Disclaimer: Don't own nothing
Lost and Found
"Alright, what the hell happened?"
Sasuke and Kakashi turned surprised to the voice coming from behind them. Itachi was standing just around the boulder, a concerned expression on his face. When they both stayed silent, the older Uchiha explained his presence.
"Sakura-san locked herself into her house and there's this angry black cloud hovering right over her roof that's making me kind of nervous. Naruto is pacing and mumbling indefinable things about 'wackos' and 'old lunatics'." He paused and pointed at Sasuke. "And you look very much like our father did whenever his mother-in-law came for a visit. So, what happened out there?"
"We ran into Sakura's grandfather…" was all Kakashi said on the matter, he'd rather forget the whole incident.
"Shoutarou?" The older Uchiha asked for clarification and winced when the copy-nin nodded. "Ouch!"
"You know him?" Sasuke's interest in the conversation rapidly increased and he couldn't keep the curiosity out of his voice. The look his brother gave him however made him wonder even more – Itachi seemed confused that the younger Uchiha didn't know the answer to that question himself. Nonetheless he replied without commenting on it.
"Enough to know that I don't want to know him any better!"
"Let's just forget about it for now – it's unlikely to happen again anyway." Kakashi told them as he stood up and wiped his pants. "He said his piece and that's usually the end for him, he's just gonna give you the silent treatment from now on and that's actually a lot better than having him talk to you. You might wanna watch out for his wife, though…"
He pulled Sasuke up by the shoulders, gave him an encouraging slap on the arm and led the way back to the houses. Sasuke vowed to bring Sakura's family up later with both older men, preferably when the kunoichi was far far away from the premises.
They found Naruto still pacing in the living room and Kakashi explained the necessities about their encounter to him. Afterwards the Kyubi boy was immediately on his way to cheer up his Sakura-chan, but the copy-nin held him back and told him to let her be for now – she was, after all, used to her grandfather's behaviour and fully capable of dealing with it.
That concluded their discussion for now and when Sakura eventually left her house that evening no one mentioned it again. Sasuke felt relieved to see her smiling again, determination shining in her eyes. That was the Sakura he knew, not the emotionless doll he'd seen bowing before her grandfather…
At dinner they introduced Yamato, Sai and Itachi to Naruto's plans for a party and the three men agreed with varying degrees of enthusiasm that it was one of his better ideas. Suffice to say, Sasuke was not a happy camper, but kept silent – he was in the minority anyway. Next to him, Sakura was also quiet, apparently not all that excited about this development either.
The next day Kakashi had given them all the day off as Naruto's bunshin had taken car of most of the debris from his destruction activities and the rest of the houses could wait for now. The copy-nin himself had taken his leave shortly after breakfast and his whereabouts were unknown – Sasuke was sure he didn't want to know anyway.
He'd spend the morning observing Sakura and Shizune putting Itachi through multiple tests with charts and various lenses and even some doodad that enabled them to view his brother's eyes up close – it gave him the creeps, no one should look into another's eyes that deeply…
Shizune had gone back into town to give their data under a false name to an optician who would craft the glasses and she would bring them by once they were ready. It wouldn't take long, she'd assured them.
Afterwards Itachi and Yamato were playing Go again and by noon Sasuke had gotten tired of watching them. The fight between Sakura and Ino was nagging at his thoughts and he didn't want to have this party if the both of them were cranky with each other – they'd probably end up blowing their tops at the worst moment possible and he already saw himself right in the middle of it. Not a pretty outlook for his future…
But, Sasuke being Sasuke, he couldn't come out and talk to her about it, so he went with the only way of extracting information he had learned – beating it out of her. Of course, he didn't plan on actually hurting her (much), but a little sparring would surely get him what he wanted.
Searching for her, he entered the house she lived in without knocking – technically it was his house, after all – and looked around. It was relatively small, especially in contrast to the main building right next door, but had more than enough room for one person. The entire ground floor was made up of one big room that she'd apparently chosen for her living room cum workstation and in the back a small kitchen was separated by a counter.
She'd taken the time to paint some of the walls in lively and light colours – the kitchen yellow, the living room with a small touch of blue – and there were plants literally everywhere. It looked like a small jungle. And dab in the middle stood a piano, polished and gleaming, and he wondered how she had gotten it into the house without him noticing…
And books – he'd never seen so many books outside a library, it was a small miracle those shelves didn't break under their collective weight. The walls were almost completely covered with shelves and still there were books piled up on every available surface – especially her desk. Yes, this was exactly how he'd imagined her home to look – chaos organized with a system only she could comprehend.
He had to give her credit for the absence of anything too girly though…
He could hear her walking around upstairs and decided to snoop a bit before making his presence know – of course, he didn't call it 'snooping', just… gathering important information …yes, he smirked, gathering information sounded a lot better.
Making his way through the shrubbery of the living room towards the desk standing under one of the windows, he eyed the individual flowerpots with distrust. He wasn't quite sure he liked the appearance of some of those plants – knowing her, most of them were probably poisonous and/or allergenic and she'd taken them in for study. He wouldn't put it past her to have carnivorous ones in here, too…
When he finally reached the desk, he took a deep breath and started to pick up some of the books, reading their title and dismissing them as unexciting – medicine had never been his forte and some of the titles alone made even his genius brain dizzy. Varicella zoster, Hypertrichosis… it all sounded fascinating, really.
And exactly how many different books on viral infections did one medic-nin need? He'd counted ten so far and he was only on the first shelve…
Labelling this shelve as 'boring', he continued to the next and browsed the book spines. Freud? What was she doing with literature on psychology – she was a medic, not a shrink.
There were a lot more of this kind, by other authors and more specialised on particular disorders – general military psychiatry and Post-traumatic stress disorder in particular were the most prominent (he did understand her interest in this, it was sadly rather common in her field). But others had topics usually not associated with their occupation and some of them – especially those about narcissism, depression and the resulting trauma of abuse victims – made him uncomfortable and he quickly moved on.
Passing the shelves, he saw history and politics, as well as physics, chemistry and biology were present in a wide variety and a few looked even quite interesting, but he'd hoped for something more personal. He'd always known her brain had an enormous capacity and her curiosity was of unchallenged intensity, so her interest in all kinds of sciences didn't really tell him anything he hadn't already known. He was looking for the things she read for fun – fables and stories, like the books she'd given him in the hospital.
Finally, he came to a cabinet, about waist-high and with glass doors in front. On it stood an old-fashioned record player not unlike the one his father used to have – a phonograph. Funny, he'd never imagined her as someone who enjoyed revelling in nostalgia.
He opened the lower part of the cabinet and found the accompanying records – maybe forty in total. Crouching in front of the cabinet, he pulled out a few records and examined them with a small bubble of excitement growing in his gut. He'd never considered the side of her that was the private Sakura and he found he desired to get to know her better.
He'd seen far more of the dobe and Ink Boy than he ever wanted to, over the last few weeks, but Kakashi and Sakura were still mysteries and he couldn't help but wish it were different. All this time they'd spend as a team, but deep down they were all strangers to him and his absence hadn't exactly helped either. Maybe it was time to remedy that.
Not to mention it infuriated him that the stupid artist-nin apparently knew a lot more about Sasuke's team mates and constantly tried to goad him with that knowledge. Did they have to replace him with such an imbecile?
Looking over the covers – Led Zeppelin? He'd heard that before, but what in the world were those guys wearing? And what the hell was an 'ABBA', anyway?– he didn't hear her footsteps on the stairs and subsequently jumped in surprise, letting go of all the records in the process, when she put a hand on his shoulder, accompanied by a stern "Sasuke!"
"Argh, don't do that! Those are fragile!" And with a glare, she kneeled next to him and picked them up, cradling them carefully as if they were her most prized possessions, while he was still trying to regulate his heart beat – shit, when had she gotten so damn quiet?
"What are you doing, Sasuke? You could have broken them."
"Uh…" Dammit, where was his genius brain when you needed it? He couldn't very well admit that he'd been snooping around her home – yes alright, he'd been snooping, but he couldn't tell her that.
"Do you have any idea what these are worth?"
"Uhm… no?" How should he really – he'd never been interested in music anyway…
"Some of these are irreplaceable first-editions, up to fifty years old! You can't go throwing them around, Sasuke, they aren't Frisbees!" She put the records back into the cabinet, except for one and held it up to his face. "This is an authentic 1968 edition of "The White Album" by The Beatles, with all four of their autographs. And it's not replaceable, because two of those four band members are already dead!"
"Okay…" Alright already, he'd gotten the point, but apparently she wasn't finished yet.
"Sasuke, this is worth more than your life! Don't ever touch it again!" Her voice was strangely calm and he could see her threat was serious. She carefully put the album back and stood up, hands on hips and face contorted in a frown.
"Sakura," he asked as he stood up, voice tentative and eyes still slightly widened at her vehemence. "What is an Abba?"
Damn this newfound curiosity…
The look she shot him clearly showed she thought he was going crazy, and then she started laughing. He pushed his hands into his pockets, pouting (only a little) and ready to leave, when she put a hand on his arm to stop him.
"They," she explained. "It's they, not it. They are a band, Sasuke, from Sweden and were very popular in the seventies. You've really never heard of them?" The disbelief was written all over her face and he had no answer.
"Waterloo, Mamma Mia, Chiquitita, Fernando, Super Trouper... You've never heard of any of these songs?"
"They sing about bananas?" It was his turn to be incredulous.
"What? What are you…" Realization dawned on her. "Oh. No, it's Chiqui-ti-ta! It has nothing to do with bananas, trust me. It means 'little girl' in Spanish, or something like that."
"Oh…" Now he really felt stupid.
"What are you doing here anyway?"
Right, he'd come here for a reason…
"Let's go spar." Not waiting for a reply, he grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the house – just in case she had any more of those invaluable possessions he shouldn't touch.
"Wait, I'm not dressed for sparing." He eyed her sweatpants and wide t-shirt.
"You're fine." He told her nonchalantly and kept going. "Now come on."
They entered the training grounds and he went over his plan again, letting go of her so she could make herself ready.
"Okay, here're the rules." He started to explain. "I won't use the Sharingan and you won't use your weird strength. Let's just do a taijutsu match without any chakra at all."
"Uhm, if you want…" She was clearly suspicious of his intentions, she knew him good enough to know it was unusual for him not to go to the extreme, even in a simple sparring match.
The fight started out understated, both unwilling to really go at each other. He noted she was a little sloppy with her aim and seemed preoccupied – probably that stupid disagreement with Ino, but at least it gave him a good opening.
"That all you have, Sakura?" Goading her was just too easy, especially by questioning her capability as it made her furious – a lesson Ink Boy obviously still had to learn.
Instead of answering she tried to punch him, but her anger made her predictable and he ducked, returning with a kick to her midsection. Still distracted she took too long to realize his intention and ducked too late, his foot made contact with the side of her ribcage and she landed face first in the grass.
"You're distracted, Sakura," he told her coldly. "I should have asked the dobe to train. Or maybe even Ino – I bet she could at least pull off a simple sparring match."
"You know what, Uchiha?" Shit, she'd gotten a lot faster when he'd been gone. He hadn't even blinked and she had jumped up and caught him in a headlock without him being able to do anything about it. "Pull this off!"
Actually, this wasn't so bad – he'd been in the same situation before, with far less pleasing results. At least she showered on a regular basis and her anatomy was also far more comfortable than that of a male body. He shot a sly look at the pillow of flesh his cheek was pressed up against and was far too interested in it, to try and get out of her grip.
"Arrogant Bastard!" Her arm tightened around his throat and he made a feeble attempt to at least keep up the appearance that he actually wanted to free himself. Struggling a little to take a deep breath, he pulled on her arm with one hand, his other on her waist to keep his balance. This was rather amusing, for in her anger she had clearly not yet noticed exactly where his head was pushed into her side and Sasuke had no intention of telling her…
"That's what you're so pre… occupied with, isn't it," he asked, still trying to get a decent amount of air into his lungs. "This thing with Ino?"
"Leave it alone, Sasuke, it's none of your business." Her arm tightened a little more and he decided he had to sacrifice his nice pillow, if he wanted to continue arguing with her. He pushed his shin into the hollows of her knees and, in her surprise, she let go of him to catch herself with her hands before she hit the ground face first.
Immediately she was up again and facing him, but he didn't give her the time to get into a defence stance. A quick jab to the abdomen and a little twist of her arm later, she was lying on her stomach with him holding her down by crossing her arms behind her. Her legs were kicking wildly in the air and he made sure to stay out of their reach.
"Look, I don't really care whatever humbug it is you two are in a clinch about this time," he spoke calmly in her ear, "but I'm not gonna let you destroy my home when you inevitably meet at that stupid party."
"She… ugh." Sakura trashed around a little more, trying to throw him off of her, but eventually calmed somewhat and began to speak again. "She's just… being difficult and stubborn, okay? It's nothing serious…"
"Right, that's why you were trying to get the floor to open up and swallow you, when we met her yesterday…"
When she didn't answer, he slackened his hold on her and stood up, reaching down a hand to help her. She ignored it and stood up on her own.
"You already told me that she was right about whatever it is – so tell her that and get this over with!"
"What, so she can hold that over my head forever?" She snorted and shook her head. "And look who's talking – when was the last time that you admitted to being wrong, huh? Oh wait, that would be never, because the Almighty Uchiha is never wrong – right?"
"This isn't about me, Sakura."
"Exactly! It has nothing to do with you, so keep out of it!" She wiped the dirt from her clothes and he was momentarily at a loss for words.
True, he had never admitted any of his mistakes out loud, not that there were many, but he'd always taken her for someone to be more rational about these things. She'd apologized for wrong moves in the past, especially to him and always with a heartfelt sincerity that he could never hope to feel himself. He just wasn't programmed like that, but he knew she was, so why was it so hard for her now?
"She's an important part of your life, isn't she?" He asked, voice growing louder. "You've been friends since you were kids and a stupid disagreement is too insignificant to throw that friendship away."
She didn't answer, but the look on her face clearly told him he had no right to talk about such things – it made him feel like a heel. He really was a hypocrite, preaching to her about honesty and remorse. So when she turned her back on him and started to leave, he saw his own chances for absolution slipping away. If even she lost her faith in him, who else did he have in this world…
"I was wrong, okay? Dammit, I was wrong!" He screamed after her, desperate, and she turned back to him, a look of wonder on her face. "I was wrong to leave and I was wrong to turn my back on my team and I was wrong to betray the people who trusted in me! You were right and Kakashi was right and even your damn grandfather was right – I'm nothing more than a rotten little traitor! And if I'll ever be allowed into heaven, my father's gonna chew my out so bad, I will beg them to send me to hell!"
"Sasuke, I ne…" She tried to interrupt him, but he ignored her and went on; no longer able to look at her he turned his face to the ground.
"And dammit, if I can say all this to you, then you can tell Ino she was right, just this once."
Breathing heavy and shocked at himself, he stood stock still and waited for her to condemn him forever – but she didn't. She smiled at him and took his hand instead.
"You shouldn't listen to Shoutarou-sama; he has grown bitter with his age. I'm so sorry for the things he said to you, Sasuke."
"You're not accountable for your grandfather's actions, Sakura." He echoed her words from a few days ago.
"No, a lot of what he said was right anyway." He sighed and shook his head. "Look, just go and talk to Ino, alright?"
"I will, I promise. Thank you."
And then she kissed him on the cheek and he had a hard time suppressing the tell-tale blush from rising on his face. Slightly bedazzled (and who would have thought he would ever be caught in such a state…), he didn't protest when she pulled at his hand to lead him back to her house. Once there, she sat him down at the kitchen table and busied herself with making tea. He watched her, content to spend his time with her in silence.
"I saw you reading one of the books I gave you." She began while she was waiting for the water to boil. She turned to him and leaned with her back against the counter. "You like it?"
"It's …interesting." He wasn't sure how to describe his fondness of the story and its heroes, but he had found himself swept up in their adventure.
He had to admit that he was a rather slow reader when it came to fiction, as his interest usually lay in more practical things, but with all the free time he'd had since waking up in the hospital, his boredom had driven him to read one of her books. He hadn't given it much thought at first – it was just something to keep his mind of his brother – and simply chosen one by the absence of colourful pictures on the cover. But soon he didn't want to put it away anymore and, without him noticing, it became important to find out what happened to these fictional characters. Would they make it, would they find a way to overcome the shadows and live to see their world in peace again?
"It's one of my favourites." Sakura told him and he listened with care, curious about her view of the story. "My mom gave it to me when I was about nine. Apparently it belonged to my father once and she wanted me to get to know him by showing me what he was interested in."
"She always used to say that he was like Sam." Sasuke looked at her quizzically, hoping she would elaborate. Seeing his face, she shook her head a little and smiled, her eyes glazed with tears and memories. "Because he wanted to see the Elves..."
"There are no elves, Sakura."
"How do you know? Have you gone to the ends of the earth and searched for them? And what if they just don't want to be found?"
"So what if they're fictional, Sasuke." She turned back to the stove and fidgeted with her hands. "That's not what it was about for him. It was about following your dreams and breaking the norm, about seeing what this world has to offer, its beauty and magic. And he did, he actually left Konoha to travel the world, before he had to become clan leader."
The water was boiling by now and she prepared their tea. When she brought over his cup, her eyes were clear again and her hands still.
"I'm sorry, I'm just being overly emotional again…" He nodded his understanding, he had lost himself in the memories of his family often and, although it didn't usually show in his countenance, his heart wrenched at the mere thought of his mother's face.
"It's a very special book, Sasuke." She remained standing as their conversation turned back to the story itself. "I've lost count of how many times I've read it. I don't know what it is about that story, but it just grabs you and you don't ever want it to end."
"Yeah," he quietly agreed and sipped his tea. Her eyes seemed to alight at this and he was glad he could bring such an expression to her face.
"It just has everything – the wise old leader, the true heroes who never thought of themselves as such and just do what they have to do, friendship and trust to the very end…"
"And Boromir the Traitor…" Sasuke's face grew dark and his voice bitter as he looked into his steaming tea, too deep the reminder of his failings.
"Boromir was not a traitor!" The sudden chastisement in her voice made him look up again. She had put down her cup and her hand rested on the counter, her face turned slightly away from him and her eyes trained on the distance. "He was a brave man who loved his people more than his own life. All he wanted was to see them safe from harm and to defend them as best as he could. But he knew he alone didn't have the strength to ward of Mordor's armies and in the end he lost hope, giving the ring the chance to lure him into its promises."
"He was a desperate man who made a mistake!" She locked eyes with him and he could see tears in them. "But he was never a traitor!
And her eyes silently finished: 'And neither are you…'
Overcome with relief and an emotion his slowly mending soul could not yet grasp, he stood up and pulled her into his arms, squeezing her tightly. His forehead fell onto her shoulder and his arms around her as if they belonged and for the first time since the demise of his clan, there was a glimmer of hope for his future.
"Sasuke, what…" Unused to such an intense burst of emotion from him, Sakura stood in shock, her arms still limply at her sides and her eyes wide.
"Thank you" he whispered and she understood. Her arms slowly came up to rest around his waist and her head rested against his.
"I never blamed you, Sasuke. I may have been angry, but I never blamed you…"
Outside the window, unnoticed by the two, Kakashi smiled and decided Sasuke's new training schedule could wait for now.
He was preparing for his first real training with the copy-nin in eight years, when Sakura came running up to him the next morning. She wasn't smiling, but her eyes shone with mischief and determination. They'd spend the rest of the day in quiet after their embrace, both of them reading on the patio of the main house, neither mentioning the incident to anyone. It was the first time he had felt this content in anyone's presence.
Now however she seemed …bouncy – yes, bouncy would probably describe her current attitude best. Once she came to a stop in front of him, he raised an eyebrow and silently continued to strip bandages on his legs. Kakashi had surprised him this morning by presenting him with a new training outfit. Not saying a word about it, the copy-nin had handed him the package and told him to meet him in thirty minutes.
The clothes were similar to his old uniform, but with full-length, midnight blue pants instead of his old shorts. The shirt was white and far better fitted than what he'd worn in the Sound. It fit relatively snug and only had very short sleeves, the high collar was missing also – stitched on the back was the large Uchiha fan of his genin days and Sasuke had stared at it for a long time before putting it on.
Clearly annoyed that he was ignoring her in favour of some cotton stripes, Sakura bounced on the balls of her feet and swung her arms back and forth, nearly hitting him with the bag she was holding. He sighed – that had definitely been intentional – and decided it was probably better for his health to at least greet her verbally.
"Aren't you gonna ask me what I'm up to?" Yep, definitely annoyed with him. Still, he kept on with his preparations and stayed silent. Her face grew slightly red and he knew it wasn't because she was blushing. This was rather amusing – maybe he should tease her more often.
"Well, for your information, I am going to talk to Ino." She gave him a glare when he still didn't respond and continued. "Once I have her tied to a chair, we will hopefully be able to get over this stupid fight."
"And if simple words of apology are not enough for her thick skull, then I'm gonna make her watch this movie with me, because this is our 'We'll-be-friends-forever-and-ever' movie." She held up one of those DVD packs and he could read the title 'Beaches' on it. "And then we'll eat lots of ice cream and cry a lot and scream a lot and cry some more and then we'll hug. So don't expect me back until late afternoon. Bye."
He stared after her, blinking.
Boy, was he glad not to have to witness this reunion…
The thought of crying females still kind of freaked him out and Ino screaming was an even more frightening idea. He shuddered, that woman had a voice not unlike nails on a chalkboard when angered – he'd heard her and Sakura screeching at each other to last him a lifetime when they'd been genin. At least this time they wouldn't try to play tug-o-war with him in the process…
And why would they need a movie to make up? And Ice cream?
Females, he thought, were not only complicated, but also confusing and strange…
Two hours later, Sasuke finally completed his five hundredth round around the Uchiha grounds and collapsed, cursing the copy-nin in three different languages. And the old man was just sitting on that stupid rock, reading that deranged book of his. Next to him, the dobe was chuckling at the sight of the Uchiha and it was all that was needed to get Sasuke back on his feet.
"Gotten a little lazy, sitting around the house, ne Sasuke?"
"Shut it, dobe."
"Don't call me dobe, teme! Or I'll kick your ass from here to Suna!"
"I'd like to see you try, dobe!"
"Argh, that's it, teme…"
Kakashi didn't look up from his book, he didn't have to – it was inevitable for those two to clash…
And this way, he didn't have to fight the littlest Uchiha himself to see his improvements – a development that made the copy-nin more than happy, he wasn't in the mood for fighting right now.
When lunch time came around, Kakashi called his hoodlums to a break. They were still going at it, apparently fuelled by little more than their childish rivalry, and he didn't want them to get too injured with Sakura out. The last time he had taken Naruto and Sai (both only half-conscious and bleeding literally everywhere) to the Hokage for healing, she'd ripped him a new one for letting them go so far during a simple training match and he didn't relish the idea of repeating that experience.
Besides, he was expecting a visitor and didn't want to leave Itachi alone with her for too long, the boy was still weary of human contact and Kakashi wasn't sure how he would react to seeing one of his old classmates again.
"Okay, enough already, you two. Sakura's gonna have my head if you kill each other…"
Grudgingly they agreed and he sent them back to the main house to shower before lunch. He stayed behind and cleaned up their stray weaponry. Their fight had been mostly carried out with fists and feet (and even the occasional use of teeth), but a few stray shuriken and kunai had filled the air – mostly to show off, he suspected, since none of their wounds were actually caused by them. Either the two had really gotten sloppy or they had been holding back big time. He hoped for the latter.
Sasuke grumbled under his breath on the way back, his hands pushed into his pockets and face turned away from the dobe, still cranky about the other man's taunts. But a small part of him did enjoy the fight and for a moment it had felt as if he had never left, so similar it had been to their past. Only Sakura hadn't been there cheering for him this time, but that wasn't permanent, so maybe everything could be normal again.
Naruto's elbow connected with his rips and brought him out of his remembrance.
Naruto nodded his head to their right and gestured for him to stop walking. Looking over, Sasuke saw his brother talking to a woman with long, dark-brown hair, dressed in a jounin vest and black shorts. Around her feet, three huge, grey dogs were resting, one lying down, one sitting and the third standing, its gaze travelling the area.
"Who's she?" He quietly asked the Kyubi boy and pushed him closer to the wall of the house, to keep them out of view, peeking around the corner to watch his brother. Shizune must've been by while they'd been training – Itachi was awkwardly pushing the new glasses up his nose and Sasuke couldn't quite contain a small smile at his brother's discomfort. It did look kind of funny…
"Kiba's big sister, Hana."
Itachi cleared his throat uncomfortably, unsure how to talk to this woman. She seemed vaguely familiar, but after twelve years away most people in the village did, yet they had all changed so much, he couldn't quite relate them to the memories in his head. Sakura-san had been no more than seven the last time he'd seen her when walking by the Academy, but her pink hair had made it easy for him to recognize her.
However the sight of Hiashi had shocked him – the leader of the Hyuga clan had grown old, his hair grey at his temples and his face weary with age, so unlike the imposing and fearsome man he had known back then. Many faces in the witness rows had stared at him at the hearing and he still could not name most of them. They hadn't had many visitors over the last two weeks, mostly Shizune and the Hokage, but he hadn't known them when he was young.
The woman before him now looked his own age and that meant he must've at least seen her at the academy in his short time there. And the triangles on her cheeks were very distinguishable, as were the three dogs, one of whom glared at him ominously.
"Hello…" he trailed of. She had called him by his name just now and he couldn't return that politeness, it was shaming really – Father would have had a field day over this.
"I'm here to look at Pakkun. Kakashi told me he was feeling a little under the weather lately?" She smiled at him and he had the distinct feeling that she had never really done so before, but he couldn't explain why.
"Yeah, he's grumpy and won't eat much." Itachi pushed the slowly slipping glasses back up his nose and fumbled a little with them. This thing was highly displeasing and awkward, but there was little he could do about it. And it did feel good not to have to activate the Sharingan just to look out the window. It felt so wrong now to activate his bloodline and he avoided it as much as possible. "I think Kakashi-sempai is at the training grounds with my brother right now, but he should be back any minute."
Again he cleared his throat nervously, looking her over once more, hoping to find a clue about her identity. One of her dogs whined in boredom and finally it dawned on him.
Inuzuka – house of dogs – the clan of dog breeders…
As far as he knew, they only had two children, a boy and a girl – the boy was his brother's age and the girl had been his own age.
"You don't remember me, do you?" She asked kindly and he smiled, rubbing the back of his neck embarrassed.
"I'm …getting there."
In his mind he saw a six-year old girl with dark-brown locks standing up in every direction:
Her face is contorted with anger and her fist raised against the sun behind her. She is standing over him and he tries to stem the blood flow from his, most likely broken, nose.
Suddenly her finger is but a breath away from his face, pointing straight between his eyes.
"Just because someone is different from you, Uchiha Itachi, doesn't mean they're lesser people than you!"
She is screaming and he is speechless. And her stupid dog is still gnawing at his boot…
"Inuzuka Hana and her ever hungry Haimaru Triplets." The grey beast glaring at him began growling and flashed him a smile of big, sharp teeth. Obviously it still remembered the kick he had given it for eating his textbook.
"They've grown out of their chewing phase, don't worry." She laughed at his description and he found himself chuckling with her, unable to quell the small blush on his cheeks.
Sasuke and Naruto listened in on them, but were startled when two calloused hands grabbed each of them by one shoulder.
"Don't do that, Kakashi-sensei. You could have given me a heart attack."
"Naruto, how often do I have to tell you not to call me sensei anymore? And you two shouldn't eavesdrop!"
"Hn." Which for Sasuke meant something along the lines of 'I'll do as I please, thank you very much!'
The copy-nin took a quick look around the corner and assessed Itachi's situation.
"Well, he seems to be holding his own, but I better go rescue him now. You two get showered already."
They waited until Kakashi had disappeared into the house with Hana and then made their way over to Itachi. Sasuke could see Naruto was very much inclined to make fun of his brother over the blush they'd witnessed and he had no intention to stop him. This was a side of Itachi he had never seen and it intrigued him.
Itachi however saw them coming and guessed what they were up to by the matching smiles they were sporting.
"Not a word!"
"Or you'll what?"
"Or I'll show Sakura-san all your baby pictures. I'm sure she'll be delighted, little brother."
"Ha, but you've got nothing on me!" Naruto exclaimed and was about to launch himself into a myriad of laughter at Itachi's expense, when the older Uchiha smirked in an all too familiar way.
"You sure about that?" The Kyubi boy was a little frightened now, Itachi looked far too much like his younger brother when he was smirking and on Sasuke the expression usually meant he still had a trump up his sleeve – which in turn usually meant misery for Naruto. He decided it was better to shut up now and get out of this with his dignity (and limbs) intact…
"Good," Itachi took the Kyubi boy's silence for what it was and grabbed the chance to change the subject. "Lunch will be ready soon, you should freshen up."
"Wait," Sasuke stopped him from turning away; it was the opportunity he'd been waiting for. "How do you know Sakura's grandfather?"
"Sasuke, what?" Itachi had the feeling his brother intended to interrogate him. He'd expected questions after Kakashi had clammed up about the subject two days ago, but he thought his brother had more manners than to come right out and ask him like this.
"You said you know enough about him – how?"
"So you really don't remember…" The older Uchiha said more to himself than as an answer to Sasuke's question. "You were probably too young back then."
Sasuke looked at him puzzled and Itachi shook himself out of his musings.
"Do you still have our old photo albums? They could help explain a lot of your questions."
Sasuke nodded and told him they were still in the main house, in a bookshelf in the living room, where they had always been kept.
"Okay, tell you what – you go shower, I'll get the photos."
They met in the living room; Itachi was browsing the pictures when Sasuke and Naruto walked in. Two large sofas stood on opposite sides of the coffee table, a chair at each end. The table was filled with the albums – they were sorted by year Sasuke knew, but he had not looked into them since the massacre, none of them. He just couldn't and he wasn't sure he could now.
Sitting down across from the older Uchiha, the two younger men looked at him eagerly and Itachi handed them a book dated over a decade before either of the Uchiha brothers was born – his father must've been about fourteen then, Sasuke concluded. The page Itachi had opened showed several pictures of a four-man team, three of the people wore chunin vests, the one without was the only girl.
"That is Father's genin team. The one in the background was their sensei, Yuhi Noburu. And the girl is the mother of Hyuga Neji. Those two boys are Father and Haruno Shinichi – Sakura-san's father."
Sasuke blinked stunned and looked at the picture a little closer. The boys (oh, how hard it was to even think of his father as anything other than the imposing authority figure Sasuke had known him to be…) were not posing for the photo like the other two, but squabbling with each other. Most of their faces was covered by their hair, flying around in the struggle, but they were easily told apart by the hair colour – although both had dark hair, his father's was jet-black, while Shinichi's had a blood red tint to it. They were laughing.
In the next picture he could see Shinichi had apparently won and now held his father in a tight headlock, tousling his hair with a smirk. His eyes were the same vivid colour as Sakura's.
"They were friends – best friends, brothers even. Father spoke of him often when we were young and I sparred with him from time to time. He was the prodigy of the Haruno clan and a genius with poisons."
"Why don't I know him then?"
"I don't know, but you were very young. Maybe you simply suppressed a lot of your childhood memories after… after I left."
Sasuke nodded, he had done exactly that. The only important memory had been his brother's face as he stood over their dead parents' bodies – it had been his motivation. Everything else was just painful and he had pushed it away, locked it up in the recesses of his mind.
He flipped through the pages of the book, but this had happened long before Sakura had ever been thought of and he became disinterested in the pictures soon. The memory Sakura had shown him came back to him, in particular Itachi's reaction when he had recognized her – the picture on the stone had changed to show her. Itachi had known her when she was young, most likely through their parents' connection – so, had Sasuke too and just didn't remember?
Next to him, Naruto had a similar train of thought and they locked eyes for a moment before turning to the older Uchiha. Guessing what was on their minds, he picked up another book and quickly skipped through it. Halting near the middle, he handed it to them.
"That's your first birthday party. You're the one in the diapers by the way."
Sasuke glared at him for a moment and turned to the pictures, shaking his head – Itachi was spending far too much time with the copy-nin.
The photos showed a lively crowd out on the patio, standing around a table. There was a big cake with a single candle in the middle and behind it was his mother, smiling at the child in her arms. With a jolt he realized that he himself was that child and his heart missed a beat.
Next to her stood the boy with the emerald eyes from the previous pictures, older now but still very much the smiling boy he had been in his teens. He was making weird faces at baby Sasuke and, apparently, back then he had found them funny and was clapping with his little hands. On her other side, his father was smiling down at him.
And Shinichi's arm was around the waist of a petite woman with black hair, not unlike his mother's, but shorter and curly. She held a second toddler in her arms who was trying in vain to reach for the cake, seemingly fascinated by the flame of the candle. The child had soft tufts of unruly pink hair and those vivid eyes shimmered with excitement and curiosity.
"Sakura," Sasuke and Naruto whispered in unison.
The younger Uchiha quickly turned the pages, looking for more appearances of her. And he found many, but one in particular caught his eye. The two toddlers (it was a strange sensation to think of himself as a baby) were playing on a blanket, squabbling over a stuffed animal, and behind them sat a girl and a boy who were neither his parents nor hers. But the boy was unmistakable – nothing about him had changed since Sasuke's first birthday it appeared.
At least nothing Sasuke could actually see, since the lower half of his face was covered by a mask and his left eye by his hitai-ate…
Hatake Kakashi was watching the children, his chin resting on his hand and a little crinkle around his visible eye.
"What's Kakashi-sensei doing there with you and Sakura-chan?"
Sasuke shot the dobe a look that clearly said: 'How the hell should I know, moron?'
"Actually," came the voice of their teacher from the doorway, "Rin and I were babysitting."
"Rin?" Naruto asked. "As in Rin, your old…"
"Team mate? Yes." Kakashi walked over and took a seat next to Itachi. Folding his arms, he waited for the onslaught of questions.
"Why?" was all Sasuke uttered, but it said more than enough. So many questions compromised into this one word – Why were you babysitting me? Why were you babysitting her? Why are you so calm about this? Why didn't you tell me?
"Time is a strange thing, Sasuke. It can give you so much, if you're just patient enough. But it can also take everything away in a heartbeat. In our case it took away and after a few years nothing was the same anymore. When you graduated and teams were assigned, I hoped there was at least a tiny bit of remembrance left, but none of you showed even the smallest glimmer of recognition. So I thought it better to just go along with it and not force the past upon you. In hindsight, that might have been a mistake."
"You see," the copy-nin sat up and rested his elbows on his knees, "Rin was not only my team mate, but also Shinichi's little sister. I don't know the exact circumstances, but apparently the older Harunos had trouble conceiving after he was born and it took them a long time before Rin came along. Anyway, as her friend I spent a lot of time with her and her brother and eventually Sakura. Then you came along and so I also spent time with you – after your father accepted the fact that Obito had given me his Sharingan, that is."
"What happened?" Sasuke reconsidered his question and elaborated. "You said time took away from us and that everything changed. And if my brother knows about it, then it must've happened before …our parents died. So, what did it take?"
"Rin and Shinichi…" Kakashi's voice grew heavy and Sasuke could see a fine shimmer of tears gather in his visible eye.
"They died on a mission." Itachi explained quietly, when he saw the older man wasn't going to continue. "As far as I know, Rin was kidnapped and her brother and his team went after her, but they found her already dead. The team was ambushed – Shinichi didn't make it."
"He didn't make it, because he took the blow that was destined for me." The copy-nin spoke quietly and bitter, not looking at any of them, and Sasuke wasn't sure he even spoke to them. "And I didn't see it coming because I was too busy crying. I just sat there with her in my arms and waited for them to kill me too, but he wouldn't let them. I should have died that day, but fate made another twist and took him instead."
They sat in silence then, giving the grey-haired man the time to catch himself. Sasuke and Naruto continued to look through the various photo albums. Itachi wanted to reach out and tell his friend that it had never been his fault, but he kept quiet. He knew it wouldn't matter, the guilt was rooted far too deep and Kakashi would always play the what-if game – as he himself did everyday. In the end words were just words and, whether or not it really was his fault didn't change the fact that his parents were still dead…
Sasuke picked up another book and read the date on the cover – his sixth year in this world. He turned page after page and from time to time there was a stray picture of the dark-haired woman from his first birthday, but her little girl was only in one. It appeared to be his sixth birthday and she was standing far away from him, her face was sad and her gaze locked on the distance. After that she disappeared completely from the photos.
"When did they…" He voiced his question hesitantly and didn't finish it, unwilling to disturb his old teacher, but too interested now to stop.
"You were about five." Itachi answered and Kakashi snapped out of his reverie.
"Why isn't she in any of the pictures anymore?" It was Naruto this time, but Sasuke had been about to ask the same question anyway.
"That's where her grandfather comes into the story." Itachi told them. "Both his children were dead and he was left with a five-year old girl as the only heir to his clan. She was too young to step up as leader back then, so he came out of retirement to prevent the clan from falling into the hands of the branch members. He was… bitter and strict with her – I think he didn't know how to cope with the tragedy."
"And because she was a girl, she wasn't worth very much as an heir…"
"What? That's stupid! Why shouldn't a girl be just as good as a boy?" Naruto interrupted him, furious on behalf of his two favourite girls. A statement like that insulted Hinata-chan just as much as Sakura and it was the same attitude he had always hated about Hiashi-san, although he'd never dared to actually tell the older man that. And Hinata's father had changed a lot over the last few years and finally paid her the attention she deserved, but their past was a sore spot for the Kyubi boy.
"That is in no way my personal opinion, Naruto. It's actually one of the reasons I never wanted to become clan leader – their politics are outdated and ridiculous. But it is the view of the world from someone like Shoutarou's perspective. For a clan leader the desired firstborn is always a male, because it makes their future a lot easier."
"The main problem is rooted in marriage." The copy-nin chimed in, now back to his old self. "It is usually tradition for the wife to take her husbands surname – but one cannot be clan leader and not have the clan's name. Because of that a female heir has a lot more problems finding a spouse than a male, as a male can marry whomever he wants and still keep his surname. And to complete the vicious circle, an unmarried clan leader cannot produce an heir and is therefore useless for her lineage."
"I told you clan politics were an ugly business, Sasuke," he said as counter for the younger Uchiha's disbelieving glare.
"So Shoutarou saw his granddaughter as more of a hindrance than a blessing," Itachi continued. "He thought as a girl she was useless and took after her mother Keiko, whom he had never liked in the first place. And to counter the physical weakness he thought she had inherited from her mother's side, he put her through lesson after lesson to strengthen her mental capacity."
"Normally this leadership training is scheduled to begin around the age of eight – that's when it started for me. But he started her only a few months after her father's death and doubled the curriculum with everything he could think of."
"Consequently her social life died down. Every minute of her life was planned out by him and Keiko was powerless against her leader, since she was at the time pregnant with her second child, whose father was now dead, and she had fallen into depressions. Sakura-san didn't have time to come here anymore, that's why she isn't in any of the pictures after your sixth birthday."
"And you stopped visiting, too." Sasuke spoke to the copy-nin – it was not a question.
"I couldn't look your father in the face, knowing I was the reason he had lost his best friend. And I wasn't very …stable back then either – I kept away from most people."
Itachi looked at his watch and realized he had forgotten all about lunch, so he beckoned them to continue the conversation over food and they transferred to the kitchen, where the older Uchiha had spend his time cooking – it was another thing that had surprised Sasuke, he hadn't known Itachi had taken lessons from their mother.
For a while they ate in silence, each contemplating their intertwined past. Naruto felt a little like an outsider in all this, Kakashi could see it in the small lines creasing his forehead and contemplated finally revealing the boy's family background. But this was about Sakura more than anyone else and the copy-nin wasn't sure he could talk about his old sensei's life today – one lost loved one was enough for one day.
Sasuke spend the first minute staring at his teacher's uncovered face as the older man began to eat. It still kind of startled him to actually see the man eat without mask, since he had made such a fuss about never taking it off in front of anyone when they'd been kids. The first time he had eaten with the copy-nin after leaving the hospital, he had stared unblinking at him, meal forgotten, until Sakura had delivered a very pointed glare and a sharp poke to him.
She had later explained how she had convinced the older man to at least show them his face once, arguing that they were his team and he should trust them enough to be himself around them. From there on they had made it a habit to eat in private from time to time and Kakashi had surprised them by never once refusing to uncover his face. And now he showed the same trust to the Uchiha brothers, but it was still a little new for Sasuke and at each meal he would be startled anew.
"What kind of lessons did she have to take?" Sasuke finally spoke up – as the future leader of the Uchiha clan he probably needed a few of those lessons himself and it couldn't hurt to know what subjects he had to brush up on, before he had to deal with the other clans in official matters.
"Correction, she has to take." Kakashi answered. "Her education isn't finished until she's inaugurated."
"It's a long process to become clan leader, Sasuke." Itachi explained when his brother looked to him for confirmation. "And a painful one…"
"Rin said the same thing once," Kakashi remembered. "As second in her line, she had to have the same education as the actual heir, just in case."
"I didn't." Sasuke frowned, a little confused.
"You were too young – a year, maybe two, later you would have gone through the same." Kakashi explained.
"Be glad you didn't have to…" Itachi muttered without thinking and Sasuke angrily slammed down his chopsticks. He glared at his brother for the implied insult to their parents, but for once Itachi defended himself.
"I'm not trying to be callous, Sasuke. And god knows, if I could change what happened, I would – but I can't." His voice grew louder as he went on and Sasuke was momentarily stunned into silence. They hadn't talked openly about that day yet and Sasuke hadn't planned on bringing it up any time soon, but here it was – the inevitable collision of their past and present. He wanted to be able to hate his brother again in that moment, but a little voice in his head told him to at least let the older man explain his point of view. The voice sounded suspiciously like Sakura.
"I can't turn back the clock and make it not happen; I can't bring them back to life. It would have been better if I had died that day alongside them, but I didn't and I'm still here. And I'll live for the rest of my life with the knowledge that, when it comes down to it, my hands took their lives. You have every right to hate me for what happened that day, but you cannot judge me for my resentment towards the concept of clan politics."
"This isn't about our parents, Sasuke. They didn't invent this world, they weren't the first ones to put their children though this and they won't be the last. It'll be that way for generations to come and it won't stop until the shinobi world recognizes that a name is nothing more than a few letters and that a house is not a home nor a guarantee for ability and good character."
"I never wanted to become clan leader and I would have gladly given that job to you, but Father wouldn't let me, because he had his own little schemes and plans for both our futures. I'm sure he'd planned it all out, from the women we would marry to the number of children we would have."
"Hiashi, Shoutarou, Father – they are all good men with good hearts, but their heritage and the responsibility of leadership turned them to stone when it comes to their own children. I know he loved us more than anything, but his upbringing dictated him to keep his distance from us and be the one to make our decisions. It didn't matter if we were happy or even agreeable with those decisions, so long as we did what was right for the future of the clan. And I never wanted to become that kind of man."
Sasuke stared at his brother for a long moment and everyone at the table held their breaths, waiting for his reaction. But his brother was right and Sasuke knew it – their father had had his flaws and Sasuke couldn't deny that fact. He nodded and slowly picked up his chopsticks again, resuming his meal as did everyone else.
"So, uh…" Naruto began a little awkward, trying to get back on topic. "What does she have to learn?"
"Well, I guess the short answer would be: everything." Kakashi told him and Sasuke concentrated on the conversation again. "The long answer would contain things like history, sciences, politics, calligraphy, decorum and manners, the protocol of clan traditions, the tea ceremony and the rules and laws of the clan world. And each of those topics is divided into a lot of smaller topics. History and politics for example were parted into 1. the Haruno clan, 2. the rest of the individual clans, 3. Konoha and the Fire country, 4. the rest of the hidden villages, etcetera, etcetera…"
"And her grandmother had another schedule for her." Itachi added. "She wanted to prevent her from becoming too …unfeminine, I guess, and scheduled her for things like musical lessons, dancing, cooking…"
"Sakura can't cook," Sasuke interrupted.
"Very true." The copy-nin admitted. "Try to imagine the natural catastrophe she was before all those cooking lessons."
"Actually, I don't think I can…" Naruto uttered stunned and Sasuke gulped at the thought. Kakashi chuckled at the sight of their widened eyes.
"I think she hated the ballet classes the most. She once accidentally on purpose sprained her ankle just to get out of them for a while." Kakashi remembered Keiko's reaction vividly, on the one hand concerned for her little girl and on the other livid at her recklessness. "And if you want to see her really freak out, buy a harp and place it somewhere she can see it."
"A harp?" Sasuke asked perplexed.
"Yeah, one of the instruments they had her learn. One day she pulled one of the chords too much and it snapped and sliced half of her hand open… She did get to be quite good with the piano though."
"And she's been doing all that since she was five?"
"Fifteen years of classes?" Naruto asked incredulous and shuddered. "Boy, am I glad I don't have a clan."
"Ah, spoke to soon there, Naruto. If you want to marry the Hyuga girl one day, then you will have a clan sooner or later. One that is very old and very prestigious." Itachi felt the need to prepare the younger man for what was coming – he himself had never looked forward to that part of his life and Naruto was obviously clueless of the social nightmares he was setting himself up for. "Actually, I think it would be better for your mental health to ask Hinata-san for a few pointers."
"Marriage?" Naruto's voice was a little wobbly and high. "Whoever said anything about marriage? Hinata and I are just friends."
"You're a bad liar, dobe."
"Hiashi told you to keep it secret, didn't he?" Itachi more stated then asked. "He asked you to wait with that announcement until after you've become Hokage."
"How did you know that?"
"I didn't – it was just an educated guess." Itachi shrugged as if it was normal for him to guess correctly at such things and Naruto stared at him wide eyed. Itachi tried to explain for the sake of the younger man's sanity.
"It's not that hard to come to that conclusion, Naruto. We told you earlier that Shoutarou has trouble accepting Sakura-san as his heir, because she's female and will thus have problems finding a husband. The same thing goes for Hiashi – he needs to find Hinata a man who can and will give up his last name for the Hyuga name, but who is also of good societal standing and has excellent skills as a shinobi, since the Hyugas are very intent on keeping their lineage pure and strong."
"You fulfil all but one of those conditions. You're an excellent fighter and you're not in line to become any clan's leader, so you can easily become a Hyuga if you want to. But most people in the village still look upon you as nothing more than the Kyubi vessel, which makes you socially unacceptable for a clan like the Hyugas. They'd be disgraced if they let Hinata marry you, or even date as it is now."
"But once you become the Rokudaime, no one can say you're not good enough for her – Hiashi has realized that and he found a way to ensure his clan's future and make his daughter happy. It is actually a great compliment that he believes in you enough to ask you to wait instead of just outright chasing you away."
"And you guessed all that just by knowing that Hinata and I go out for ramen everyday?" Itachi nodded in reply and Naruto turned to Sasuke next to him, blinking in astonishment. "You Uchihas are all big-brained freaks!"
The two older men chuckled and shook their heads, but Kakashi soon stopped and addressed the boys anew.
"Itachi has a point though, Naruto. You really should ask Hinata to explain a few things about protocol to you – you will be the patriarch of the Hyuga clan after all, whose behaviour and poise is just as important as that of the actual leader."
"And the same goes for you, Sasuke. If you want to be acknowledged as leader of the Uchihas, you're gonna have to learn a lot about politics. You can't scare them into accepting you with one of your glares, they'll just shun you and your whole future clan will be avoided. I think it would be best to appeal to Shoutarou for a little last minute instructions."
"You're crazy! The old geezer hates me."
"Ah, but you underestimate the power of positive grovelling."
"Uchihas don't grovel." Sasuke growled at him and glared.
"How much do you wanna bet that I can make you eat those words?" Sasuke could almost feel the older man's shit eating grin radiating and looked to his brother, hoping he had an idea what sort of story they were in for now. But Itachi only shook his head, just as clueless. Carefully assessing his position, Sasuke decided to take the dare – he was far too curious not to.
"Bring it on, old man. If you win, I'll ask Sakura's grandfather to teach me. But if you don't, you will teach me your Lightning Blade."
"Deal." Kakashi's chuckle turned a little too sinister for Sasuke's liking and he wondered if he had maybe made a big mistake. "Let me just ask you something though. In your mother's belongings was there a small stuffed animal – a panda, sitting up and with a red bow around its neck, about yay high?" He gestured with his hands to a space of about two inches.
"Yeah," Itachi answered for them both, he remembered it well from his childhood – she had always made sure it was on her bedside table, a photo of her and Fugaku held between its little paws. "She told me Father gave it to her when they were young."
"But she probably didn't tell you that the first time he gave it to her she threw it at his feet and slapped him, right?"
"The point is, dear Sasuke, that your father had to do a lot of grovelling to get her to even go on one date with him."
The Uchiha brothers exchanged glances of disbelieve – Mikoto had adored her husband and had never mentioned any such thing.
"How would you know anyway?" Sasuke asked the copy-nin petulantly, unwilling to lose the bet so easily.
"Mikoto-sama was good friends with sensei…"
"The Yondaime?" Naruto interrupted him, even more interested now at the mention of his idol, and Kakashi gave a soft smile.
"Yes, although that was before he became Hokage. Anyway, I don't know if you know this but your mother was a jounin instructor at the Academy before she got married." The Uchihas shook their heads in unison. "Rin build a close friendship with her when we were students and frequently went to her for all kinds of advice, especially things concerning …let's just call it 'girl stuff', alright?"
"Well, that together with sensei being her friend, our team spent a lot of time at the Academy when we weren't on missions. And I saw a lot of your father in that time, since he was waiting nearly everyday outside her classroom for the school day to end."
"He would stand there, with either flowers or chocolates in his hands, just to have her brush him off again and again. Once she threw a chair after him…"
"How the hell should I know?" Kakashi shrugged. "Back then I still believed girls had cooties, so I wasn't all that interested in their quarrels. Actually, I thought he was being ridiculous and that he should better use all that time for training, but …oh well, I guess love does strange things to us. Rin thought it was utterly romantic and constantly swooned over the whole thing."
"Important is, Sasuke, that if your father could do it for the woman he loved, then you can do it for your dream of reviving your clan. So pay up!"
"How do I go about this? I can't just walk up to the old geezer and act as if nothing happened…"
"Ask Sakura to schedule a meeting with him – she knows how to handle him best. Watch what you're saying and be polite – and for fuck's sake keep your goddamn temper in check. If you blow up at him, he'll have you hanged and beheaded. And believe me, he has the influence to make exactly that happen…"
"Great," Sasuke grumbled, "I'm doomed."
"Not necessarily," Itachi tried to encourage him. "As long as you have Sakura-san with you while you're talking to him, you'll be fine. Just take your clues from her behaviour. And make a big show of apologizing and complimenting and all that stuff. He's big on appearances."
The younger Uchiha put his head in his hands, frustrated and hopeless – it would be a disaster, he just knew it. Kakashi patted his hair comforting, but he wasn't finished giving advice yet.
"Get some flowers for his wife and do not, under any circumstances, be in any way a smart ass with her – she's easily angered and Shoutarou listens a great deal to her."
"So," Sasuke tried to follow, "she's bad?"
"To put it nicely, the woman is a bitch." Kakashi's voice was uncharacteristically harsh and Sasuke put his head back into his hands, now completely discouraged. "She's cranky and thinks far too much of herself. No one, absolutely no one is good enough for her family – and she's not even a born Haruno."
"Rin and I spent a lot of time together, especially after our sensei died, and that woman made it out as if I was stealing her little girl's virtue. The old witch accused me on a regular basis of… wait, how did she put it? Oh yes, of 'tainting her beloved angel'. It was ridiculous. And now she's probably in that big mansion of theirs screeching about the five of us and how we're corrupting her little blossom. I bet she still has no idea that Sakura lost…"
The copy-nin halted his tirade, realizing what he had almost divulged. He hoped they wouldn't ask about it and concentrate on the Haruno matriarch instead of Sakura.
No such luck, damn Naruto and his natural affinity for making his life more complicated.
"Her …kimono." Kakashi tried to back pedal, but the damage was already done and he could only hope the confusion would make them blind to the obvious.
"Her kimono?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow, sceptical – the copy-nin was obviously lying, but he couldn't quite guess as to what he was hiding.
"Yes, her kimono." The grey-haired man nodded several times. "It was a very …valuable one, you see, and pretty old."
"I don't get it!" Naruto turned to his best friend, but was greeted by the same look of confusion currently present on his own face.
While the two were quietly trying to make sense of it all, Itachi used their distraction to lean closer to the copy-nin and whisper unnoticed.
"Are you talking about what I think you're talking about?"
"Then why are you making such a fuss about it?"
"Just shut up and smile…"
Kakashi decided it was safer for all of them to end this now, before the two brats caught on. He sent them out of the house, telling them to look if Sakura was back yet and to come up with a strategy for the meeting with the Haruno patriarch. He and Itachi would take care of the dishes.
Once they had left he took a deep breath and collapsed face first on the table.
"That was close…"
"It's your own fault. Why not just tell them – they'll find out sooner or later…"
"Do you honestly want me to tell Batman and Robin that their little innocent Sakura-chan lost her virginity to an as yet unknown male several years ago?" Kakashi snorted and shook his head. "They'd go on a killing spree through Konoha, exterminating every man capable of an erection, except for maybe you, me and her little brother!"
"How do you even know? I can't really imagine her admitting something like that to you…"
"Oh, she didn't have to. When she was eighteen, she finally got Shoutarou to allow her to live in her own apartment for a while, let her be independent and care for herself to build her sense of responsibility – at least that were her arguments, in reality she just wanted to get out of that damn house if only for a few years. I helped her move and saw a few things I'd rather I hadn't."
"And you don't know who the guy was?"
"She wouldn't tell me…"
"Let me guess – you threatened him."
"Only a little…" Kakashi pouted and Itachi laughed. "In the end I just made her swear on her father's sword that it wasn't Rock Lee and tried to be satisfied with that. But I have a few suspicions, only there's no real proof."
"Guy's favourite pupil and honorary son. You're gonna meet him at the party, he's the one with the hearts in his eyes whenever Sakura is near him. Other defining characteristics are bowl-shaped hair, bushy eyebrows and lots of green spandex. He's Guy's mini-me in many ways."
"Might Guy the Moron still hasn't gotten himself killed then, huh."
"He's too fast…"
"So poison his Lucky Charms." Kakashi raised his one visible eyebrow at Itachi's suggestion. "Don't try to tell me you've never thought of it. When we were ANBU and he came running to you every week with his loony challenges, I always expected you to shove a Chidori up his ass. God, that man was annoying."
"He's a good fighter and a loyal friend, but he does lack a certain …restraint," the copy-nin admitted.
"So, those suspicions you have…" Itachi steered them back on topic.
"You're awfully interested in this."
"I've known that girl since she was in diapers, spitting up on my training shirts – I'd like to know whom I'm gonna have to emasculate."
"Yeah well, get in line." The older man finally stood up and started collecting the dishes. "Anyway, all I know is that it happened when she was about sixteen and at that time she was hanging around Inuzuka Kiba a lot – so he's suspect number one."
"It's funny really," Itachi mused, "from the way they act, I thought she had some kind of relationship with my brother and was just waiting for him to come back."
"She was. When we first became a team she had a huge crush on our dear Sasuke, but he was too focused on his revenge and never returned those feelings. Even if he did deep down, I doubt he would have known what to do about it. And then he left and she waited. Sixteen is the age when Orochimaru planned to take over his body and when we didn't get him back in time, I guess she lost hope and sought comfort in someone who was actually here."
"But that would mean it had to be someone who knew he was just a substitute, doesn't it?" Itachi asked.
"That's about the only reason Kiba isn't dead yet – he's too gullible to realize that and she wouldn't lead him on in such a way." Kakashi explained and went back to his list.
"Another candidate would be Gaara, he was visiting her and Naruto far too often for my liking back then and he is very aware of where Sakura's affections lie. He's also someone in desperate need of human contact and kindness – so he could've been in it for the same reasons she was. But again, I don't have any proof."
"You suspect she slept with the Kazekage?"
"Oh, he's far from the only one on my list – come to think of it, it could have been his brother…"
Unnoticed by the two gossiping men, Sasuke leaned on the wall just outside the door, fuming. He'd sent Naruto over to Sakura's house alone, hoping to catch a few snippets of explanation after Kakashi's bad cover up. Now he wasn't so sure if that decision had been wise – he could've lived in blissful ignorance, had he moved but a few feet further down the hall.
Slowly he made his way to the patio, having heard enough. Anger was churning in his stomach and he felt the need to destroy something – preferably something that belonged to Sakura.
But he couldn't really blame her, could he? He was the one that left her with nothing and they hadn't promised each other anything. And if she had thought that he'd already been taken over by the snake…
He was sitting on the front steps of the main house, reading, when she finally came home around five in the afternoon. He could see her eyes were puffy and red from crying, but there was a spring in her step and a smile on her face, so her plan must've been successful. As she came closer he could hear she was singing under her breath.
"You were content to let me shine, that's your way, So I was the one with all the glory,
you always walked a step behind.
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name -- for so long,
a beautiful smile to hide the pain."
So I was the one with all the glory,
With a flourish she sat down next to him and hugged his arm.
"Did you ever know that you're my hero?" She sang quietly, her face close to his, and grinned. He observed her for a moment and noticed the pink in her cheeks. And that smell, was that…
"Drunk? No. – Tipsy? A little." She admitted but didn't stop grinning. "We celebrated with Redwine. And you can be assured that we will not tear down your home at the party. I admitted she was right just like you told me to and we made up. And then we cried a lot and ate a ton of ice cream and watched our movie and all the other things I told you we would do. And then of course we opened the wine and now I'm tipsy and in a mood to sing."
"And proud of it, Sasuke-kun, and proud of it." She was still grinning and her eyes shown with so much joy that it was hard to be angry with her about his earlier discoveries. So what if she'd been with another man, she was here with him now, wasn't she?
Did it really matter one way or another?
"I can fly higher than an eagle, for you are the wind beneath my wings."
'No', he decided silently, 'it really didn't…'
A/N: First of, I am very, very, very sorry for the long wait. Let's just say real life got in the way and therefore I started writing on this chapter a little late. And then the whole thing kept adding on itself and I remembered this scene or this sentence that I wanted to include and in the end it was this huge behemoth you've just read.
And I still haven't included the promised confrontation with pop culture – I'm very sorry for that, too. But I had to stop the chapter here, so I could put the whole movie night completely into the next chapter and keep it as one entity with the party.
Also, I think I got a little too sappy with the Boromir metaphor – I hope you all don't hate me for it. But it was Sakura's way of telling Sasuke she always believed in him – she was already trying to do that in the training grounds after his outburst, but he wouldn't let her, and so she waited for an opportunity to come up and it did when they were talking about the book.
And for the record – nothing in Itachi's and Kakashi's stories about their pasts is actually canon, as we still don't know anything about Sakura's family or really anything that happened before the Kyubi attack. In my story they knew each other when they were very young, but life just tore that connection apart and neither Sasuke nor Sakura really remembers any of it – they were only five after all and both had enough painful reasons not to remember.
Also, I don't know if Rin really is in any way related to Sakura, but I think it's not so far out there. They are both very good medics (Rin did transplant the eye when she was pretty young and I think you need a lot of skill for that), they have very similar characters and if you dye Rin's hair pink and give her some contacts, they even look a little alike.
Besides, the building of Team 7 in general is either the biggest coincidence ever known to man – or Kakashi had a big hand in getting those three as his students.
I mean, there is the last remaining Uchiha and he is being taught by the only other Sharingan wielder left who was also on the same team as/ the best friend of one of his deceased family members – now if that was in any way coincidental, I'll eat my boots (even if it wasn't Kakashi's idea, whoever it was sure wasn't just pulling names out of a hat).
Then there's the Kyubi boy, who was given/blessed/cursed with said Kyubi by the sensei of the man who is now teaching him and who is the only surviving member of Team Yondaime. And if you apply the theory that Naruto is the Yondaime's son, it could also be said that Kakashi is teaching/looking out for his sensei's son – probably the reason he told him about the Futon: Rasengan, the very technique the Yondaime wasn't able to finish before his untimely death.
So yeah, must've been one hell of a coincidence that Naruto was appointed as Kakashi's student (please note the heavy sarcasm).
And if you continue this theory, it is not so far off that Sakura is somehow connected to Kakashi's third team mate Rin. So far he is teaching the offspring/relatives of his old team – why shouldn't Sakura fall into that patter?
And I still believe Kakashi was the one who wanted to have them on his team…
Yuhi Noburu is not canon, I invented him and didn't want him to be completely unrelated to the current known ninja of Konoha, so he is a member of Kurenai's family here. You can fill in the rest of the story for yourself, it doesn't really matter if he is her father or her uncle or… He won't play into the story again and is only mentioned here to complete Itachi's explanation.
Inuzuka Hana is canon and about the only person as old as Itachi, that we know of. She'll be back next chapter.
The song Sakura sings at the end is "Wind beneath my wings" by Bette Midler. It's from the movie 'Beaches' that was mentioned earlier. It's one of those real tearjerkers, sappy friendship movies and one of Midler's best.
Thank you everyone for your reviews! Thank you VanetiaC, honouring death, abovetheroof, Demented Angie, Sirona of Arabia, C.A.M.E.O.1 and Only, HokiPoki1213, OblivionXAzrael, DarkAngelRakell, Beauty Blade Alchemist, moodiful819 and UnknownFellah!
DarkAngelRakell: I'm not sure what to tell you exactly. I mean, I already said there would be no ItaSaku in this story, so obviously there won't be any lemons either. And I'm planning on a SasuSaku one…
moodiful819: I sent you a message about the whole Gilmore Girls thing…
That's it for now, hope you like it and, as always, please review.