~Episode 20~

~Itachi's Boldness: Naruto's Acceptance~

Naruto put both hands in her pockets before she started walking away from the boys who were staring at her back with a frown. Shisui and Kakashi caught up to her, both putting a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

"What's up?" Kakashi asked as he looked down at her.

"Nothing, I have something to handle at the cave. I'll see you guys in two days." She said pulling from their hands, only for them to stop her again when Itachi blocked her path.

"You're not trying to ditch us, are you?" He asked looking down at her. She smiled at him, which almost made him do a double take. Her beauty shined through the most when she's smiling, it was almost blinding since he wasn't used to her smiling often.

"You got it on one, why do you need me to tell you?" Naruto said going around him.

"Take us with you," Kakashi said from behind her. She kept walking, but she answered by telling them that they didn't have to be attached to her hip all the time. The guys watched as she walked away from them with no backward glance.

"I thought we were making progress, but now it feels like we are back to the beginning with her trying to get rid of us," Kakashi said looking at her ponytail swinging behind her.

"Waiting for her to come to you, that's not the best strategy when it comes to getting to know Naruto, she doesn't mind being alone. She can and she has gone an entire year without speaking to anyone." Sai said as he joined them with Jiraiya.

"Let's get a drink," Jiraiya said looking at the boys' fallen faces.

"Why is she so closed off?" Shisui asked.

"As for that we aren't sure, but I think it might have something to do with director Jiraiya leaving her to fend for herself too often and for too long when they were outside the village for training," Sai said smiling at Jiraiya who frowned at him for ratting him out to them.

"A drink might not be a bad idea right now," Shisui said leading the way to Ichiraku's. "Where are you going?" Shisui asked Itachi who had turned around to head after Naruto.

Itachi said nothing as he walked toward the second entrance to Naruto's cave.

"I'm not surprised that he's the one who went after Naruto," Sai said smiling at Itachi's back. "I wonder if he can be the one to soften up Naruto though," Sai added as turned back to follow the others.

[~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~]

Naruto was sitting by the basin in the middle of the cave with her father's letter on hand. She had walked into the cave to find a locked chest in the middle of the room which she ignored when she noticed a letter on the table that did not look like Jiraiya's handwriting. She found a letter with a small key in the envelope, she took out the letter to read, and by the time she was done. She needed to sit down.

She had made it to the basin, with the letter on hand, and her feet dangling in the water when she heard the hidden door moving from behind her. She didn't need to turn around to know who it was that had followed her. As soon as she heard his footsteps coming down the dropped downstairs, she knew who it was. "I can't say I'm entirely surprised that you're the one who followed me," Naruto said without turning around.

"And I knew there was no way I could surprise you by coming after you," Itachi said standing behind her as he looked around the cave that looked, even more, homier since the last time, he was in it.

"The errand you had to run; did it have something to do with the wooden chest by the entrance?" He asked from behind her as he looked at the letter she was reading. "Something like that, why did you follow me?" She asked standing up to face him, he pulled back a bit to give her space to stand.

"I can't say, I'm mainly here on impulse," he said with his eyes still on the paper.

"Never pegged you for one to do things on a whim," Naruto said handing the letter to him when he lifted his hand for it. Naruto left him standing there with it to walk over to the bookshelf to pull a book that was sticking out from the shelf.

"You learned all of this last time we were in Waterfalls," Itachi said walking to the table to put the letter down and pick up the key that was just sitting there.

Naruto nodded with her head buried in the book she had pulled out. "So, why are you rattled by it?" Itachi asked taking the book from her to get her attention.

"I couldn't tell you even if I tried to," Naruto said walking to the table to sit on it with her foot on the chair in front of it.

"I thought you had put it all behind you after you talked to Sensei, although you were quiet afterward, you seemed somewhat relaxed compared to how you were before meeting Minato Sensei." Itachi sitting on the chair in front of her, pushing her feet off it.

"It's not as simple as saying I'm okay with everything, and you're right; I thought I had gotten over a few things as well, but reading this letter put me off balance in a way I didn't think was still possible," Naruto admitted truthfully.

Itachi crossed his arms in front of him as he looked at her. Although he couldn't read her as well as she was able to read him, he could tell that she was being honest about what she said. He said nothing waiting to see if she was going to continue, but she also said nothing.

"The letter seemed straight forward, you know your parents loved you, and I remember you telling us that you doubted their devotion to you, but after learning everything Sensei had to tell you in your mindscape, I have to wonder what is it about this letter that has you so conflicted?" Itachi asked putting his phone on silent after a notification drew his attention away from her.

"Let's play it all backward for a bit, I spent my entire life thinking that if my parents cared about me, the likes of Tsunade would have never shown up anywhere near me, now looking back I know that it wasn't fair to blame Tsunade on them, but I wasn't that well-adjusted back then," Naruto said pulling her feet under her on the table and brought her hands together in front of her with her elbows on her thighs.

"I'm sure Tsunade wasn't an easy pill to swallow," Itachi said, giving her an opening to see if she would tell him more about her time under Tsunade.

Naruto laughed. "I'm not sure if understatement is a strong enough word to cover that, it's not that she didn't like me, I was okay with her not liking me, because I was used to it," Naruto said taking the bait to tell him more since he was curious.

"You believed it when she was faking for Jiraiya," he said remembering what she told them about her time with Yahiko.

Naruto looked over his head at the water where the sound of low gushing water was coming from. "I remember when I was five, every time she'd come around and started paying attention to me, my heart would leap…" Naruto said but stopped to pick up her phone that dinged, Itachi took it from her to hold it for her to continue. "I don't know, I guessed I just hated that I held hope and I hated that I would fall for it; then later on when it's just me and her, I would find out that she thought of me as nothing but a nuisance," Naruto said looking at her hands, lost in thought. It didn't register to her that Itachi had taken her hand in his until his thumb was circling the back of her hand.

"What?" Naruto asked looking at him.

"I don't know, you sound a bit hard on yourself for wanting the people around you to care for you." He said waiting for her to pull her hand out of his, but when she didn't, he continued. "Tsunade's a selfish woman, that's quite apparent now, but you didn't know that then, surely you can cut yourself some slack. I was like that too with my parents, even at times when my little brother was growing up, I had hope that the two of us could have been a real family." He said looking at how small her hand was in his.

Naruto smiled at him. "He's your only closely related relative, it's not crazy to think about being closer to him, whereas I was not related to her in any way beyond her being married to Jiraiya; I just hated that I had any kind of expectations," Naruto said.

When neither of them said anything for a while, both of them realized that they were lost in their thoughts. Naruto pushed her legs down to try and stand up, his chair was too close to her that she almost landed on his lap when she tried to get up. If Itachi hadn't gotten up when he did, she would have landed on his lap, not that he minded, but he thought she might find it uncomfortable so he saved himself from the disappointment he would have felt had he seen her face afterward.

"What's the plan for today, I mean besides reading that letter?" He asked, looking at the abandoned letter on the table. "Are you going to open the chest?"

"No, the letter was enough for now, when I'm in a better condition I'll tackle the chest. We might have to go on a mission a day from now, last time I handled something when my condition was less than perfect, I almost lost my mind to a mindless spirit." She said taking the book he handed to her to put back on the shelf.

"So, where to?" He asked her once she turned around. Naruto smiled at him for a bit when she realized that he was planning on following her today. "Are planning on following me around today?" Naruto asked coming close to him to stare at him with her hands in her pockets as she leaned back a bit to stare at him. Itachi looked down at her smile, he wondered what about him following her today was amusing.

"And if I am?" He asked her, not letting his mind registered that he was flirting. Naruto smiled brighter before she headed toward the hidden door.

"You're not sweet on me, are you Uchiha?" Naruto asked as she opened the door, only to come to a full stop when she felt Itachi's breath next to her ear as he responded to her question. "Would it be a crime if I was?" He asked following her out of the cave.

Naruto thought about it for a bit, it was okay for him to like her, as long as he wasn't expecting anything in return from her. Itachi took advantage of her stopping just outside the door after it closed behind them to slide both his arms around her from behind her to drop them in front of her, leaning his weight on her back.

"It's a good thing there are three men in the team," Naruto said trying to remove his hands, but he wasn't budging. "Because I don't think I would be able to carry either one of you if something happens out there," Naruto said leaving his hands where they were when she saw that he wasn't going to let her remove them. Itachi laughed as he lifted his weight off her back to bring one hand on top of her head to rest his chin on it, leaving the other one around her neck. "I would say the same, but you're as small of as mushroom sprout that we don't have to worry about that." He said leaving the other arm around her to move beside her to start walking with her.

"Funny, I have a long memory for people who make fun of my height, Uchiha," Naruto said before she started walking to her house.

"I don't know Uzumaki, mushroom sprout is too tall, perhaps a young sprout of soybean just sticking its head out of the soil." He said as if he was talking to himself, earning a glare from Naruto as she pinched the arm around her neck.

"You're hilarious," Naruto said ignoring him after that.

"I always thought so, but I've never said it." He responded with a smile when he saw her small pout.

They made it to Naruto's place to find it empty, it was close to evening, Itachi thought the boys might have gone to Naruto's place after drinking, but when they found no one there he called them to find out where they were, it turned out that they went back to Itachi's place with Sai and Jiraiya to continue drinking. "They are still drinking, but they've moved from Ichiraku's to my place, so we can head over there if you want to," he said to Naruto who had come back to the living room after she showered and changed her clothes. "Or, you can make me dinner, I'm kind of hungry," he said when he saw her frown at the idea of them going over to his place to drink with the guys.

Naruto laughed. "Usually it's Shisui and Kakashi who asked me to cook for them, I was starting to think that you didn't like my cooking," Naruto said dropping herself on the space next to him. Somehow, they've become comfortable enough for her not to run in the other direction when it came to being in close contact with him. "Any request?" Naruto asked looking at him as he put his phone back in his vest to look down at her next to him. "Ayame stocked up for me yesterday, she does my grocery when she gets hers as well," Naruto explained when he just stared at her for an explanation.

"It was that bad?" He asked getting up to pull her with him.

Naruto shrugged off his question when she got to the kitchen to stare in the fridge to see what she could make for them and the boys since they probably just went to the bar to drink, she knew Sai and Jiraiya rarely ordered anything when they go there to drink. "Naruto," Itachi said coming up next to her on the island where she was depositing ingredients as she tried to keep herself busy instead of answering his question.

"It wasn't anything horrible like you're imagining, Jiraiya did most of the shopping, but when he moved out to go live with his wife, let's just say I didn't want to risk eating rotten food, especially meat, so when Ayame moved into my building she offered to do my shopping with hers when she saw that I only bought things that were already packaged," Naruto explained.

"Have anyone ever..." he started but stopped when she smiled at him.

"As I said, you're imagining the worse. It wasn't comfortable, but it was livable. They're all idiots, but no one dared to touch me for fear of the spirit coming out." Naruto laughed at his frown. "Like I said, idiots. If they knew the lengths I go to…to keep that spirit contained they'd know they don't have anything to worry about." Naruto said before she started cooking.

Itachi nodded before he moved to take a seat on one of the chairs in front of the stand-alone island she was working. "How about a Tuscan Chicken Cellentani Mac and Cheese?" Naruto asked to change the subject. Itachi nodded not sure what the dish was, but he was sure it would be good if Naruto was the one making it. She cooked in silence after asking him about the dish, and he stayed silent when he saw that she didn't want to talk about her life in the village.

"It's not like mine was any different, even though I was the one who saved them from an Uchiha rebellion that would have taken thousands of lives, they still treated me like a pariah." Itachi when Naruto stood up after putting a large port of in the oven.

"Like I said, idiots," she said setting a timer in the oven before she moved to the living room, leaving him to follow her. They talked about this and that when they settled on the couch as she waited for the cheese to melt on top of the mac and cheese, and the breast chicken to finished cooking in the oven. They ate in silence after the oven timer went off, taking a seat on the island in the kitchen instead of the dining table since it was only the two of them, Itachi would look up now and then to see if she would say anything, but Naruto was resolved to eating in silence since she didn't have anything say, and since she didn't want him to start asking questions about her past again. Itachi washed his and Naruto's dish in the sink while she was cleaning the kitchen after they finished eating, he was still racking up his brain to see if there was anything else he could talk to her about since she was literary two feet away from him, but when he couldn't come up with anything, he gave up.

"Let's take a walk, it's been a long time since I had anything this heavy, I'm too full," Naruto said taking her phone and keys after she handed the casserole dish in heat and cool bag to carry before making their way out of the front door. "I bet everything I have that those idiots are drinking on an empty stomach," Naruto said next to him, with Itachi laughing since he knew it was true. They don't usually eat anything when they drink, maybe the peanuts at the bar, but other than that nothing, which is why they have a hard time the morning after, but that has never deterred them from drinking on an empty stomach.

They heard laughter as soon as they got close to the Uchiha compound gate, it seemed like Sasuke and his team members and a few others were hanging out in the main compound today. Neither of them said anything to them when the laughter stopped as they looked at them. Itachi paid no attention to his brother as he made his way toward Shisui and his place with Naruto following him.

Coming up on his yard, Itachi could hear laughter as well, looking up to find Kakashi, Shisui, Jiraiya, and Sai sitting on the veranda drinking and laughing, it looked like they were sharing stories.

"You know what, I'm not surprised at all that they only thing you idiots are eating is trail mix," Naruto said walking up the stairs to the veranda with Itachi who handed the bag to Kakashi who smiled at Naruto when he smelled the aroma coming from the bag.

"Aw, I knew you loved us," Sai said taking Naruto's hand to pull her down next to him.

"Idiots, you both know what happens when you eat on an empty stomach," Naruto said glaring at Jiraiya who put down the beer to show her his bowl of trail mix. Shisui and Kakashi came out with plates and silverware and the dish Naruto had made to set it in the middle of the table in front of them.

"How much did you drink?" Naruto asked looking at the empty bottles that were in a neat line around the edge of the veranda. She wanted to ask more, but she had to stop because Anko had just walked in the yard with her team and a few other people following her came in as well.

When the guys looked up at them with questioning looks, she finally talked. "I wanted to know the place you got your food from, do they deliver?" She asked them but she was looking at Itachi. Naruto got up to take a beer from the cooler that was filled with mostly water than ice, she walked back to her seat at the table, popped the cap off the side of the table before drinking from it, earning looks from the guys.

"What," she asked, but no one said anything for fear of offending her by telling her she was more like them than she thought.

"We didn't order, Naruto made the dish," Kakashi said before he resumed eating.

"Oh," Anko said but she was still looking at Itachi who had followed in Naruto's footsteps to get himself a beer as well before coming to sit down on the other side of Sai. He and Naruto were drinking while the others were eating, no one said anything after that, thinking they were going to leave on their own, but they didn't.

"Can we join you guys?" Anko asked, but still, she was looking at Itachi who was lost in his thoughts as he tried to process the day he had with Naruto. Yes, he had feelings for her, but he couldn't tell what her real feelings were, she was somewhat okay with being close to him, but other than that he couldn't tell what she was thinking about him or what she was feeling for him.

"It's a free world, if you want to join us, join us," Shisui said awkwardly when it looked like no one was going to answer her. Not even letting him finish talking, Anko and her followers were filling out the veranda. Naruto was getting a bit uncomfortable with the air around her being occupied when she saw that Sasuke had come up as well with Choji. She got up from her spot to put her empty bottle at the edge like the guys had been doing, she grabbed another one from the cooler before she left the veranda to go sit at the edge of the fountain that was lit up in the middle of the yard.

"Naruto," Shikamaru said getting her attention as she walked by him. Naruto touched his shoulder on her way down to say her greeting. Hinata and Neji followed her to the fountain to sit on either side of her.

"Naruto," they said in unison.

Naruto laughed at them. "Never thought the both of you would or even could find common ground," Naruto said when she saw their questioning looks. "Feeling better," She asked Hinata who nodded before she looked up at the sky like Naruto was doing. Naruto's legs were extended in front of her, with her hands extended behind her as she leaned back on them to stare at the sky.

"Neji," Naruto said when she felt him next to her, but he didn't say anything.

"I've been looking into the things we talked about," he started but stopped when he saw her looking at him. "Wanna take a walk?" He asked standing up to wait for her to follow him.

Naruto nodded. "Sure," she said putting her hands in her pockets before she started walking with him. "You were right," he said next to her.

"I often am," Naruto responded.

Neji laughed softly. "I never thought you and my parents were fighting the same war," he said. "My war, now that I've finally decided to stop wasting my time on unimportant things." He said.

"What did your dad tell you?"

"He explained everything for me, I found where he hid the hidden seal that Hiashi has been looking for, I've gained control of his hidden spy network with the seal, and now they are all under my order." He said to a smiling Naruto.

"You've been busy," Naruto said.

He nodded. "I never thought that my mother was a spy the Akatsuki placed in the Hyuga household," he said. "She fell in love with my father and defected. She died after revealing everything she knew and had on them to my father who started the Hidden Spy Network to get ahead of this war that has been brewing since Madara Uchiha started the Uchiha rebellion." Neji said.

Naruto nodded. "You're finally caught up to the real world, huh?"

"I'm playing dumb in the house, but I don't know how long I can keep it up." He said looking to Naruto to see if she had a solution since she knew what it was like to play dumb.

"You're officially a ninja, why don't you move out? My apartment complex is empty if you're looking for a place to live." Naruto said looking ahead of her with a smile.

"I knew you'd have a solution, my dad said that you would be the best ally in this war, and he wasn't wrong," Neji said looking down at her when they stopped in front of the opened gate, they had walked around the yard a few times as they talked. They missed the stares they were getting from the people around them, but neither one of them was paying attention. "I'll come by tomorrow to sign the lease." He said turning back to start walking toward the fountain where Hinata was still waiting on them.

"Okay, you want a drink?" she asked him when he took a seat next to Hinata.

"Sure," he said looking at Hinata who shook her head no to his unasked question. Naruto walked back to the veranda to deposit her empty bottle to grab two from the cooler.

"What was that about?" Itachi asked Naruto who looked up at him with a frown, when he motioned his head toward Neji, she smiled.

"He's looking for a place to live since his living arrangements are less than desirable, so he's moving in with me," Naruto said, turned around when she heard Jiraiya choking on his beer.

"Excuse me," he asked a frowning Naruto. "You want to run that by me again?" He asked Naruto with a glare.

"Since when was it your business who I let into my complex?" Naruto asked looking at him, what was his problem.

"Wait, he's renting from you?" Kakashi asked, and Naruto nodded. "That's not what it sounded like," he added when she looked confused.

"What did you think I meant?" She asked them, looking at Itachi who had his head buried in his phone to escape Anko's advances.

"Never mind," Jiraiya said going back to his drinking.

"Naruto," Anko said a bit angry when she saw how much of Itachi's attention Naruto commanded just by walking up the veranda. "It's been a while," she said.

"It has," Naruto said turning to head down the steps. "Let's keep it that way," she added as her feet touch the pavement.

"I hear not being able to let things go is not good for your health," Anko said stopping Naruto in her track, she was close enough to Neji so she handed him the beer and gave her bottle to Hinata to hold for her before she turned back around to face Anko.

"So is being two-faced," Naruto said with a raised brow.

"That was a bit nasty, she's never nasty; she can be mean but never nasty" Shikamaru thought as he looked at Naruto's face.

"Like you're one to talk," Anko said standing up to move toward her.

Naruto smirked. "That's the best you got. I was only able to live in the shadows because the people around me just assumed what they saw was all there is, had they bothered to asked they would have seen the real me. As opposed to being a lying two-faced, conniving, and manipulating mole" Naruto said putting her hands in her pockets when she saw that she was getting angry at Anko all over again.

"Oh please, save your sanctimonious speech for someone else, like you would have done any differently if it was your precious Sensei," Anko said moving toward the edge of the veranda to come closer to Naruto.

"You see Anko, that's the difference between you and me, had it been Jiraiya instead of Orochimaru, I would have reacted differently than you. No one touches me or my loved ones without paying for it. I don't care who you are, if you touch the people I care about, you pay with your life. I would have used my sword to slit him from nose to naval." Naruto said, barely holding in her anger anymore.

"Unlike you who became a puppet to Orochimaru, I don't let other people control me or my actions," Naruto added for good measure.

"He had a cursed seal on me, what did want from me?" Anko shouted at Naruto when she heard the accusatory tone she used to call her a puppet.

"You shouldn't have been involved in the mission in the first place," Naruto shouted back, making a few people around her jumped since they've never heard her yell before. "You escaped disciplinary actions because of the cursed mark, but don't expect anything from me anymore. The only reason you are alive today is because Sai wasn't wounded or injured. You can thank him for that, you would have seen a very ugly side to me had it gone differently." Naruto said turning away.

"I apologized," Anko said weakly after her.

"Yeah," Naruto said turning around again. "And I remember telling you where you could stick that apology, I'm not one for using crude language, but if you come on my face with this issue again, don't blame me for reminding you," Naruto said turning around to take the now warm beer from Hinata who handed it to her hesitantly. Naruto tried to calm herself down long enough to open the bottle, but she couldn't stand the anger that was boiling under the surface of her skin at Anko for endangering Sai on the Orochimaru Mission. Naruto chucked the bottle on the side of the fountain hearing it breaks with loud noise as the bottle hit the concrete. The satisfying pop noise the sealed bottle made when it hit the concrete took the edge off a bit, but she knew that it would come back with just one look at Anko. She breathed through her nose a few times before she walked toward the open gate with no backward glance.

Itachi, Kakashi, and Shisui got up at the same time when Naruto started walking toward the gate to follow her so they could get the full story on what went down during the mission. Although Itachi had read the files on that mission, so he knew a bit of what went down that day, but he still wanted to hear it from Naruto.

Author's Note: Thank you for reading!

PS: This is the last chapter before the four-part Season Mid-Finale. I wanted to give the two of our main leads a chapter just for themselves because they are rarely ever featured together. The reason I post this story like a TV show is because I wrote the chapters in advance, I had at least nine to ten chapters done before posting it, so it felt like I was running a TV show instead of a story. I'm finally caught up to all my chapters, so after this post, I will take next week off to write the four-part mid-season finale that will bring about one of the crucial climaxes in the story. The mid-finale will be up the first three weeks of October, and the last two weeks I will write the resolution of the first season to be posted throughout November, which will be the end of the first season. All of this of course is my plan, and I hope God will it for me to get it done the way that I plan.

To those who are supporting this story by reading it with me every week, I want to say thank you for the many views this story is getting. I am a big fan of Itachi and female Naruto stories, but since I haven't been able to find a lot of them, I thought I would write one myself. In the beginning, as I was writing this story I honestly didn't know how all of it would unfold, and as I write it and saw that the characters were getting away from me, I became interested in seeing this story to the end, it might be around two to three seasons, but I'm looking forward to seeing how far I can take this story.

I hope all of those who started on this journey with me will continue to read it with me as I write it. Thank you for your continued support as well as your reviews that tells me that I'm not the only one looking forward to where the characters are taking this story. There is an expected end in mind but how they end up there is entirely up to them.

I hope you continue to enjoy this story.

Stay safe and God Bless You.