CHAPTER 32- Rain

For the past nights, Itachi barely got a wink of sleep.

It's been three days ever since Sakura and her team returned from their mission and ever since, Itachi was swarmed by all kind of meetings and paperwork.

The Uchiha heir was being summoned left and right, the elders expecting frequent updates on Shisui's condition while Anbu apparently run into some trouble with a few former members of ROOT that needed to his immediate attention.

Then there was the meeting with Gaara and Tsunade tonight that he had to prepare for and even though the meeting with the Godaime Hokage and the Kazekage wasn't anything he was concerned about, the meetings agenda was.

Tonight, they would decide on how to proceed with Obito Uchiha and Orochimaru.

Itachi already felt the first signs of the inevitable headache as he entered the hospital, the looks of admiration and less than subtle swooning from the nurses as he passed them doing nothing to brighten up his mood.

He would usually just ignore them, but for some reason their curious whispers and chatter was annoying him greater than usual and when a nurse actually had the nerve to shoot him a grin accompanied by a wink, Itachi couldn't fight the dark scowl that formed itself on his face.

If this morning was anything to go by, then he feared that the remainder of this day would pass by in a similar fashion.

He certainly hoped that it wouldn't.

The Uchiha heir made his way through the familiar hallways deep in thought, his feet easily carrying him down the path he had walked for the past three days more times than he cared to count.

The distant sound of familiar laughter reached his ears as he was getting closer to her room and when he finally reached it and gently pushed the door open, he was less surprised by the sight that greeted him than he should have probably been.

Seated on the bed with a familiar ninken on her lap was Sakura, her green eyes sparkling as she looked at her sensei from where he was lounging on the sofa that was placed by the wall next to her bed. He was clad in his usual attire, the familiar orange book in his hand and eyes never leaving its pages despite of the amiable crinkle they held.

Seated on the windowsill was none other than his cousin, dressed in a pair of black sweatpants, a matching shirt and looking considerably better than the day he had been returned. If it weren't for the bandages that peeked out from beneath his shirt he wouldn't believe anything to be wrong with him, and once again Itachi found himself glad that they had found him as soon as they did.

Whereas Kakashi had been released a day ago already, having only suffered from chakra exhaustion and a highly strained Sharingan that Tsunade managed to get under control remarkably quick, Shisui and Sakura weren't due to get discharged until the day after tomorrow morning.

The Godaime had made it clear that even though they may have recovered from the chakra exhaustion and minor injuries, she wanted to monitor them and run some test on them to ensure that neither Kabuto's experiments on Shisui or the chakra scalpel Sakura got hit with had left any permanent damage on them.

Safe to say neither of them were too elated upon hearing the news, but one look from Itachi and the Godaime was enough to make them comply.

Sakura was the first one to notice him, her eyes flickering to the door just to brighten considerably upon seeing him.

"Itachi." She greeted, lips tilting upwards into a soft smile that Itachi returned with a small nod, the corners of his lips curling upwards into the hint of a smile as he made his way towards her.

Shisui offered his younger cousin a wide grin in greeting while Kakashi shot him an eye-crinkle that Itachi each returned with a nod before he sat down on the bed next to Sakura, her smile only widening when she felt him rest his hand on her knee over the covers.

"You just missed all the fun." Shisui informed him, legs swinging as his dark eyes sparkled with a familiar light Itachi was glad to see. "Pakkun told us a few quite interesting stories of our dear Kakashi."

Itachi's eyes slid to the ninken that was resting on Sakura's lap, his eyes closed with Sakura's petite hand resting gently on top of his head.

"Did he now." Itachi mused, lips curling upwards into a small smile when he heard Kakashi sigh.

"Considering that dogs are supposed to be loyal to their owners, the credibility of his story is questionable considering that they reflect negatively on me."

Sakura rolled her eyes at her former teacher while Shisui snickered. "Supposed being the key-word here. The chances of Pakkun lying are as high as you never reading Icha Icha again, and we all know it."

Kakashi merely shrugged, seemingly unbothered by the whole situation as Pakkun let out what suspiciously sounded like a snort, clearly unimpressed by Kakashi's rather pathetic attempt to clear his name.

Sakura smiled down at the ninken and run her slender fingers through his brown fur, her eyes sparkling in amusement when she felt him lightly push his head against her hand.

"Who would have thought that Pakkun is quite the gossip." Sakura mused, her words earning her an amused huff from the silver haired copy nin who peeked at her out of the corner of his visible eye.

"Now Sakura-chan, if anyone knows how bad of a gossip the boys are it should be you."

Itachi glanced at said pinkette with a hint of amusement, Sakura merely offering him an innocent smile that seemed anything but in return. It seemed like Pakkun and the others had a specific person they especially liked to gossip about Kakashi with, and judging by Kakashi's comment they didn't bother to hide it either.

"Sakura-chan is nothing compared to Ino." Shisui said, a sigh passing his lips as his eyes grew distant. "I swear that woman knows everything about everyone's business before they even know it themselves."

Sakura rolled her emerald eyes, the smile never leaving her lips. She couldn't deny Shisui's words because if anyone knew how bad of a gossip Ino could be, then it was her. It was one of the reasons as to why Sakura was glad that she was her best friend, because at least then she would, to some extend, be spared by the blonde.

It was always wise to keep the enemy close.

What reminded her-

"Speaking of Ino." Sakura glanced at the clock that hung on the wall next to the entrance door of her room, a brow arched as she saw the time before she looked at Shisui. "Weren't you supposed to grab lunch with her, like, three minutes ago?"

Said male's eyes widened comically before they shot to the clock, his face growing pale as he realized that Sakura was right and he was running late.

"Oh shit." He breathed, jumping down the windowsill before he made a mad dash for the door and threw his hand up in parting. "See you later!"

Itachi watched his cousin exit the room with an amused quirk of his lips. It was painfully obvious that the older Uchiha was smitten by the blonde kunoichi, and when he returned his gaze to the pinkette seated next to him she let out an exasperated sigh.

"She's going to kill him."

Itachi let out a low hum, dark eyes glistening as they caught hers. "He should know better than to forget something as important as that."

Kakashi sighed as he turned a page in his book, eyes not once straying from its pages. "A pity considering how much work Tsunade-sama put into patching him up."

Sakura turned her head to look at her former teacher with narrowed eyes, hand laying still on Pakkun's head. "I would be more concerned about yourself. Weren't you supposed to meet up with Naruto and Sasuke over an hour ago?"

Kakashi suddenly stilled, and even though his expression was blank and gave nothing away, Sakura knew the silver-haired male well enough to know that he had forgotten.

"Well then everyone, it was nice catching up with you." The silver-haired nin cheerily returned and before Sakura was able to chastise him for letting her teammates wait for so long, he poofed out of existence with Pakkun following suit.

Sakura blinked as she looked at the place her sensei had occupied mere seconds ago before she heaved a sigh and shook her head, unable to believe that after all these years, Kakashi was still the same.

It seemed like some things would never change.

Itachi watched the pinkette in mild amusement, the way her lips were curled into the slightest pout leaving him unable to stop himself from reaching out to rest his hand on the side of her face and turn it so that she would look at him.

Her eyes flickered to his the instant she felt his touch, the sight of him making her heart leap ever so slightly in her chest. It's only been a little over a day since she had last seen him, but she had missed him nonetheless, especially since the last time he had visited her she had barely been awake enough to actually take notice of his presence.

"How are you feeling?" His low voice murmured, concern briefly flickering in his face as he looked at her but the pinkette merely offered him a light smile.

"I'm fine." She assured, but her brows pinched together in concern when she caught sight of the dark shadows under his eyes. "You don't look too well though."

Itachi run his thumb over her chin, her smooth skin oft under his touch. He didn't bother deny it, knowing that she would never let him hear the end of it if he were to do so, but he didn't want to necessarily burden her with his concerns now that he finally had her back again.

Even though the past days have been keeping him busy, the knowledge that Sakura was well and within reach was enough to keep him pushing through it all. The days without her have been hell, the uncertainty and dark thoughts plaguing him and keeping him from getting even the smallest wink of sleep, and now that he finally had her back it felt like it all came crashing down on him at once.

She was the only thing that kept him sane in these troubling times, and if it weren't for her Itachi was sure that he would have lost himself on the dark path he traveled to find the light.

Without a second thought, he slid his hand to the back of her neck and pushed her forwards, meeting her halfway to capture her lips with his.

The feeling of her familiar, soft lips against his warmed his chest in an instant and when he felt her small hands rest against his chest to steady herself, a low, pleased growl rumbled through his chest.

The need to have her close was driving him mad, and even though Itachi was known to be a patient man, even he had his limits.

And a certain pinkette had a habit of pushing him, be it intentional or not.

He wrapped his free arm around her waist and without any warning hoisted her petite body on his lap. The corner of his mouth curled upwards in amusement upon hearing her surprised squeal, but it was swiftly silenced by his lips as he used that opportunity to deepen the kiss, allowing her to feel all the frustration and longing that had weighted him down for the past days.

"Itachi." Sakura breathed, the feeling of his strong arm keeping her firmly fixed against him making it hard for her to suppress the groan that threatened to spill past her lips. "Someone may see."

Itachi merely tightened his hold on her, a low grunt the only indication that he heard her and even though Sakura knew that she should pull away, she found herself melting under his caress. His touch was enough to set her skin on fire, and even though she wanted nothing more than to give into him, she knew that the risk of someone coming in was too high.

The nurses were already gossiping like crazy and she was sure that she if they were to stumble across the Godaime's apprentice straddling the current Hokage and Uchiha heir, all hell would break loose.

Sakura allowed herself to savor the feeling of his lips against hers for another long moment before she forced her lips away from his just enough so that they were still brushing, her lungs burning from the lack of air and mind hazy as she opened her eyes to look at him.

His dark onyx eyes caused her heart to flutter, and when she felt his hold around her waist tightening ever so slightly her lips curled upwards into a smile.

"I missed you too." She mumbled, leaning downwards to press her lips against his in a brief caress before she pulled back once more. "A lot, but we can't have the Hokage get caught in such an inappropriate state now can we?"

Itachi leaned his forehead against hers, the way her bright eyes were glazed over making it harder for him to keep himself from swooping her into his arms and simply running off to a place where he could have her all for himself without having to worry about any prying eyes.

"I don't care." He mumbled, his breath caressing her lips and sending a shiver down the length of her spine that didn't go unnoticed by him.

He loved how he had this effect on her, and how he would be the only one who'd get to see the beautiful way she looked in these precious moments that were shared just between the two of them, like this.

Her slightly swollen lips that were only for him to taste, the way her pulse spiked whenever he touched her and the way her chest heaved after he took her breath away.

She was his and his only, and he couldn't care less if anyone would see them like this.

Itachi had no intention on going back on his word and would claim the pinkette as his in every way possible, and he would make sure that everyone would know that this beautiful and kind-hearted woman belonged to him.

He could, however, understand her concerns and knew that if someone were to stumble across them like that, it would only cause an unnecessary headache for every party involved. She was one of the most respected kunoichi and medics there was while he was the most feared and respected person of the village, and they didn't need to give anyone a look into what they did in their private time.

His attention snapped back to the pinkette the instant he felt her hands slide up his chest before she rested them on his neck, emerald eyes holding his with badly concealed concern.

"When was the last time you slept?" She asked, her voice barely above a whisper and Itachi's eyes softened at her concern, his hold on her slightly loosening.

"I don't know." He admitted, his low voice causing Sakura to pinch her brows together in concern.

She knew that he had a lot of work to take care of even now after her return, especially now after her return, and to hear him admit that he hadn't had the chance to get some sleep was enough to break her heart.

The burden he carried was one heavy to bear, and she doubted that with everything that happened lately anyone else would have managed to keep it together like he did.

They didn't see the way he seemed slightly paler than usual, didn't notice the way the shadows under his eyes have grown darker with every day that passed, nor the way the lines around his eyes were more prominent than usual.

But she did.

And even though she knew that there was not much she could do, she would try her hardest with what she was able to do to take some of it away. So without a second thought Sakura gently moved her hands back down to his chest and pressed her body firmly against his, forcing him to lean backwards until his back hit the soft mattress of the hospital bed.

Mild confusion flickered in his dark eyes as he watched the pinkette grab the white sheets from where he had previously tossed them aside, her petite body shifting to get comfortable on his before she draped the sheets across their bodies.

She nestled her head against his shoulder, a soft smile on her lips as she tilted her chin upwards to catch his dark, curious gaze.

His arms were loosely wrapped around her waist, their faces only inches away when he felt her small hand caress the side of his face with a touch so soft he almost believed he only imagined it.

"You, Hokage-sama, are going to get some well needed sleep." Sakura told him, the softness her voice held contrasting to the firmness that hardened her emerald eyes. "Doctor's order."

Itachi arched a brow, onyx eyes glistening in amusement as he gazed down at the beautiful pinkette in his arms. "I recall a certain doctor being worried about others coming in only a minute ago."

Sakura mirrored his expression and lifted a daring brow of her own in return. "I think that there is a difference between them walking in on us sleeping and us being occupied in other ways."

Itachi held her gaze for another long moment and allowed his onyx eyes to fully take her in, the way her long hair was pooling around her and her bright eyes were stubbornly holding his.

The smirk on his lips deepened and even though he pulled her closer against him, his eyes sparked at the challenge.

"I have work to do." He reminded her, but Sakura merely scoffed and snuggled deeper into him.

"They know where to find you if its urgent but until then, you're staying with me." She declared before she tipped her head aside to eye him with innocent orbs that betrayed her dangerous smile. "Wouldn't want your Anbu guards to find you tied to this bed because you refused to cooperate, hm?"

Itachi's eyes darkened at the challenge, the shine her eyes held tempting him into dangerous territory and when he spoke, his voice dropped a few octaves.

"You'd keep the Hokage away from his duties." Itachi mused, his low voice causing a shiver to ghost over her skin as he tilted his face down so that their noses were barely brushing, dark eyes shining dangerously. "With whose permission?"

Sakura could feel her heartbeat fasten at the look he gave her, goosebumps covering her skin. Her lips curled upwards into a small, sharp smile as she trailed her index finger along the curve of his jaw, aware of the way his eyes gleamed dangerously at the motion.

"As your advisor, I only got the villages and its Hokage's best interest at heart." She mumbled, her eyes flickering to his lips before she lifted them to catch his once more, more than aware of the way his arms tightened around her waist in return.

The devilish tilt of her lips made it nearly impossible for Itachi to resist claiming her lips with his, but he couldn't deny how much he liked that side of her. It was one of the reasons as to why she had caught his interest in the first place, her stubbornness, wit, as well as her sweet, daring little mouth drawing him in without leaving him any means to escape.

"So me staying in bed with you benefits the village." Itachi mused, his words brushing against her lips and dark eyes staring right into hers with an intensity that made her stomach flip in a way she couldn't deny she liked. "Are you sure that that's the only reason?"

Sakura's emerald eyes darkened, the feeling of him so close making her mind fuzzy and even though she wanted nothing more than to taste him once again, her lips twisted upwards into a small smirk that seemed eerily similar to his.

"Should there be another?" She breathed, the feigned innocence her face held unable to deceive him.

Itachi regarded her for a moment longer, taking in every inch of her face and deeply imprinting it into his memory before he rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes and exhaled a soft breath out of his nose.

"You're impossible." He muttered, his voice rumbling through his chest and even though his eyes were closed he could feel Sakura smiling nonetheless.

"I missed you too." She cheekily returned, leaning forwards to swiftly capture his lips into a chaste kiss before she buried her face into his neck once more, the victorious smile never leaving her lips.

Itachi softly sighed as he rested his cheek against the crown of her head, his arms firmly wrapped around her waist to hug her close to him. Whereas he wasn't opposed to the idea of catching some well-needed rest, he meant it when he said that there were still things needed to be taken care of at the office.

The Uchiha heir turned his face to brush his lips against her brow, the feeling of her small, warm body curled up against his making it harder for him to resist.

Then again, work could wait for a few more hours if it meant that he could hold her like this.

It didn't take long for him to hear her soft, even breaths that indicated she'd fallen asleep and with her heart beating steadily along with his, their paces one and the same, Itachi was swift to follow the pinkette into the world of slumber.

X

"We need to act."

Onyx eyes slid over to catch the Kazekage's eyes, the red-haired male's face holding a concerned frown. The silence that followed his words was heavy, the weight of the situation settling heavily on the occupants that were seated on the small, round table in the conference room.

The Hokage didn't hesitate to fill the Kazekage in on what had happened ever since the incident with Sakura in Suna, and even though it was a lot to take in, Gaara already had his suspicions that something bigger was behind the past months incidents.

To hear that Orochimaru was still alive and that a former member of Konoha tried to capture the bijuu, however, was quite shocking to hear nonetheless.

"I agree." Itachi mumbled behind his laced hands, dark eyes sliding to the third person in the room who was concealed by the dark shadows the dim candle-light casted. "It's time."

Piercing honey orbs sharpened as they caught his, the meaning of his words causing her lips to curl downwards into a small frown and even though he knew that she was concerned, she knew just as well as he did that there was no stalling it any longer.

It was time to hold those who have done wrong and harm to innocent people accountable for their crimes, and they all knew that there was only one person who's be able to do that.

A soft sigh sounded from his left as the shadow leaned forwards to place her elbows on top of the table, the soft light of the candle illuminating her tired face. Tsunade was aware of how Itachi planned to proceed, and even though she didn't like the idea and knew the consequences that would follow, she knew that it was the only chance they had.

The sacrifices he would have to make were great, and even though he seemed as impassive as ever, she knew the Uchiha heir well enough to know that even for him, it was a decision he had made with a heavy heart.

Her heart went out to the young man that had gained everything, but may just as well lose it as fast and after another grueling sigh, the blonde spoke.

"Let's get it over with."

X

Sakura hummed a low tune as she pulled a fresh long-sleeved sweater over head, the baby-blue fabric soft against her slightly damp skin as she put it on.

She had just stepped out of the shower, the hot water having done wonders to ease the light soreness that remained after the mission and pulled her hair back into a low ponytail after she had dried it.

The black pants that belonged to her raven-haired teammate snugly hugged her waist and after she gave herself a quick once-over in the mirror and was satisfied with what she saw, the pinkette stepped out of the bathroom to enter her hospital room once more.

Just to find a familiar black-haired male standing in front of the window, his back turned to her as he gazed out of the window and down at the busy village.

"Itachi?"

Said Uchiha turned his head to look at the pinkette that had stilled upon seeing him with his hands laced behind his back, a small smile on his lips upon seeing her. He was dressed in a plain black, long-sleeved shirt that bore the Uchiha crest on its back, the matching black pants and sandals finishing the look that Sakura hadn't seen in a while.

It seemed like he had just returned from home instead of the office, and judging by the way he seemed more at ease than usual, it looked like he managed to catch some hours of well-needed sleep after his meeting with Tsunade and Gaara that he had briefly told her about the day before.

She didn't know what exactly the meeting had been about, but she had assumed that it was most likely about the rescue mission she had been on and didn't think to press any further

"I didn't expect you to come this early." Sakura commented, pleasantly surprised upon seeing him as her lips tugged upwards into a smile. "How did the meeting with Gaara go?"

By now Itachi had turned his body to fully look at her, and had she looked close enough she would've caught the brief flash in his eyes before it faded back out of existence.

"It went as expected." Was all he offered, eyes fixed on the pinkette as she moved around the end of the bed to sit down on it, rolling her eyes at his answer that gave less than nothing away.

"I take that it went well, then." She drawled, her legs dangling from the bed as she looked up at him with curious eyes. "How long are Gaara and Temari going to stay here?"

Itachi leaned with his back against the window, his arms crossed above his chest as he looked at the pinkette. "They will leave tomorrow morning, an hour after your discharge."

Sakura nodded, remembering that Temari had said something along the lines the day of the festival. "Makes sense."

Itachi tilted his head aside as he gave Sakura a quick once over, obviously checking for anything that may be out of place but upon finding her to be in seemingly perfect shape, he returned his dark eyes to her vibrant emerald ones.

"How are you feeling?"

Sakura sighed at his question but couldn't fight the smile that played on her lips at his concern. "I'm fine now, so there's no need to worry. If it weren't for Tsunade, I would have been out of here at least two days ago."

Itachi arched a brow at her, clearly not believing her if the state he had found her in the forest was anything to go by, much to her annoyance.

The pinkette rolled her eyes and moved to stand back on her feet, arms extended so that he could take a proper look at her. The tips of her fingers were glowing green, the familiar wave of her chakra brushing gently against his own as she wiggled her fingers with a mock smile as if to prove her point.

"See? I'm completely healed and ready to get discharged tomorrow." She drawled, fixing the Uchiha heir who was looking at her with badly concealed amusement with an annoyed glance. "Satisfied, Hokage-sama?"

"Very."

Within the blink of an eye he scooped her off her feet and straight into his arms, a surprised and rather pathetic sounding eep that she was sure Tsunade would have given her hell for escaping her lips as her arms instinctively wrapped themselves around his neck to steady herself.

Wide emerald eyes snapped up to meet his mischievous onyx eyes, her heart skipping a treacherous beat at the smirk that played on his lips.

He didn't give her a chance to speak and jumped onto the windowsill, causing Sakura's eyes to widen even further as she felt the crisp morning air hit her face before they flickered to Itachi.

"What are you doing?" She asked, the incredulity in her voice clearly audible but Itachi didn't even bother to look at her.

"Capturing you for the day." The Uchiha heir answered as if it was the most normal thing to do and Sakura's eyes widened even further.

"Are you crazy?" Sakura exclaimed, expression holding sheer disbelief as she tightened her hold on him. "Tsunade-shishou will kill us both once she finds out!"

Itachi merely shifted her in his arms to tighten his hold on her, the smirk on his lips not the least bit reassuring as his dark eyes flickered to hers.

"She won't."

And just like that, Itachi jumped out of the hospital room with the pinkette in his arms.

Sakura allowed her head to fall back against his chest with a small groan, ears already aching from the lecture Tsunade would surely give her once Itachi returned her to the hospital. It wasn't like she was scared of her shishou, she had passed that stage ages ago, but she wouldn't put it past Tsunade to extent her hospital stay for another week just because and that was something that Sakura wasn't sure she'd like to risk.

However, as Itachi jumped over the roofs of the village, his hold on her firm to shield her from the crisp autumn air, Sakura couldn't deny that she was curious of what the young Hokage had in mind.

She always knew that he was unpredictable, but she hadn't exactly expected him to just swoop her off her feet and take her out of the hospital behind Tsunade's back either.

Emerald eyes flickered up to glance at the handsome male, unable to shake off the sneaky suspicion that there was more to it that she failed to see, but when she caught sight of his relaxed expression, she decided to brush the thought away.

"Where are we going?" She asked, curiosity lacing her voice as she took in her surroundings.

At the speed that Itachi was using their surroundings were nothing more than a blur, but from what she was able to make out, she managed to discern that they were headed into the Southern part of the village.

"Somewhere nice."

Itachi was well aware of the confused look on Sakura's face and pointedly ignored it, the mysterious upwards tilt of his lips only making her even more curious.

The pinkette allowed her head to fall back against his shoulder to shield herself from the cool air that whipped past them, emerald eyes never leaving their surroundings. It wasn't until a few more minutes that Itachi finally began to slow down and the moment she was able to make out where he had taken her to, her bright eyes snapped up to his.

"The training grounds?"

Itachi remained silent, the mysterious gleam in his eyes not betraying his smile and when they finally came to an halt, Sakura allowed herself a moment to take in her surroundings.

He had taken her to Training ground three, the wide clearing that was surrounded by tall, looming trees bathed in the early morning light that the sun casted. The sound of the water running calmly through the nearby river reached her ears and when Itachi finally moved her back onto her feet, Sakura's eyes caught sight of a small group of people in the distance.

The medic turned her head to shoot him a curious look, only vaguely aware of the weight of his arm around her waist that he had yet to remove after putting her down.

Itachi caught her eye, his smirk turned into a light smile before he moved his hand from her waist to place it onto her lower back instead and gently urged her forwards.

Sakura quirked a brow but allowed the Uchiha to lead her towards the small group in the distance, and the closer they got, the better she was able to make out just who was waiting for them.

And to say that she was surprised would have been an understatement.

She instantly recognized Iruka who was turned to them with his back, her old teacher as well as another tall male she failed to recognize facing the group of what seemed to be at least a dozen children seated on the grass in front of them.

Sakura's wonder only grew when she noticed that the children didn't seem to be much older than ten, and judging by the fact that they weren't wearing a headband, she assumed that they haven't made genin yet either.

Sakura glanced at Itachi out of the corner of her eye, inwardly wondering what he could have possibly planned but the Uchiha heir merely looked ahead, eyes fixed on the children with a calm expression that only served to confuse her further.

In that moment he looked so worry-free, the total opposite of the day before when he had fallen asleep in the hospital bed with her, and Sakura couldn't help but marvel at the sight, a smile of her own tilting her lips upwards.

When they were only a few meters away from the group, one of the children seemed to have spotted them and the moment his eyes fell on the approaching duo they widened with excitement.

"They're here!" He exclaimed in glee, a small finger pointed at them.

The other children instantly turned their heads towards where the young boy pointed at, eyes widening in excitement as they erupted in whispers and chatters that caused Sakura's smile to widen into a light grin.

Iruka as well as the other Jonin turned around to greet them, a relieved smile on the former's lips upon seeing the approaching duo.

"Hokage-sama, Sakura-chan!" The brunet greeted them, shoulders slumping in relief. "You came just in time."

"Iruka-sensei." Sakura returned, genuinely happy to see her former teacher again. "It's good to see you again!"

"Oh trust me Sakura-chan, the pleasure is all mine." He insisted, and Sakura had to fight the grin that tugged at her lips when she saw Iruka pointedly glance at the chattering children before he turned towards his companion to introduce him. "This is Izuro Uchiha, a Jonin sensei of the Academy."

Said male took it as his cue and made a perfect bow, eyes fixed on the ground as he spoke. "Hokage-sama, Haruno-san, it's a pleasure to meet you."

Itachi inclined his head with a small smile, his warm hand still placed on her lower back as he looked at the younger Uchiha in front of him.

Izuro straightened once more and when Sakura was able to take a proper look at his face, she instantly caught sight of the features that gave his heritage away within an instant.

His ink-black orbs were slightly darker than Itachi's, his sharp jaw that most Uchiha males have been blessed with highlighting his high cheekbones while his raven-hair seemed to be the same color as Mikoto's.

He seemed to be around their age, and even though his expression was blank, she didn't miss the spark of surprise that momentarily flickered in his eyes upon seeing her in the company of the Hokage when he had first caught sight of them.

It was then that she remembered that Itachi still had his hand placed on her lower back, the distance between them practically nonexistent and Sakura fought the urge to sigh. It seemed like he as well was aware of the rumors regarding the two, and to see the two together most likely only confirmed them.

The poor guy probably didn't know what to think of seeing them like that in public, and Sakura couldn't say that she blamed him.

"They are looking forward to it more than I expected." Itachi mused, the smile never leaving his lips as he eyed the lively children in front of them that, in return, eyed him with open admiration.

Iruka heaved a sigh and lifted his hand to sheepishly rub the back of his neck, a light smile on his lips."They've been like this ever since I told them that you two would be coming this morning."

By now Sakura's curiosity was clearly fueled, but when she glanced up at Itachi in hopes of finding any clue as to what was going on, she noticed that he kept his eyes on Iruka what only served to increase her suspicion regarding what he had in mind.

"I'm sure that their excitement will positively reflect on their performance today." Itachi assured him, and Sakura turned to look at Iruka who visibly fought to keep the grimace off his face.

"They're quite a bunch." Iruka warned them, and upon hearing that, Sakura couldn't help but grin lightly.

She may not know what Itachi had planned and what they were going to do with the children, but if there was once thing she was sure of, then it was that these kids couldn't possibly be worse than they were back when they were at the academy.

"They can't be worse than we were back then, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka let out a cough that suspiciously sounded like a snort, the smile on his lips that he hid behind his balled fist earning him a knowing smile from the pinkette.

Before the brunet could say anything more however, a different, considerably younger voice spoke up.

"You were one of Iruka-sensei's students too?"

Sakura turned to look at the young girl that looked at her with curious, bright blue eyes that eerily reminded her of Naruto's. The medic walked towards the group of children and squatted down so that she was on eye-level with them, head lightly tiled aside as she offered them an affable smile.

"I was." Sakura confirmed, her amusement growing when the girl tugged excitedly on the sleeve of the brown-haired boy who was seated next to her, his wide eyes also glued on the pinkette. "So, you guys want to become shinobi too?"

The duo in front of her nodded, and Sakura absentmindedly noticed that she had now successfully gained the attention of the dozen or so children, all inching closer to the pinkette to listen.

"My brother is part of Anbu!" A boy from the small back boasted, chest puffed out and lips tugged upwards into a wide grin that Sakura easily mirrored.

"Is he now?" She drawled, sounding impressed as she looked at him. "Do you also want to join Anbu?"

The boy proudly nodded, his black-colored bangs brushing his eyes. "I do! That's why I have to become a genin first." His expression suddenly fell as if reminded of something and his shoulders considerably sagged. "But it won't be for another year until we graduate."

Sakura smiled despite of his obvious disappointment, clearly remembering her own desire to graduate as quick as possible to climb up the ranks, and whereas it helped keep her motivated, it could get pretty frustrating at times.

"Graduation will come by faster than you think." Sakura assured him, arms crossed above her chest as she looked at them. "The most important thing is that you guys train hard enough until then."

The young children seemed to regain some of their excitement upon hearing her words of reassurance when another girl from her left curiously tilted his head aside.

"Is it true that Hokage-sama became genin at seven?"

The other children's eyes widened as they looked between her and Itachi in astonishment, waiting for the pink haired medic to confirm the young girls words and by now, Sakura was well aware of the extra set of eyes that watched her from behind.

"It's true." Sakura confirmed, her lips curling upwards once more as their eyes widened in amazement before they erupted into excited whispers once more.

She easily caught the glances they shot Itachi, the admiration in their still innocent eyes clearly visible. A wave of content rushed through her at the sight and she couldn't help but feel happy upon seeing the adoring looks the Hokage received for his accomplishments from the younger generation, expression softening as she looked at the chattering bunch seated in front of her.

She thought back to when she had been their age and found herself sighing at how fast time flew by. It felt like just yesterday when she had been assigned to Team seven, and yet at the same time it seemed like ages ago since she had held the innocence of the genin-to-be in front of her.

"What about you?" A voice to her right suddenly asked, ripping her out of her thoughts.

Sakura's emerald eyes met light onyx ones within a second, mildly surprised to find that the one who spoke seemed to be a small, rather shy Uchiha girl that nervously twiddled her thumbs.

"Yeah." Another one called from the back, brows pinched together in wonder as he looked at the pinkette. "Iruka-sensei told us you that you're pretty strong too. Is that true?"

Sakura could hear Iruka sigh from behind her, seemingly intending to stop the kids before they got too excited but the medic merely offered them a mysterious grin.

"What do you think?" She asked, her amusement only growing when she saw the calculating frowns on their faces at her question.

They were eyeing her more closely now, other roaming her body to look for any weapons or hidden tools that may give her away but considering that Itachi just abducted her from the hospital, her attire was pretty deceiving.

"You look like a civilian." A girl noted, her ginger hair braided and hazel eyes narrowed in thought. "Maybe you're good at throwing Kunai?"

"She doesn't look too muscular, so she can't be good at taijutsu." Another decided, his arms crossed above his chest as he tilted his head aside. "Maybe ninjutsu?"

Sakura's grin didn't leave her lips, not the least bit offended that they believed her to be considerably weaker than she was. She rather liked having others underestimate her, because their surprise upon finding out that she was anything but was always something she rather enjoyed.

"I think you're pretty strong." The blue eyed boy with the Anbu brother from before said, nodding his head as if confirming his own words. "Else Hokage-sama wouldn't have taken you along."

Sakura could have sworn she heard Itachi huff in amusement behind her but pointedly ignored it in favor of leveling the group with a now blank expression, her bright eyes betraying her expression that gave nothing away.

By now the group was clearly torn between what to think of her, some believing her to be average whereas others insisted that she was only pretending to be weak to lure them into a trap and after a few more moments passed, Iruka clapped his hands together to get their attention.

"You'll find out very soon." The brown-haired male announced and Sakura turned her head to look at her former teacher in curiosity.

"We will?" She asked, eyes then flickering to Itachi who was watching her with an amused smile that she didn't know what to make of.

Iruka shot her a mildly confused look, brows pinching together as he looked at her. "Didn't Hokage-sama tell you about the competition?"

"Competition?" Sakura echoed in surprise, green eyes flashing with wonder as she moved back to her feet.

She knew that Itachi had something planned the moment he swept her off her feet and right into his arms, but she hadn't expected to find herself on the Training grounds with a group of genin, Iruka and an Uchiha Jonin to watch some sort of genin competition.

The younger Uchiha seemingly took it as his cue to step in, his lips pursed as he looked at the pink-haired medic. "There will be a competition between the genin to evaluate their skills and progress. They will be placed in two teams and have to solve a series of tasks with the knowledge they gained at the academy."

Sakura arched a pink brow at the information and when her eyes met Itachi's once more, it finally dawned on her what he was planning.

He hadn't brought her to watch a genin competition, but to join it.

She couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement curse through her body when she caught the mischievous glint in his eyes, the smile that tugged at her lips turning wider by the second.

So that was why he had abducted her from the hospital.

He knew how bad Sakura wanted to get out, and even though he was not ready to have her fully return to active duty just yet, he at least tried to make the time more bearable.

She vaguely remembered telling him that she would kill for a work-out when he visited her two days ago, and to see that he had remembered and even went out of his way to squish something like that into his already busy schedule and to risk facing Tsunade's wrath made her heart swell with happiness.

"Two teams you say?" Sakura drawled, hands planted on her hips as she shifted her weight to the side, eyes never leaving shining onyx ones.

Oh this would be fun.

"Wait, does that mean that we get to choose who's team to be on?" A young boy asked, the excitement his voice held clearly audible as the other children perked up and when Iruka gave them a nod, the group erupted into a rather loud, and in Sakura's opinion hilarious, discussion.

"I wanna be on Sakura-san's team!" The Anbu boy loudly declared, arm shooting up into the air as he shot the pinkette a charming grin.

"Are you dumb?" A girl asked, shooting him a look of disbelief. "As if Hokage-sama's team would lose against hers."

"She can use her charm to distract him!" Another one shouted, apparently in her defense but the only effect it had was to make the pinkette choke on air, eyes wide and filled with disbelief.

Now that took an interesting turn real quick.

"Tch." A young girl said, nose turned up high in the air as she shot the raven-haired boy a glare out of the corner of her eyes. "As if Hokage-sama would fall for that. And even if, I doubt that she'd land a hit on him."

Itachi crossed his arms above his chest as he watched the children in amusement, his eyes straying to the pinkette to watch her cross her arms above her chest and bite on her lower lip to keep herself from smiling.

"I bet she can!" Another girl insisted, her wide amber eyes turning to expectantly look at Sakura. "Right, Sakura-san?"

Sakura found herself to be the center of attention once more and tried to hide her amusement as best as she could, though the twinkle in her eyes easily gave her away.

"Well..." She trailed off, an exaggerated sigh passing her lips as she looked at the young group.

At her hesitation she could easily see half of their faces fall with disappointment, clearly expecting her to tell them that she was no match for the Hokage like the girl predicted, and after regarding them for a moment longer, her lips curled upwards into a smirk. "I did manage to break his ribs twice the last time he and I sparred."

Their eyes widened in amazement, jaws hanging slack and even though Sakura heard a familiar set of soft footsteps approach her from behind, she didn't turn to acknowledge him.

"See!" A young girl excitedly chirped, a proud grin on her face as she elbowed the blond boy to her right. "I told you, she's a total badass!"

The children easily fell back into a rather heated discussion as to who would be the better choice and why, and Sakura couldn't help but grin. It seemed like Iruka was right, they really were a wild bunch and even though she was certain that they would be hard to tame, she'd rather work with a bunch of overly-excited children than with a group of Shikamaru's on a bad day.

Iruka and Izuro had taken to calming the excited genin and assigning them to their teams when she suddenly felt a hot breath fan over her neck, the familiar presence behind her instantly making her relax. She turned her head aside to glance at him from over her shoulder, her heart skipping a beat as she noticed how close he was standing.

"Didn't think you'd miss me kicking your ass this much, Uchiha." Sakura smiled, heart giving a treacherous jerk in her chest when she caught sight of his smug smirk.

"I wouldn't be too confident, considering that you're officially still at the hospital." Itachi mused, his chest brushing against her back as he shifted his weight onto his other foot. "I thought you might like this."

Oh like it she certainly did. She felt like going crazy at the hospital and even though her mission had pushed her to her limits, she had enough time to recover. By the second day she already itched to do something, anything that may relieve her of some of her pent up frustration of being stuck at the hospital most of the day and night.

This was the perfect opportunity for her to finally let loose, and that she got to compete against the smug Uchiha was the cherry on top.

"It's just what I needed." Sakura admitted, stomach fluttering when she caught sight of the dangerous glint in his eyes. This man would really be the death of her someday. "Thank you."

Itachi's expression softened as he looked at her, his warm hand settling on her hip to give her a small squeeze as he offered her a small smile that Sakura instantly returned.

Just then she heard their names being called and Sakura turned her head to see Iruka wave them over with a smile, two groups of visibly excited genin standing behind him and Izuro.

Her eyes flickered back to Itachi, skin tingling in excitement as her lips curved upwards into a sly smile. "Ready, Uchiha?"

Itachi merely tightened his hold on her hip, head angled downwards to look at her with dark eyes that flashed at her challenge.

"Always, Haruno."

X

It turned out to be even more fun than she expected.

The pinkette and her team were currently gathered at the base of a broad tree, the six members of her team crouched low and looking at their leader with expectant eyes.

The game itself was fairly easy. At the beginning of the game each team was given a paper with six riddles written on it that each contained the location of items that needed to be collected by them. In comparison to the first five, the sixth and final item was only one and the team that managed to acquire it first and safely got it back to their starting point to hand it to Iruka would win the game.

So far, they have already managed to collect the first five items and were now trying to figure out the location of the sixth, and Sakura had to admit that her team was doing a fabulous job so far in both solving the riddle and acquiring the hidden items.

"Sakura-san, do you see anything?" The small Uchiha girl, Hiyori, asked, voice barely above a whisper as she gazed up at the elder kunoichi whose eyes swiftly scanned her surroundings.

Emerald eyes made sure to thoroughly scan their surroundings, knowing that Itachi's tricks were not to be trusted but after she was sure that they were safe for the time being, the pinkette turned back to shoot the group a reassuring smile.

"I think we're good." She said, crouching down next to the black haired boy with the Anbu brother that she found out went by the name of Haru. Her eyes then fell on the brunette boy that sat opposite of her, his innocent amber eyes shining as he looked at her. "Kiro, you got the riddle?"

Kiro bopped his head and dug his small hand into the inside of his white jacket, needing a moment to find it before he pulled out the paper and placed it on the ground in front of them for the others to see.

Their head instantly drew together to take a look at the last riddle while Sakura leaned with her back against the broad trunk of the tree, eyes falling on the young auburn haired girl seated on her left with a kind smile on her lips.

"Akiko, could you please read what it says?"

Akiko's eyes widened in surprise, not having expected Sakura to chose her before she nodded with a light grin and complied.

"I run without pause, I whisper without words. I hold the worlds secrets, am its beginning yet hold no end. In my bed you shall find what you seek, if beyond my surface you can see."

Sakura carefully listened to Akiko's words, her eyes not giving any of her thoughts away. It didn't take her long to figure out the location of the last object but judging by the puzzled faces of her team, they weren't as quick to catch on.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Ren asked, his dark brows pinched together in annoyance in a way that strongly reminded her of Naruto.

"This one is harder than the rest." Hiyori whispered, the blonde boy next to her sagging his shoulders in disappointment.

"This is going to take a while." Masato sighed, and Sakura crossed her arms above her chest to shoot them a disapproving look that she was sure would have made Kakashi proud.

They have been highly motivated for the previous riddles but now all of their eagerness seemed to have faded into thin air at the first sign of trouble, what was anything but good. She could understand their frustration at not being able to solve this one as quickly as the others, but that didn't mean that she would allow them to lose their spirit just because the final riddle was slightly more difficult to decipher.

She was sure that Itachi and his team were not far behind, and if they wouldn't pull themselves together they would steal the final item from right under their noses.

And that was something that Sakura would not allow to happen.

She wouldn't tell them its location since the point of this competition was to put their knowledge as a ninja under the test, but as the team-leader she wouldn't leave them hanging either.

"One step at a time." Sakura reminded them, her soft voice betraying the stern expression her face held. "Start with your surroundings. What places are there to hide an object?"

The small group of six instantly began to think, their faces scrunched up in thought.

"Trees." Ren suggested, and Sakura remained silent for a moment before she slowly nodded her head.

"Possible." She agreed, her eyes narrowing slightly. "But not quite. Tree's may make a sound if the wind blows through it, but they don't move by itself."

"What about the grass?" Akiko asked, eyes wide with excitement. "You can run on it and it can be hidden beneath its surface, underground."

Sakura tilted her head aside, a small smile twisting on her lips at her idea. "Very well thought, but again, it doesn't make a sound."

Akiko visibly deflated at that, the disappointment that brightened her eyes at being wrong clearly visible as she continued to ponder.

Sakura regarded the children for another long moment, biting the inside of her cheek as she wondered whether she should give them another hint but before she could decide, Hiyori's small voice broke through the tense silence.

"What about the river?"

Sakura fought the grin and allowed a thoughtful hum to pass her lips, emerald eyes sparkling as they regarded the young girl. Hiyori Uchiha was a soft-spoken and polite young girl, and even though she liked to keep to herself, Sakura could easily tell that she was intelligent and shared the Uchiha Clan's insight.

"Go on."

By now the others were curiously staring at the dark-haired girl who bit on her lower lip, black eyes falling onto her hands that were neatly folded on her lap.

"W-Well, the river runs and the water that fills it makes a rushing sound." She started, eyes hesitantly flickering up to meet the pinkette's. "It also has a surface, and Iruka-sensei once said that rivers have no end."

By now Sakura didn't bother to hold back her smile, proud that they managed to decipher the riddle on their own after all. She allowed her eyes to take in the remaining five's expressions and was pleased to see that they started to understand, and before Sakura could confirm the Uchiha's guess, Kiro shot to his feet.

"That's right!" He exclaimed, eyes open wide and shining brightly with excitement as he looked at his comrades. "There is a small waterfall close to the clearing, I bet it's hidden there!"

The others eyes widened before they turned to look at Sakura, waiting for her to confirm Kiro and Hiyori's words. The pinkette heaved a sigh and moved back to her feet, right hand planted on her hip as she shot them a fox-like grin.

"Let's go get our win, guys."

The group let out shouts of excitements as they moved back to their feet, and Sakura merely shook her head at them in amusement.

Well, so much for being discrete.

"You did it, Hiyori-chan!" Haru called, slinging his arm around the Uchiha girl's shoulders and pulling her close with a sharp grin that made her face flush at the sudden praise from the young boy and Sakura sighed at the sight.

They really were a cute bunch.

Within a handful of minutes they broke through the trees and neared the bottom of the waterfall, Sakura leading the small group towards their destination and just when they were about to reach the river, Sakura felt a familiar chakra signature brush against her own.

It was faint, a teasing caress meant to prepare her for the inevitable and Sakura involuntarily shivered, the sweet anticipation causing the adrenaline that rushed through her veins to pump faster.

Her senses were on high alert, the back of her head tingling in a way that caused her heartbeat to increase. They were chasing them and getting closer by the second, and Sakura swiftly realized that if they wanted to get the item, she would need to buy her team some time.

"Hiyori, Kiro." The pinkette called as they neared the river, emerald eyes never leaving the crystal-clear water. "Get the item. Ren, Akiko, you back them up while Masato and Haru stay with me."

Sakura could feel the tension in the air increase and even though she could easily tell their unease, they surprisingly did as told without asking any objections.

The second they reached the river Sakura and the group came to a halt. Hiyori and Kiro instantly went to work and scanned the waterfall for the last item while Ren and Akiko shielded their backs, bodies tense in a way that made Sakura shoot them a reassuring smile to ease their concerns.

"Don't worry," She told them, smile brightening when they shot her a sheepish look. "I got your back."

Sakura suddenly felt his chakra brush against hers once more, this time harder and the pinkette huffed in amusement. It seemed like he was looking forward to their meeting as much as she was, and the pinkette briefly glanced down at the two boys that flanked her, their expressions hard and bodies stiff.

Sakura inwardly commended them for their braveness and crouched down to be on eye level on them, her hands on their shoulders as she offered them a warm smile.

"You did great so far." She praised them, her gentle voice managing to take some of their tension away as she squeezed their shoulders. "Just keep an eye on your classmates and make sure that they won't try anything stupid, you can leave the Hokage to me."

The duo hesitated for a long moment before they eventually nodded, although the concern that brightened their eyes was still clearly visible. Sakura looked at them with sympathetic eyes, knowing that facing the Hokage may sound pretty cool at first but could get pretty intimidating once it actually happened.

What took her by surprise, however, was when Masato spoke.

"Will you be alright?" The young boy asked, the worry that was etched onto his face taking the pinkette by surprise. "The Hokage is really strong, we can help you fight him."

Sakura blinked at the two boys, caught off guard. She had expected them to worry, yes, but it seemed like she had misinterpreted their concern. They weren't concerned about their own well-being, but rather hers, knowing that she would be the one who'd face Itachi and try to buy them some time.

The pinkette's heart warmed at their concern and before she could stop it, a small chuckle escaped her lips. Whereas their concern was beyond cute and made her want to do nothing more than to hug them, they couldn't be more off.

"Don't worry you two." Sakura said, eyes twinkling with amusement as her lips twisted into a bright smile. "You can trust me when I say that I'm more than capable of dealing with our dear Hokage."

"Is that so, Haruno-san?"

The familiar voice that sounded behind her caused Sakura's heart to jump beneath her chest, and judging by the way Haru and Masato stiffened beneath her touch, their eyes fixed over the pinkette's shoulder, their esteemed guest had finally made his appearance.

Sakura heaved a soft sigh before she straightened, smile never leaving her lips as she turned around to face her opponents.

Standing a few meter in front of them was Uchiha Itachi, his dark eyes shining with an intensity that made her chest flutter in excitement. His group was lined up behind him, their eyes wide with excitement as they caught sight of their classmates for the first time since entering the competition, knowing that this was the moment that would determine who would win.

Sakura shifted her weight onto her right foot and interlaced her hand between her back, emerald eyes sparkling as bright as the water behind her.

"Of course, Hokage-sama." Sakura drawled, keeping her eyes fixed on the Uchiha heir.

His expression was calm, head lightly tilted aside and dark eyes holding hers with a dark gleam that betrayed his relaxed figure. His eyes never left hers, even when Kiro let out a triumphant shout behind her and the children on his team gasped.

"Hokage-sama!" The ginger haired girl called, her wide eyes turning to look up at the Uchiha heir in panic. "They got the scroll!"

Itachi however remained perfectly calm, his eyes still fixed on Sakura even when he spoke. "Then we'll just have to take it from them."

Sakura felt Haru and Masato next to her tense but remained still, brow arched as she looked at Itachi. "You think we're just going to hand it over to you?"

Her challenge was loud and clear and Itachi's eyes flashed in a way that made her blood run hot with excitement. Sakura was giving him a sweet smile that didn't match the shine her eyes held and Itachi's eyes sharpened when he realized that his sweet little pinkette had a plan.

"I would be disappointed if you would."

Sakura tilted her head aside in a way that made her look beyond appealing, her rosy lips curled upwards into a secretive smile.

"We won't fight you." Sakura declared, her calm voice earning her looks of surprise from both the kids on his team as well as her own.

"We won't?" She heard Kiro behind her squeak in surprise, and Sakura merely nodded in confirmation.

"We won't."

By now Itachi's curiosity was clearly piqued. He arched a brow as he looked at the pink-haired medic, trying to decipher what trick she had hidden in her sleeve. Her words were obviously meant to take them by surprise, but strangely enough he couldn't make out any traces of a lie on her either.

"What do you mean you won't fight?" A boy on Itachi's team called in surprise, clearly caught off guard as he looked at Sakura. "If you won't give it to us and won't fight, what will you do?"

Sakura's smile sharpened upon hearing his words and when she saw the flicker of realization in Itachi's dark eyes, she knew that it was time.

"Guys." Sakura called, the smile never leaving her lips as she drummed her fingers on her arm. "What's rule number one when facing Uchiha Itachi?"

"Pray?" Akiko timidly asked.

"Play dead?" Masato squeaked.

"Run?" Ren supplied, and it was then that Sakura's smile turned into a full-blown grin.

"Run!"

Within a second the group took off, leaving behind a stunned team that had a hard time believing their eyes as they watched the retreating backs of their competitors.

Sakura knew that without the use of chakra, the children weren't nearly as fast as her and thus she deliberately run behind them to keep their backs safe from their opponents who, she noted with amusement, seemingly needed a moment to realize what had just happened before they set off and right after them.

Itachi was the first one to recover, huffing in amusement at the pinkette's back. Either she had put him under a genjutsu or she had really just run away from them with the item, but judging by the way the members of his team let out shouts of surprise not even a moment later, it seemed to be the latter.

Itachi smirked.

She really was one of a kind.

Itachi was leading the opposing group and even without the aid of his chakra could easily catch up with the pinkette, but he rather enjoyed the chase she had started.

It would be unfair towards the children if they were to use even half of their real strength, and it would be only half as fun if the game were to be over within seconds.

He found himself mildly surprised to see that his teammates weren't far behind him and some even managed to catch up with him, darting forwards towards Kiro who was leading the opposing group with the scroll in his hands.

Sakura noticed the duo that had managed to catch up and attempted to block their path but Itachi was faster and, like a predator would with its pray, jumped at her from behind.

The pinkette let out a squeal as she felt Itachi grab her from behind, one hand pinning her hand onto her back from behind while his free arm wrapped itself around her waist to pull her flush against his chest.

Her heart was hammering against her rib-cage at the feeling of his strong arm around her, his bigger form looming over her from behind and the pinkette half-heartedly struggled to free herself.

Hiyori and Ren noticed the pinkette's dilemma and came to an abrupt halt, eyes wide as they took in the predicament their team-leader was in.

"Sakura-san!" They called in concern as they took uncertain steps forward, knowing that they wouldn't be of much help against the Uchiha heir but willing to try nonetheless.

Even though Sakura knew that her situation must have looked pretty bad, she offered them a light grin in hopes of easing their concern.

"I'll be fine." She said, trying to jerk her hands out of Itachi's grip only to feel it tighten on her in return. "Help the others get the scroll to Iruka-sensei!"

Ren and Hiyori exchanged an uncertain glance and hesitated, obviously not wanting to leave Sakura alone but after a long moment they eventually nodded and moved to take off once more.

Just when they took a few steps towards where Kiro had run off to however, a loud shout sounded and Sakura instantly recognized it to belong to her students. Hiyori and Ren also stopped to look uncertainly into the distance and after a handful of seconds passed, another shout, this time considerably more cheerful, followed.

"We got it!"

This voice did not belong to anyone from her team and Sakura mentally groaned. They were so close to victory and now Itachi's team had managed to get the scroll from their hands?

Sakura wriggled lightly in Itachi's hold to determine how strong his grip on her was and considering that she could barely flex her fingers, it didn't look too good for her.

Itachi must have seemingly caught on with the track of her thoughts and pulled her closer against him, his breath fanning her ear and making her stomach flip.

"Where do you think you're going?" She heard his husky voice rumble into her ear, and Sakura felt her knees go weak.

That damn Uchiha and his damn, low voice.

He knew exactly what he was doing to her, and Sakura knew that if she wanted to win, she needed to get away from him.

Fast.

"Taking back what's mine." Sakura announced, eyes flickering to her students that eyed her in panic. "Ren, Hiyori, change of plan."

The pinkette channeled some chakra into her wrists to loosen Itachi's hold on her and even though it was only enough to zap him, it worked well enough and made him release her for the split of a second.

And the split of a second was all she needed.

Sakura jerked her elbow harshly back and right into Itachi's chest, making him release a light grunt that made the pinkette wince in sympathy. She didn't necessarily want to hurt him, but it was a competition after all and she was not going to let him snatch this win from her and the children.

"Sorry." She swiftly apologized before she jumped out of his hold and darted towards her two teammates that were watching her in awe, clearly stunned that she managed to get away from Itachi Uchiha alive. "Let's go guys!"

The duo swiftly snapped out of their trance and moved to follow Sakura towards where Kiro and the others were, the pinkette well aware of the fact that she only had a moments advantage in comparison to Itachi.

Within moments she managed to spot the young brunette that was running into the direction of the clearing and Sakura almost pitied the young girl for sneaking up on her.

She obviously wasn't aware of the pink-haired medic that was closing in at rapid speed and just when the young girl was about to enter the clearing, Sakura jumped.

The girl stood no chance.

With a surprised yelp the young girl suddenly found herself tackled to the ground, Sakura's arm cushioning her fall so that she wouldn't get hurt.

Her vibrant brown eyes were staring up at her in surprise and Sakura offered her a sympathetic smile as she took the scroll out of her hand and moved back to her feet. "Sorry about that, Nami-chan."

Nami was still too surprised to say anything and just when Sakura was standing once more, she heard the sound of approaching footsteps.

Her head snapped to the right to see Kiro and Akiko break out of the trees, three other children she recognized to have been on Itachi's team following behind. They were clearly out of breath, hunched over to inhale deep gusts of air but upon seeing Sakura standing at the edge of the clearing, they instantly perked up in surprise.

"Sakura-san!" Kiro called in surprise, clearly not having expected her but when his eyes fell on the scroll in her hands, his eyes widened in excitement. "You got it back!"

Sakura offered the children a wink and was about to hand the scroll to Akiko so that she could continue onward when she suddenly felt the air behind her shift in a way she was all too familiar with.

He was here.

Sakura jumped forwards and out of his reach just when she felt his fingers brush against her back and landed in front of the children with the grace of a cat. Her eyes narrowed when Itachi materialized himself next to Nami who was now seated on her knees and looked up at the Uchiha in relief, her hold on the scroll tightening.

"Hokage-sama, the scroll..." Nami trailed off but when Itachi rested his eyes on the young girl, he merely offered her a small smile.

"It's fine." He assured her, dark eyes moving back to eye Sakura with a familiar glint in his eyes. "They won't have it for too long."

The temperature around them palpably dropped and Sakura flexed her free fingers, allowing the chakra in her veins to warm her hand.

"You're awfully hesitant today, Hokage-sama." Sakura drawled, eyes narrowing for the smallest of bits as she tilted her head aside with a teasing smile. "Scared I'll charm you off your feet?"

Itachi's eyes darkened at her words, lips curling up in amusement and not even a second later, he disappeared.

Sakura instantly acted and jumped forwards to meet him halfway, fist slamming into the ground at his feet and shattering the earth with a loud rumble.

She made sure to not use too much chakra so that the children would stay unharmed and she barely registered their surprised yelps behind her as she whirled around to throw her fist towards where she knew Itachi's face would be.

The Uchiha however saw her attack coming and allowed his smirk to widen as he grabbed her wrist and twisted it sharply downwards, fixing it firmly on her back but just as Sakura was about to jerk her knee upwards to knee him in the stomach, he used his free hand to wrap it around the back of her thighs and hoisted her up into his arms.

Sakura let out a surprised yelp and arched her head down to look at Itachi with wide eyes, his smirk having turned into an amused smile that made her heart skip a beat.

"What do you think you're doing?" Sakura breathed, their noses almost brushing and when she saw Itachi's smirk turn into an amused smile, she felt her heart skip a beat.

"Taking back what's mine." He lightly returned, throwing her own words right back at her face, and Sakura wasn't too sure whether he was talking about the scroll or her.

She had a feeling that it was a little bit of both.

Her eyes swiftly darted to their audience and when she locked eyes with Haru, she didn't hesitate.

"Catch!"

The second the yell passed her lips Haru moved and darted out of the clearing, the other students needing a second to catch on but the second they saw the scroll fly from Sakura's hand into the air, they jumped back into action.

They were pushing one another out of the way in hopes of getting to catch it but after years of training her aim, Sakura knew that the scroll wouldn't miss her target as long as he managed to catch it.

And Haru didn't disappoint.

The young boy jumped up in the air and caught the scroll with a triumphant yell, earning him a bright grin from Sakura that was short-lived when she felt Itachi drop her back onto her feet to chase after him.

Sakura watched as Haru run into the clearing with the others hot on his trail, Itachi using his speed to his advantage to catch up but Sakura wasn't going to lose the scroll to him a second time.

Channeling her chakra into the soles of her feet, Sakura darted right after the Uchiha heir as fast as she could. The air whipped past her face as she closed in, knowing that he could feel her behind him and just when his fingers were about to brush the collar of Haru's shirt, Sakura lunged.

The pinkette tackled him from behind and threw her body on his, Itachi instinctively turning his body to land on his back instead of flat on his face. A huff left him when he felt her weight crash down on him the second his back hit the grass, hands automatically finding her waist so that the pinkette wouldn't hurt herself.

Sakura took a moment until she lifted herself onto her forearms, her face mere inches away from his as she offered him a breathless, dazzling smile.

"Hey."

Itachi looked at her in disbelief, the amused tilt of his lips betraying his eyes as he arched a brow. Sakura merely shot him a sheepish smile as she moved to sit on his lower stomach, thighs tightly pressed against his to keep his legs immobile.

"You think that will keep me from getting free?" Itachi mused as he looked up to the pinkette that was currently straddling him, hands still on her waist as she shrugged.

"Not really, but it buys Haru some time."

Itachi allowed a small chuckle to pass his lips, the soft sound making Sakura's chest tighten in joy. She loved to hear him laugh, the sound she only rarely got to hear making her all the more happy whenever she did.

Her smile softened as she took in his carefree expression, the light that brightened his dark orbs making him look more like the handsome young man he was rather than the stoic, feared leader of the village.

Noticing the look on her face, Itachi arched his brow in silent question but Sakura merely shook her head, the loose strands of her that escaped her ponytail framing her face that was slightly flushed from the cool air.

"I love seeing you like that." She confessed, chest fluttering when she saw his expression soften and felt his hands that were resting on her waist give her a gentle squeeze.

The moment however was swiftly broken when a series of shouts echoed through the clearing making their heads snap towards the sound just to see Akiko and a young brown haired boy from Itachi's team each tugging at one side of the scroll.

Iruka and Izuro were both standing on the other end of the clearing, watching their students in a mixture of both disbelief and resignation and Sakura instantly tensed.

A heavy moment of silence followed in which neither she or Itachi moved, but the second Sakura saw Akiko's hold on the scroll loosen for the smallest of bits, she moved.

Jumping off Itachi, Sakura instantly darted towards the group but before she was able to take more than two steps into their direction, Itachi had grabbed her ankle and dragged her back to the ground.

Sakura twisted her body in the air so that she would land on her back and let out a grunt the second she collided against the grass. Her emerald eyes snapped to Itachi just in time to catch him trying to pass her but Sakura was quicker. She swiftly grabbed his arm and harshly yanked him down on top of her, all air leaving leaving her lungs the second she felt his body collide with hers.

Itachi instantly rolled them over to remove his weight from her and wrapped his arms tightly around her to keep her fixed against him so that she wouldn't try to run off again, dark eyes sparkling with laughter as he heard Sakura groan against his shoulder.

"We won't get far like this." She decided, Itachi's deep chuckle the only answer she got in return.

The sound of shouting then broke through the clearing and Itachi turned his head to look up at group of students that were standing in front of Iruka, Haru holding up one part of the scroll whereas Nami held up the other.

"Seems like we don't have to anymore." Itachi mused, causing Sakura to snap her head up to look towards the group.

As soon as she realized what had happened the pinkette's face fell before she allowed her weight to crash back on Itachi and rested her forehead against his shoulder with a small whine.

"Come on now." She muttered, Itachi's chest rumbling with laughter at the disappointment that filled her voice. "A tie?"

X

The rest of the day passed by in a blur.

After the end of the competition that ended in a tie, much to Sakura's disappointment and Itachi's amusement, they spent some more time with the students that couldn't help but bombard the pinkette with questions as to how she managed to break the ground and can you break Ren's nose like that too?

By sundown, Sakura found herself seated in Ichiraku's with the rest of Team seven that they met when leaving the Training grounds earlier and the pinkette couldn't recall a day when she had enjoyed herself more than this one.

It was a nice change to not have to worry about anything for once, and the way she glowed was noticeable to not only Itachi, but also the others around her.

"Seems like she quite enjoyed herself."

Itachi didn't remove his eyes from the pinkette that was seated opposite of him between his little brother and her blond haired teammate, the latter animatedly telling them one of his stories from the time he traveled with Jiraya that had her clutching her stomach with laughter.

His expression softened as he took in her bright eyes, and even though seeing her happy like that had been Itachi's goal, a part of him hated himself for the pain that would follow her beautiful smile very soon.

"It's the least she deserves."

The copy nin exhaled a soft sigh from where he was seated next to him, arms crossed above his chest as he eyed his three students with dark eyes.

"Are you sure that you don't want to tell her?" Kakashi mumbled, and even though a part of Itachi knew that she deserved to know, he knew that he couldn't.

As selfish as it may was, he wanted to have her enjoy one day where she could be happy without having to worry about anything, one day on which he could shield her from everything that may dim the radiant smile that refused to leave her lips.

"It's for the best." Itachi returned, his voice soft yet eyes hard with resolution.

Kakashi remained silent, eyes flickering to the Uchiha heir in sympathy. No words needed to be said for Itachi to know that Kakashi understood, but even that did little to ease the heavy burden that weighted down on his heart.

Itachi returned Sakura to her room by the time the sun had already set, the bright moonlight shining through the window that Itachi used to enter.

The Uchiha heir set the pinkette back on her feet, the smile she shot him brighter than the light that illuminated the room.

"Thank you." Sakura breathed, hands still resting on his chest as she shot him a dazzling smile. "I had a lot of fun today."

Itachi's expression softened as he lifted one hand from her waist to gently tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ears, his knuckles softly grazing the soft skin of her cheek before he settled it to caress the side of her face.

"It's the least I can do." Itachi mumbled, chest tightening as he saw the way her expression brightened at his words.

"I know you're busy, so I really appreciate that you managed to spend some time with me." Sakura told him, voice barely above a whisper and Itachi tightened his hold on her waist.

A voice in the back of his mind whispered to him that he didn't deserve to hold her, that she didn't deserve to feel the pain that would expect her the moment she would open her eyes tomorrow, but meeting her had turned him into a more selfish man, a man that was struggling to think straight in her company.

And when she looked at him like that with the moonlight illuminating her angelic face, he allowed himself to be selfish for one last time.

Itachi gently pulled the pinkette closer by the waist and leaned down to claim her lips with his, allowing all the words he didn't have the courage to speak to flow into that kiss.

She would understand, he knew, but the hurt that would accompany that understanding was inevitable and it pained him that he would be the reason for it.

He savored the feeling of her soft lips against his and the way she curled into his touch, the soft sigh that escaped her and brushed against his lips making him tighten his hold on her.

He loved her, more than she would ever know, and because of that he would have to let her go.

It took him every ounce of willpower in his being to pull away from her lips, his forehead gently resting against hers as he stared into the pools of emerald that would forever keep his heart.

He allowed his vision to bleed crimson, the sight of her flushed face bathed in the white light one he would forever imprint into his mind and when he brushed his thumb across her cheek and she leaned into his touch, he felt his chest tighten.

"Sleep." He softly willed, lips ghosting over hers to taste her for one last time. "I'll see you soon."

With his promise lingering on her lips, Itachi finally let her go. He watched her lips curve upwards one last time into a parting smile before he faded into the darkness of the night, leaving behind the woman that held his heart.

X

Sakura awoke with a start.

Her heart was pounding rapidly against her chest as her blurred eyes hastily took in her surroundings in hoped of finding the source for her sudden distress but when she noticed that she was still in her hospital room, she willed herself to calm down. Lifting a trembling hand to rest it over her chest in hopes of getting her heart to slow down, Sakura slowly sat up and glanced at the clock that was hanging on the wall next to the door.

02:02AM.

Sakura tiredly narrowed her eyes as she realized that she had only been asleep for the past four hours and even though she couldn't recall to have had any nightmare, the tingling sensation of her skin told her that something was wrong.

Very wrong.

She tried to fall back into her slumber but after a handful of failed attempts swiftly realized that it was in vain, all traces of sleep having already left her system. The heavy feeling that settled itself into her chest was growing more intense with every moment that passed and if Sakura had learned one thing during her years of training as a kunoichi, then it was to always trust your gut.

The pinkette kicked the blankets off her and moved out of her bed, the sound of her bare feet softly padding against the cool marble tiles of the hospital echoing through the silent room as she made her way out of her room to seek out Tsunade.

She knew that the blonde would most likely still be awake and was probably getting herself drunk, and since Sakura was wide awake now herself, she may as well lend her lonely shishou some company.

Maybe then she would also feel somewhat better.

The pinkette shut the door to her room with a soft click and made her way down the deserted hallway, greeting the handful of nurses that she passed on her way with a light smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

The soft sound of the raindrops hitting the window pane broke through the silent corridors and when Sakura finally reached Tsunade's office, she softly rapped her fist against the door before letting herself in.

A small smile pulled at her lips as she saw her blonde teacher seated behind her desk, back hunched and head in her hands as she glared down at a paper that she assumed was the reason for her latest headache.

"Work keeping you awake?"

Tsunade's eyes snapped up to see Sakura standing in her doorway, dressed in a white, long-sleeved nightgown that reached her shins. Her pink hair was cascading loosely down her back as she shot her shishou a sympathetic smile that she returned with an arched brow. Her honey orbs briefly flickered to the clock and when she saw the time, the Godaime frowned.

"What are you doing awake?"

Sakura's slender shoulders lifted into a light shrug as she made her way towards Tsunade's desk, the shiver that ghosted over her skin only adding to the unease that accompanied her.

"Couldn't sleep."

Tsunade eyed her student for a moment before her expression softened in what seemed to be understanding, a light sight passing her lips before she jerked her chin towards the free chair in front of her.

"Sit down." She ordered, lips pursed into a thin line as she watched her student slump down into the empty seat with attentive eyes. "Just don't think I'm going to share my sake with you."

Sakura rolled her eyes but smiled at her teacher's words nonetheless. "Wouldn't dream of it."

Tsunade shoved the papers on her desk aside and reached for one of the drawers of her desk to retrieve the white bottle of liquid, the ceramic bottle feeling cool against her skin as she poured herself a drink.

"How are you feeling?"

Sakura blinked at the sudden question, mild surprise filling her at the sudden question of her mentor. She had half-heartedly expected Tsunade to reprimand her for leaving the hospital like that but for some reason, Tsunade seemed eerily serious instead of angry as she had expected.

Of course there was always a chance that she didn't know, but Sakura highly doubted that the Godaime wasn't aware of her little trip with Itachi considering that she had been gone for most of the day.

"I'm fine." Sakura slowly returned, brows pinched together in confusion as she cautiously eyed Tsunade. "Though I expected you to give me an earful for leaving the hospital just like that."

The Godaime downed the drink in one go before she lowered the cup back onto the table and eyed Sakura with a look she couldn't quite discern.

"As much as I wanted to, I decided to let it slide by and take some pity on you given the circumstances." Tsunade told her, pouring herself another drink as Sakura shot her a questioning look. "Though on second thought, you seem to be taking it better than I expected."

Sakura felt her entire body stiffen at Tsunade's words, her skin suddenly feeling hot as her chest tightened."Taking what better than I expected?"

Tsunade's hand stilled midair from where she had raised the cup to her lips, honey orbs snapping to catch her students concerned gaze. The blonde regarded her student for a long moment before she slowly lowered her cup back onto her desk, realization dawning on her as her brows pinched together in concern.

"He didn't tell you?"

Sakura felt her stomach drop, the unease she had previously felt turning into sheer dread at the look that Tsunade was giving her.

"Didn't tell me what?" Sakura asked, her voice barely above a whisper and when Tsunade hesitated, her honey orbs flashing with regret, the pinkette felt her panic rise in her. "Shishou, what's going on?"

Tsunade's eyes softened as she looked at the distraught girl seated in front of her, a heavy sigh passing her lips as she pressed her lips into a thin line. She had been under the impression that Itachi had told her what was going on, but it seemed like he had chosen to let her enjoy the bliss of oblivion for as long as possible instead. She couldn't say that she blamed him, and had Sakura not woken up in the middle of the night it may have worked out better than it did now.

So with a heavy heart, Tsunade spoke.

"Uchiha Itachi has left the village to eliminate the sanin Orochimaru."

Sakura's entire world froze within an instant, stomach dropping painfully as her eyes gradually widened in shock. The blood in her veins run cold as her chest closed to the point where her unease was clawing its way up her throat, taking away all the air in her lungs and making it hard for her to breathe.

Tsunade's words echoed in her mind as Sakura tried to make sense of them, her heart clenching painfully in her chest at the realization of what she had just been told.

Itachi had left the village to hunt down Orochimaru.

Her mind suddenly took her back to when he had left her this evening, his parting promise echoing loudly in her ears and suddenly making much more sense than before.

I'll see you soon.

She felt light-headed, the sharp pang of betrayal that he hadn't told her about his plan cutting her like a hot knife.

"When?"

Her own voice sounded foreign to her ears, the words having passed her lips without herself realizing but when her eyes flickered up and caught sight of the sympathetic look on Tsunade's face, she tightly clenched her fists.

"Sakura-"

"When?"

The urgency her voice held only worsened the painful ache in her chest and even though she knew that Tsunade most likely wasn't supposed to tell her, she couldn't bring herself to care.

He couldn't leave her just like that.

Tsunade regarded her student for another long moment, the paleness of her skin and distress on her face an expression Tsunade was more than familiar with and had seen in her own mirror too many times to count. Amber eyes flickered to the clock once more, brows drawn together as she took in the time before she looked back at Sakura.

"You got two minutes before they're supposed to depart the village."

Sakura's feet moved on their own accord and within the split of a second carried her out of the room and straight into the corridors of the hospital. Her heart was pounding loudly in her ears, adrenaline rushing through her veins at full speed as she rushed through the white halls as fast as she could, praying to whoever was willing to listen that she wouldn't be too late.

The second she exited the hospital and her bare feet hit the cool, wet pavement she channeled her chakra into her feet and jumped onto the roofs, her body instantly taking her down the familiar path that would lead her towards her destination.

The rain was mercilessly belting down on her and soaking her to the bone, the chilling night air biting painfully at her skin but Sakura didn't notice, her sole focus on locating his familiar signature.

The soles of her feet were aching from the lack of protection, the air that sharply filled her lungs feeling too thin and when she felt the faintest of brush against her chakra, she felt her heart lurch painfully in her chest.

She forced her feet to increase their speed, uncaring of the pain that shot up her legs and when the familiar gates finally reached her sight, the pinkette jumped down from the last roof and onto the deserted path that led out of the village.

Her chest was heaving in an uneven rhythm, her lungs burning from the lack of air but all of it didn't matter the second her emerald eyes found his.

He must have felt her approach, the remaining dozen members of his team standing by the gates and slightly further away to give them privacy, most likely on his order, and even though they could still see her Sakura didn't have the strength to care, the hot wave of anger that rolled over her upon seeing him all dressed up and ready to go only fueling her fury.

"So it's true." Sakura whispered, her heart clenching painfully in her chest as she balled her fist to the point her nails drew blood. "You're leaving."

Itachi's eyes softened as he looked at her, and for a moment Sakura believed to have seen regret flash in his onyx orbs, but it was gone as fast as it appeared.

"Yes."

Sakura gritted her teeth, body trembling with anger as she narrowed her eyes sharply. She knew that there was no point in denying it anymore, but his curt answer was enough to make something in her snap.

"Why?" Sakura asked, temper rising to the point she felt her blood burn in her veins and her emerald eyes flashed dangerously in the darkness. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Itachi pursed his lips into a thin line as he took in her shaking form, her long pink tresses sticking to her wet nightgown that clung to her pale skin. Her face was drained of any color, the dark circles under her burning eyes telling him that she hadn't slept well and his heart gave a small jerk as a flood of guilt overtook him.

She looked exhausted, and he knew that he was the one to blame.

"I wanted you to enjoy the day without having to worry." Itachi confessed, his low voice carrying through the empty streets. "I didn't want to make it harder for you."

Instead of giving her a sense of reassurance, his words had the opposite effect for in the next moment Sakura's eyes flashed with fury.

"Do you think waking up and hearing that you left from someone else would have hurt less?" Sakura asked, her voice rising as she felt the back of her eyes sting. "Did you even think about how I would feel, waking up and not knowing that you went off to kill him?"

Itachi's lips curled downwards as he took a small step closer to her, eyes flashing darkly. "It's because I care that I did it."

"How many times did I tell you not to do things on your own?" She yelled, chest heaving as she felt her throat close up. She felt dizzy, all the adrenaline numbing her senses as all she could see was him, looking at her with his dark eyes filled with guilt that broke her heart even further. "How could you decide something like that without telling me?"

Itachi clenched his jaw, knowing that she had every right to be mad at him and he was willing to take it all, but seeing her this broken hurt him more than he had anticipated.

"It was only a matter of time." Itachi softly reminded her, taking another small step forwards so that she was within arms reach. "You just returned, and I didn't want you to worry."

"I deserved to know!" Sakura shouted, unable to keep the hot tears from running down her cheeks any longer. She couldn't believe that he believed this to be the best for her, to just leave her in the dark about what was going on again and to leave without telling her.

She was exhausted, angry, and hurt all at once. She knew that he would have to go sooner or later, and even though he had most likely only found out himself he should have at least told her to give her the chance to prepare herself.

Orochimaru was no enemy to take lightly, and she was aware of the fact that this mission may as well kill him, and even though she had faith in him and his skills, she still worried for his well-being.

She was scared.

And there was nothing other she could do than to watch him walk away from her again.

All of sudden Itachi was standing right in front of her, arms reaching out to pull her to him but Sakura firmly pressed her fists against him to push him away.

"Let me go." She called, her voice hoarse as she felt her tears mingle with the rain but he didn't budge, his arms encircling themselves around her waist to pull her tightly against him.

"No."

Sakura gritted her teeth and pushed harder against him in hopes of getting him to let go but no matter how hard she pushed, he refused to budge. Frustration rose in her as she realized that she didn't have the strength to free herself and Sakura didn't hold back any longer, fists pounding harshly against his chest.

"You inconsiderate jerk." She cried, fists growing numb with every punch she made. Her tears left a hot trail on her cheek and with every time she hit him, she felt more of her strength leave her body.

She felt Itachi remove one of his arms from her waist to rest it on the back of her head before he gently pushed her against him, her tear-stricken face softly nestled in the crook of his neck.

"I'm sorry."

His words were softly whispered into her ear, his warm voice taking the last bit of strength that she held in her body and making her sag against him in exhaustion, the tears freely falling as she clenched her eyes shut. Her shaking hands tightly gripped his wet shirt for dear life, her small trembling body nestled in his safe arms that only tightened around her when he finally felt her give in.

"I hate this." Sakura whispered against his neck and Itachi pulled her closer, his own heart aching painfully in his chest at her broken whisper.

"I know." Itachi mumbled against her wet hair, knowing that no words of consolation would be able to ease her pain.

He hated it as much as she did, and even though he knew that she understood that it was something that he had to do and accepted it, it didn't make the pain hurt any less.

After he had made sure that she had calmed down and her body stopped shaking, Itachi slightly pulled back to softly rest his forehead against her, his hand moving from her hair to gently rest on the side of her tear-stricken face.

"Look at me." He softly mumbled, his heart breaking when her glistening emerald orbs stared back at him. He run his thumb over her cheek, wiping away the wet trail of her tears as his onyx eyes darkened. "Remember what I told you."

It wasn't a question but rather a command and Sakura tightened her hold on his shirt before she let out a shaky breath, head lowering ever so slightly into a small nod.

Itachi's eyes stared into hers with an intensity that made her skin crawl, resolve hardening his eyes as he firmly held her gaze.

"I'll always come back to you." He mumbled, arm tightening around her and when Sakura found nothing but determination in his dark orbs, she knew that he would keep his promise.

So, lifting a shaky hand to brush her fingers against his jaw in a tender caress, Sakura once more closed her eyes and savored the feeling of his warmth, imprinting his scent deep into her memory to lend her company in the lonely days that would follow.

She felt his lips gently brush against her forehead in one last parting caress, and as they stood in the rain, uncaring of anything but each other, Sakura returned his promise with one of her own.

"I'll wait for you." She whispered, a lone tear escaping her eyes as she felt his heart beat steadily under her hand, the steady pounding of her own matching his. "Always."

X

A/N: I'm so sorry that I took slightly longer to update than usual.

I planned on writing this sooner but unfortunately, this year didn't start on a good note for me. I hope that you had a better start into this year and that you enjoyed this chapter nonetheless.

It's the longest I've written so far and it took me a bit longer than usual, but I am happy with how it turned out nonetheless.

Next chapter will explain more about Itachi's rather sudden departure etc so stay tuned! There should be around five, maybe six chapters left of this story and it's scary to see how this story is slowly coming to an end, but I'm beyond happy that you enjoyed it so far.

I sincerely want to thank every one of you for reading,reviewing, following and favoring this story. Your support is what keeps me motivated to work on this story and I hope that you'll keep on supporting Immersion as much as you did until now!

I'm happy about every feedback so if you liked this chapter, please share your thoughts about it by leaving a review! I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Stay safe everyone and take care in these troubling times!

Love,

Sara