Labyrinthine—an Itachi & Sakura story
By: F.M. Wrights
Disclaimer: Naruto and all its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
"Are you okay?"
The little girl with pink hair looked up to meet his gaze. Her forest green eyes were rimmed red, a little snot dribbling from her nose, mouth set in a frown. Her eyes dropped to the plastic bag he carried before finding his eyes. She wiped at her tears and nodded.
"You don't look okay," he said, not unkindly.
"I'm f-fine," she mumbled.
With a sigh, he squatted down before her, cocking his head as he tried his hardest to get her to look at him through that thick curtain of pink obscuring her from him. She kept her eyes on his bag, following it as he set it down on the cobbled pavement, the rustle of plastic enticing her.
Taking a moment to observe her, Itachi searched for a clan symbol, finding a white ring embroidered on her sleeve. 'If I recall correctly, this is one of Sasuke's classmates,' he considered, knowing he had seen her bright pink hair before. Careful not to scare her, he lifted a hand into her direction, moving as slow as he would with a startled cat and pushed the pink hair from her eyes, smiling as he finally made contact.
"Are you lost?"
"N-no..." she stammered.
"Hurt?" he asked, though he didn't see a wound.
'One option left then...'
She remained quiet.
There were a multitude of things that raced through his head; from silly pep-talks his mother used to give him when he told her he himself felt alienated from the other children, to assuring her it would all go away one day, but he felt little motivation to lie to the little girl. Instead, he reached for the bag and grabbed one of the plastic containers from Yanagi-an. Surely Shisui wouldn't mind if he shared one of his precious dango with a crying child.
Making a little show of it, Itachi opened the container with care and angled it toward her as he gave her a smile. She sat just a little closer, probably without noticing it herself. "Do you like sweets?"
She nodded enthusiastically.
"Oh good," Itachi said. He held out the container. "Have some."
She got onto her knees and peeked into her container. He couldn't help again but notice how cat-like she was; curious and a rather cute girl, eyes wide as she considered the sanshoku dango. He couldn't blame her; they were the absolute best. She reached out a tiny hand to a skewer, eyes shooting up toward his as if asking if he was sure, before she picked up one stick. It stuck to the package, and she gave it a tug to free the treat. "Thank you," she mumbled.
She held the dango in her hand for a moment longer, eyes trained on the three colors.
"I like green best," he mentioned, hoping to break the ice a little. He took out one skewer and held it before him.
Finally, she smiled. "Pink."
"It matches your hair color."
"Is it w-weird?" she asked him, a blush coating her cheeks.
'Yes,' he wanted to say, but he didn't move his lips. Instead, he cocked his head as though examining the color with extreme care before smiling. "It's unusual, but I like it," he said, glad he didn't have to lie.
Her blush only deepened.
A thought occurred to him. "Are you bullied because of your hair color?" he asked.
Ah. He found the reason she was crying now. Tugging on the thread, he leaned in and asked: "What else?"
She bit her lip and appeared to consider his question. "They call me... billboard brow," she admitted, hugging her knees to her chest. Itachi cocked an eyebrow and lifted her pink locks with care, scrutinizing her forehead for the longest moment theatrically turning to her left and her right side. "Looks normal to me," he said, withdrawing her hand.
Her bottom lip quivered, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. He searched for words of comfort, but as he did so, his name sounded. He looked toward the training field he was supposed to meet Shisui at. What timing. He never was good at comforting. He stood, dusting his pants off, and picked up the plastic bag. "I have to go," he said. "Do you know your way home?"
The girl nodded at him.
"Take care," Itachi said with a small wave.
He shot into the foliage of the flowering cherry blossom tree and jumped to the first branch, hopping from one tree to another until he landed into training grounds two. Shisui squatted in the middle of the clearing, chewing on a piece of dried fish, perking up when he noticed Itachi. "It's unlike you to be late," Shisui said, raising an eyebrow.
"I stumbled upon a crying child."
"Which one?" Shisui asked, finishing his fish.
"One of Sasuke's classmates. Pink hair."
"Oh, Pinkie," Shisui said, dropping his fist into his hand as he stood. "I've seen her around."
"She has pink hair," Shisui said by way of explanation. He eyed the bag. "Are those the famous dango?"
Itachi nodded and rummaged in the bag, retrieving one of the packages. As he handed it to Shisui, he grabbed his set of kunai, stuffed the remaining package in his backpack and straightened out. "You brought me one dango?" Shisui asked, eyes wide as he eyed the single skewer left. "One?!"
"Three. I just shared one with Pinkie." Itachi grabbed his kunai and rushed off into the forest, knowing Shisui would follow.
"Don't just give my dango to random pink-haired girls!" Shisui hollered indignantly.
Itachi smiled at that and hoped the girl made her way home.
"There! That's him."
The two housewives shopping in the market didn't even try to keep their voice down as they eyed him. "The elder Uchiha boy. It seems he's clan head now after that incident."
"Slaughtered?" the other whispered, cupping her hand over her mouth as Itachi reached for the peaches. "That's what I heard. All of them?"
"They found him cradling his younger brother a few streets from the district. Can you imagine?"
Itachi pretended not to hear them as he selected a few plump tomatoes from the stand and went over to the shopkeeper, pressing some ryo into the man's hand before escaping into the streets in Konoha.
Though he avoided the main street, the whispers followed him even in the most quiet of pathways, always inquisitive and enthusiastic, but never empathetic. It was fine. Itachi didn't deserve empathy. Even now, he teetered on the brink of breakdown, the only thing keeping him together embodied in a very sad eight-year-old boy.
Meandering down Fujimoto Road, Itachi kept his head down to avoid any unwanted gazes, only looking up when a slip of paper on a shop window caught his attention. A listing for an apartment in bright red colors.
'Right. We can't stay in the district anymore,' he realized, stepping closer to inspect the leaflet. It was a large apartment, ostentatious for two boys, but he could afford it on his ANBU Captain paycheck.
Behind the shop, he found a staircase that led up. Heaving his groceries higher on his arm, he climbed the stairs, thankful to get away from the whispers, and to a neat looking landing. An elderly woman swept the floor in front of a door. "Oh, young man, are you lost?" she asked, pushing her thick glasses further up her nose.
"I'm here for the apartment."
The old woman raised an eyebrow, observed him for a long moment, shrugged and turned. The recent war had left many young children and teenagers such as himself without parents. Evidently she had stopped asking questions. She waved for him to step inside. "Three bedrooms, a separate bathroom in the master bedroom and a refurbished kitchen. You've seen the rental price. Feel free to look around."
He walked past her, kicked off his shoes and stepped in. The apartment looked immaculate, with dark wooden floors that reminded him of the main house in the Uchiha district. Itachi set down the bag of groceries on the marble kitchen island and stepped into the hallway, admiring the large windows that spanned one side of the hallway. He looked into the first room, finding the master bedroom. The bedroom was large and filled with sunlight, a large bathroom connected to it. The next room revealed a smaller bedroom. He stopped, hand on the brass doorknob.
It looked exactly like Sasuke's bedroom in the main house.
Pacing back to the entrance, Itachi found the old woman sweeping the floor and pulled out his wallet. "I'll take it."
She nodded and accepted the money he pressed into her hand. "Welcome. What's your name?"
He pretended to miss the way her eyes widened and the way her jaw fell open. She recovered. "And when will you be moving in?"
"Right now," he said, accepting the key she gave him. She gave him another look of surprise and gave him a few more instructions, including when to pay the rent, before allowing him to go back inside, stock the fridge with his groceries, before sitting down at the kitchen island.
There was no sound to be heard; the house empty and silent.
This was good, he decided.
If he sat right here, he didn't have flashes of memories of his mother cooking on their stove, wearing that same old apron as she always did, smelling of fresh laundry and green tea. He wasn't plagued here by memories of a kind and gentle woman, who held his hand as they went shopping together, who kissed his forehead before he went out on a big mission, despite his age, who hugged him tight when he told her of his promotion to ANBU.
Who knelt before him without saying a word, without anger, without fear as she let him cut her down.
He balled his fists in his lap, fighting the tears that threatened to spill.
A glance at the clock told him it was time to pick up Sasuke from the Academy.
Pushing himself off the seat, Itachi took one more look around the house. "This is good," he said, as though trying to convince himself, before stepping out onto Fujimoto Road and made his way to the Academy. He arrived just in time to hear the soft chiming of the bells and the ecstatic sounds of children rushing out of the Academy to pour into the playground. He pocketed his hands and stood behind the fence, away from the doting patents that awaited their children.
Itachi waited as child after child appeared from the school until he found his little brother. Sasuke kept his head low, hands in his pocket as he trekked into the playground, no doubt trying to ignore the same whispers that had haunted him the past two weeks.
Behind him, however, was a familiar sight.
Holding her shirt and twisting it between small palms was the pink-haired girl Shisui had dubbed 'Pinkie'. Though the thought of his best friend sent a fiery stab of grief searing through his heart, Itachi couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips as he watched Pinkie trail up behind Sasuke, clearing gathering courage to talk to Sasuke. While all other children seemed content to avoid Sasuke and stare and whisper, just as their parents did, Pinkie was making a dedicated effort to try and talk.
Silently encouraging her to, Itachi watched her doubt and hesitate until one girl on the playground called out: "Sakura!"
Pinkie stopped in her tracks and looked at a blonde girl who he identified as Yamanaka Inoichi's young daughter. 'Sakura,' he pondered. 'What a fitting name.'
Just then, Sasuke noticed him, breaking out into a jog. Sakura stood still, watching him run off, her forest green eyes landing on Itachi himself for a brief instance. He wondered if she recalled their meeting, but turned to Sasuke as his younger brother reached him. Holding out two fingers, he flicked Sasuke's forehead and crouched down with a smile. "How was it?"
"We practiced sparring. I ended top of the class," Sasuke pouted, holding both his hands to his forehead.
"I'm proud of you," Itachi said, standing to his feet as red coated Sasuke's cheeks. "Shall we?"
"Hn," Sasuke answered, falling into step beside him. As Itachi led them back to Fujimoto Road, Sasuke looked around. "This isn't the way home."
"I know," Itachi said, dropping his hand on Sasuke's head. "Trust me."
"Okay," Sasuke whispered.
Itachi observed the adoring look on his younger brother's face, his heart feeling both warm and empty at the same time. When he accepted his mission from Danzou, he thought the hardest thing would be to kill his parents.
He was wrong.
The worst thing—the worst punishment—was for Sasuke to still love and adore him without knowing Itachi was the one who wielded the sword. All he could do to atone for what he had taken from Sasuke was to be the brother he needed and to make sure Sasuke was safe and taken care of, just like he had promised his father.
"Yo," Kakashi said as he reached the hospital.
"He is alright. I've sealed the Cursed Seal, and he's resting now," Kakashi said, pocketing his hands.
"Thank you," Itachi whispered, hurrying past the older man.
"Itachi," Kakashi called out, just as Itachi reached the door. He spun around to see Kakashi's lone eye search for words he didn't have. "We'll figure something out."
He nodded, turned, and stalked into the hospital.
In the waiting area, heads perked up to see him. An ANBU was a rare sight for civilians, most of whom were now waiting for treatment following the failed plot to destroy Konoha. He stalked past the reception desk, hurried down into the corridor, and found Haruno Sakura rounding the corner. Like the civilians, she noticed him instantly, standing as still as he approached her.
She looked a mess; sweat and dirt caked her face, one of her eyes bruised and rimmed black. One day, he had hoped to thank her for what she did for his little brother in the Forest of Death. But right now, he wanted to see Sasuke. "Uchiha Sasuke?" he asked.
She raised her eyebrows, turned around and pointed down the hall. "Around the corner... Room 2A."
"Thank you," he whispered, hoping it would convey how much he owed her, before rushing past her.
Itachi stretched out his long legs and took a sip of his hojicha, overlooking the sun-kissed main road. The street bustled with activity as always; several shop keepers were setting up outdoor seatings such as the one he currently occupied, pitching heated umbrellas and lights as they eagerly awaited the oncoming night and the summer equinox festivities.
"How is it?" Maya asked, wiping her hands on her apron. She chewed her lip as she observed him, tucking her auburn hair behind her ear. A slight blush coated her cheeks, but he pretended not to notice. She had developed a crush on him in recent years, and while she was beautiful and kind enough to ask out, Itachi hesitated to be with any woman from Konoha, especially one whose affections he wouldn't be able to reciprocate.
"It is delicious, Maya-san, thank you," he said, tilting up his cup.
"Have you tried it with the dango?" Maya queried. "I find it goes best with the rose flavored one."
His gaze drifted to the three sanshoku dango laid out on a small leaf-shaped plate. The three colors contrasted starkly against the dark ceramic, each looking mouthwatering good. Dutifully, he reached over to take one skewer when a flash of pink caught his attention.
'Pinkie,' he thought, looking up to find Haruno Sakura pass by Yanagi-an. She dressed in a spectacular black and red yukata that brought out the color of her eyes and hair. She walked beside a blonde girl who looked familiar, but all his attention was on her as she flashed a bright smile and let out a tinkling laugh, looking happy and radiant. Unable to stop himself, he felt the corner of his mouth lift. She had grown over the years to become a beautiful woman and an accomplished kunoichi,
He averted his eyes to pick up the skewer he had set his eyes on. When he looked up, Sakura and her friend had vanished round a corner. Turning back to Maya, he found her watchinghim with a strange sadness in her eyes.
"Is everything alright?" he asked.
"Of course," Maya said, though he could easily see the lie. "Well?"
He took the pink treat into his mouth and savored its flavor, washing it down with the hojicha. "A perfect match," he smiled.
"For once, Kakashi, I wish you would return from a mission without getting hospitalized," Tsunade's voice sounded inside the room, bringing a grin to his face. A deep sigh that belonged to Kakashi followed that statement, and a chuckle that belonged to Uzumaki Naruto. No doubt his brother would have a field day with that remark.
"Team Seven, I'd like to introduce you to your replacement captain."
That was his cue. Pushing off the wall, Itachi walked into the hospital room. He noticed the way Sasuke immediately stood straighter and fought off the smirk that threatened when Naruto let out a massive groan. Sakura stood in the middle of the three, smiling at him as though they were old friends. 'She remembers,' he realized, taking a moment to scrutinize her.
Naruto had stopped by the house multiple times over the years to pick up Sasuke for training sessions or even stay for dinner. Sakura, however... From what little he could pry from Sasuke, she had developed a crush on Sasuke and as a result, his brother kept her at arm's length until her feelings for him had waned. Though they had grown closer, Sakura still hadn't visited the house.
She grew taller since the last time he saw her, hair reaching just beyond her shoulders. Her eyes were keen and intelligent but held a warmth that resonated with something deep within him. He turned his attention back to Tsunade as she continued: "Uchiha Itachi will be your captain for the upcoming assignment. Itachi is familiar with Kakashi's style of leadership and has a similar move set." She narrowed her eyes at Naruto. "Be professional this time."
"Tsunade-baachan..." Naruto fidgeted.
"I'm looking forward to working with you," Itachi spoke, eyeing all three. "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 looked past Team Seven to Kakashi on the bed. His former captain gave him a squinty-eyed smile. "Hope you feel better soon, Kakashi-san," he added.
"Thanks," Kakashi said, lifting a hand. Though his posture was relaxed and calm as always, Itachi could sense the underlying current of worry that surged through Kakashi. He never liked it when they sent Team Seven out without Kakashi to keep them safe. "I'm counting on you."
Those words carried all the weight in the world.
"Of course," Itachi said, hoping it would ease the worry, if only a little. He turned toward the door. "Team Seven, see you tomorrow."
With a last nod to Tsunade, he walked out the door.
Uchiha Itachi stood beneath the cherry blossom tree in front of training ground two, under which he had met Haruno Sakura for the first time. That day, the tree had blossomed with delicate white flowers. Now, it stood barren, awaiting the spring. Checking the height of the sun, he found it to be a little over 2pm. Lips twitching upward, he wrapped his scarf closer around his neck, knowing she probably went to training ground sixteen first.
From where he stood, he had a perfect vantage point over the Hokage administration building. Right about now, his younger brother would be inside, asking permission to leave the village. And, knowing Kakashi, he would grant Sasuke's request.
He closed his eyes, shoving the grief of knowing his only living relative would leave the confines of the village out of his mind, determined not to let panic overtake him.
A familiar chakra piqued his attention.
He spotted her from a distance, cheeks tear-streaked, her hair whipping in the wind. 'Still crying,' he thought, unable to stop his lips from curling upward as Sakura sprinted toward him and halted, eyes wide as she stared at him. "Dango boy," she exclaimed, a smile he recognized from decades ago forming on her lips.
"Pinkie," Itachi said in turn, watching her as her smile brightened further.
"You remembered," she breathed, tears forming in her eyes.
He reached for her, pushing his hand into his hair as he cupped her head and pulled her closer. She grasped his shirt in her hands, eyes wide with wonder as she considered him like it was the first time she saw him. "Why didn't you say anything?"
He smiled. "You never asked."
Sakura's grin widened as she stepped closer, until she seemed to realize something, brow pinching together. "Pinkie?"
"I didn't know your name. Shisui offered the nickname," Itachi explained. He traced a finger over her jawline to her chin. "It stuck with me." He paused. "Dango boy?"
The brilliance of her laugh was contagious, driving away all the dread and self-loathing he had known for years. Trapped by the warmth in her eyes, Itachi brushed his fingers down her throat, memorizing every last stretch of her milky skin. He found himself returning the grin as he realized that on the day they first met, he had been the one to cheer her up and hopefully help her on her way, but that she had been the one to save him every day since. Even on days she might not have realized it herself.
"Sasuke has chosen to leave Konoha," he confided, not missing the way her body stiffened beneath his hands. Her smile waned, eyes searching as her hands squeezed his biceps. Closing his eyes, he inhaled the scent of freesia and vanilla that always seemed to cling to her. "The true nature behind the Massacre has taken a toll on him. He's taken a leave of absence to gather his thoughts."
Itachi peered over her head to the building where Kakashi resided. "Soon, I believe."
"I... I see."
With a smile, Itachi lifted two of his fingers and pressed them against her Byakugou mark, the recollection of how she released it to jump start the Third Gate still fresh in his mind. During the heat of battle, he had seen what she had unleashed within herself and took it for face value, too focused on Madara to appreciate her achievement. It wasn't until he had reached his house and sat down that he realized just how far she had come.
And truthfully, so had he.
"He'll be back," Itachi said, hoping to reassure her.
She scrutinized him or the longest time and finally gave a nod. "He will."
The conviction in her voice and the determined look in her eyes soothed the troubled feelings that brewed within him, and appeased his own worries that he might never see his younger brother again.
"What will you do?" she asked, taking one of his hands in hers. Enjoying the warmth and softness of her skin against his, Itachi held it for a time. Stroking a thumb over her hand, he considered the question, only to realize the answer was intimately connected to the pink-haired woman standing before him.
"I love you."
Simple words, life's blood, yet never spoken to anyone but Sasuke. The world faded away like it always seemed to do around her as tears filled her eyes, her mouth forming the most wonderful smile as she saw him, truly saw him. For the first time in his life, he didn't feel like he had to hold any of himself back. For the first time, he wasn't alone anymore. And for the first time, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was enough.
Sakura grabbed him, dragged him closer and the next thing he knew, her lips pressed against his. He smirked as she kept him in place with that insane power of hers, realizing she wasn't even using her chakra, and slanted his lips over hers, threading his fingers into her hair. She moaned into his mouth, allowing him to slip his tongue between her lips, reveling in the way she always tasted like fresh oranges. Wrapping his arms around her, he embraced her tight, enjoying the way her body fitted perfectly into his.
The kiss was somehow both slow and urgent and the longer it lasted, the more he wanted to take her away from this place and into his bed. He kissed down her throat as she relinquished the kiss and luxuriating in her soft breaths and moans as he made his way down. Finally realizing they were in a very public place, Itachi regained his composure and tore away from her. She regarded him through half-lidded eyes, a blush streaked with red over her cheeks, but there was a genuine rapture about her, a giddiness that reverberated within him.
"Are you going to ask me to be selfish with you?" Sakura asked, biting her lip.
"No, I'm only asking you to be with me."
A/N: Just the epilogue left now. Thank you all for your support and kind words over the last months. I havem't gotten the time to reply to every single one of you, but please know I appreciate you.
Some readers have asked me why the move to Ao3. I feel Ao3 is more active than FFn is, plus I really enjoy the fact that you can respond to anyone, even anon reviewers. I know not everyone is familiar with it, but I can highly recommend it. My handle there is FM_White. In addition, moving to Ao3 ensures I don't have to edit my chapters to suit the Ffn format (because uploading a chapter to FFN does strange things to my work sometimes. Paragraphs get lumped together etc.)