Chapter 9 - To Save You
It had been a full day since she sent word to Konoha of her precarious situation. It would take at least half a day to arrive, but she wasn't expecting anyone to arrive for at least another few hours. She felt the prickles of chakra on the edge of her senses, and waited cautiously to see if it was one of her allies coming to help her. She didn't even breathe as they got closer at an alarming rate, and she began to worry if it was just a shinobi passing through the area and not someone there to help her. If they were just on patrol, they wouldn't be able to do anything for her since medics didn't patrol, and she would have to stay here until someone arrived.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a familiar chakra and she readied herself to fight again. It seemed since they had tracked her down, they were just trying to wear her out, sending someone occasionally to see if she was tired enough to take down yet. They had found out the hard way that she was still capable of defending herself. She wasn't even using chakra to dispatch them and no longer had the strength to wield her ninjato. They zipped into sight from the trees and headed straight for her, sword drawn. The steel glinted maliciously as she took a defensive stance.
A few more chakra signatures appeared and there was two that she finally recognised one, which belonged to Haruko. She knew that it was the group coming to get her, and she flared her chakra out as best she could, depleted as it was. Someone flew ahead of the group, but she couldn't place who it was. She recognised their chakra signature, but just couldn't figure out who it belonged to. It was such a strong signature with intensity that surprised her.
She finally began to get the upper hand in the brief skirmish and dodged a wide arc from her opponent's sword, and spun on the spot and feeling her kunai slice through the soft flesh of his throat. He gurgled and dropped his sword just as the first shinobi in the rescue group appeared from the brush. The enemy hunter fell heavily, arterial blood seeping into the ground beneath him and she sighed exhaustedly and looked to her ally.
It was a tall male, with a slim, but strongly built figure. A long black ponytail appeared from the back of his weasel mask as he turned behind him to watch his companions arrive and her jaw dropped behind her own mask.
"Commander Uchiha?" she watched his head turn towards her and saw his Sharingan eyes and she stared directly into them without fear.
A heavy breath escaped her and she was so relieved that help had finally arrived. She felt his red and black eyes on her as her head dropped and her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. He walked over and checked that all three of her squad members were still alive, and they were, obviously due to her abilities and training. She would be surprised if they all made it home alive though, herself included.
"You said they were poisoned?" he spoke just loud enough for her to hear.
"Mmm. I managed to neutralise the worst of the poison's effects, but after treating all three of them and fighting, I didn't have enough chakra to treat the damage it had already done. Instead, I treated myself as best I could so that I could guard them until someone came. The bounty hunters haven't given up yet. We didn't get far enough inside our borders to deter them." although she spoke confidently, internally she was concerned that she might have done the wrong thing. Maybe she should have exhausted herself to treat at least two of her squad, and they could have carried the third and her back to Konoha. "I just hope I did the right thing," she blurted out quietly, but he still heard it.
He stared at her for a moment, and she made eye contact with him for a long moment before he looked her over, checking her for injuries. Although her injuries were minimal, it was her exhaustion that was doing the most damage. Her chakra was severely depleted and she had no more soldier pills left, and hadn't been able to sleep for 2 days now. She knew that he would be all too aware of her situation, and when the other three people, Haruko included reached them, he quickly ordered them to grab one of their comrades and head straight back to Konoha. They had two fresh medics with them, who would work on her cell members while they travelled.
"Head straight to the hospital. I will make all necessary reports." his soft, deep voice commanded respect and obeisance.
They nodded simultaneously and leapt away into the trees, each of them piggybacking one of her squadmates. Hitori sighed silently in relief, but Itachi seemed to notice and watched her for a moment.
"You made the right decision. I would have done the same thing in your position." his words surprised her, and she stared back speechlessly for a few seconds, before she managed an appreciative nod.
She still had her doubts, but his subtle praise erased the vast majority of them. She supposed that his legendary track record was enough to back him up, let alone his brilliant mind, which was more than likely the only reason that he was still alive after everything he had been through. Despite her best intentions, she would still get in trouble later for disobeying orders. Reprimands be damned, so long as they all survived the trip home.
He gestured for her to fall into step with him, and they took off at a reasonable pace, and Hitori suspected that he was taking it easy on her behalf. Regardless of her exhaustion, getting home faster would make her feel much better and she pushed harder. He kept up with no worries, and she knew that he would probably be able to go twice as fast as she could without breaking a sweat and she smirked under her mask. Even just being in proximity to such an prodigious shinobi was unreal.
Just by observing, she wasn't surprised that he could not only survive years in the Akatsuki, as being among their ranks was legendary in itself. She also knew that he was promoted to an ANBU Captain at the mere age of 13, which was simply astounding. Her invitation to ANBU happened just after she turned 19 and at 13, she was doing D-rank missions.
He truly was a legend in human form.
Unfortunately, she had got into this mess because of her orders, and her temper was getting the better of her in her tired state. He had ordered her to stay back and only engage if she absolutely had to, like a good medic should do. However, their mark on this mission would have easily been able to be taken out through 'traditional' kunoichi methods, saving them the massive shit fight they had ended up in with his hired rogue shinobi guards. When he had given them the assignment, that was what she had immediately assumed they were required to do and why both her and Ryuka were assigned. She hadn't complained, or gotten upset. She knew that was part of being a kunoichi, and knew that she certainly wasn't above such duties. Obviously the information he had received was outdated by the time the mission was approved and they arrived at the compound. Hindsight was always clearer, so she brushed the train of thought away on that reasoning and just tried to focus on keeping up the pace.
After a few hours of silent travel, she stumbled and almost lost her footing and her Commander slowed to a stop. He hopped down until they were on the ground, and she followed him, wondering what the problem was. She hadn't sensed anything, but he might have gotten an inkling of something that she had missed.
"Rest for a few hours. We will continue once you've regained some chakra." he sat down at the base of the tree, leaning his back against its huge trunk.
He always spoke like he was making a simple request, but she knew that he wouldn't let her get away with it if she ignored him, so she walked over to a smaller tree about 3 or 4 metres from him before he tilted his head toward her. She stopped what she was doing, expecting him to speak.
"Here, please. I must keep an eye on your chakra levels." he gestured to the empty space next to him, and she was glad her mask hid her raised eyebrows. She thought she heard him huff faintly as she thumped down heavily next to him, barely able to stand any longer.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, just loud enough for her to hear him. He still had his head tilted back to lean against the tree. His knees were bent and he was resting his forearms on them, letting his hands dangle over.
It took her a moment to realise that he had actually asked that, as her first thought was that she was going mad from fatigue. His tone held a whisper of something that she couldn't quite put her finger on. It wasn't so blank and emotionless as his voice usually was, but she just didn't know what was different this time. She was far too tired to analyse it anyway.
"I feel like shit." Hitori hesitated after the fact, wondering if she should have said it so crassly, but it was too late now.
He lifted his head and turned to look at her, she stared into the holes on his mask that revealed his Sharingan eyes. She definitely heard him huff amusedly this time, and she could swear from the slight crinkle that appeared around his eyes, that he might have been smiling.
Unable to keep conscious any longer, she took a few controlled breaths and willed herself to sleep…
When she jolted awake, the sun was low in the sky. Her head was against something considerably softer than the tree trunk she had fallen asleep against. She glanced to her right and saw empty space, but when she looked to her left she saw a familiar black figure that she had apparently fallen asleep on sometime in the last few hours.
Uchiha Itachi looked down at her with amusement in his Sharingan eyes and her jaw dropped comically under her mask. She had slept on her Commander's shoulder, and he clearly hadn't woken her up to move her or told her off. She was grateful that he let her sleep, but it certainly didn't stave off her embarrassment at the situation. There was no doubt in her mind that if he didn't have the composure of a statue, he would be wetting himself laughing.
As much as she wanted to jump up and run as far away as possible out of sheer embarrassment, she knew that would only make it worse. Instead she sat up and blinked slowly, trying to pretend like she hadn't really realised yet. He probably saw through her facade, but she kept it up anyway.
"My apologies for sleeping so long, Commander. You should have woken me." She stood up slowly, feeling the aches in her body began to set in. The shot of adrenaline would make her feel shit for the next few days and it was already setting in.
Luckily, she had regenerated enough chakra to pick up the pace a little on the way home. She was glad for it, since the embarrassment running through her was enough to make her want to bury her face in her pillow and scream. The poison still in her system wasn't giving her too much trouble but the constant upkeep had drained her. Although she felt slightly nauseous, she ignored it as best she could. She felt dried blood on her ears as well as from her nose, and it was all she could smell.
"There was no need. Are you well enough to continue travelling?" He replied softly, his voice holding no clue to his thoughts.
"Uh, yes. Of course. Thank you." She dusted herself off, mostly because she was trying to avoid looking at him. Her awkwardness was well merited but she was pushing it aside in favour of getting home without a tense silence.
It surprised her how well she actually slept. The afternoon sun had helped to keep her warm, as well as someone's body heat, no doubt. With him around, she hadn't even thought about her safety being at risk. She knew that his abilities were almost mythical in their skill level and that she had nothing to worry about with him there. She wondered idly about the bounty hunters, but presumed they had given up since they had travelled much further inside the Fire Country border.
As they continued, Konoha got gradually closer and Hitori, although she had rested, became increasingly more exhausted. It had taken them at least another 6 hours of travel time to reach their hidden village, and by this time Hitori was practically dead on her feet. She was mentally whinging about Itachi looking perfectly calm and not even the slightest bit tired the entire trip back, but wasn't surprised about it.
The front gate of their village came into view and Kotetsu and Izumo were waiting for them, obviously hearing that they would be on their way from the other members of their team.
"Commander. We were starting to get worried since your team was back hours ago." Kotetsu walked over to them and nodded respectfully.
Hitori was preparing a comment about it being her fault that they took so long, but her nausea hit her harder now that she was safely inside the village gates. She coughed weakly to try and cover it up, but blood rose in her throat and it splattered on the ground beneath her. Then everything around her turned to black, and she felt the ground underneath her a second later…
Itachi hadn't been fast enough to catch her before she landed heavily on the ground just inside the gate, but he wasted no time in hoisting her into his arms and headed straight towards the hospital. It seemed like she was completely drained and exhausted, but he had to be sure that there wasn't any severe wounds, or if the poison was still affecting her. He could feel that her chakra was still very low and she wouldn't have been able to heal herself on the trip back since she needed to keep her muscles flooded with chakra just to keep going forward.
Once they made it into the village, she must have not been able to stay conscious any longer. Her body must have just given up on bothering to keep awake since she was in a safe place where she would be looked after. It was quite common to see shinobi making it to the gate and passing out, having done everything they could and expended every ounce of energy they had to make it that far. Kotetsu and Izumo were used to seeing it happen, for obvious reasons.
The front doors of the hospital were open and he headed straight in, not bothering to remove his mask. He was wearing the same weasel mask he always wore, and felt a little bit strange in it. Sakura caught his eye when he headed in and immediately came over to him, obviously being prepared for Hitori to be admitted. She led him through to the emergency section, where there was an empty bed waiting for her right next to her comrades who were unconscious but okay. Itachi carefully laid her back on the bed with Sakura's help before stepping back to let the medic do her job.
"Did the poison create any problems for the others?" he asked Sakura, referring to Hitori's teammates and she shook her head.
"No, Hitori did most of the hard work for us. She broke it down so that it wouldn't do any more damage, but she wouldn't have had the chakra to heal the damage already done for the three of them. We are just working on that and once they have rested up, they will be fine." Sakura pulled her hair back into a ponytail before she stood over the dark haired woman and began to work.
"Is she alright?" he asked, giving her a brief moment to assess her a little more fully before she answered.
"She's practically in worse shape than the other three. Signs of dehydration, malnutrition..." Sakura frowned and narrowed her eyes at her friend. "But she was keeping herself stable enough to keep going. Her exhaustion will take the longest to recover from. It feels like she was forcing herself through with adrenaline, and it's just as much of a blessing as it is a curse."
Itachi sighed silently at her unconscious form, knowing that she had obviously pushed herself far too hard. Regardless, he had to commend her for her tenacity and courage. He was all too aware of how nervous and out of place she had felt in ANBU so far, but this mission had all but proved that she was a brilliant operative. Her determination and self-sacrifice had kept her team alive.
"How long does she need to rest?" he asked as calmly as he could, knowing that he would have to get her removed from the active duty roster until she had recovered.
"Not entirely sure. The damage from the poison and general wounds will be sorted out within a week, but as I said before, her exhaustion is the worst part of her condition." Sakura's hands stopped glowing green, ceasing her chakra output before she looked over to Itachi, making eye contact with him. "I would give it three to four weeks, just to be sure."
The Uchiha nodded slowly, and thanked her before she ducked off to get a few different things for Hitori's treatment. He was trying to figure out how on earth she was suffering from dehydration and lack of nourishment when the others were out cold. They had taken plenty of supplies and rations, and he knew that Hitori had a good supply of soldier pills with her at all times in case of emergencies like the one she had.
Unless...she had given her rations and water to her teammates and let herself suffer. He sighed once again, audibly this time, when he realised that was more than likely the case. For their bodies to get rid of the poison, they would have been burning with fever and needing extra food for energy. She was loyal to a fault, just like him, and he knew that he didn't have a leg to stand on for when he would discuss the matter with her later. He knew that she had done exactly what he would have done, especially when her teammates weren't in serious enough trouble to destroy their bodies like they were supposed to if they were killed in action. Especially since they were inside Fire Country borders. She wasn't the sort of person to just let her comrades die without putting up a fight, and he admired her for that.
A small flash of pride surged through him, and although it was strange and unexpected, it wasn't unpleasant. He supposed that during his time as Commander, she had been the person he had spoken to the most. She had been the first person aside from Team Seven and the Hokage herself who actually spoke to him like a real person. Every other time he was talking to anyone, they spoke to him like he was nothing more than a machine. He supposed that in some capacity, they were right. He was a machine, who just did whatever he needed to. But Hitori didn't treat him like that.
He sighed and sat down in the small chair near the bed, and figured he would stay for a while and head home later. He had eaten just before he had received the note from her, and although he hadn't had anything since, he really didn't feel hungry at all. Making a mental note to ensure that he forced himself to eat later before he went to bed, he watched as Sakura came back into the room with a small container filled with a few bits and pieces and a stand for her IV.
Mechanically, the pink haired woman worked, green chakra flowing from her hands into Hitori's body for roughly 20 minutes. When she was done, she placed a needle into the vein on the inside of Hitori's elbow, and ensuring it flowed correctly before she moved onto the next task. Itachi continued observing silently as Sakura injected her with something, and left a few bottles of pills on her small bedside table. She picked up Hitori's chart and pulled a pen from somewhere in her hair and began making notes with lots of medical jargon on them, explaining Hitori's treatment. Itachi did see a few notes that were clearly directed at Hitori too, knowing that she would read her own chart.
"I've given her an antidote for the poison, since we have them in supply currently. Luckily she left enough in their system for us to identify it, which is handy. She must have known she wasn't going to be conscious long enough to let us know when she got back." Sakura spoke in an impressed tone, and pointed to the small bottles. "These are just a few vitamins to help her feel better once she's woken up, but she won't be up until maybe mid-afternoon tomorrow."
"Thank you, Sakura." Itachi didn't feel strange calling her by her first name, since they were friendly enough, and she had insisted on it since they saw each other once a week for medical sessions.
"Are you going to stay for while?" she asked after giving him a smile. Once he nodded, she put her pointer finger up in a 'Just a minute' gesture.
After 2 or 3 minutes, she came back with a book in her hand and gave it to him. He took it carefully and read the cover before looking back up at the medic with a raised eyebrow, silently asking her why she gave it to him.
"Hitori leant it to me, and I figured it would give you something to do while you sit. I've already finished it so go nuts." she shrugged and kept speaking, "My shift finishes in two hours, so I'll come and check on her before I go." she smiled at him again and swished away, closing the curtain behind her.
Itachi turned the book over to read the blurb and it seemed the book was the first of a trilogy of crime stories, involving murder, assassination, revenge, betrayal and so on. He couldn't say he was entirely interested at first, but decided that Sakura was right; it would give him something to do. So, he opened it and went through the first chapter and was hooked already.
By the time Sakura had come back, he had already read 4 chapters, and he hadn't realised how much time had passed. He finally dragged his head out of it when Sakura began to chuckle softly.
"You like it that much?" she was smiling as she checked that Hitori's IV bag was still going okay, and injected her with another syringe filled with some yellow concoction before she continued healing her. "I was hooked after the first chapter. She said she would give me the second book when I finished that one, but I finished it within a week and haven't had anything to read because she was away."
"It's...not what I expected." He offered and Sakura seemed to take his lack of criticism as a good thing and chuckled softly again.
"Well, it's good that you are enjoying it. Anyway, I'm heading home. Hitori has Miho looking after her tonight so she'll be fine. Coming?" Sakura gestured for to him to join her on her way out.
"I'll stay. Thank you." he declined, but Itachi didn't actually feel like leaving. He was still concerned about Hitori's well being, even though he knew that she was in good hands.
"Alright. Just don't stay too late, okay? You need to rest after going to help her. You're not that out of shape, but you shouldn't push it. Night." the medic waved goodbye and he nodded in return before she strolled out.
He didn't mind staying, and he still didn't feel like eating anything. He certainly wasn't tired. Maybe the adrenaline of being somewhat out in the field again hadn't exactly worn off yet. Even though he probably wouldn't admit it aloud, it was exhilarating being out there, racing through the trees because lives depended on him. Especially because he was trying to help someone who had treated him very kindly and even made him smile since he got back. That was why he didn't mind staying for a little longer to keep an eye on her.
By the time he had finished another 3 chapters of the book, the nurse Miho came to check on Hitori, and smiled at him before she changed the saline solution since the bag was almost empty and examined her with chakra. She injected a few things into the IV line, some of the vitamins Sakura left that would help her recover from exhaustion. Once she was done, she scribbled a few things down on her chart and Itachi paid her no mind, nose back in his book until she spoke to him.
"Commander Uchiha, it's so late at night that it's early. Go and get some rest. I can have someone contact you when she wakes up." her soft voice was just loud enough for him to hear.
"I'm fine. Thank you." he nodded to her in thanks and she shrugged and disappeared after she finished updating Hitori's chart.
He had met Miho once or twice when he had come in for his appointments with Sakura. She seemed nice and Sakura had said she was competent and experienced, but Itachi had a feeling that he wouldn't rest even if he went home.
After another hour or so, he glanced at the page number, his photographic memory filing the image away for later and he sunk down a little further in the chair. Crossing his arms over his chest, his closed his eyes, intending to rest as best he could whilst in the wooden monstrosity that was the hospital chairs. While he dozed lightly, he took in the sounds of Hitori shuffling in her sleep, as well as the few night nurses checking on everyone occasionally. He was able to shut his thoughts off, at least for the next few hours until the sun finally rose and the hospital began buzzing with more staff arriving.
Sakura appeared from behind the curtains and sighed at him with a frown on her face.
"You slept here?" she asked incredulously, although she already knew the answer.
He did not deign that with a response, being far too out of it to think of anything eloquent anyway. Even though he wasn't tired last night, he was definitely tired now. He must have fallen into a deeper sleep at some stage, but not enough for him to actually get any proper rest. Sakura groaned and rolled her eyes at him, but didn't berate him any further, more than likely aware that he wouldn't listen anyway. The damage was already done anyway.
She walked over to Hitori's bedside and her hands glowed green with the flow of her chakra. Carefully, she focused while she examined their mutual friend and Itachi tilted his head to either side, stretching his neck that was sore from sleeping on a wooden chair. He didn't even want to think about how stiff his back would be when he got up, but decided to deal with that when Sakura wasn't in the room.
"She's doing fine. Her body is responding well now that she has gotten the antidote and once she is up, she'll be able to do anything else she needs on her own. Aside from that, she just needs lots of rest, water and food." Sakura informed him, and he nodded slowly in response.
"Don't you have to go ANBU headquarters today?" She asked suspiciously, wondering whether he was skipping work to be here.
"I will go later in the afternoon." he replied evenly to try and stop her from arguing with him, but it failed miserably.
"Right. Then I order you, to go home and rest."
His only response was to stare blankly and raise an eyebrow as if to say 'You cannot order me to do anything'. Although he wasn't entirely correct, he sort of hoped that if he tried it anyway that she would just let him have his way. When she placed her hands on her hips, he knew he was in for it.
"Don't you dare look at me like that. I don't care if you are the ANBU Commander. I am the Head Medic and you are in my freaking hospital. Also, I can make sure that you aren't allowed to work if I sign the right papers and ensure that the Hokage personally enforces them." she smirked darkly at him and he felt his expression fall at the mention of the Hokage.
As brave as Uchiha Itachi had been in his life, he wasn't sure he was ready to go toe to toe with the Hokage over such a small issue. He knew that Sakura was exaggerating to intimidate him, but such a thing was certainly within her power. Sighing softly, he decided to let her win this round and nodded his agreement to going home.
With a triumphant smirk, she removed her hands from her hips and began writing on Hitori's chart before she placed it back in it's holder and she nodded in satisfaction.
"Well, I'm going to get a new saline bag for Hitori, and I don't want to see you here when I get back." she spoke in a firm tone, but he could hear her teasing lilt to it.
"As you command, Head Medic Haruno." he quipped back, a tiny smirk on his face, rising to her level of dramatism as best he could. Although they weren't exactly close, they were friendly enough to engage in simple banter.
She laughed softly with a grin and gave him a nod and patted him on the shoulder. "Get some rest, Itachi."
After she left, he set his mind to the task of getting up out of the horrid chair. He knew it was going to hurt and that he would be walking like he was made of wood on the way home, but part of being a shinobi was getting used to sleeping wherever you could, whenever you could. Dealing with the discomfort in your body after waking up just came with the territory. A quiet, pained groan rumbled in his throat as he levered himself up as best he could.
He felt like he was 70 years old and rolled his shoulders forward and back a few times to loosen up a little before he made the short trek back to his apartment. Satisfied that he had done all he could, he glanced at Hitori for a long moment then he let her be and went home. When he got into his bedroom, he stripped off his shirt, weapon holsters, and everything else unnecessary. He was so stiff he had to sit down on his bed to take off his pants, leaving only his underwear on to sleep in.
Feeling too exhausted, he crawled up the bed and got under the covers and tried to convince his brain that he definitely needed to go to sleep. Luckily, he was just tired enough to win that mental argument within roughly 10 minutes or so and he drifted off to a much needed deep sleep...