness with a single touch - those are the things he allows himself, private and ensconced from reality.
He tells himself, as he crosses the room with long, purposeful strides, not to think about what ifs. Naruto is the village’s strongest soldier, and its biggest liability. He’s also the Yondaime’s son, Minato’s only surviving family. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do to protect him, not after Kushina died and left the fox to their child.
Itachi crushes his emotions as Minato reads over Sakura’s note with a grim face. He doesn’t dare hope for anything more, doesn’t think on how she’ll never be able to come home. War is coming again - it’s a sentiment he can read in the lines of the Hokage’s face without him even parting his lips. What is one stranded spy’s life in lieu of a village’s worth? Of a son’s?
Itachi knows the answer, and tries not to feel bitter.
Where do I begin to explain how much I love this amazing character? 😂
Tsunade is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s a beautiful, strong, smart, and independent woman. She singlehandedly revolutionized medical ninjutsu! She certainly lives up to her name as a legendary kunoichi.
Tsunade represents power, strength, and compassion. She speaks with confidence, conviction, and authority. She CAN lead. She can mobilize her resources well. She is clever, decisive, and can’t be swayed easily. She takes no shit (especially when the village elders go about and ruin things). She knows what needs to be done, and she gets things done. For those reasons, I believe she is a very efficient hokage. In fact, she is my favorite hokage! ❤️
Tsunade knows her strengths and her limits, yet she refuses to be defined by those limits. She is confident of who she is. She is confident of her leadership. She has full faith and confidence in the abilities of her subordinates (proven again and again by how much she trusts that Naruto is strong enough to handle things).
Tsunade is an amazing character. I LOVE her so much! 💕
“I’m a woman, yes. But I’m not a weak woman.” - Tsunade
Because I fell in love with smol!Kakashi and doesn’t-know-how-she-became-a-babysitter!Sakura, and wanted to write more about them. Also, Tsunade was supposed to have a bit part, but then I went and had feelings about her all over. Tsunade is just the best, okay?
Wherein Sakura signs a bunch of stuff, Sai’s attempts at real life as guided by books end badly (again), and Sakura’s bed has somehow become the place for cuddles and midnight promises.
(I’m apparently incapable of writing sheer fluff, so this does veer vaguely into angst, because shinobi.)
@beyondthemoor (hey! tumblr’s tagging system suddenly decided you exist!)
“And now,” Tsunade-shishō continues, shoving the completed forms for Kakashi’s custody to the side, “let’s talk finances.”
Sakura does her best not to blanch, because her most esteemed Hokage-sama gets just a little bit touchy when people bring up, refer to, or allude vaguely in the direction of her many gambling debts and terrible credit score, and somehow, village finances and mission pay negotiations manage to almost always skirt too close to that line, even though the only thing they particularly have in common is money. The memories of six desks meeting their end at the touch of a single finger and of two windows shattered in the wake of shinobi Tsunade-shishō has sent flying through them make for excellent incentive for Sakura to approach this more carefully than a surgery for restructuring a shattered limb or one of Gai-sensei’s obstacle courses.
“Right, finances,” Sakura says with an impressive lack of squeaking. She doesn’t dare show fear.
Hahaha! She reminds me of Tsunade-hime. Look at that glint in her eyes.
Can't believe that Uchiha brat made a kid.
Do you think she can learn poker at this age?
So Sakura and Sasuke had you? I must be psychic. I knew placing them on the same team would have a wonderful outcome.
Ah, are you friends with my grandson?
I'll teach you everything your parents won't ever. For instance, let's teach you the difference between sakes my little apprentice.
I made you. Not physically but I pushed your parents together. Your father isn't very good at the romance stuff so I had to give him a few books as pointers. Have you heard of them? Icha Icha...
Sarada, you're the only reason Sasuke ever comes to visit me anymore! *cries*