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Retrograde Motion

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“I’m going to be honest with you,” said Sakura, who was working very hard to keep her voice level. It was a testament to her skill as a medic nin that she wasn’t currently screaming her head off. Her shisho would have been proud of her. “I don’t think that I’m the best fit for this mission. There are several areas in which my skill set would be… inadequate.”

It pained Sakura to say it – almost as much as her limbs had pained her before she disrupted the feedback from the nerves in her arms and legs – but it was true. If she had possessed any of the required skills for this mission, she would not currently be lying here half pulverized and trying to reason with a madman.

Fucking Mangekyo Sharingan eyes, thought Sakura bitterly. Their genjutsu had been easy enough to break and their fire easy enough to avoid, but fighting Itachi’s fully formed Susano-o had been like fighting a tailed beast with her bare hands – and no prep work.

Sealing, Sakura thought, not for the first time. There’s got to be a way to seal that fucker.

Too bad she didn’t know it.

If I get out of this alive, Sakura thought, not for the first time, I’m going to become a fucking sealing master. I’ll be Uzumaki Mito come again. Jiraiya will eat his fucking heart out. Fuck!

That last was because Uchiha Itachi, who had until that moment been almost entirely focused on cutting a seal into the floor of the cave with one burning hot fingertip, his face so close to his work that his nose sometimes brushed the ridges of it, had sat back on his heels to look directly at her with his burning red eyes.

Staring back at him – at his bloody tears, the red tracks down the length of his cheeks, the tangled hanks of greasy black hair hanging around his shoulders, and the pale flesh stretched too thin over his bones – sent a shudder through Sakura’s heart.

He looked… ghoulish.

For a moment, just a single solitary thump of her heart, Sakura feared that he wasn’t really the last Uchiha at all, just an evil spirit that had set up shop in a little boy’s body years and years ago and never left.

Then Itachi blinked, and he was once more simply the deranged S-class criminal that had kidnapped her during Naruto’s rampage. Vaguely, Sakura wondered where his partner was. She hadn’t seen him once since Itachi had taken her from Konohagakure.

“Who would you recommend to take your place, Sakura-san?” asked Itachi politely, briefly giving her his full attention, as if they didn’t both know that Sakura was trying to stall him. He was always so polite. Even when he had had his Susano-o pulverize every bone below her knees and elbows, he had been polite, not that Sakura had been in much of a position to appreciate it, what with the excruciating agony and all. After two heartbeats, he asked, “Kakashi-senpai, perhaps?”

“Yes,” said Sakura firmly. She tried to look like someone trustworthy and helpful, and not at all like what she really was: someone lying her ass off while she worked frantically to piece her shattered limbs back together. Bravely, she soldiered on, saying, “He was our jonin instructor – mine and Naruto and Sasuke’s. Out of all of us, Hatake Kakashi has the best chance of making a difference in Sasuke’s life.”

Itachi’s mouth twisted down, and his spinning eyes whirled faster. For a moment, Sakura dared to hope for a little more time while he considered it.

“No,” he said with finality. “Kakashi-senpai has already failed this mission once. There’s no use in him trying again.”

“Naruto?” asked Sakura. A shard of bone scraped past another one on its way to reforming her shin. It slotted neatly into its assigned place – the most complicated and personal of all 3D puzzle pieces. Repairing the ligaments and tendons in her arms and legs would be easier once she had her skeleton back in more or less the right shape. Belatedly, Sakura added, “Naruto was always Sasuke’s best friend as well as his rival.”

Itachi shook his head. “He has the kyuubi.”

Sakura didn’t know why that shielded Naruto from the best plans of deranged mass murderers, but apparently it did. She was more than a little jealous. Then she remembered the state that Naruto had been in the last time that she had seen him, and the feeling evaporated. Whatever the benefits, a shitty sealing job negated most of them.

Seeing Itachi’s attention return to his sealing array, Sakura quickly said, “What about Yamato-taicho? Back then, he was better placed than I was.”

“The shinobi that you call Yamato has an incompatible nindo,” said Itachi, his fingertips tracing the lines and swirls of his seal. It was just a working theory, but Sakura suspected that he was functionally blind. “And he has no hope of access to Sasuke while Sandaime leads Konohagakure. Factors beyond his control were held against him by the Sandaime.”

“Then someone from a ninja clan maybe?” offered Sakura, while eyeing Itachi’s handy work with increasing desperation. It was beginning to look alarmingly complete. “They always have pull.”

Bending his head over the seal that he was so painstakingly inscribing into the stone, Itachi very politely pretended not to hear her.

Sakura not so politely fumed.

Her plan, such as it was, was very simple: distract Itachi long enough to piece her legs back together, get free, stab Itachi with her poison-treated hairpin (originally a gift from Ino), and run away. She could fix her arms later – if there was a later. It was a good, solid plan despite lacking in several key details, such as how she planned to survive any part of it. Sakura had the nagging suspicion that, by his own standards, Itachi had been both kind and gentle with her up to this point. She expected that might change if she actually managed to stab or poison him.

Closing her eyes, Sakura concentrated on piecing herself back together.

She had the bulk of the work in her left leg done when Itachi made a little noise, and Sakura reflexively opened her eyes to see what had changed during her inattention. The answer was: not much. Itachi was still crouched on the floor next to a seal that was… Sakura couldn’t actually say what it was. She only recognized a handful of elements, all of them Uzushio.

And that was a problem.

With her background, Sakura knew seals. She was no Toad Sannin, but she had grown up in the Uzushio Quarter, back when it had actually been populated by Uzushio refugees. The Strength of One Hundred Seal had been her mastery project in medical sealing. She should have been able to discern something useful about Itachi’s seal, but looking at it now – really studying it – Sakura realized that she had no idea what it did. That wasn’t a good thing. Worse, whatever it was, it looked like it was finished or close to it.

Crouching on his heels next to his seal, Itachi looked almost pleased, despite the way that his whirling sharingan eyes were steadily dripping blood.

Sakura’s stomach sank.

Whatever he was going to do to her, it was going to be soon, and Sakura didn’t even have enough of her legs fixed to try to run away.

Rising, Itachi approached her saying, “Allow me,” and Sakura immediately redirected her chakra, reshaping and sharpening it. When Itachi grabbed Sakura, his bare palms making contact with the soft skin under her arms and his fingertips digging into her flesh, she lashed out with a minor lightening jutsu, scrambling the electrical signals between Itachi’s brain and his body.

Itachi grunted and collapsed, dropping her.

All techniques are worthless before my eyes, my ass! Sakura thought gleefully. Even if she died in the next few minutes, she would go to her death holding this moment close to her heart: the first time that she finally managed to knock some sharingan wielding asshole on his ass.

With any luck, it wouldn’t be her last.

“This resistance is pointless,” intoned Itachi from his place behind her. His leg was twitching against the small of her back. “A few more minutes will change nothing.”

Sakura closed her eyes and said nothing. She needed to concentrate.

More softly, he said, “I would sacrifice even these eyes for the opportunity that I am giving to you.”

“To die in agonizing pain?” needled Sakura, despite her best intentions.

“Is that what you think we are doing here?” asked Itachi. He sounded genuinely surprised. “I am giving you the opportunity to try again,” said Itachi softly, wistfully, and at the tone of his voice, Sakura actually opened her eyes. Tipping her head to one side, she tried to look at Itachi over her shoulder. She could see most of his face and about a third of his twitching body. None of it was particularly informative.

“To try what again?” she demanded.

“Everything,” he said, and he smiled. Even his teeth were bloodied. Sakura wished that she had been the one to do it. “If I could go back, I would look my brother in the eyes and tell him the truth. I would have been honest with Sasuke from the beginning.” He hesitated there and, looking lost, Itachi added in a smaller voice, “And… I would have stopped Kisame. I would have saved him too.”

It almost sounded as if he really thought that he could…

No.

That was impossible.

But where the hell did he get that seal?

“What truth?” pressed Sakura, because if there was one thing that Sakura had learned from Kakashi-sensei during that disastrous mission to Wave Country, it was the value of information gathering, especially when faced with impossible odds. All knowledge was useful eventually.

Itachi tilted his head to the side, catching Sakura’s eyes with one of his own spinning ones, and Sakura just had to think ‘Shit!’ before his eyes began to pull at her.

She really hated those eyes.

Sakura quickly countered his genjutsu, except it wasn’t a genjutsu at all, and in the depths of her mind, Inner Sakura woke, already roaring their battle cry.

“You will protect my foolish younger brother,” said Itachi severely, his black on red eyes spinning, and although her Inner shielded her from the worst of his technique, Sakura still felt Itachi’s words sink into her, catching in her being like barbed fishing hooks. “No matter what the cost, Haruno Sakura, you will protect Uchiha Sasuke.”

Then he cut her hand and kicked her into the seal, his bleeding hand landing on its outer edge a moment later.

Blood – his blood – flowed along the seal’s channels, the speed of its movements unnatural, and Itachi’s chakra flowed in its wake.

The last thing that she saw as she lay dying, as Uchiha Itachi’s blood surged through the seal inscribed into the stone, was a ragged crow. It opened its black beak to caw at her, and a sharingan eye blinked at Sakura from the back of its throat. A black, four-pointed shuriken was spinning, spinning, spinning, around a pinprick pupil in a sea of blood – her blood; hers and Itachi’s – and Sakura screamed as the seal took effect, shredding her essence.

Death would have been a mercy.