Labyrinthine—an Itachi & Sakura story
By: F.M. Wrights
Disclaimer: Naruto and all its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
TALES FROM THE VILLAGE OF THE LEAF
Time slipped away.
"You told her?" Naruto bellowed, nearly tossing over his bowl of ramen.
Beside him, Iruka scratched his neck, cheeks bright red. "I did," he whispered, glancing around Ichiraku for sign of Ayame. "But it seems she likes someone else."
"Eh?!" he shouted again, slamming his hands on the counter.
"Naruto!" Iruka reprimanded, pulling him back into his seat.
"Who?" Naruto hissed, looking over his shoulder to the bustling main street of Konoha. Was it the guy from the bookstore next door? Or maybe the old man from the yakitori stand? No, that couldn't be—they had a long-standing rivalry with Ichiraku that Naruto didn't care about, if not for the fact that yakitori-man was always trying to sell him a few skewers.
Iruka looked around the booth and pressed a finger against his lip. "Hokage-sama."
"Kakashi-sensei?!" he yelled, jumping to his feet.
A few things happened at once at that moment. For one, Ayame ducked out of the kitchen, eyes wide and excited as she searched the stall. Behind Naruto, however, he heard the familiar voice of Sakura saying, 'I told you he was here,' just before the curtain pushed aside to let Kakashi and Sakura in.
"Yo," his old sensei greeted, holding up a hand.
"Hokage-sama!" Iruka exclaimed, jumping to his feet to bow.
"Iruka-sensei. I've told you before—drop the 'sama'," Kakashi said, taking a seat beside him. "It's Kakashi."
"Lord Sixth," Iruka said in response, looking embarrassed as Kakashi heaved the deepest sigh known to humankind.
Sakura let out a tinkling laugh and sat down next to Naruto. "He's trying to get everyone to call him Kakashi. It's not working," she confided.
"I'm calling him Hokage Kakashi Teacher," Naruto whispered back, snorting at his own sense of humor. "He hates it."
She laughed behind her hand at that. "I'll remember that one."
As Sakura eyed the menu, Naruto took a moment to look her over.
It had been six months since Sasuke left—six long months of complete and utter silence. Sasuke had been sending regular reports to Kakashi, updating the Sixth on his whereabouts, but had chosen not to send them individual messages as well. Sakura put on a brave face, as ever, but Naruto knew she was torn up on the inside. She might have aged almost ten years since they were first teamed together, but he always saw through her with ease.
Life moved on, but it wasn't the same.
"How is the clinic?" he asked when she placed her order.
"We got permission to build on the old Uchiha grounds—Itachi went to the council himself, but they're still being difficult, saying the Uchiha grounds can be used for something better than a mental health clinic and that Konoha has no need of such frivolities." She gritted her teeth, wooden chopsticks snapping between her fingers. "Kakashi-sensei came with me today to persuade them."
"Did he?" Naruto asked, taking a large slurp from his bowl.
"You know him. He's a an easy talker." She smiled at Naruto. "We're breaking ground tomorrow."
Naruto burst into laughter, thinking of the time Kakashi conned Yamato out of his money with his smooth talking. He was good at that.
"Speaking of which," Sakura said, interrupting his thoughts, "why were you calling out his name earlier?"
"Oh, that," Naruto said, a fox-like grin stretching over his face. "Ayame likes him."
"Ayame?" Sakura whispered, pointing at the Ayame in question.
"Well, can't blame her, he's a handsome man."
For a brief moment, the idea of Kakashi and Sakura together floated through his treacherous brain, complete with marriage and two pink-haired children with gray eyes. Or maybe silver-haired with green eyes. Naruto made a face and shook his head to remove the image from his imagination and leaned forward again. "It gets worse."
"How?" Sakura asked, reaching for her cup of tea.
"Iruka likes her."
"Ayame?" Sakura whispered, pointing at the Ayame in question.
Mouth dropping, Sakura stared past Naruto to Iruka.
Somehow, the atmosphere within the little ramen stall changed in mere seconds. The temperature felt like it dropped twenty degrees, the air becoming stifled and oppressive—the intent to kill clear. Scared, Naruto discreetly turned to find Iruka staring at him, eyes wide and with the obvious intention to rip his head off.
"Na-ru-to," Iruka said through clenched teeth.
Naruto jumped up from his stool and looked around the stall with a forced grin, slamming down a few ryo on the table. "I-I-I just remembered I have a mission, gotta run!"
As he ducked beneath the curtain, Kakashi's voice sounded: "I'm sure I didn't give you a mission, Naruto."
Ignoring Hokage Kakashi Teacher, Naruto hurried away, only to bump right into a warm body. "Sorry!" he called out before seeing who it was, finding Hinata standing in front of him. "Hinata!"
"Naruto-kun," Hinata said in greeting, pushing a non-existent strand of hair behind her ear. She had cut her hair to a style similar to the one she wore as a genin. It seemed she had to get used to not having hair to hide behind.
He liked the new haircut though—it brought out her eyes.
"How have you been?" she asked.
Naruto frowned. Something had changed about her. He wasn't sure whether it was the way she had stopped stuttering his name, or the tone of her voice. "I just ratted Iruka-sensei out and I think he's about to kill me," Naruto answered. He looked over his shoulder to see if his irate former teacher had made his way out of the ramen stall. "But good! What about you?"
"I've been good," Hinata said, a smile lighting her face. "I've been training with Sakura-san in my free time, and Kurenai-sensei keeps us busy."
Yes, something had definitely changed. Naruto frowned at her, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was. She cocked her head at him.
"You've changed," Naruto said, scrunching up his face.
"Oh," Hinata said, turning red.
Naruto smiled at that. Okay, she hadn't changed that much.
"Is that bad?" Hinata asked.
"No," Naruto said, pocketing his hands.
He wasn't sure what it was—Hinata had always been beautiful. It didn't matter if her hair was short or long, or if she wore her own unique outfit or the Chuunin uniform she was wearing. There was something striking about her, from her pearly eyes to the deep blue hues of her hair. He even liked her blushes and stuttering, though it made it hard talking to her from time to time.
But now, she held herself differently, as though she had realized what he and many others had seen.
"What happened with Iruka-sensei?" she asked.
"Oh," Naruto laughed, taken by surprise by the bold question. "I told Sakura-chan he has the hots for Ayame."
"Ayame-san from Ichiraku?"
Something drew her pearl eyes to a point behind him. "Naruto-kun. You'd better run," she warned, lips twitching with amusement.
Naruto muttered a curse under his breath and chanced a glance over his shoulder, finding Iruka exiting Ichiraku further down the street. He inhaled and began running. "Sorry, Hinata. Let's catch up next time!"
"Naruto-kun," Hinata called out.
He paused, turning to her.
"Let's have ramen next week," she said.
Floored by her assertiveness, Naruto could stare for a quick moment, picking his jaw up off the floor as Iruka spotted him. He hesitated a second longer, taking in Hinata's laugh as the wind tousled her short hair.
"It's a date," he called back.
As Hinata's face flushed with red, Naruto whirled around with a satisfied smirk and began running just as Iruka gave chase.
Time slipped away.
"It's coming along nicely," Sakura said, eyes wide with excitement as she rounded the building and stopped next to him. He nodded, folded his arms over each other and looked at his former student from the corner of his eye.
"Hmm," Kakashi said.
"What?" Sakura asked, blinking up to him.
"Now comes the hard part."
"You mean building the clinic wasn't the hard part?" Sakura asked.
He offered her a contrite grin, causing her to hang her head. "Not quite. There is the task of educating the personnel."
"Once we find a skilled director for the clinic, that should fall into place," Sakura said.
She tucked a strand of shoulder-length pink hair behind her ear and beamed at the construction site. Though the site was only a skeleton on steel girders and prefabricated concrete slabs, Kakashi could almost see what Sakura was seeing—a sanctuary for anybody in Konoha who desired it.
Kakashi and Sakura watched in silence as a steel beam was hauled into the air and delicately put into its place, setting up what would soon be the ceiling to Konoha's first mental health clinic.
"Did you have someone in mind to become director?" Sakura queried.
"Mm," he said again, causing her to frown at him.
"Don't tell me you hadn't looked at the resumes I gave you weeks ago. You yourself said we need to train people soon!"
Thankful for the mask that hid his smile from her, Kakashi couldn't help but realize how Sakura had developed to be more and more like the Fifth as years went by. It would be fascinating to see how far his pupil would come in the years to come, but he was already so proud of her.
The strongest kunoichi in the Fire Country, if not the entire world. Reviving a dead technique and now building the first mental health clinic he had ever heard of in the shinobi world. If there was any way to kick his former self in the behind for concentrating solely on Sasuke for all those years, he would have. "I already have a director," Kakashi mentioned, keeping his voice neutral.
That stunned her. "Really? Who? Is it Isahana-san? She seemed accomplished."
"I have someone more competent in mind."
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. "Why are you being so cryptic?"
He pretended to be hurt by that.
She snickered at him.
"Hmm, it was your 22nd birthday last week, wasn't it?" Kakashi mentioned, digging into his pocket.
"Late as always," Sakura pointed out. "And yes, it was. I didn't miss the fact you didn't show up to my birthday party again."
"You never know when the birthday girl asks you to be princess-carried again," Kakashi remarked lightly. "Best to stay away." He paused, tapping his chin with his free hand. "Not to mention the fact that Itachi-kun might punch me."
"I—wh—"she sputtered, cheeks turning bright red. Her eyes flashed with indignation, but he was quick to deposit the hastily wrapped gift into her hands. Surprised, she held it up and eyed it as though it was an explosive tag, lifting her weary eyes to his. "What is this?"
"In most parts of the world, it is known as a gift."
"I know what a gift is," Sakura said with an agitated sigh. She waved the rectangular object at his face. "But what is it?"
"It is generally also known you have to unwrap it to see what is inside."
"You're in rare form today, Hokage Kakashi Teacher," Sakura said, a cat-like grin appearing on her lips. He winced at the title.
When he had been informed the council had agreed on him becoming Sixth, he thought Naruto's persistent challenges and the endless mountains of paperwork would be the worst part of it. Leave it to his two students to come up with a title that would physically pain him every time they uttered it.
'My two students?' he thought, looking up to the sky. Sasuke would've arrived in Rain by now, to investigate how the country did now that they freed it from Akatsuki's grasp three years ago. Perhaps after, he could persuade Sasuke to return to Konoha for the first time in two years. Though they wouldn't say it, both Naruto and Sakura missed him.
And truthfully, things just weren't the same with just the three of them. Team 7 had always been a four-man cell. His being Hokage and his subordinates all finding different jobs in Konoha wouldn't ever change that.
"What's this?" Sakura said as she tore open the paper to discover a wooden desk sign inside the shuriken themed paper. With a glance to him, she turned it around and read the characters Yamato had engraved into the wood for him. "Director Haruno Sakura..."
"Isahana was nice," Kakashi admitted. "A little rough around the edges, perhaps. But there was someone else just as capable whose resume I didn't find in the stack. I chose her."
"I'm... nowhere near experienced enough."
"Mm-hmm," Kakashi said, "but who is? Isahana is a veteran physician, but none of the applicants have a background in mental health. Not to mention the fact that half of your nominees aren't shinobi." He pocketed his hands. "Only a shinobi can understand what a shinobi goes through."
Sakura remained quiet and stared at her name, fingers tracing the kanji.
"I'll accept... Under one condition."
"What is it?"
"You'll come in too." Sakura's voice was firm, but when she lifted her eyes to meet his, he spotted how wet they were. "It doesn't have to be every week. But come in from time to time, alright?"
For once finding himself incapable to maintain his customary smile painted over his features, Kakashi stayed silent for the longest time, turning back to oversee the construction. "Hmm," he said eventually, knowing Sakura would understand.
She slipped her hand into his and gave him a quick squeeze before releasing him.
"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei."
Time slipped away.
A silver beam of moonlight streamed in through the window behind the bed. Its silvery light danced over the sheets, over the figure that lay beside him and over the hump beneath the sheets that was his leg.
Uchiha Sasuke watched it through half-lidded eyes, waiting for sleep to overtake him.
Unfortunately, today sleep seemed to be elusive.
'A thousand nights,' Sasuke thought, glaring over his shoulder to the night sky.
Nights in Rain were a particular black—Sasuke wasn't sure whether it was the steam-powered generators of the factories north of the city pumping black smoke into the atmosphere, or whether there was something naturally oppressive in the country itself, but the stars shone less bright in this area of the world.
Whereas absolute blackness rained in Konoha during night-time, marred only by the warm, orange glow of street lamps dotted across the village, Rain and its capital were always lit. From the skyscrapers reaching for the skies lit by red lights flashing on and off, to the bright TL-lamps that hung from the stores in the main street lighting the asphalt.
If he was honest, if he looked underneath the underneath, Sasuke knew there was one truth to his recent bout of insomnia, and that is that he missed his home. He missed the fresh scent of rain in the forests, the view over Konoha at night and even the missions with his team... And the breakfasts his brother would prepare whenever he was home.
A thousand nights.
Is that all it took for forgiveness? To admit he missed the person who assassinated his clan and took away whatever dreams he had when he was a child? To admit he missed even that idiot Naruto who kept pilfering ryo from him with his inane bets, or Kakashi who would duck out of dinner without paying... or Sakura.
Scrubbing his eyes, Sasuke breathed in.
Somehow, he had grown to care for her, deeper than he ever before. It was a subliminal thing that grew and grew without him even realizing until he had one day caught her staring at Kakashi and found himself to be envious. She had quit looking at him like that from that point on and he had kept waiting for her crush on Kakashi to pass, unsure whether to instigate anything or let her know. Perhaps part of him feared he would be the one turned down after years of rejecting her.
Predictably, her affections for Kakashi passed, only for her to fall for his brother.
'Shouldn't the person you're dating be your best friend?' Naruto had asked once.
There had been a glimmer of hope when she agreed, only for him to find Itachi at her house.
A thousand nights.
The woman beside him stirred, causing him to slip further into the bed, staring up at the roof.
A traitorous part of him longs.
It longs to return through those enormous gates and find Kotetsu and Izumo sitting at the guard post as usual. To find Iruka-sensei at the Academy, as always, scolding the drop-outs of the year. To see Kakashi, late for every meeting by three hours. To bicker with Naruto over bets and strategies and compare techniques. To laugh with Sakura over Naruto's antics or Rock Lee demolishing a bar in his drunken state.
To see his brother and know he's not alone.
'I did not ask for the choice that was given, but it was given nonetheless. And with it, I did my best.'
A thousand nights.
Maybe just enough.
HARUNO SAKURA & UCHIHA ITACHI
"Happy birthday," Sakura said, wrapping her arm around a still sleepy Itachi. He grumbled something in return, still hovering on the threshold between slumber and the waking world.
She laid her cheek on his back, combing through his silky hair with her fingertips. She shifted, tossing a leg over his to press her body against him. He cracked open an eye to peer at her from behind the curtain of his hair. "What time is it?" he asked, voice throaty with sleep.
"Seven," Sakura said with a glance at the alarm clock. "Plenty of time to have breakfast with you before I go to the clinic."
Itachi stretched out—the gesture always made her think of an overgrown cat—and reached for her. With a smile, she allowed him to pull her into his body, tucking her back against his chest. "Five more minutes," he whispered into her ear.
She giggled. "Before I got to know you, I never would've thought you were the snoozing kind."
"Nobody is perfect."
"Come on," Sakura said, twisting around to press a kiss on his lips. "I only have an hour left to give your birthday present in."
Itachi pinched his brow and looked at her. "A time-sensitive gift?"
"I promise it's not another frilly pink apron."
"I have enough of those to last a lifetime."
Sakura chuckled as Itachi rolled to his back, stretching one last time before reaching for her. He tangled his fingers into her hair and sat up, capturing her lips for another kiss. "I'm awake."
"Excellent," Sakura said gleefully, tossing her legs over the bed. She grabbed one of Itachi's shirts and punched her arms through the sleeves, tying her hair into a high ponytail, and waited for Itachi to stand upright. Like her, he took his time to gather his hair together and tied it into a knot, turning to her once he finished.
Unable to stop herself, Sakura smiled at him.
They had spent most of the last two years together, sleeping either at her house or at Itachi's apartment until she had all but moved into the apartment. Though her flat was still in her name and paid for, they had broached the subject of making it official a few times now. Ino, along with Hinata, had asked when the wedding was scheduled.
Her friends were always ahead of the curve.
Sakura supposed she couldn't fault them.
As Itachi reached for her hand, she allowed him to take it, butterflies fluttering wildly inside her. "Sleep well?" he asked, stifling a yawn behind his hand.
"Your airco works better than mine," Sakura said, rubbing her eyes. "So, yes."
They passed the large windows on their way to the kitchen, giving them a perfect view over sunlit Konoha. Summer was approaching the Fire Country in full-force; even this early in the day, they could hear the cicadas, and if not for the air-conditioner, Sakura was certain she would've woken in a bath of her own sweat by now.
"So," she announced as they reached the kitchen. "I know you don't enjoy physical presents and honestly, it's becoming hard finding something that isn't a gag-gift," Sakura said, reaching for one of the frilly aprons she had gifted him the year before. "I figured it would be nice to give you something practical."
Itachi sat down at the counter and eyed her with what she now recognized as skepticism. To others, he was hard to read, but Sakura had learned not to focus on his eyes as much as his mouth. Whereas others showed emotion in their eyes, Itachi learned to keep his blank. Everyone had a tell, though—his was just the way his mouth twitched when he found something amusing. Or the way his right dimple showed whenever he was skeptical and contorted his mouth just so...
"You're going to teach me to make eggs."
Sakura heaved a sigh. "It isn't fun if you guess your present before I can tell you."
Itachi chuckled. "I thought you had given up after the shell-accident."
She lifted a finger. "That's not the attitude I'm looking for, Uchiha. It takes multiple attempts to learn a jutsu."
Itachi shook his head and tapped just below his eye.
"... For us regular mortals," she added, curving a finger to beckon him closer. Sakura eyed him. "It would be much easier if you would use your Sharingan for this."
"I believe you told me that was cheating during your first lesson."
"I need to learn when to shut my mouth."
He leaned closer and pressed his lips against her forehead. "Please don't."
Sakura beamed at him. "Okay, let's get some eggs."
As she busied herself with getting the frying pan onto the stove, Itachi selected four eggs, laying them out beside her. Biting her lip to stop herself from laughing, Sakura held up one egg for him to see and cracked it on the side of the pan, dropping the goopy insides into the pan with practiced skill. She took the next and repeated the gesture, closing off the pan with a lid, and turned to Itachi. "Not too much force, and not too little," Sakura said, repeating the lesson she had given him for the first time, almost three years ago now.
"Yes, Haruno-sensei," Itachi repeated dutifully, wrapping his arms around her waist as he looked into the pan. Though he pretended to be aloof about the entire experience, Sakura could see the intense concentration lurking behind his midnight gaze. Itachi was taking this as seriously as any other S-rank mission, and the thought of it brought a smile to her face.
Deeming the eggs to be done, Sakura took the lid off with a flourish and presented her eggs to him with a theatrical wave of the hand. "And done. Now it's your turn."
She stepped aside and allowed him to take one egg. With the same precision she used, Itachi cracked it into the pan. She peered into it, finding no shells in the egg. With a nod, she allowed Itachi to crack the second, and, after careful inspection, allowed him to close off the pan.
Sakura bit her lip to prevent herself from laughing as Itachi leaned over the stove, staring into the pan with utmost concentration, a hand on each side of the furnace.
"Looks good," Sakura encouraged.
At that precise moment, the front door opened.
Surprised, they both looked up to the entrance, only to find Sasuke standing in the door opening.
Nearly letting her plate fall, Sakura placed it on the countertop as tears filled her eyes at the sight of him. It had been almost three years since she had seen him last—three years since he had walked away from Konoha and made one of her nightmares become a reality.
She took a shaky breath as she took in his appearance. He was taller, his hair had grown longer, though it looked like he had attempted to cut it. A simple black pants and shirt had replaced his Konoha uniform.
In his hands, he held a box that seemed to contain all his worldly possessions—from a set of scrolls to the weapon varnish he always liked to use, to a small stack of clothes and Konoha green vest peeping out from the side. It was then, and only then, that she remembered the message she relayed to Sasuke on the day of his departure.
'Itachi,' she had said, grabbing hold of his arm. 'Itachi wants you to know there is always a home for you whenever you choose to return to it. And that he'll love you forever, no matter what you do from now on.'
Itachi beside her had stayed still, as though worried any move he might make would scare off his younger brother. The pan in which the egg was cooking released smoke and Sakura surged forward to take it off the stove, tossing it into the sink while Itachi could not tear his eyes away from Sasuke.
Sasuke looked equal parts embarrassed and uncertain, dark eyes darting around the kitchen, as though taking it all in. His gaze rested on Sakura for a moment, but there was no anger or sadness left, only a careful warmth that she had feared would never return. "Sakura," he said in greeting.
"Sasuke," she breathed, wiping at her tears.
He looked to Itachi next.
"It's not a Monday," Sasuke pointed out, a blush streaked over his cheeks as he averted his eyes, but Sakura didn't miss the tiny grin that tugged at his lips, before he added, so quiet she barely heard: "Nii-san."
With that, he heaved his box of belongings higher into his arms and stepped further into the house. Beaming through her tears, Sakura watched him turn the corner, heart filled with warmth as she turned to Itachi.
"You'd better work hard on perfecting your eggs. Sasuke loves sunny-side up eggs in the morning," Sakura said as she dried her eyes.
"Yes," Itachi spoke. Eyes wide, Sakura looked to Itachi who stood, shaking as he cried silently, still looking at where Sasuke vanished around the corner. Sakura reached for him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I'll have them perfect next time."
And so, Pinkie held onto Dango Boy as he cried, for the family he had thought lost and for the brother who returned to him.
A/N: A happy ending because the world is fraught with misery and sorrow nowadays.
Thanks for following Labyrinthine—whether you're a new reader or have been following for a year+, I appreciate you all. This chapter was dedicated to the ladies of the ItaSaku server. You've all been a rock this last year and I love every single one of you.
As mentioned before, this is my final fiction on FFN. Find me on Ao3 (FM_White) for my other works—though fair warning, all other works are currently on hiatus as I'm focusing on other projects for the time being.
Thanks for the good times.