Enter standard disclaimer here.  Nope, not mine, not mine at all…damn…

Stranger Than Fiction

Chapter 1

By:  Wicked Innuendo

The aging neon ale sign flickered intermittently besides the dozen or so shelves full of various hard liquors, some bottles new, though the majority contained barely enough to wet ones lips with.  A thick haze of cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air, the pungent smell did little to mask the stale odor of sweat mingled with vomit and urine.  The tavern was a seedy joint, complete with an assortment of shady patrons, taking full advantage of the dim atmosphere and cheap booze.  This bar was one of those places her mother had warned her against going to in her youth.  This place wasn't a place where nice girls went.

Haruno Sakura sat at the bar alone, nursing her fifth bourbon on the rocks, watching the chips of ice readjust as they melted into the potent alcohol.  It wasn't originally her intention to stop here, the decision had been a sporadic choice stemmed from a recent overwhelming sense of inadequacies as a ninja.   She was a fortnight shy of her twentieth birthday and she still had yet to ascend to the level Chuunin, and that little fact was unacceptable in her and Inner Sakura's mind's eye.  She raised the glass to her full lips, quickly swallowing the contents.  The bourbon washed over her pallet, burning her throat as it settled in her empty stomach.  God, she hated the way it tasted, but couldn't deny how much she welcomed the numbness that settled in her limbs and mind. 

"Gennin," she distastefully muttered the word.  "More like glorified courier," she snickered, tucking a loose tendril of pale rose hair back into her black Leaf Village forehead protector.  "Ninja Sakura Parcel Service Express," the alcohol was already affecting her speech as she slurred the last two words together.  At nineteen she was one of the oldest Gennin in Leaf Village and the only one in her graduating class that had not reached the ranks of Jounin or Anbu and she found this mortifying.  So what if she lacked any special techniques, she more than made up for it in astuteness.  She felt like she'd received the short end of the stick somehow.  Why couldn't she have been born with gourd full of nifty sand, or a vicious little ninja Chihuahua, or even Sharigan eyes. 

Sharigan eyes.  "Sasuke," she whispered.  He was another sore subject.  He had been the object of her adolescent infatuation and as she grew older, he remained number one in her heart.  That he saw her as no more than a former teammate and pal to hang out with once in a blue moon left her feeling bitter to the bone.

"Hey! Bar Keep," the young woman hollered, her tone slightly reminiscent of old film noir, "bring me another."  She tossed a few coins on the counter, grimy with wasted beer from the night before. 

She paid little attention to the stranger that took the barstool directly next to hers, that was until he scooted closely to her, "You ladies of the night start dressing up as ninjas now?  Roleplaying...Good idea, I'm sold." She could smell his sour breath as he leaned towards her to speak. 

"What?" She asked, clueless to what he was hinting at.

"Is 1500 yen enough for a half hour," he leered at her, running his hand over the leather of her trademark scarlet and alabaster dress.

Sakura noticeably tensed, encircling the lecherous hand that groped her upper thigh within her thumb and forefinger and twisted it into an unnatural position, "I am not a prostitute!" She lividly spat.  The man howled in pain, falling to his knees as his dark eyes glistened with unshed tears, "I am a ninja."

"I'm so sorry, miss.  Please forgive me," he whined from his awkward location on the tavern's filthy floor.  Sakura barely paid attention to the man's pleas and held him still with little effort.  The bartender returned snickering under his breath and replaced the empty glass with a new one. 

"Thank you," she smiled at the bar keep, and downed the iced alcohol in two large gulps.  "You're not worth my time," She released the man, softly laughing to herself as he scurried away like cockroach into darker recesses of the bar.

He had been watching her from across the room with his companion from the moment she had entered.  The girl child he remembered had certainly blossomed into such a sweet flower.  She had grown taller, filled nicely into the dress that once hung from preteen form like a burlap sack.  Gone was the roundness of her face, she had lost that chubby girl fat and in its place was the toned physique of an athlete; a shinobi. The thought of picking that flower and tearing it apart, one delicious petal at a time brought the barest hint of a smile to his usually stoic face. 

Uchiha Itachi sat at the dark booth, opposite his traveling companion.  "I'll retrieve you in the morning," the former Anbu captain spoke in a low voice.  His companion followed his comrade's line of site to a young woman sitting alone at the bar and grunted in acknowledgement, running his serpentine tongue over his thin lips in shameless appreciation.

Itachi walked to the opposite side of the bar, the fluidity of his gait beneath his black and red cloak made him appear as if he was gliding across the floor.  The man had an undeniable natural grace, a testament of the advanced bloodline and Uchiha genes fine tuned with years of meticulous training in arts of the shinobi.  He reached the young Gennin's side without her noticing, bent close to her ear spoke in a hushed tone, "I knew you were a shinobi."

His warm breath on the shell of her ear sent a chill down her spine as she spun around to see who had the audacity to enter her personally space after she had clearly made an example of the previous would be Casanova.   "Sa..Sasuke-kun?" she stuttered, her green eyes wide as saucers.  "What are you doing here?"

"Aa…" he slowly waved an index finger in front of her face.  "I'm not Sasuke," he cupped her chin with one hand, running his thumb over her soft lips as she leaned into his touch.  "Not Sasuke," he repeated.

"Aaaa, of course not…" she sarcastically mimicked, narrowing her eyes at Itachi.  "You're an asshole.  That's what you are, Uchiha."  She abruptly stood from her barstool, Sakura tried to pull away from the calloused hand, but Itachi held her firmly, tangling his long fingers into the soft pastel of her waist length tresses.  He brought her closer to him, his obsidian gaze locking with her sea foam green orbs.  He found the girl's absent sobriety and lack of trepidation amusing. He wondered how his younger brother was able to deny such delectable little creature.  "Take a picture, it'll last longer."  She tried to pull away for second time, but his vice like grip would not yield.

"That's not necessary, Sakura-chan, I have a photographic memory."  He released his hold on her, the alcohol in her blood caused her to lose her footing, nearly stumbling to floor.  Itachi grabbed her bare upper arm, jerking her back into his lean torso.

"Why are you here?" she pointed her finger into his chest.  "Did Tsunade-sama send you to collect her favorite Go For Girl?  Or did you decide to care all of a sudden?"

He cocked his head slightly to the side, "You're drunk."

"You're observant," she snapped back, narrowing her jade eyes at the missing-nin.  He met her gaze, locking his eyes with her.  Green eyes, tired with fatigue coalescing with the effects alcohol.  The fiery Gennin refused to look away, "Don't you have a brother to kill or something," she sassed, trying free her arm.

"Or something," he coolly replied, the corners of his mouth turning upwards into a small grin.  His hold on her loosened and his fingers slid down her bicep and over her forearm before pausing at her wrist.  "Come with me," Itachi's words came as more of a statement than a question. 

Come with me, the words repeated in her mind.  And that's exactly what she did.  Sasuke needed her to go with him and she'd follow him to hell and back for just another glimpse of that sweet smile. 

To be continued…