12:08 am. Not bad, for once. She was managing to leave the hospital when her shift actually ended. Not thirty minutes later, not an hour later, but right when she was scheduled to...approximately. Medications had been administered on time, patients had been exceptionally cooperative, and she had finished all of her work with ease, and turned in her reports. Nights like this were few and far between for Sakura. Even so, it had still been a long day, and she was more than ready for it to be over. Twelve-hour shifts were hard on anyone, even with comfortable shoes...but it was worth it. Occasionally, her mother would scold her for putting so much time in at the hospital, and not getting enough sleep before she'd have to be up again for training, but her pleads to slow down went ignored.

She wanted to be the best medic Konoha had to offer. She had to be. Not for herself, but for the village. Sakura craved for the day when she would be the one her current superiors ran to whenever there was an emergency, and they needed help or guidance. She wanted to save lives, develop new cures, and invent new time-saving techniques.

Ah...who was she kidding. She was doing this for herself just as much as her village. With Naruto bursting at the seams with the unsurpassable chakra of Kurama, and now beginning to dabble in senjutsu, and Sasuke constantly kicking ass and taking names with a fully matured Sharingan she had given up hope trying to keep up with...Sakura was battling not just with a sense of deflation, but downright uselessness within their shadows sometimes. If she could ever hope to match them, there would have to be many more long days and nights ahead.

Consequently, that meant paying less attention to vanity, frequently scavenging for a quick meal only when she could no longer tolerate the pangs of a hungry gut, and right now, falling behind in her laundry. So behind in fact, that she had resorted to wearing the cream yukata with pink and blue flowers she'd been avoiding for months. It's not that she didn't like it anymore. On the contrary, it was one of her favorites. She was irrationally paranoid. There was only one person in all of Konoha she didn't want catching her in that particular yukata, but she vowed to never wear it out in public again, just to be safe.

Today, she had broken that vow for the first time, against her better judgment. Her walk to work had been slightly nerve-racking, with flitting green eyes seeking out her number one threat in the crowds filtering through the busy streets. As nervous as she was, she had taken the risk if only because she had no other stops to make that day, and she promised herself that laundry was the first thing she'd take care of as soon as she returned home. Even if it was 2 am by then. She had her medic outfit with her of course, but she only liked to wear it in the hospital. Before her shift, she wanted it to be as clean as possible, and after her shift, it was usually the last thing she wanted to touch, so she kept it in her bag when she wasn't on the clock.

To no great surprise, Sasuke hadn't shown up. Why would he? It's not like she ran into him that often when they weren't training together or on a mission. Konoha was a vast village to get lost in, and she hadn't been brave enough to cross into Uchiha territory since that fateful day, during a spring storm. Even if she did run into him, there was a healthy chance that he wouldn't so much as give her choice of clothing a second glance. She had no idea if he would recognize the pattern...but he had at least caught a glimpse of it when he'd found it bundled scandalously under Itachi's robe in the tearoom. Nevertheless... Some risks were worth taking, but this was one she would not gamble on.

And Itachi...

As Sakura's tired feet carried her down the long, winding hall that would lead to the main entrance, a bulky bag slung over her shoulder, she found her thoughts drifting to him for the first time in weeks. She had never forgotten him. Embarrassingly enough, she had spent more nights than she could count trying to get him out of her head, in the beginning. It'd been almost impossible, for so very long. Seeing him again had been out of the question, regardless of how many times she had abruptly woken in the middle of the night, roused from an absurdly steamy dream that startled her in its perversion. She just couldn't do it. Even after the bitter-sweet ending—the brief, yet touching conversation he had left her with—she had fled without the courage to ever look back.


She was afraid...

There were many ways she had tried to rationalize her reaction—her insistence in avoiding the Uchiha entirely—but when all her excuses and lies boiled away, she was left with a stark realization that left her feeling naked and so very small. She was incapacitated by fear, haunted with insecurities, and stumped beyond all hope when it came to understanding the unique and senseless chemistry between them, and what it meant...if anything.

Remarkably, no one had discovered what happened that day, and she planned to keep it that way. Her feelings for Sasuke were conflicting and distracting enough—yes, they were still present, although admittedly, they were...different somehow. She didn't need to be bombarded with an obsession over Itachi as well. Her brain just might literally explode. All she wanted was to get on with her life like nothing had happened, and focus on what mattered most, like her career. Ironically, Itachi had helped push her down that path. As thoughts, memories, and images of him taunted her sporadically for days and nights on end, she had begun working more. Her hope had been to drown him out by staying as busy as possible, and over a stupidly long period of time...it had finally started taking affect.


"Sakura, watch out!"

Her head jerked up as she was ripped unexpectedly from her reverie, just in time to see a shoulder honing in on her face. Whipping her body sideways, she barely managed to safely maneuver past the two desperate-looking medics racing a stretcher down the hall in the opposite direction. Had she really not heard them coming? That was a first... Maybe she did need to get more sleep.

The hem of her yukata flared as they zipped by her, leaving her to pause curiously and watch them continue on their way as she stood against the wall. Her eyes flickered between the two, and then down to the body lying between them. The glimpse of a bright, fractured ANBU mask stole her attention, and Sakura danced a sympathetic eye over the bruised and gashed, sallow face that peaked past the jagged porcelain edge, and the dark ponytail that draped over the pillow.

As they disappeared around a corner, she slowly turned around, readjusting the strap on her shoulder. The soft padding of her feet was the only sound to fill the hall once they had gone, and she resumed her thoughtful stare on the floor as she noted that that had been the most action she'd seen all night. Not that she had the right to complain. As much as she enjoyed healing others, she never wanted to see anyone sick or injured.

Half a dozen steps later, Sakura stilled. The blank floor was replaced with the equally boring walls that stretched onward before her, lined with closed doors and manilla envelopes and clipboards sticking out of the slots next to them, as she lifted her head again...but she saw none of it. A deathly silence filled the air, and her bleary gaze sharpened as if waking from a dream. She spun suddenly, a twirl of short pink hair that was in dire need of a wash fanning around her as she faced the direction she had just come from, the same direction the stretcher had barreled down.

Two tentative steps pushed her reluctantly down the hall, and then she broke into a run after a short pause. They carried her to the corner she had seen them skid around, and ran faster when another empty hall greeted her...listening for voices, for wheels, anything that would help her locate them.

It had to be a mistake. There was no way it could be...

But she had to find out.

Common sense guided her down another hall, where she knew she'd find the ICU, and she looked up just in time to see the double doors closing slowly in the distance ahead. Sakura flew into a sprint, startling a nurse as she blurred by with a speed she never would have dared under normal circumstances. The doors swung back open before they had the chance to close all the way, and she slid to a stop at the first door.

The scene that faced her was one she'd experienced so many times before. The room bustled with activity, staff exchanging information and orders to one another, hovering over and scurrying around the body that lied motionless between them. Two more medics rushed past her into the room to help, while she remained just beyond the door frame, trying to get a glimpse of the unknown ANBU that was the focus on everyone's attention, without getting in the way. The one blocking her view of his face finally moved, and Sakura's buzzing mind was silenced instantly with a heavy weight sinking into the pit of her stomach. The broken mask had been shed, and she was left to gape in pure disbelief at the portrait before her, with his head turned to the side and a flaccid, upturned hand hanging over the edge of the stretcher. The strap on her shoulder slipped, and her bag fell to the ground with a soft plop. She swayed briefly, wide eyes and parted lips frozen in time.

"Uchiha Itachi... Blood type AB. Get two pints ready." She heard one of the medics order, yet the hesitant tone in his voice suggested that he didn't believe they were going to need them. An IV stand was already positioned next to him with an untouched hanging bag waiting to be used. They were in the process of hooking him up to the standard machines, and as soon as the heart monitor was activated, a loud, flat sound permeated the room. The sound that always made her hair stand on end...but this time, it did so much more than that.

Vaguely, Sakura caught one of them asking how much time had passed already, and another saying that he had been unresponsive at arrival. The next thing she knew, her body reacted faster than her brain, and she dove into the room and shoved past two of the medics in her way.

"Sakura! What are you—?!"

Everyone took a step back in surprise as she forced her way to the bedside, fingers scrambling to unzip the blood-coated flak jacket with its numerous rips and black singes. She didn't bother to look for the scissors. The dark shirt underneath was mutilated with a loud ripping sound to reveal Itachi's swollen, discolored torso. The sight caused her to suck in her breath, numbing her to her own frantic heart that was already hammering erratically within her. Three broken ribs poked through the blotched purple and red markings painting his skin...pristine, ivory claws reaching through a collage of cuts, lumps, and hematomas.

"Sakura, you shouldn't be in here! Your shift ended—"

"Where are the catheters?!" Her commanding voice interrupted him as her hands pressed gently against the battered chest. There was no doubt within her mind that his lungs were filled with blood, and she knew exactly what she needed to do. A pale, yet vibrant green glow illuminated from her hands, eyes closing in concentration as her medical training took charge and sought out the extent of his injuries. A medic reluctantly handed her the clear tube she had asked for, while casting a confused glance to the man that had questioned her. No one was sure what to do, at first. The suddenness of her arrival and the intense attitude jarred them from their routine.

Snatching the nearest blade, Sakura made the first incision into the left side of his chest and inserted the tube. A gush of red glided down the narrow channel, and she scurried to the opposite side of the bed to repeat the steps on his right lung. This was only the second time she'd performed the procedure, despite how common these types of wounds were in their line of work, and the first time had been under supervision. None of that mattered now. None of it even crossed her mind. Instinct drove her and adrenaline destroyed any hesitation she normally would have fallen victim to when taking charge in this setting, and with a patient in such critical condition.

But this wasn't just a patient. This was Itachi. The man spoken of more highly than any other by Sasuke, who was already out of her league...the man that filled her with all sorts of funny emotions she didn't know how to deal with...the future leader to the Uchiha clan...the one shinobi she'd never seen in need of medical care. He was rumored to be invincible. The one being in all of Konoha who's unmatched skills prevented him from ever setting foot in their hospital for any reason. Yet, here he was... It would have knocked Sakura into a stupor if the utter panic hadn't set in first, tripped into play by the striking flat-line of the heart monitor.

With the dark fluid draining into the regulated containers, her hands spread over the cool skin once more, feeling for the worst of the damage through the tendrils of chakra that poured into him, and targeting them with a flood of life-giving energy. Every organ suffered from one kind of trauma or another, with his lungs close to being irreparable. Another medic shifted above her, placing his hands on either side of Itachi's head as more healing light glimmered along the contours of his sickly features. Two more joined her at his torso.

"What happened to you..." Her voice would whisper too quietly to break past the endless noise of the horizontal green line behind her as she navigated the network of ruptured blood vessels and shattered bones.

"It's been too long. Look at his face... Even if we can revive him now, he's likely to be remain comatose."

Sakura grit her teeth, keeping her eyes shut as an angry scowl expressed the words she would not allow them to hear. They were wrong. He was fine. He was Itachi...he had to be fine. This was nothing to him. He was unstoppable, and any second now the line would hiccup into a healthy rhythm, and he would open his eyes.

Red... Nothing existed but red. Not an offensive, violent red. It was the most beautiful shade... Bathing him in a rich void of midnight crimson as he sank deeper, endlessly, to an immeasurable depth that lulled him perfectly with its warmth and darkness. A ruby sea encased him, and brought with it a sense of profound peace he had never felt before. Light flickered high above. A reach that would have taken him a few short seconds, or hours to drift to, he didn't know. But the light... It was mesmerizing. Lapping, shifting, warping like crystalline waves churning against a surface so loud and chaotic compared to the silent abyss he hovered in. There was no pain, no sadness. Simple, singular contentment was all he knew as he watched the hypnotic scene.

Her eyes opened, daring to glance back at the assaulting sound of the heart monitor in frustration and denial. It wasn't working. Six uninterrupted minutes of pouring her chakra into him, and nothing had changed. She turned back around, hands slipping up to his sternum, and the lifeless heart that hovered beneath.

"Sakura..." A sad voice drifted to her, investing so much implication in the single name it spoke.

"Don't stop." She hissed in return, and the medics around her exchanged knowing glances. None of them knew what had possessed her. They'd never seen her so determined and focused before. For now, they played along...but between the five that inhabited the room, it was clear she was the only one that had a trace of hope left.

And then, a drop... A blaze of white splashing into his protective ocean. A small pearl of light filtering into his darkness like a shooting star with a thin blaze trailing behind it, linking it to the shuddering rays that reflected above. Then another. And then another. They fell like raindrops, pattering over the turbulent surface and down into his realm. His calm, indifferent gaze watched them with the faintest curiosity, peering up lazily past the strands of loose hair left to suspend weightlessly around his face as he drifted deeper still. They seemed so very far away, and yet he couldn't take his eyes off them. Like him, they sank deeper and deeper, following his descent faithfully.

Ten minutes. The determination was faltering. Her confidence was waning. Horror was quickly taking their places. But she couldn't stop. She was in pure disbelief. The reality that this might be something that she, or anyone else, would never be able to fix, was paralyzing her with fear.

This couldn't be happening...


Someone called her name again, but she wouldn't hear it. She wouldn't open her eyes, and she wouldn't pay heed to the flat-line behind her. The wretched, ear-splitting squeal that made her want to slam her fist into the machine to end its harassment permanently.

"Sakura, it's over." It was soft and gentle, as if they feared she would turn on them in a sudden rage...but persistent. "Brain damage occurs after six minutes. Ten, and we're facing severe neurological damage. You know this. He was gone before he entered the hospital..."

"SHUT UP!" She screamed, causing the four of them to jump simultaneously. The sheer desperation in her voice was unnerving, heartbreaking even.

"If you're not going to help, then get the fuck out of my way!" Her fingers twitched, clenching tensely into his skin as the ribbons of green that matched her eyes coursed continuously through him.

Ah, so they were faster than him. The little beads of light dove onward as if they were filled with purpose. Curious things... But, as the first one reached him, he found his eyes creeping wider. Their dark pools captured movement. A soft twirling and swaying. Nothing like a raindrop, but rather... Yes, it was a petal. A tiny, soft flower petal. It's journey ended with a feathery brush against his cheek, and there it remained. Behind it, others followed closely, and they weren't white after all. They were the palest pink, and they poured over him now. Blinding him to the crashing scarlet waves above, and shrouding him in gentle touches.

Twelve minutes.


The other medics had already backed away from the corpse while her hands remained firmly planted. One of them held a clipboard, and was scribbling the time of death into a form that they'd regrettably had to use so many times before.

"Sakura, I'm sorry..." A hand fell to her back tentatively.

She lost it. Her shoulders shook as she collapsed onto him, arms splaying over his upper chest to hang past his arm. A loud wail haunted the room—an explosion of raw pain and anger she was no longer able to contain, and her face hid itself in the filthy mess of his shredded flak jacket.

How could this be... This wasn't supposed to happen to him. He was too powerful for this. Too strong-willed. And so young... Older than her, but far too young to leave this world. This wasn't an end he deserved. This didn't make any sense.

And Sasuke. How could she tell him what had happened? She would never find the strength to stand in front of him and confess how she had failed. How she had let slip away his only brother, and the one person he cared about above all others.

She would sooner take his place on the stretcher than be faced with that task.

They stopped. Hundreds, no...thousands of tiny pink petals had showered him, blanketing him and floating past him into the darkness, as if an entire forest of cherry blossoms had been shaken above his head. And then, they stopped. He was alert now, staring into the lights peering through the waves above as they reemerged behind the torrent of dismembered flowers that had abruptly ceased. They were different now, though. They were brighter, and closer. He could almost hear the chorus that roared along with them. Almost reach out and touch the surface. But it was fading...fading almost as quickly as the petals had faded. Why? He wasn't sure if he cared. But the petals...they had been so pretty...

"You have his contact information? I'll notify his family." One of them murmured to the other, steering clear of the shuddering girl that was steadily soaking the jacket of the deceased with unseen tears. Her teeth clenched so hard it ached throughout her jaw, and she choked on an exasperated, overwhelmed breath that sounded more like a gasp.

"No! I'll do it..." She blurted through a sob, never lifting her head while she struggled in vain to recollect herself. Four pairs of eyes locked onto the blue and pink flowers of her back, obvious doubt contained in their gazes. Even if she truly wanted to be the one, she couldn't face his family like this. It wasn't professional on their part, and for her, it would just be unbearable torture. Why would she even offer?

Sakura slowly lifted her head, eyes squeezing shut in an agonized grimace she couldn't break herself from, and her right hand balled into a glowing fist and struck down on his chest, directly over his heart as fresh rivers fell down her cheeks.

Blinding lights engulfed him. The waves that had been drifting slowly away shot forward faster than he could register, and the rays that had been beaming through them encompassed him completely. With their new warmth came a violent tingling sensation, and an obnoxious cacophony of noise he couldn't decipher.

Everyone halted mid-motion, heads turning stiffly to stare at the heart monitor as the awful sound they had begun to grow used to had tripped into a steady beat with measured pauses. Sakura blanched, her bloodshot eyes bulged, and she could do nothing but stare in bewildered awe at the gyrating green line on a black screen behind her.

Before any of them could shake from their dazes, a geyser of blood and stomach acid splattered over Itachi's bare chest as he lurched forward reflexively with a sickening gurgle. The body slumped back down silently, just as quickly as it had risen, and the first raspy gasps of air trickled from his coated throat, and bubbled foreboding into the chest tubes that were draining his lungs.

"O—Oh... Oh Kami... Ohhhhhh, oh my goodness..." One of the medics fumbled clumsily, and then sprung into action. Another tossed the partially filled form onto a tray and rushed toward the stretcher. In no time at all, Itachi was filled with more tubes and IV's than they could keep track of.

Sakura swooped down over him, taking his face in her hands to continue her healing. So much of her chakra had been poured into him in such a short amount of time, and it showed as she wobbled a little on her feet all of a sudden, but it didn't matter...her willfulness had paid off. As her hand passed over his cheek and up to his temple, she couldn't help but laugh. More tears dripped from her chin, with no sign of stopping anytime soon, but her laughter was now escalating almost hysterically.

As her energy danced through him, she was thrown for a loop all over again when an eye parted of its own free will right in front of her. A hint of onyx peaking up through sticky lashes to gaze at her, causing her breath to catch in her throat.

The slight change caused the medic next to her to look up and freeze. "No way... That's impossible." The deep voice murmured in astonishment.

"Itachi?" Her whisper bathed his face, quaking in fear and excitement.

The lone eye was fixated indefinitely. For a moment, she thought he couldn't actually see or hear any of them, as unfocused and unresponsive as it was.

"Petals..." The single word forced its way weakly past a pocket of blood, almost indistinguishable to their ears.

"...Petals?..." She repeated as all the sights and sounds of the room around her vanished, leaving her to hang on to his only spoken word. But it was the fact that he had spoken at all that was amazing.

A couple seconds later, his eye inched closed again without further explanation, and the weak wisps of air inhaling and exhaling from his chapped and split, colorless lips were the only sounds he made.

"...Petals...Petals!" Sakura shouted like a maniac, earning her some odd stares and glances as she appeared to all but lose her mind. She laughed harder, body shaking in the turmoil of contrasting emotions that took control of her. This feeling... It was indescribable. He was alive. That's all she could think. He was alive. No longer would she have to entertain the terrifying, heart-wrenching thought of facing Sasuke with the news of his brother's death.

"H-He...he s-said PETALS!" She was gasping for air now. Face stained an alarming pink between the simultaneous laughter and sobs. Her knees quivered, and she stumbled backwards as her hands slipped away from him, feeling suddenly weak. One of the medics grabbed her as her world began to spin, and she was carefully eased down to the floor to lean back against the wall.

Dizzy as she was, and feeling higher than a cloud, she stared up at the stretcher swarmed by attentive hands as they went about healing the rest of his internal injuries as well as they could.

He was ok now... Nothing else mattered...