It was new moon, but here it would not have mattered had it been as round and bright as a silver coin. In the dark knot of trees they called Old Man Senjuu, the foliage grew so thick that dead trees leaned against their neighbors for years before falling to the ground. Sakura remembered the night being as clear as glass, but from where she was she couldn’t see any stars. Above her there was nothing but the charcoal blackness of layer after layer of leaves, imagined rather than actually seen: she could barely even make out the ghostly, black-on-black image of her own hand.
So she let her other senses guide her. Easy. She always came back this way when she went to train on the hill. It was the shortest route back to Konoha, and she figured she would need the most practice she could get. (Because somewhere, she knew, Naruto must be doing the same thing, and then together they would go and they would bring him back.)
It was a good night for this sort of thing, too, completely still and quiet without so much as a breath of wind to distract her. She may not have been able to see her feet, but she could clearly hear the soft noises her sandals made against the carpet of dry leaves and pine needles beneath them.
The only problem was the nightingale. Nightingales. There had to be more than one of them, because the sound followed her as she walked without being accompanied by the flutter of disturbed leaves. Usually she would have found the sound lovely, but now it was only distracting. Perhaps it was not her senses that needed sharpening but her concentration; as much as she tried to tune it out, her mind kept on drifting away with it instead. (Drifting away, flying through coal black air, feeling like cold silk....)
In that case it was the nightingale’s fault that it took her so long to hear the footsteps. At first, she wasn’t even sure that they were there at all: when she stopped, so did they, until eventually, they continued on just a step too long, and then she knew. But whoever it was, she would have to wait until she got to the clearing before she could do anything about them. The good part was that even in the pitch darkness, Sakura knew the area like the back of her (currently invisible) hand. She knew just where she was going. (And as she walked, the footsteps continued on behind her, and she heard that they were not accelerating but merely keeping pace with her own.)
It was an open space between a fat old elm and even bigger oak that seemed to be locked in a decades-old death match; she knew that above her their branches intertwined and jutted up against one another awkwardly. Every other time she had come this way she had wondered which one would be the first to topple. Now, she just kept her ears open and wished the birds were quieter.
She chose this spot for several reasons. None of her best moves were safe to use in close quarters, and even if they were... She had no way of knowing whether this was really an enemy. For all she knew, it was Tsunade, come to check on her progress. Or maybe Naruto had come back. (Or maybe, somehow, it was Sasuke. At least here in the darkness she could dream.) And she was quite sure that anyone capable of mimicking the rhythm of her muffled steps this well would know if she tried to sneak through the tree branches with their rustling leaves to get to him. (And even then she noticed: she had distinctly thought him.)
When she got there, she measured out her steps carefully. She had to be sure he was in the clearing too, preferably at the opposite end from her. This was a good place. Here, she had the advantage: she knew how in this clearing, even though there were no trees to run into, the ground was littered with decaying branches, piled one on top of another where they had fallen, sprouting mushrooms in strange shapes (gentle-looking white puffs; toadstools like an illustration in a book– perfectly shaped red caps with white polka dots; odd yellow frills; graceful flows of pale shapes like fat tear drops, like breasts). She would pick her way with ease through the mess, but he would have to move more slowly. (Right?)
At the far end of the space, she stopped, waited a few breaths, turned, and sent a kunai flying in the direction the steps had come from.
Clang! Metal hit metal somewhere in the blackness, and one of the nightingales startled at the noise, shaking the branches above. Sakura counted five heartbeats, then threw several at once with the same result: a crash of simultaneous collisions. But that was strange. Whoever it was was simply deflecting her attacks without striking back or trying to allay her suspicions. It was time for an experiment.
She bent and reached for something nonthreatening, her fingers eventually alighting on an acorn that had fallen from the oak. She tossed it out just like the kunai. From the sound, what hit it was not another knife, but something similar to itself, another nut or a small rock perhaps. Sakura frowned. She took a step forward. The mimic followed suit. She stepped back; so did he.
“Hello,” she called at last.
“Hello,” came the reply, but it was... it was strange. It reminded less of an actual reply than of someone merely parroting the word back at her.
“Dark,” she tried again.
“Nighttime.” Was that meant to be an affirmation or a synonym?
“Cover.” It was a man’s voice– or, she reminded herself, a woman in disguise. Beyond that, it was barely more than a whisper, much to quiet for her to tell much. Except that the more she thought about it, the more she thought it sounded familiar. So keep him talking.
...But don’t actually say his name, because then you might have to stop hoping.
“Sakura,” she began again.
“Stupid.” For the first time, there was a tone of emotion in his answer, something bitter and derisive, but it made her heart leap nevertheless. She had to keep going.
“Ino.” She took another step forward almost without noticing that she did so.
“Menacing.” But anyone who had been at the chuunin exams would know those.
“Haku,” she breathed as her heart leaped again, and she took another few steps forward, this time intentionally.
“Boy... no, woman with the needles.”
“Return.” Mentally she added, Please.
“Unfortunate.” Sakura could almost hear him shrug as he said it.
“Shinobi.” This time, she wondered if he wasn’t smiling.
“Wait and see.” –But she at least didn’t feel like waiting, so she walked forward a few more paces.
“Intentions. Problem, solution.”
She decided she had to risk it: “Itachi!” she yelled.
“Rot in Hell!” Again the birds startled at the noise. So did Sakura. It wasn’t just that he yelled; that didn’t surprise her. It was the way his words were almost like a snarl, and then she felt further away from him than before. For an awkward stretch of time, she did not dare to say anything more. She took a few more tentative steps forward, but she did so in silence. Was that the sound of breathing she heard? She felt like it was coming from somewhere close, but it was almost below the threshold of her hearing; she couldn’t be sure. Maybe he was still too far away. Maybe he always had been too far away. Even when they were Team Seven, he was like that: as cold and removed as if he were on a distant planet.
She had always just closed her eyes and pretended not to see. Ignorance is bliss, and all that. Except that now she wanted to see, so there was nothing else to do.
“Brother,” she tried, hoping that this at least was a mild enough substitute for the name.
“One perfect...” Whatever it was he had been going to say hung on the night air, unspoken.
It was with something like electricity– a cool, invisible excitement– that she took the final steps forward, estimating the distance in her head, until...
Slowly, she flexed her hands, spread out her fingers, and felt forward and up in the surrounding darkness, arms extended. And then it happened. One of her fingertips brushed one of his, then all five fingers, and then their hands were pressed together.
...And there it ended, because I had no idea what to do after that. This was written last fall at about this time, btw, and it really hasn't been edited since then, so I can't vouch much for the quality. I was going to revise it and have it end in creepy dubcon, but then I realized that idk how to write creepy dubcon. And so now it will never be finished. Eh, to be honest I don't really care about this pairing anymore anyway. :/
+ Crit on why this turned so unmanageable is awesome (because I don't think it's just the ending... there's something irritating about the writing itself).