Labyrinthine – an Itachi & Sakura story
By: F.M. Wrights
"Are you okay?"
Five year old Haruno Sakura blinked up.
A boy holding a plastic bag stood before her.
Quickly she wiped at the tears on her cheeks as she nodded.
"You don't look okay," he said softly.
"I'm f-fine," she mumbled.
He squatted down before her, head cocked to the side slightly as he tried to capture her eyes through the curtain of pink hair. Sakura kept her eyes on the plastic bag as it hit the cobbled pavement, the plastic swooshing in the wind.
The boy in front of her was clad in a dark shirt and light grey pants. To her surprise, Sakura noticed sunlight reflecting off his forehead protector. He looked too young to be a genin. She flinched as he lifted his hand into her direction, body poised to run, but he surprised her by gently pushing the roseate locks from her face until his deep dark eyes finally met hers.
He smiled at her.
"Are you lost?" he asked. His voice was soft and kind.
"Hurt?" he asked, sweeping his eyes over her.
She remained quiet.
The plastic bag beside him rustled and she watched him as he dug out a plastic container. Curious, she watched him as he opened it up and glanced back at her, a hesitant smile playing around his lips. "Do you like sweets?"
"Oh good," the boy said, extending the open container to her. "Have some."
Sakura peeked into the container, finding perfect skewers of sanshoku dango inside. The pink, white and green balls looked shiny and appetizing. Despite her mother's stern warnings never to eat food from a stranger, Sakura extended a hand and picked one of the skewers, lifting the sticky substance from the plastic container with a slight tug. "Thank you," she whispered quietly.
"You're welcome," the boy said kindly.
She stared at the skewers for a moment.
"I like green best," he said decisively, having taken out a skewer of his own.
Finally, the corners of her mouth lifted. "Pink."
"It matches your hair color."
"Is it w-weird?" Sakura asked. Apart from her father's hair, which was just a shade darker than her own, she had never seen someone with her hair color. Along with her large forehead, it was just another thing for the other children at the academy to tease her with.
"It's unusual, but I like it," the boy said.
Sakura blushed deeply.
"Are you bullied because of your hair color?" he asked.
"They call me… billboard brow," Sakura said, hugging her knees to her chest.
He lifted an eyebrow and extended his hand again. Carefully, the boy lifted her pink locks and took a long, scrutinizing look at her forehead. He chewed thoughtfully on the white dango as he turned to her left and then to her right. "Looks normal to me," he said finally, releasing his hold on her forehead.
She nearly started crying again.
In the distance someone called out, drawing the attention of the boy. He stood, dusted some dirt off his pants and picked up the plastic bag. "I have to go. Do you know your way home?"
Sakura nodded, looking up at him.
"Take care," he said with a wave of his hand, rushing off into the direction of the forest at the edge of the village.
Sakura watched him disappear in the foliage before drying the last of her tears with her shirt. Slipping the pink dango off the skewer, she ate contently as she slowly made her way home, hoping to meet the boy again.
Uchiha Sasuke, academy heartthrob had been out of school for two weeks. The day he finally returned after his long absence, every girl in class, Sakura included, swooned, while the boys chatted excitedly.
"Did you hear? There are only two survivors…"
"No way! The whole Uchiha clan?"
"Silence," Iruka shouted, slamming a hand on his desk to draw the attention of the rowdy class. Sakura didn't miss the way his eyes passed over Sasuke, full of pity and sadness. Iruka turned to his blackboard, beginning his history lesson, but Sakura found herself distracted.
Sasuke sat two benched down from her in one of the corner seats. Beside him sat obnoxious Naruto, glancing at him once or twice in a clear provocation, but Sasuke didn't seem to see anything. He stared outside, chin in his hand while the class progressed. If Iruka noticed the blatant disregard for his class, he didn't mention it while droning on about the accomplishments of the Second Hokage.
Sakura looked at the object of her affection for the last year or so. When they started the academy, Sasuke had always looked intensely concentrated, as though he was desperately trying to get better despite consistently being best in class. She had found his quiet determination charming, his dark eyes and soft looking hair cute and his seemingly aloof attitude cool. Now, there was a deep sadness in his eyes that she hadn't seen before. She wondered if it had anything to do with his time away from the academy.
Maybe today she would try actually talking with him after school.
At that moment, another gaze drew her attention. Naruto had turned in his seat and apparently noticed her looking into Sasuke's direction. He showed a sly smile and waved at her. Frowning at him, Sakura huffed and promptly looked away.
Time passed as normal. Iruka's classes, while interesting, always managed to bore the dead-lasts of the classes. Sakura giggled as Naruto, Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba were told off once again before they made yet another grand escape, leaving Iruka to yell while chasing them.
The rest of them stood, knowing that Iruka out the door meant end of the day.
Summoning all her courage, Sakura packed her bag and trailed behind Sasuke. Trying to talk to him in the hallway was not an option. He walked unhurriedly in front of her, hands in his pocket as he glared at every girl who made an attempt to talk to him. Two boys who were talking to each other quickly stopped speaking as they noticed the Uchiha coming closer. For some reason, it seemed that everyone but his usual fan club quickly got out of his way today.
She toyed with the red ribbon around her head and pulled at the hem of her blue shirt as they walked outside. The little delinquent group had apparently been found by Iruka as he stood further ahead, scolding them. Ino and her group of friends stood in another corner of the playground, giggling loudly. Her blonde friend looked into her direction. "Sakura!" she called, waving at her.
Sakura hesitated. Sasuke was ten steps ahead of her. She could catch him if she was fast enough. But ignoring Ino was sure to bring up some questions, especially if the blonde would spot her talking to Sasuke. Before she made a decision though, Sasuke broke out in a jog, rushing to someone standing at the gates of the academy.
Crestfallen, Sakura trailed towards Ino, but stopped in her tracks when she noticed exactly who Sasuke had been running to. He was much taller than the last time she saw him. His hair was longer too, now bound in a low ponytail. Even from this distance she noticed his defined tear troughs. She doubted for a second until he tapped Sasuke's forehead and flashed a brief, but sad smile.
'It's dango boy,' Sakura thought, enthralled.
Sasuke brought up his hands to his forehead, a small blush staining his cheeks as he said something to the older boy. They started to walk away from the academy and as the older boy turned, the crest on his dark shirt came into view.
Beside her, Hyuuga Hinata was about to pass, her pearly eyes on obnoxious Naruto as always. "Hinata-chan," Sakura called out quickly. The Hyuuga turned in surprise, cheeks red.
"Do you know who that is? Walking with Sasuke-kun?"
Hinata glanced into the direction Sakura was pointing at and nodded after a beat. "I-It's Sasuke-kun's brother. I think his name is Uchiha Itachi."
"Is he going to be okay?" 13-year old Haruno Sakura asked.
Hatake Kakashi looks at her in that inscrutable way of his. It wasn't that hard to read him after being on his team for months. Though his half-lidded, slate-grey eye was the only thing visible, Sakura had prided herself on learning the little inflections his eye showed, even when Kakashi himself seemed unaware.
His eye crinkled. "He will be fine."
'You're lying sensei,' she thought.
Her doubt must have shown on her face as Kakashi dropped his smile and turned fully toward her. "As long as Sasuke is strong enough to fight it, he will be fine. I sealed the curse mark. It's up to him now."
"And no way to remove it?"
"Not right now."
She hung her head. "Oh."
Kakashi took a few steps into her direction and squatted before her, his eye meeting hers directly. "Have faith in your team mate," he said, not unkindly. "I'm going on a mission but I'm counting on you to keep an eye on those two, alright?"
"Yes sensei," Sakura answered dutifully.
In a rare moment of affection, Kakashi laid his hand on her head. "I'll be back soon."
He disappeared with a poof, leaving her alone in the hospital.
Sighing, Sakura looked back at the room where she left Sasuke. 'I guess I'll visit Lee-san now that Sasuke is sleeping…' she thought, stepping around the corner.
She stopped in her tracks.
A tall ANBU came striding into her direction. It wasn't unusual to spot ANBU members in Konoha after Orochimaru's attack, but she hadn't ever seen an ANBU member up close and personal. He was without his cloak, his mask immaculately white if not for the painted red. She studied it as he came closer. It was fashioned like a weasel.
The ANBU member stopped in front of her. "Uchiha Sasuke?" he asked, voice muffled by the porcelain mask.
Surprised, Sakura raised her eyebrows and pointed. "Around the corner… Room 2A."
"Thank you," he said quietly, rushing past her.
She spun just as he turned the corner, noticing his long, dark ponytail.
"Are you okay?" 19-year old Sakura asked skeptically.
Kakashi simply gave her a weary glance.
Sighing, Sakura circled around Sasuke and Naruto and grabbed the chart at the end of Kakashi's bed. 'Multiple broken ribs, punctured lung, chakra exhaustion,' she read. 'This will take him away from missions for a while.'
"Man, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said, folding his hands behind his head. "You sure know how to over-do things."
Sasuke made a quiet noise of disapproval and averted his eyes to the floor, but Sakura could see him eyeing her through his long-dark lashes, the question clear in his eyes. She smiled and put the chart back into the holder. "At least you're going to make a full recovery, if off-duty for the foreseeable period," Sakura said. From the corner of her eye, she could see the corners of Sasuke's mouth quirk upward for a brief moment.
The small gesture warmed Sakura. Though her feelings for Sasuke had waned over the years after countless rejections, she couldn't deny he would always hold a place in her heart. The way he worried about his team mates in silence would never not be endearing to her.
"So… What now? Don't we have that A-rank mission coming up soon?" Naruto asked, electric blue eyes focused on his two team members.
"You're all Jounin. No need to wait for your old sensei to recover," Kakashi quipped from under the sheets. "I imagine you'll get a temporary replacement captain while I'm hospitalized."
Naruto groaned loudly, causing Sakura to giggle behind her hand.
Poor Yamato had been the replacement captain during the last time Kakashi was hospitalized. The ANBU member had expected an easy team, knowing that Kakashi was their captain. What he got was Sasuke and Naruto in the middle of one of their heated arguments which escalated into a fiery rivalry to get to their target before the other did, leaving Yamato and Sakura in the dust. By the time they caught up, Sasuke had captured their target while Naruto sulked. Yamato decided to discipline both men by locking them up in a wooden cell for three days.
"We're Jounin. We should be able to handle this with the three of us," Sasuke said tersely.
"Sakura yes," Kakashi said pleasantly. "The two of you however need supervision."
"Well, I can always step up and become captain," Sakura said jokingly, flexing her muscles. Beneath the sheet, Kakashi chuckled while Naruto and Sasuke stared at her.
"No need," Tsunade's voice came from the open door. The Fifth strode in, walking up to the bed as Sasuke moved out of the way. Tsunade's brown eyes swept over Kakashi's frame as she clicked her tongue and shook her head. "For once Kakashi, I wish you would return from a mission without being hospitalized." If possible, Sakura swore she saw the silver-haired Jounin sink even further into the bed.
Behind Tsunade, Naruto chuckled while Sasuke smirked.
"Team Seven," Tsunade said, turning to the three of them. "I'd like to introduce you to your replacement captain."
A flicker of movement near the door caught her attention. Dressed in a Jounin uniform, Uchiha Itachi walked into the room. Beside her, Sasuke stood up straighter while Naruto let out another groan. Sakura could only smile.
It had been years since she had last seen him. He had grown even taller. His hair had grown and framed his face. The tear troughs betrayed his age but the onyx eyes that looked her over still held the warmth she had seen when she was much younger, if a little more guarded. 'Dango boy,' she thought fondly. Faintly, Sakura wondered if he remembered her.
"Uchiha Itachi will be your captain for the upcoming assignment," Tsunade said, putting her hands on her hips. "Itachi is familiar with Kakashi's style of leadership and has a similar move set." She eyed Naruto suspiciously. "Be professional this time."
"Tsunade-baachan…" Naruto said, fidgeting under the Fifth's intense glare.
"I'm looking forward to working with you," Itachi said, surprising her with his deep, soft voice. "I would like to assess your abilities before we head out on our mission. We'll meet tomorrow at training ground sixteen at six in the morning." He was soft-spoken but his voice held a commanding tone. Looking past Naruto and Sasuke in front of him, Itachi nodded. "Hope you feel better soon, Kakashi-san."
"Thanks," Kakashi mumbled. "I'm counting on you."
"Of course," Itachi said, turning to the door. "Team Seven, see you tomorrow."
A/N: Welcome to the adventures of Pinkie and Dango Boy!
I know, I know. Itachi is still in Konoha, what a cliche. It won't be though. At least, I hope. This idea has been plaguing me for a while now. Having finally watched Shippuuden to the very end a few weeks ago and seeing the Itachi backstory with him as a child inspired this particular fic. I'm not sure how long it'll be so we'll just take it one step at a time. Prepare for the slowest of burns though, and a more light-hearted story.