By the time the warm winter of that year rolled around to cover our streets with rain instead of the snow most read and dreamt about, I became accustomed to going on a couple of dates here and occasional dinners there—and then promptly checking the covers of newspapers and magazines the next day to see if we made it to the front. It almost became a sport for me. Ten points if we made it to the front cover, five points if we got at least two pages' worth of coverage, and three points if we were briefly mentioned somewhere in the pages.

It became my new wave of motivation, keeping me focused and on the same objective mind state as Itachi. The twenty grand started looking less substantial by the time I received my second payment, for selfish reasons, that it no longer felt like enough motivation to at least be enthusiastic about my "job." Not because I thought the amount itself was mediocre—as if twenty grand a month could ever be anything as such—or I felt that it wasn't enough that I thought about quitting because we all know I entertain that idea humorously a couple dozen times he barks orders at me.

But because I never ever got to see the money myself.

The cheques I've only ever had the chance of holding onto for no more than an hour each quickly leaves my person the second I arrive home. I don't cash it. I don't deposit it into my bank account. I very quickly hand it over to Shizune to do what must be done: pay mama's gambling debts—also known as, the only reason why I agreed to this circus act.

Despite not making as much as many in this town, we've always made enough to keep our house, keep a fraction of our staff, feed ourselves, and have a little left over—if we don't count the money my mother owes from all the gambling she's done in the past to keep us up to par with the rest of the aristocrats when things started becoming less than luxurious; normal. There was a way she's lived for so long that once she started losing her share in the company she co-owned with Orochimaru and began making less and less she began to panic and gambled whatever was left of our fortune in hopes of winning two-folds of what she gambled, only to descended us deeper and deeper into debt.

My emergency back-up funds kept us from going completely under, thanks to Shizune's vicious refusal to let her gamble the money saved up for my survival. It was only when I was arrested for selling drugs that mama finally snapped out of this money-seeking conquest and started to accept what we no longer were: higher-class aristocrats. There was something about being the mother of a drug dealer who just got out of prison because of all these connections to powerful families—specifically the Uchihas and Uzumakis—that made those who were once starving for mama's debt back off and accept the monthly payment plan that we established. From then, things started to become normal and she learned to breathe again.

Until she was diagnosed with cancer.

It was only in mama's declining healthy that I agreed to the twenty-thousand monthly payment, and because, despite him never admitting it, I knew that it was the reason Sasuke didn't persuade his brother against choosing me as a candidate. She had a lot of life left in her by the way she and the medical staff kept her ovarian cancer at bay, but were she to pass away—and I hoped/knew it would be long after my fifth cheque—I wanted it to be debt free, even if I had to sell my soul for it to happen. Not that she knew that's what I was doing. As far as I knew she was concern, I was genuinely dating Uchiha Itachi and wasn't aware that I had already minimized her debt by forty-grand.

Seeing the numbers go down and the list of names getting shorter—when, at the end of the month, Shizune and I did the math to see how much we still owed and pretended it wasn't a big enough deal to throw a party—was enough to keep me going (as did the contract), but the tediousness of everything was starting to take its toll on me. I was determined to keep going, yes, but I wasn't all that thrilled about it—like any job. I just wanted him to pay me my fucking money.

But then Itachi started acting…weird.

Not like he grew a second head weird, because I would have gladly taken an axe to it without a second thought and he would be normal, single headed Itachi again with a gash on some part of his body that I happily inflected. But he started acting different in a way that made me question if the world was ending and he was doing everything possible to repent his sins and get into heaven.

For a very vague example until I could think of a better one, he started acting kind and warm towards me…off scene. On scene in front of cameras I knew it was fake no problem, but when we were alone or even just hanging out with the guys, he's mannerism were different than the ones I grew accustomed to hating.

It was very subtle and sporadic at first that I didn't notice it right away. The nasty remarks and insults gradually stopped, he would chuckle every once in a while, and sometimes, sometimes he would even smile at my antics instead of giving me the usual glare of annoyance when we were alone. To be completely honest, it wasn't even because the kindness was directed towards me that threw me off and I had to consistently ask Kisame if Itachi came down with a fever or had some sort of personality disorder that everyone failed to mention to me. It was the fact that he was just becoming kinder and warmer in general. Hell, even Deidara started looking at him curiously, almost avoiding him out of fear that Itachi was secretly trying to throw them all off before he strangled them with their own intestines.

I really started to notice it when he started taking me to secluded places for dates, such as a farm in the middle of buttfuck nowhere and on picnics in the middle of the forest like that didn't sound any alarms in my head. Realizing he could be carrying out the initial "Sakura-Assassination" plan, I thought, I always kept myself at arm's length and tense with a wee bit of anxiety. Our dates started frequenting the tabloids and papers less and less, and the assjuices who wrote these articles settled for digging up unicorn shit and fairy tears by writing up speculations for the circumstances of our relationship.

Even Sasuke asked about our lack of dates in the tabloids when his brother continued to come back from lunch late and leave work early, questioning exactly what his aniki was doing with all that time. When I told him our dates became more private and secluded, he tsked in annoyance but didn't say anything.

I wasn't about to tell him our dates started to feel more genuine than planned. Hell, every time that thought crossed my mind while we were rowing on the lake, walking in the woods, or having lunch together at the cottage, I stiffen a little and he would look down at me curiously. In the beginning I didn't believe what was happening. For fuck sakes I strained myself to listen for the extra footsteps and hush whispering that should've been following us with cameras, walked with sprained ankles from those men-made death contraption called heels, and endured entwining myself in his embrace or linking my fingers with him because I was hoping for the fucking ten points that was supposed be one of the only things that made this enjoyable.

But no! Itachi's sudden weird-ass had me fucked up and I started enjoying our dates, even laughing with the source of my turmoil because he made being alone pleasant.

Then I noticed that Kisame started to wander off a lot more. One minute he was tailing us in case someone wanted to kill us in the middle of the forest, the next disappeared and Itachi would spend a substantial amount of time ensuring me that no, Kisame didn't get kidnapped. Then he stopped coming with us all together, specifically on dates where Itachi would rent out the whole entertainment facility.

I was half-skeptical, half-didn't want to believe what were signs of obvious romantic interest because what was I supposed to do?! Did I wanted to engage in this realistically with him because lord knows that if things went sour between us I couldn't just lock myself in my house and not show my face again like the last time. Also, did I want to acknowledge that I am developing genuine feelings for the guy either?

Looking at tabloids and reading magazines articles about our fake-relationship with romantic finesse and love was one thing, but to have to read them, knowing that what they wrote was true, was something else. Something too personal that I also did not like being out there again.

So I never asked him and he never officially acclaimed anything.

"Haruno, get back here and help me!"

I just—reluctantly, of course—started reacquainting effort…so to say.

After snooping around and putting my interrogation skills to the test on a very drunk Kisame, I found out that much like my own best friend until we kidnapped him and dropped him off in the middle of a frozen lake without his shoes and a pair of skates, that the future Uchiha patriarch had never gone skating. After relaying my wishes to Deidara that I wanted to take him to the skating rink—obviously to embarrass him, what else—it was easy for him to make some calls and rent out the entire arena before the big hockey game that night.

And that was exactly where Itachi found himself. Dressed in a prim and pressed suit, completed with a tie and maybe a handkerchief in his breast pocket, all of which was concealed underneath is trench coat, his usual neat hair was slightly disarrayed as he gripped the ledge of the rink with his knees bent inwards, hell-bent on not falling on his ass for the second time since we got there five minutes prior.

He was mortified at the position he was in, for sure, but he was also determined to not be made a fool of and succeed in the art of balancing on two deadly blades atop of frozen liquid matter—like that was something to brag about at dinner parties. I, on the other hand, spun gracefully around him; demonstrating my much professionalism in this sport just to watch his face tint a little redder in exasperation and frustration.

"Of all the things you've done in your life, how is it the every great Uchiha Itachi never gone skating?" I questioned from the other side of the rink, watching him try to steady himself upright with a provocative wobble here and curse there. "You look like Sasuke the first time Naruto and I took him out on the lake."

He huffed a little in frustration, glaring at me in somewhat of a willing manner to come relieve him of this stress. Our ever amused bodyguard chuckled from the sidelines, watching the doors to make sure no one tried to intrude on our private date, of course, while getting a show out of it for all his hard work.

"Maybe he should practice here before you take him out in public."

Was it a suggestion I was going to listen to? Well, I was going to consider it, but we all know what a little bit of a pout and the batting of eyelashes has gotten me in the past, if I felt like it. And I sure as hell was going to feel like it if the man pissed me off. Either through suggestive persuasion or a violent one. If Naruto and I could do so with Sasuke, Deidara and I will definitely have no problem kidnapping Itachi—and I can finally get my match with Kisame I've been pinning for.

"Right, you Uchihas don't take embarrassment too well." I sighed, stopping in front of said Uchiha. What was supposed to be him gently holding my hand turned into him gripping both my forearms like a bitch. A bitch who didn't know when to let go and consistently called you that when they see you they're around your leg like the ex-potential-life-partner that they were. Not that I'm speaking from my own experience, of course. "Just slide each foot forward and out, one at a time."

I guess it clicked in his mind that he looked very un-Uchiha-like holding me the way he did (oh, how romantic sounding) and very quickly let go to less-bitch-like hold both of my hands.

"Do not let go of me." He ordered, his legs shaking in uncertainty while his short nails dug into the palm of my hands.

"Wow that must've been the most romantic thing you've ever said to me." I stately breathly, almost swooning with affection which only earned me a nasty look from my struggling lover. He straightened confidently—or ignorantly—making me jerk away to support my arms under his. "You gotta keep your knees bent or—shit!"

It was a mistake since the millisecond he decided to lock his knees. As I pulled away and reached out to steady him, he reached forward to grab back onto me, sending him more off-balance than he would've been initially and had us toppling over on the ice. I groaned and grumbled at his stupidity, more so with his form laying on top of me to add to the extra frustration. This was much easier with Sasuke, only because he needed to learn to skate on his own to get back to land, there was no other option, and so he did—on his own as Naruto and I skated circles around him. Itachi was lucky he had the option to crawl his way to the edge of the hockey rink and go home, so resorting to that tactic wasn't possible. Though I will admit, it would be funny to watch Kisame and Itachi try to tumble their way out of the rink—Kisame no doubt trying to run in and save him and yelp for me to save them in the end.

I hadn't realized he tucked his hand behind my head to keep it from hitting the ice until I tried to get up and found my hair tangled in his fingers, only for him to apologize quickly and crawl off like that wasn't a considerate thing that no one would ever think he was capable of.

The second we were on our feet his hands were intertwined with mine again.

Slowly we found a rhythm of him sliding his foot forward which was parallel to the foot I was sliding back. His knees stayed bent and locked as he lunged slightly, his hold relinquishing on my nail-dug hands ever so slightly as we made circles around the rink.

As much as I hated to admit it then and as much I as I cringe to admit it now, a part of me softened at the concentration he had on his face to engrave every muscle movement to memory instead of pitching a fit. I had already been surprised to hear the lack of complaints that came from him altogether, especially after he had topped onto the ice, but to see him try without resentment set a feeling of nervousness by how much I found myself appreciating it.

Didn't that defeat my whole purpose of embarrassing him like I had definitely one-hundred percent truthfully told Deidara?

"Are you ready to let go?" I asked him a little hesitantly, deciding it was best to remain quiet instead of making some sassy remark when he dropped my hand altogether once we reached the edge of the rink. He settled on holding onto the ledge for safety measures, watching me with only a hint of distressed as I skated away, but didn't voice any of it. "I'll be ahead so if anything, just skate towards me."

Itachi looked unsure for a moment, even looking towards Kisame who watched intently with the same amount of uncertainty. I half-expected the larger man to come slipping and sliding across the ice to try to be of some support for the leaner one. To give Kisame anymore credit other than to attempt something like that would be a misjudgment on your part.

And as Itachi ascended towards me, picking up speed with ill-placed confidence, I realized I misjudged the situation as well. He knew how to balance and how to skate, but stopping or slowly down had only even been initiated by me, resisting against him with the push of my hands. Now alone and coming towards me with no sign of slowing down, I was either going to be squished against a hard body and the boards or the staff was going to have to scrape the remains of Uchiha Itachi off the boards before the hockey game tonight.

"Shit. Shit. Shit!" I heard him curse when he realized it too, and I braced myself with bent knees and my one heel of skates digging into the ice as I took the impact and slammed back against the plastic protective boards.

I registered the vibration that hummed through my back, and whichever part managed to flow through Itachi's arms which were once again wrapped around my head. With a pat on the back he pulled back slightly, looking down at me with a mix of frustration, worry, and something else I hadn't quite figured out yet.

"We really need to work on your stopping, Uchiha." I smirked, settling his fingers between mine as I tried to guide him to the door with some resistance. "Are you ready to call it a day?"

A look of consideration passed through his features, a part of him probably wanting to end his suffering, but yet I would assume he was still determined to get it down pat now that he had already started. A large part of it would probably also have to do with the fact that he just learned Sasuke could skate and he could not.

Typical Uchiha antics.

"One more time."

He damn near flung me to the other side of the rink right after, something I couldn't forget because I found myself snorting at his child-like eagerness the whole way there. As much as they liked to pretend, and as much as they had everyone else fooled, Uchiha men were really just boys. They had fits and they sulked like every other child I knew, but just over little adult issues and more quietly than most. Sometimes you'd also find that they avoided things not because they don't like them, but because they know they'd like it too much that it would cloud their better judgement.

The most supportive thing I could have done in this situation was have faith in his ability to not royally fuck up like the last two times. That the best approach to take when trying to encourage someone—was that what I was trying to do—who was attempting a new activity with little faith in themselves. But the more logical part of me told me to brace myself for impact, and so as he sped towards me, I closed my eyes and prepared myself to be slammed against the boards.

There was a rustle of his sleeves beside my head and the hot fan of his breath against my cheek that told me he made it, but I was wary of opening my eyes in case he hadn't fully immersed himself in stopping. The last thing I wanted from this experience was a broken nose because of all the things that should have broken my nose by now, teaching my gown-ass pretend-boyfriend how to skate should not be one of them.

"Sakura." Itachi's low tremor echoed between us, and I peeked through a single eye to see him gently smirking down at me, his hair almost swayed forward to brush against my face.

"You did it!" I heard myself squealing, throwing my arms up without even thinking and wrapping them around his shoulders. His reflexes to return my excitement wasn't as quick as him reaching for the ledge to steady himself, one hand holding both of us upright and the other loosely wrapped around my waist.

He only hummed his excitement.

As I was about to suggest another lap around the rink with full-confidence that he would agree, Kisame's watch rung through the arena.

"Times up!" His voice boomed, just in time as the gate was pulled open and the Zamboni made its way across the ice.

Muscles made his way around to reach us, obviously there to assist the heir who was reluctant to accept it until he nearly snapped an ankle while I waddled behind with admiration for his new stride. We worked our skates off in a blissful silence we managed to establish over the course of our relationship, replacing the menacing, awkward one which used to dominant the gaps between our very few exchanges of demands, insults, and complaints.

I was well aware of what was happening between us. I just hadn't want to acknowledge it in fear of doing so would cause it to manifest right in front of me. If I could deny the obvious, if I chose not to believe in it, was it really happening? There was no such thing as reality, just individual perceptions, and if I could make it so that I perceive what was happening really wasn't happening, then was it really happening?

Sasuke was going to kill me while Naruto killed his brother.

We made our way up the stairs to our seats by the exit, fighting amongst the three of us until it was settled that I sat closest to the aisle while Kisame sat on the other side of Itachi. I still needed to reinstate that there were very few things I needed protection from, and rowdy hockey fans nor Uchiha fans fell into that category. There were very few menacing presences in Konoha, that had been made sure of over the last couple of years.

"Do you watch hockey games, Sakura?"

I snapped away from my usual habit of analyzing the people beginning to make their way in out of sheer curiosity, to meet a pair of obsidian orbs which bore into mine. There was a look of concentration which I would mistake for passion and interest throughout my relationship with him, but for now I just smiled softly at his curiosity.

"I used to in high school when our teams played." I replied, shifting in my seat just a little to edge away from the people brushing passed me to race down the stairs and subconsciously closer to Itachi. "Naruto and a couple of my other friends were on the team, so Sasuke and I would come out to support them."

He mused over what I just said for a moment, his eyes flickering in thought before replying, "but in general you don't enjoy it."

Crowds of fans began pouring into the arena in groups, dressed in merchandise and fan-gear to watch the annual hockey game against Snow. It's been a while since I've been dragged to one of these events by either Sasuke or Naruto, but it would seem like the crowds hadn't changed a bit since then.

"Oh my gosh, it's Itachi!"

Most time I made efforts to avoid these types of settings. Too many people who recognize me in one setting could lead to trouble. I mingled with the public when necessary, but going to these packed social events wasn't something I favoured. Still, I had little to worry about except potential awkward exchanges between me and the few who know me and gave enough fuck to make a big spectacle about it. Although I figured that sitting beside Uchiha Itachi, I had that coming.

"Is that…Is that that Sakura girl he's with?"

Out of habit my one eyebrow quirked at the name, almost, just almost, tempted enough to turn towards the girl who said that to ask her to repeat exactly what she had to audacity to address me as. But I knew better than to cause a scene myself. As much as I would like to let my guard down and allow myself handle the situation as I had with others, I was working despite how much it hadn't been feeling like it. Itachi would be none to please if I make it into the papers for starting a fight with some curious little fangirl at a hockey game.

"Well, to be honest, I don't enjoy watching any sports in general." There was a strain in my voice as I spoke, something Itachi definitely noted because he looked at the girls for me before a small flash of gentle warning look. "I would rather be doing it than watching. I find sitting on the sidelines boring."


"Did you play any sports in high school?"

There was a pregnant pause.

I knew that such information wasn't closing the lines of privacy that we had emphasized on earlier on in our relationship, but I knew better than to compare my idea of privacy with his—even though I really could find this information out in our year book or through Sasuke.

"I originally had participated in many sports during my freshman and sophomore year, but I mainly stuck to basketball and football in my junior and senior years."

"That makes sense; the two seasons don't overlap." I nodded considerably, hiding my surprised that he actually took part in such active sports instead of the chess club captain I had dubbed him to be. Basketball usually took part around the fall time and bled a little into the winter season, whereas football took place during the springtime and carried into late summer. I've scheduled enough practices for the boys to know exactly when each sport took place when that even to this day—and to the day I have kids—this information would be committed to heart. "You couldn't imagine how hard it was taking care of Naruto and Sasuke when they insisted on participating in as many sports team as they could. Sometimes I feel like I'm their mother, driving them around and organizing their lives for them."

"Hm." He chuckled, well aware of his younger brother's antics. "On top of keeping my younger brother in check, did you, yourself participate in many activities?"

I leaned my face into the palm of my hand, thinking back to the good old days before I got myself in such a messes which landed me desperate for money and putting myself in a situation that I would allow myself to be paid for pretend love.

"I tried everything in freshman and sophomore as well, but in my final two years, the coaches basically banned me from participating in any physical-contact sport and I had to join the cheerleading, track, and swim team."

I had pitched a fit about such rules and discrimination, but when I had been sent home from every tryout without so much as a second look, I could either accept it or not participate at all.

"I assume it was because you were too aggressive?" He looked at me knowingly with humor in his eyes, almost as if he found my acts of violence endearing that it tickled his soul.

"I guess—but I was allowed on the soccer team! I just couldn't join football or basketball because I had elbowed too many girls in the previous years—all by accident of course." You couldn't really blame me for being determined to win. I say those were qualities to look for in a player, but what did I get instead? Banishment! The girls team didn't win as many games the year I was banned, I'll tell you that. Whether it was because I wasn't there to knock some teeth out—by accident of course—or it was just a fluke, they'll have the rest of their lives to think about it.

Itachi have me an incurious look.

"What? I get really passionate!"

"We're all aware, Sakura." He chuckled, brushing his shoulders against mine. "My parents and I would attend Sasuke's games, and on top of all the cheering, we would hear your voice cheering—and threatening—Sasuke and Naruto the loudest."

"Oh god." My face heated up at the thought, remembering, vividly, that some of the "encouragement" I shouted would faint even the strongest of hearts. No doubt Mr. and Mrs. Uchiha would not have approved of my choice of colourful words.

"You were always around to take care of Sasuke when we couldn't." But when Itachi had said it, there wasn't a trace of disapproval in his voice. He just seemed amused and a little something else. "At that time, my mother even thought that you and Sasuke were going to get married in the future, despite the Hyuuga courting you."

"Well, she's going to be disappointed to find out it's going to be you." I snorted, staring back at him in hopes he would appreciate my humor to find that he was just looking at me in a way that made me hold my breath.

I had counted the seconds between us, taking those moments to refocus myself and try to unclog my minds of thoughts which I would've made Naruto run me over with a truck if I had been thinking of them three months before. But his face got closer and I stopped counting, instead focusing on the details of his face, starting from the small curl at the tip of his eyelashes to the small little scar I had never seen before above his lip.

These were vital information, I told myself, things I would need to remember in case he ever got kidnap and was replaced with an imposter. As much as I tried to make the situation seem appear to be one of calculative measures with vital benefits for us in the future, I couldn't justify his next move—especially with the words he spoke.

There were no paparazzi to publicize our moments, nor were his words he spoke even necessary. Like the last few dates we went on, or the next few we would go on.

"Not in the least, Haruno." He whispered against my lips, testing my reaction to his intimacy before pressing our lips together softly to my own betrayal.

I was vaguely aware of the voices downstairs while I got ready. For obvious reasons, I had grown used to people being let in and out of my once secluded home in the country, and by people I really just meant Itachi and his posse with the occasional Sasuke and Naruto. Not very many people were allowed in the gates anyway, not that many wanted to come by. For someone living the life I did I knew I was being a little careless, but I had a lot of excuses for that, one of which, right then, I was silently hoping that the voice I heard belonged to a certain Uchiha.

Not that I would ever let him know that—not that I really allowed myself to indulge in such a traitorous thought. Me, wishing it was Itachi downstairs to see me, psh. I would only entertain that thought for half a second before I mentally slapped myself. I knew better than to let myself do this to myself. I was smarter than to genuinely believe what was happening between us was for anything else but for the sake of the job. Or so I thought and really hoped I was.

That didn't stop me from the excitement that filled my person for the one who was waiting for me downstairs.

"Jiraiya!" I practically squealed, bouncing down the last couple steps of the stairs we could finally afford to have polish and into the arms of my father-figure—or just father, with how long he's been with my mother, though not officially married.

"Ah, there she is! How have you been?"

I could feel the deep rumble in his chest as he rubbed my back, still hard and sturdy as ever despite his growing age and ever famous premature, now mature, grey hairs.

"How was your travel?"

Despite my own growing age and my own adventures, I always found myself quite fond of hearing the stories he always brought back with him from his travels. When I was younger they were always more extravagant, filled with myths of dragons and made-up stories about ninjas and spies, and as I got older I developed a larger appreciation for simple tales about the people he met and the things that he did. When my mother was around, he would sneak in comments about beautiful women just to get a rise out of her—but regardless, he remained faithful, or so I hoped he did, to this day.

I always told him he had a gift for storytelling and would make a great author. He always shot me down for simply buttering him up for an advance on my allowance. Not that I needed that now, but he wasn't going to know about that—insert nervous and evil snicker here.

"I brought back a bunch of souvenirs if that's what you're asking." He wiggled his eyebrows at my playfully, setting down his large backpack to rummage through for foreign goods and commodities.

"That's not what I'm asking."

"Well, I'm letting you know I brought back souvenirs anyways." And that was that, giving you a very clear picture where a majority of this sass came from if not from my mother. Daddy's got an attitude problem and so does his daughter, you can take it up with my mother but she has a temper. "How's your mother?"

Temperamental as always, I wanted to say, but those jokes were usually saved for later when he wanted to know stories, not about the serious issues I try my best to pretend aren't eating away at me.

"She's gotten skinnier." I said warily, careful to watch his reaction in case it gave way to the heartache he always tried to conceal around us. "Are you going to visit her while you're in town?"

"What other reason do I have to be in town other than to see you and your mother?" He laughed, but there wasn't any humour. "But before I head off, let me ask my question again,"

I got a shiver down my spine, which has never failed me, to spare myself from either danger or an uncomfortable situation and run in the other direction. Why I didn't listen to it, I will always question to this day. Something about this man being my dad probably had a lot to do with it, and in any other case where it wasn't such and I ignored that warning, I probably would've been dead. I kind of wished I was when he pulled a pile of magazines—which was so unconventional to carry around with you when you're travelling may I add and would've chide him about if the covers didn't have mine and Itachi's face plastered over them.

I could probably have still run if I wanted to, but I don't know what this man has been eating on his travels but despite how much I train I could never outrun him. So I stood rooted and dumbstruck as he waved them in my face, asking again, almost menacingly: "how are you, really?"

"You really don't believe that, do you?" I choked, yes, choked. Man, Sakura, nice one. You sure convinced him, didn't you? Atta girl, making grandma role over in her grave in shame. What else are you going to do to shame this family, other than your terrible lying skills which you were supposed to have learned to perfect by now. If it didn't make it any more obvious, I would've slapped myself.

"Well, usually I don't, but this is a clear picture of you on a date with Uchiha Itachi—and I have plenty more in my car if you need more reasons as to why I do believe it." Had he not been my dad, this would almost sound obsessively creepy. "How long?"

I opened my mouth and closed it a total of three times before deciding to spare myself the humiliation and just jump off a cliff. Jiraiya might not be around very often because of his travels—more now that he was determined to find something to either cure, reverse, or slow down the cancer cells—but he was still my dad nonetheless and talking about my love-life, fake or real, wasn't something any normal girl voluntarily liked to do with their fathers, I was sure. In that aspect, we can agree that for once I was normal.

"Since October…" I said almost shamefully, embarrassed because I knew he expected a call from me, but what's a girl in a relationship to do? Call up her dad and rave about her new relationship and how, for the first month, I had done nothing but dick around while being conditioned into being the perfect Uchiha wife? 1. He would encourage my dicking around, but then 2. Come back from buttfuck nowhere on the map to drag me out of this toxic relationship and give Itachi his two cents, thus removing my very hefty source of income.

Contrary to my, and many other's, popular belief of his reaction to dating one of "those types of people", insert his bunny ears here, his face lit up in delight which made take two steps back to make sure the man who looks suspiciously like my father-figure actually, and I hadn't gotten myself and Shizune into another hostage situation. Yes, I said another. "Well, I hope you didn't get me a Christmas gift because this is good enough."

I looked from a guilty-looking Shizune to my glowing father, both confused and frightened as I calculated the various places I hid my firearms and throwing knives.

"What?" I dragged out carefully, watching for any micromovements and expressions which signified the danger I was looking for, and any reason I might have for reaching into the hidden stash of knives I had behind the family portrait by the stairs and hitting this man right between the brows.

"Do you know what this means?" He grabbed me and spun me around to my dismay, and had I not been in such a state of despair I would've laughed at the picture of my 50 plus year old father twirling around on the balls of his feet like an elegant ballerina from the theatre, with magazines pooled at his feet from all the excitement that he had to fucking drop them for Shizune to clean up. "This means grandchildren!"

"We're nowhere close to that yet!" I threw him add, around ready to launch a knife between his brow regardless of the fact that I established his identity.

"But you're getting there!" I couldn't tell you who was filled with more dread: me, or Shizune who looked like she was so close to follow my idea of throwing herself off the edge of the cliff for keeping her mouth shut about my little predicament. "What did your mother say?"

This was not how I was hoping to spend the last night of the year. I would rather be tied to a chair and interrogated by foreign enemies with an ax hanging over my head than deal with Jiraiya bombarding me with all these questions.

"I've told her about it, but I never mentioned it was serious."

"Ah, so he doesn't know." His voice took a serious tone, looking at me thoughtfully but also incuriously as if it was a given that such an information should be shared.

"No, I don't think he has a reason to yet. Maybe if it gets more serious, but right now it's none of his business."

We worked too damn hard and spent too much money we didn't have at the time to keep my mom's cancer rumor at bay. And although I knew Itachi better than to spread gossips and rumors—for one, we were both on the same page about that—it did not come naturally for me to tell anyone who came waltzing into my life that my famous doctor of a mother was sick. Deidara had been the only one for a long while, the last person I remember having to tell was Naruto who wept like a baby and tried to serenade my mother.

"You know what they say about keeping secrets in a relationship." He chide me matter-of-factly, crossing his arms oh-so-holy like I didn't know about how he flirted—although not cheat—with the many pretty ladies he met on his trip and never told my mom about. I know about that Becky girl with the good hair.

"What—don't pull that shit on me!" My face, betraying me, heated up regardless and I punched his arm for good measure. "This isn't a secret if I plan to tell him, but also—even if it was it doesn't affect our relationship in anyway."

"Haha, I know." His laugh was deep and wholesome, and as much as I wanted to stay mad, or at least pretend to be, I couldn't with how much he seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself. I wasn't stupid in not knowing that like my mother, he liked to get a rise out of me. Sometimes I just pretended to see him happy, it was rare for this family nowadays with what's happening, but we make do with what we have, I guess. "It's good seeing you happy. Your mother and I were worried you would never find yourself a boyfriend again."

In all honestly, I was wounded by the implications.

"I'm only 20…why do you sound like you lost all hope until now?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know, and I busied myself helping Shizune pick up the rest of the ill-written pamphlet of lies to later be used to fuel for the fireplace.

"Because we're your parents."

"What kind of bullshit excuse is that?!"

Or at least, the majority would be used for the fire, some were destroyed upon impact with my father's person.

Yes, the first half of the chapter had been publish before. I'm reorganizing the chapters, but nonetheless, the length (in words) and the content of the story remains the same.

Thank you so much for all your patience on my unorganized ass. I can't put into words how happy your words of encouragement makes me.

All comments and criticism are widely accepted and appreciated.