Hello everyone. I'm very pleased with this chapter. You'll notice I incorporated several items of Japanese culture, but I do explain them in this, so you shouldn't be too confused. If you still are, do send me a message and I'll explain further. Enjoy the chapter!
Sakura was smiling softly as she went outside. She felt her blood sing in her veins in excitement, but she forced herself to calm down. She was not going to learn just yet. First she had to greet the gigantic bat properly.
As opposed to what such a large frame would usually allow, the bat's landing on top of the Hokage Tower was surprisingly graceful. Shaking her head warmly, Sakura hopped from roof to roof until she got to the tower, then decided to take the stairs instead of scaling its walls like she was sorely tempted to do. No need to annoy the Hokage at present. He already wasn't feeling too good about her causing indirectly all the ruckus that had happened a scant few nights before.
The bat looked amused at her when she finally made it onto the roof, but Sakura bit the inside of her cheek to keep from making a sarcastic comment—now really wasn't the time—and instead bowed low to the ancient being to show her respect, and promptly bowed a second time to the Sandaime. Apparently, it was the right move to do, for his countenance lightened up considerably. He still frowned, though, she noticed as she exchanged greetings with him while the group that had followed her bowed to Machi and vice versa.
"Machi-sama. I was hoping to have time to return to my village before you came for me so you would not have to look for me," she said with a second bow, this one of forgiveness.
""'Tis no problem, human youngling. A fortnight I said I would give thee, and a fortnight I gave thee. As for the matter of thine location, fear not, little one, for I did not lose sight of it for one moment," replied the gigantic bat with a bow, showing her respect for the diminutive medic. As Sakura pondered on her words, a small gray bat fluttered up to her and perched itself on her shoulder. She caressed it from neck to belly gently with the back of a finger, smiling softly when the bat rubbed its head against her cheek with a gentle croon. "Mine childe, Chiyoko-chan, hath been following thee discreetly to keep me informed of thy situation."
"Chiyoko-chan, ne?" said Sakura thoughtfully, thinking over the implications of the name of the delicate furry creature. "Indeed, she's been very discreet. I did not sense her, or if I did, I did not give her much thought—well, not any more than I did any other animal."
"Aa, she is most talented in the art of spying and gathering information without anybody being none the wiser," replied Machi with a fond smile. "Do take care of her, humanling, for she shall be the one to initiate thee in our art."
"Is that so?" asked Sakura with a smile, feeling giddy inside at the thought of what that bat would teach her. "I'm honored to make your acquaintance, Chiyoko-chan. Or should I call you sensei?"
"Likewise, sensei. Please call me Chiyoko-chan, everyone does."
The bat balanced from one foot to the other, humming under her breath gently.
"Art thou ready to leave, little one?" asked the gigantic beast.
"There are still a few details I have to take care of here, Machi-sama. Could it be possible for you to wait for just a bit while I settle everything?"
"Aa, waiting a little more will not make much difference to me," agreed the ancient bat, "though please be swift about it, my presence here shall not be secret very long."
"Of course," promised Sakura with a last bow.
She turned to the group that had followed her but stayed behind in respectful silence and said, "Well…I guess it's time for goodbyes, ne?"
Nodding like the others, Kisame said, "Ne, chibi-sensei, I don't like that you're going alone. I trust these bats, but it still doesn't sit well with me, so with Machi-sama's permission, I'll accompany you. Not like I've got better places to be, anyway."
The great beast looked up from her conversation with the Hokage when Kisame looked in her direction and nodded her approval, making the tall man smile widely.
"Thanks, Kisame-san. It'll be nice to have some company, I imagine."
Itachi stayed silent, clenching his jaw. He knew that with the state the village was in, the Hokage wouldn't agree to him following her to the bats' dimension. But he wished, just as much as Kisame, to be able to accompany her, and it was killing him to stay silent.
Above his head, Mikoto and Fugaku exchanged long, telling glances.
They trailed away in direction of said Hokage calmly, leaving behind the quarrelling men—apparently, Jiraiya was very much against Kisame being left alone with Sakura.
"Hokage-sama," began Mikoto after they bowed to both the Sandaime and the gigantic beast. "It appears that Sakura-sensei is going away for a while. Would it be possible for our Itachi-kun to accompany her?"
The old man sighed. "I'm sorry, Uchiha-san. As things are now, even if I've received a report on the situation from your son, and Yamanaka-san and Morino-san both gave me identical reports of their own, I can't allow Itachi-kun to leave. The village is weakened at the moment and I have to get things back on track properly before I can allow any of my ninja to leave."
Mikoto glanced to the side, looking sadly at her son. Her heart ached for him. He looked so frail and alone to her eyes…She couldn't allow Sakura to slip through his fingers, not now that he had finally won her over. It would break him. She looked at her husband, silently pleading for him to do something, to say anything to change the Hokage's mind.
"Hokage-sama, if you could make an exception, the Uchiha Clan would be most grateful. This is extremely important to the future of our clan," said Fugaku solemnly. He, too, liked the little medic and his son, even if he didn't show it outwardly. And if he allowed anything to come between them once again, he didn't think Itachi would forgive him. He already felt so much distance in their relationship…
"I understand, Uchiha-san," assured the Sandaime sadly but resolutely, "but I'm afraid it is still impossible. The village needs as many of its ninja to defend it, and especially high-ranking ninja, such as your son. I cannot let him leave without getting something from it."
The Uchiha Matriarch nodded in understanding. "Very well. I will buy him."
The Sandaime and her husband looked at her in confusion for a moment.
"If Itachi-kun was to leave on a mission, say, to protect Sakura-sensei, with me commissioning it, would it be acceptable then? I have a fund to be used for my sons in cases of emergency. I'll use it to buy his services for that mission. You can use the money to repair the village. Is that an amenable proposition?"
The Hokage contemplated her silently. Next to him, Machi spoke gently, "'Tis not for anyone to untie the red strings of Fate, Hokage-sama."
With a sigh, Sarutobi nodded. "Very well. He can go."
Smiling, Mikoto turned in direction of her son, having noticed he was looking at them and most probably reading on their lips the gist of their conversation. Instantly, his countenance lightened up, his eyes lighting up in joy. It made her heart at peace, knowing she had made the right decision to ensure her son's happiness. A hand fell on her shoulder, squeezing lightly, and she turned her face up to look at her husband's approving, warm dark eyes.
Yes. She had definitely made the right choice.
Sakura was rubbing her temples tiredly, trying to tune out the noisy fighting men when a hand settled on her shoulder, and she turned to Itachi, who looked perfectly serene.
"I'm coming with you, sensei," he said, and slowly approached her to deposit a soft kiss on her cheek, barely a brush of his lips, but it left her skin tingling. "I'm coming with you," he repeated ever so softly into her ear, hugging her close to him, as though he couldn't quite believe it himself.
"Hai…" she whispered, fingers digging into his back. "Hai, you are."
And it seemed to sum up everything they felt and more, and they found themselves quietly emotional. Later on, they would be grateful that no one interrupted them for this one special, timeless moment.
"What is it, Sakura-chan?"
"Look, jiji, I want you to promise me one thing," began Sakura very somberly.
Getting the hint, he nodded, motioning for her to elaborate.
"Naruto-kun. He's in a bad position right now. Due to the chaos he caused, no doubt some people are going to resent him even more than usual. I know that you left Konoha all those years ago to spy on the Akatsuki and make sure that no one would come looking for him to rip out the Kyuubi from inside him. I know that. But right now, he needs you here. So please, just…don't let his smile disappear."
Leaving Itachi and Kisame behind, the former to get his things ready and the latter to relax until she came back, Sakura headed to the hospital. There was in that place a person she very much wanted to see before she left.
She entered through the front doors and with a nod to the various nurses and medics bustling by, went straight for the reception desk.
"Excuse me," she said to the plump, harassed-looking woman sitting behind it, "I'd like to see one of your patients here."
"Certainly, dear," replied the middle-aged woman with a tired smile. "What's the name of the patient?"
"Uzumaki. Uzumaki Naruto-kun."
She had expected the smile to fall from the face of the woman, but found herself angered at it nonetheless. To hate someone because of something they were not responsible for…
She took a deep breath to steel her nerves.
"The room, please?" she asked civilly, if a bit more coldly than before.
"Ah, hai, hai. Eto…Room 44."
This time, she did frown. 44? It was obvious they had taken the boy there in hopes of seeing him die or something, for it was a room never used unless necessary: no one wanted a room number that was pronounced like 'death', after all.
"Thank you," she replied frigidly, heading straight for the bowels of the building.
Along the way, she took several deep, fortifying breaths to rein in her temper, but had she not met a certain someone a few rooms before Naruto's, she doubted she would have been so serene.
As she was nearing room 44, a door opened to her right, a laughing ninja and two busty nurses pouring from it. The ninja had a cast on his leg impeding his walk, so he stumbled more than anything else, but that didn't deter him in the least as he tried to grope the giggling nurses.
"What—Shiranui-san?" she exclaimed in aghast astonishment, prompting the trio to look at her. upon seeing her, the man smiled largely and limped up to her to engulf her in a hug.
"Sakura-sensei! The apple of my eye! Are you here to see me?" he asked brightly, wagging his eyebrows.
She punched him lightly on the arm in answer. "Iie, you lecher, I wasn't."
"Ah, you wound my heart so!" he exclaimed dramatically, faking a swoon that brought forth a wave a giggles from the two nurses. With a dark frown, Sakura sent them back to their duties, reprimanding them for acting frivolously when many people needed their assistance.
"Aww, sensei! Why'd you make them leave? They had promised me so many glorious things to tire my body in a good way! You simply must give me one of your amazing massages! Ya know, the ones with the medical chakra? Maaaan, those feel good! Say, who were you here to see, anyway?"
"Oh, him. Well, if you didn't like that I was disturbing the nurses, you really won't like what he's doing," he muttered, scratching the back of his head.
Before she had time to ask him what he meant by that, another door burst open, and this time, the nurses who were following their mischievous escaping patient weren't smiling in the least.
Oh Kami-sama, why me? she wondered even as Genma laughed heartily at the blonde-haired tornado that whirled past them to hide behind them.
I really had fun with this one. I'm finally back in my element. Yay! Anyway, I swear they're leaving next time. Really.
And now, time for a little addition to our growing list of Japanese words and names:
Chiyoko: female name meaning 'child of a thousand generations'