Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.
Rated M: Due to coarse language, violence, and some adult themes.
Looking in the mirror, which really isn't much of a mirror at all but a thin, corroded sheet of aluminum bolted to the wall inside the institute's front lobby restroom, Sakura Haruno wonders what her interviewee will make of her. Not that she particularly cares, no, but his mind is interesting. Will he pick her apart, unwrap her from the carefully chosen neutral ensemble she had laid out the night before, and see her for all her faults, all her insecurities?
Or could she beat him at his own game?
Inhaling a calming breath to sweep away her nerves, Sakura examines her expression for any signs of cowardice. She's a bit younger looking for her true age than she'd like to be, a trait that normally wouldn't be such a bad thing except for what she's about to attempt. She needs to be tough. Immovable. Stoic.
All the things she knows she isn't.
But the man she's about to meet certainly is. The best she can manage is a perfect façade for just long enough to get him to say everything she needs to hear. It'll be a race against the clock.
I can do it.
She throws the damp paper towel in the trash can and exits on the last highs of confidence she can manage to conjure up. On the other side of the door, she nearly bumps into the guard waiting to escort her to the basement level. It had been a quick decision during the culprit's apprehension that he was not to be detained at Konoha's own maximum security facilities where there was too much speculation as to how he would be received.
People do crazy things for their loved ones. Even when they've been betrayed.
Sakura knows the truth in that sentiment all too well. She's guilty of it.
Sakura nods once, a firm affirmation to the question even though her stomach is churning with anything but confidence. Walking alongside officer Kankuro, her friend and current police escort, Sakura is desperately hoping his usual antics and offhand comments will make an appearance within the next minute – anything to help put her at ease.
But perhaps sensing the seriousness and significance of this occasion, Kankuro has reigned in his normal pursuits at humor and leads the way with focused determination. She had half expected him to make an obnoxious show of checking out her butt as she walked by in her new heels. This side of Kankuro, the silent and business-minded side, is unsettling. It warns her of what's to come and she clenches her hands into loose fists.
Wearily, she checks the belt fitted snuggly around the waist of his uniform, uncertain if the sight of the baton and gun are reassuring or daunting in their presence. With only the clacking of their footsteps down the metal stairs serving as conversation, Sakura hopes her cell phone will ring in the next twenty seconds so she can answer to the gentle voice of Shizune or the harsh, barking orders of Tsunade. She doesn't care which. So long as the news she receives informs her that they've changed their minds; that she no longer has to descend into the shadowy bowels of Suna's maximum security correctional facility to face off with a man whose psychological state cannot be consistently evaluated.
Insane or genius? No psychologist had been able to definitively answer that question. And Sakura is no psychologist which makes this entire situation even more preposterous to her. What could Tsunade have been thinking?
Kankuro wraps his knuckles brusquely against the door that is Sakura's entrance into the tunnel of nightmares.
Please, no one be home.
Her frantic mind's attempts at humor almost make a watered down and clumsy smile slip across her face, but the dull buzzing of an electronic bell quickly calls back her attention to the present situation. Kankuro has already punched in the access code on the dial pad next to the door, signaling to the officer on the other side that he has the proper clearance.
Her alert senses catch the disharmonious scraping of metal against concrete as she imagines the guard on the other side pushing back his seat to answer their call. She can hear the whirring of gears and lock mechanisms within the door stirring to life, and within seconds, one final, heavy clank of metal seems to put the door at peace.
With a heavy groan, the door opens inward and Kankuro ushers Sakura ahead of him. Nervously, she steps through the threshold and nods at the grim-faced guard who had opened the door for them.
A wave of light headedness overwhelms her as she takes in the row of prison cells on either side of the narrow passageway. The Tunnel, as Kankuro had referred to it earlier in the week during one of several meetings to help prepare her for what she is about to face, ends in a blank, sand-colored brick wall. There is only one entrance. One escape.
Never before has she so strongly felt the impulse to turn around, to assure her paranoid mind that the door still exists.
That I won't be trapped down here. With him.
So abruptly that she can't control the reflexive jump of shock, a gentle weight alights on each of Sakura's shoulders.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy there," Kankuro drawls with a touch of amusement.
Sakura looks up over the back of her shoulder to see Kankuro's laughing face peering down at her, a hint of concern evident around the tightness of his eyes.
"Do you still think you can handle this?"
Sakura inhales through her nose twice, feeling the comforting weight of Kankuro's hands providing a slight resistance to the rise of her shoulders with each breath. She feels like a prized fighter about to enter the ring. She's Sakura Haruno – top of her class, a medical prodigy under the tutelage of the renowned Tsunade-sama, and she is not one to back down. Certainly not to any criminal.
But it's him a tiny, niggling voice of doubt worms its way into her thoughts.
"Yes," she says calmly, proud to hear the control in her voice, "It won't be a problem."
"Good," with a final squeeze of her shoulders, Kankuro releases his grip on her, "Remember, Sakura…This is a long shot and this sort of work is way outside your area of expertise. No one is expecting any miracles, but the fact that you consented to this says a lot about your character."
Sakura turns all the way around to face him, both challenge and questioning dancing in her eyes.
Absentmindedly scratching the back of his head, Kankuro's gaze drags slowly down the line of cells to his left, "And who knows, maybe something will come of this. Nothing else has helped. I just feel bad that someone like you has to be pulled into this."
The hint of challenge now bursts into green flames as Sakura's sharp eyes narrow and Kankuro inwardly gulps, fretting that he just set off her volatile temper.
"You're right, I shouldn't have been pulled into this; it's completely asinine to give into a criminal's demands all because there appears to be no other way," Sakura's voice dips low and she feels sorry for flinging these words at Kankuro. He isn't the one that deserves this, but damn it if her phone call this morning with Konoha's Chief of Police hadn't irked her to no end.
"But it doesn't matter now because here I am. And I'm going to make him talk."
Sakura's declaration is crisp and determined. It's only after the muffled echo dies down in the tunnel that a wave of regret rolls through her body.
He could most certainly hear her.
Swallowing the lump that has just lodged itself in her windpipe, Sakura decides she should hold her waggling tongue for now before it gets her killed.
Kankuro seems unable to detect the sudden anxiety now coiling around her throat and cheerfully claps her on the back, "That's the Sakura I know and fear! Ok," his tone changes, taking on a decidedly more serious note, "Baki will be standing guard here the entire time so all you have to do is call out should you be given any trouble. Unfortunately, I have a meeting scheduled in the next ten minutes so I can't stay here with you – and Temari will fry my ass if I'm late again," he makes a face at the mention of his sister.
"I'll be fine," she responds, notably more subdued in volume.
"Alright, he's on the left, all the way at the end," Kankuro salutes, "Good luck."
Sakura's heartbeat speeds up to a nearly uncomfortable rate once she hears the door close behind her friend. Yes, Baki remains behind with her, but his impression of a stone does nothing to alleviate her jitters.
I can do this.
Maybe if she says it enough she'll begin to believe it.
Feeling Baki's watchful eyes sear into her back, she takes off down the tunnel, mindful of keeping to the middle. The particular criminal she is about to have an unpleasant little chat session with isn't the only resident down here in the basement level. The first few cells on either side are occupied by men gone wild and mad. A few don't bother to stir as she trails past, but most clamber up from their barren cots to cling to the bars separating them from touching the first feminine flesh they've seen in months. For some, years.
Pointedly, she refuses to make eye contact with any of them, her gaze locked onto a point far ahead on the back wall. She only wishes she could deafen her ears to their calls for attention and their lewd comments at her dress.
It's enough to make her want to turn back and run.
But she holds firm to her path, her feet moving as though a magnet pulls her along a predetermined path. Her mind blocks out their frenzied jeers.
At least I won't have to deal with that kind of behavior from him.
In actuality, all of the files about her interviewee had mentioned the disturbing quality of his politeness in dealing with their inquiries. Not just with the psychologists who had examined him, but with the officers who had apprehended and booked him. There had been no threat, no hostility, no attempt at violence. By anyone's standards he has been nothing but cooperative.
His behavior has been completely incongruous with the crimes he has been accused of.
But he is guilty, of that Sakura has little to no doubt.
It's all a game to him. He thinks he's so superior compared to the rest of us peons.
Contempt contorts her features into a scowl as she reaches the middle of the tunnel, the cells now empty of convicts. He has been isolated in the best way the Suna officers could manage.
And there's plenty of reason for that.
At last she reaches it, the hole he has been confined to for the last three weeks since his discharge from the hospital. And what a lovely hole it is, she thinks, surprised at her own sadistic thoughts. Blank, sand-colored walls, enclosing him on three sides while the fourth, the one standing between them, is a sheet of thick glass reinforced with steel beams. Inside, for the occupant's benefit, he is granted a pallet-like bed mounted to the back wall with a mattress that can't be more than a mere five centimeters thick, and a thin, gray blanket. Of course, he has a toilet out in the open which, for the life of her, she can't imagine him using, yet can't help but mentally snicker at. Other than that, there's a small sink to wash at (though she spies no soap), and that concludes the little tour.
All in all, his hole is more like a tank, really, with him as the restless animal on display.
More important than the cell is the man trapped inside, the man staring straight back at her as though he has nothing to hide.
Keep pretending that, asshole.
"Miss Haruno," his voice causes the hair on the back of her neck to bristle, "Such a pleasure to see you again."
"Yes, well, I wish I could say the same," she comments dryly, "Itachi."
He emits an amused humming sound and Sakura can feel the way her eyebrows knit together in distaste.
Sitting on his bed, with his back resting against the wall, the Uchiha lounges with one leg dangling over the edge of the mattress and the other bent at the knee, an arm draped carelessly across it.
"Please, why don't you sit? I suspect you have a lot to say," he suggests, his chin inclining ever so slightly in the direction of the metal fold-out chair that some guard had thought to set out for her meeting. Irritation sizzles under the surface of her composure.
Still, she isn't going to be petty. If this act is all a game then his objective is to infuriate her. She won't give him the satisfaction. Taking her seat as calmly as she can, Sakura smoothes the wrinkles in the lap of her skirt and crosses her ankles, regarding her present company with a critical eye. Likewise, she can tell he's doing the same.
She wonders what he makes of her, of the young woman with pink hair and green eyes. The young woman he may or may not remember as a silly little girl chasing after his younger brother and making a complete fool of herself. She wonders what he thinks of her as she sits across from him, prim and poised in her collared, white blouse, knee length, navy skirt, and red heels. Has she grown up? Has she become wise to the ways of the world?
Or maybe he still sees her as a ridiculous, unsophisticated child.
It doesn't matter.
As she studies him, she takes in the whiteness of his pale skin that almost appears luminescent under the intense lights overhead in his cell. It could be some mild form of torture to deprive him of sleep. She doesn't care.
She takes in the long, ebony hair now hanging loose from its tie. Most likely, it had been confiscated on the precaution that he might entertain the idea of self-harm.
However a rubber band can be used for that.
From what she remembers of him before, Itachi was never flashy, but dressed well – which was to be expected from any member of the proud Uchiha lineage. He came from money. But now, just like every other soulless individual locked away in here, he is garbed in the drab, shapeless, gray uniform of all Suna inmates.
Sakura holds back a smirk, but just barely.
Lastly, she takes in the deep, inky pools that serve as his eyes. From this distance she can't distinguish pupil from iris though she knows it doesn't make much difference. They practically bleed into each other. But his eyes have always been off-putting; they are the one feature that remained clear in her memories for all these years.
She knows he's waiting for her to begin. It's her turn to say something in their little charade of an exchange. Tempting as it is to mimic a rock for the next hour – or however long this drags out – she made a promise, albeit a forced promise, to this man's father to speak to him.
Funny how two people from the same family can sit on opposite sides of the law.
It's an intriguing thought, she must admit. The whole nature vs. nurture debate…
She flinches at the sound of her name said in his voice. It just isn't right. He can't say it as though he knows her; that'd be like him claiming he owns a part of her.
"It's Miss Haruno to you," she snaps, her eyes betraying how startled she is upon noticing he's risen from his position reclining against the back wall and has now closed the distance between them, standing just beyond the glass and right before her seat.
"As you wish," he concedes, lowering his head in a mock gesture of submission. With eyes still on the floor at his bare feet, he continues, "So what have they sent you to relay to me? I'm sure you would like to get this over with as painlessly as possible."
"Is that a threat?" her voice sharpens to a point, ready to slash.
"No," he whispers, "I merely suggest it for your own benefit…and judging by the coffee stain on the hem of your shirt, the shadows under your eyes, and your rough attempt at concealing it, I believe you'd much rather be at home in bed.
Not a hint of smugness lingers in his words, yet who could possibly say something like that so bluntly without the intention to provoke?
Polite my ass!
And damn him for noticing the coffee spill! She can still feel the slightly damp fabric sticking to her skin from where she had dabbed at it with a paper towel in the restroom. Her fingers itch to swipe open the compact mirror tucked away in her purse to check her mascara.
She had been a bit rushed this morning to get to the correctional facility after hanging up the phone with his father.
She hates those eyes, so like his brother's, yet so entirely different.
"Well, now that the psycho has analyzed me, perhaps we can switch places, hm?" Sakura grits out between tight lips. Pulling out the bundle of documents attached to a clipboard in her tote bag, Sakura flips through a few pages before glancing back up at Itachi's silent form. His shadow does not reach quite far enough to fall across her, and for some reason that brightens her mood.
"Now, that's not exactly professional is it, Miss Haruno? To address your patient as a psycho straight to his face?"
Sakura almost chuckles at the slight tone of surprise his admonishment carries.
"Please," she says sarcastically, "You and I both know I'm not here today in the role of doctor. I'm not even a psychologist. The only reason I'm here is because you insisted you would speak to no one but the 'pink doctor.' Couldn't remember my name after all these years, Uchiha-san?"
At that, the corner of his mouth pulls up, but the twitch of muscle is restrained from going any further than that.
"Yes, that does sound familiar. I believe the pain medication was partly to blame, and no, I didn't forget," he responds.
"Before we continue any further, I'll give you my take on the situation and how this is all going to play out," Sakura says nonchalantly, uncrossing her legs in favor of crossing her arms, pleased with herself that her earlier fears have dissipated for the most part, "This is all a ruse to buy a little time before your court date. Maybe by baiting the police with potential information on your association's activities you can run their task force around in circles and get some laughs. Maybe you'll drop a few half-truths here and there to keep things going, maybe bargaining to get better health care in here since I'm sure that medicine you're on isn't going to do the trick for long."
Sakura's saccharine smile is truly anything but sweet.
"Is that so, Miss Haruno?" Itachi asks slowly, in a way that Sakura knows he doesn't expect an answer.
Without reading any of the printed words, Sakura flips through her packet of information on Itachi's medical charts, his brief interrogation with the police, and even the official report of his arrest. It had been a short account to read.
"I have another theory too," she offers after a moment's silence. Itachi's head lifts, his gaze dead centered on her.
"I think you're a vile human being who deserves worse than whatever punishment the judicial system is going to hand down to you. You've wrecked so many lives you can't possibly be aware of the extent of your actions. How much grief are you to blame for?" she asks rhetorically, knowing he'll keep quiet on this.
Licking her lips and forcing her anger into succinct, linear thoughts, she continues, "But my other theory is this: you're not infallible and you know this. You're sick and weak and rather than die a felon without a home, you came back to Konoha to turn yourself in. To make amends as best you can because you don't have much time left. You're certain of that, so you might as well give the most important people you've hurt some peace of mind."
In the dead, stale air of the tunnel, the only sound is the hum of electricity channeling through the ceiling lights glaring fiercely down on them.
But finally, slowly and in small bursts, the silence is cracked like an egg and Sakura's mouth drops open in shock as her ears are greeted with first the soft chuckle and then the full-blown laughter of Itachi Uchiha.
Gobsmacked, she doesn't know how to proceed.
But finally, his laughter dies out the same way it had come, gradually and with effort, he manages to look her in the eyes. Clutching at his side as though in pain (and he probably is), he at last manages, "You think I'm seeking redemption?"
Sakura's normally bright green eyes darken with fury.
How dare he!
"You have no remorse for what you've done?"
Another laugh escapes past finely sculpted lips.
"Grand larceny. Arson. Conspiracy. Stalking. First-degree murder. I can keep going!"
Though he doesn't make a sound, she watches the way his shoulders jump, silently laughing.
"You're part of a terrorist organization that whores itself out to the highest bidder! You have no ties to your homeland! Your family!" Sakura's isn't even aware of the fact that she's now on her feet, stalking up to the glass wall.
But as she moves forward, he moves backward, as though responding in a game of chess. Shaking his head yet refusing to meet her heated glare, he moves back until his hands make contact with something solid and cool. Clasping onto the edge of the sink, he leans his weight back into it, in need of support.
"Your family," she can hear the nearly pleading quality of her voice, begging for his humanity to make an appearance, "They haven't given up on you. You've hurt them so badly. Sasuke – he – "
Clasping his forehead, his fingers fisting into limp strands of hair, Itachi sinks to his knees, his laughter having returned in full force.
Slamming her palm flat against the glass creates a powerful echo throughout the tunnel, rousing some of the other prisoners from their sleep and delusional musings. Yet, it has no effect in catching the attention of whom it was directed toward. Letting her head fall forward until her forehead rests against the glass, Sakura sighs, feeling a great weight settle onto her shoulders.
She should have never been asked to do this.
She should have never agreed to do this.
Should have, should have…
It ends here.
She may have failed to get anywhere today, but she has been presented with a new side of Itachi that has never been documented before.
Granted, it's a very scary, maniacal side…
Stepping away, she returns to her seat to collect her things and then turns to make her leave, sparing one last look back at the Uchiha huddled on the floor.
She has to do a double take as her brain processes the sight of Itachi perched back on his mattress, just as he was when she first arrived.
A small, knowing smirk graces his lips, as he looks back at her through the veil of his bangs.
A chill sweeps across Sakura's skin all at once as she stares back, utterly floored.
Wrenching her neck to the side so as to break eye contact, she forces her feet to make the journey back to the tunnel's entrance.
Nothing good can come of this.
Author's Note: Here we go, readers, another new story idea! This is actually one of the more recent ones I've had and decided to run with. If you've read my other stories, this one clearly deviates from my usual habit of writing super long chapters. I'm trying to limit my chapter length and see if that affects my motivation to write so that in the end, I won't be burnt out and the story will be even longer. We'll see how it goes. Anyway, some of you may have picked up on the similarities in the set-up of the tunnel being like that seen in Silence of the Lambs. I finally got around to seeing it and that's just my little nod to it.
On a different note, I am open to suggestions from you all if you'd like to PM me with storyline ideas or characters you'd like to see me work into a story. Obviously, I can't guarantee to write a story for everything suggested (nor how soon it will be done), but who knows what ideas I'll take a fancy to.
Thanks for reading!