Prologue

Seven year old Sasuke Uchiha went to shuriken practice after academy classes were done for the day. He was getting better at it, he just knew it. Today he wasn't missing a single one of the ninja stars. They all hit the log and three were a bull's-eye. But of course, his older brother Itachi was perfect. He was an expert at everything. Maybe someday when he grew up Sasuke could be just like Itachi.

To either side of him were other young shinobi practicing too. They made one long row, with the adult chuunin walking along giving tips and encouragement. "You've improved a lot Sasuke," he said as he walked by the youngest Uchiha. Sasuke was proud. He had hit the center target for a total of ten times in one day.

As soon as the sun touched the horizon the chaperone called out, "All right everyone, that's it for now! Be sure to gather up your shuriken and have a safe trip home!"

Sasuke began collecting his things. Not one shot failed to stay on the log. He couldn't wait to tell his mother, who would be coming to pick him up any second.

As he placed the last tool in his bag he noticed a group of girls not too far away. One was sitting next to a log on the ground surrounded by shuriken. She had bright greenish eyes, a ribbon in her pink hair, and a sad look on her face. Another had short blond hair and light blue eyes. She was standing by the first girl's side. The other three were facing them.

"Sakura, I think it's best if you gave up on becoming a kunoichi," said the girl in the middle of the trio. She pointed to the shuriken lying on the ground. "Look, you can't even get one shuriken to stick to the target! You're making us girls look bad. It's so embarrassing!" The two girls on either side of her nodded in agreement. "Yeah, billboard brow, you need to quit!"

"That's enough!" yelled the light blond girl. "Mind your own business!" Everyone could tell that Ino Yamanaka was getting seriously ticked off. "You have 2 seconds before you become my moving targets," she said in a low voice. The three girls took off quicker than lightning. "Time's up!" Ino called, and chased them into the distance, ninja stars in each hand.

The girl with the red ribbon wiped away the tears that had started forming in her eyes. Then she saw someone's shadow in front of her. It was Sasuke.

"You know, I used to be just like you," he told her. He was remembering back when he first learned what a ninja was. At first he had felt like he would never be good enough to become a shinobi.

"R-Really?" Sakura had always thought that this boy was the best in the whole school. She wondered if he was just trying to make her feel better.

"Yeah. But my brother helped me out when he had time," he said as he helped her pick up the scattered shuriken. "Maybe I can teach you too."

"That's very sweet of you." But it wasn't Sakura who spoke. It was Mrs. Uchiha, who had just arrived to walk her son home.

"M-Mom!"

"Is this a friend of yours Sasuke? What's your name sweetie?"

"I'm Sakura Haruno, ma'am."

"Well Sakura, would you like to have dinner with us? Today we're eating outside."

"We just barely met, Mother," Sasuke murmured, but she was already leading the two kids away by the hand. She was excited to have a new guest try her cooking.

♦------------------------♦

"Where's Father?" asked Itachi.

"I'm afraid he's busy and won't be back till late at night," answered Mrs. Mikoto Uchiha.

They were all having supper outside close to the house. The small table was full of delicious food. Sasuke sat across from Itachi and the two ladies sat across from each other.

"It tastes wonderful, ma'am!"

"You can call me Mrs. Uchiha if you want, Sakura."

"Mom sure seems to like her," thought Sasuke as he grabbed a bowl of rice.

"Son, you make sure to be nice to her during your little playdate, okay?"

"I'm just gonna help her with her practice." It was hard to hear Sasuke's voice because he was stuffing his face when his mouth was full.

"Whatever you say," his mother teased. Then she leaned in close to him and said in an audible whisper, "You're planning to marry this girl one day aren't you?"

Sasuke immediately spat out all the rice he had kept in his mouth... right all over Itachi.

But instead of getting angry (to everyone's surprise) Itachi simply questioned, "So does this mean that Sakura will be my sister?"

"I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU GUYS ARE TALKING ABOUT!!!" Sasuke's face was bright red. Sakura just looked confused.

Mrs. Uchiha looked happy. "You know, I think they'd make a lovely couple―‏"

"Shouldn't you check on the dessert, Mother?" Sasuke said with clenched teeth in a forced smile.

♦------------------------♦

The sun was almost fully set and there were a few stars out. Supper was finished so Sasuke took Sakura over to a suitable area to practice. He gave her lots of advice, some of which he had learned from his brother. Sakura slowly got the hang of it. To keep himself busy while she trained, Sasuke brought along a packet of homework. He got stuck on the third problem. "If Ninja A tossed his kunai at a target 5 feet away, Ninja B threw hers 51 inches far, and Ninja C's traveled a distance of 3 and a half feet, how far did all the kunai go total?" he muttered the question aloud. He had barely started working it out when―

"12.75 feet," Sakura replied without breaking her concentration on the target.

"…Huh?"

"Or if they want it in inches, it's 153. Or if it wants a fraction it can be 12 and three-quarters in feet."

Sasuke blinked. Then he continued working it out on paper. She was right. "How did you do that in your head?"

"Everyone says I'm the village's smartest girl…………Hey!"

"What?"

"That's how I can repay you for all your help, Sasuke! I can tutor you! I'll stop practicing as soon as I can get one to hit the center. Then I'll check over your answers."

But the moon was already out by the time Sakura kept her promise. "It'll take me forever for me to get it right…" she apologized.

"You'll get better. It just takes time. That's how it worked for me."

"Um, then, Sasuke…can I come back tomorrow? I wanna try it with my kunai, too."

Sasuke thought about it for a while. They'd both be helping each other out, so what did he have to lose?

"…Sure." And so it was decided.

♦------------------------♦

Over the week Sakura visited the Uchihas to train. After about 10 days she felt confident in her abilities. And Sasuke found the homework easy after she taught him a few things. Soon the two friends started hanging out with each other as much as possible. Usually she would always play with him at his house. She got to know his family better that way.

"You're like the daughter I never had," Mikoto said fondly one day while Sakura was helping her knit a sweater. Although Itachi didn't really bond with her, he was polite and she admired him almost as much as Sasuke did. When she first met Mr. Uchiha she gave him a lot of praises about his young son. Sasuke was thankful because hopefully it would make his father respect him more as an individual and not compare him to Itachi all the time.

"It's too bad we're not in the same class," Sakura thought to herself once. It was recess at the academy but she had stayed in to finish up a test. The teacher had let her stay on her own because the little girl was very responsible and trustworthy.

"Sakura?"

She looked to the right. It was Ino with about a dozen other girls. "What's up?"

Ino hesitated. "Uh, well…you know Sasuke Uchiha, right?"

"Uh-huh…"

Immediately the other girls spoke up excitedly.

"Can you introduce me to him?"

"Did you spend the night?"

"I can't believe you and Sasuke are friends! And with that forehead!"

"You're sooo lucky, Haruno!"

"Is it true that his brother is even hotter than he is?!"

Ino calmed them down. When they were quiet she addressed Sakura again. "What we've wanted to say was…you know his phone number, right?"

Sakura blinked. "And what if I do?"

Before Ino could respond―

"Then you have to give it to us― no wait…you have to give it to me!"

"Please, oh please!"

"Hold on, wait a minute! Why are you guys so crazy over him anyway?"

They all looked at her like she lost her mind.

"Because he's cute!!!" the fangirls shrieked at the same time.

Sakura blinked again.

Ino asked, "Don't you think so, too?"

The schoolgirl had never thought about it before. Puppies were cute. So were kittens. And babies. Could a schoolmate be cute too? "Yes…" she decided. "Yeah, he's cute. But so what?" The group fell down. There was an uproar; they all yelled at her, except one.

"SHUT UP EVERYBODY!" Ino Yamanaka sure knew how to keep her peers under control. "You'll understand when you're older, Sakura. C'mon, let's let her finish her test in peace." And with that the crowd left. "Poor, poor naive girl," Ino thought as she closed the classroom door.

♦-----♦

In a matter of weeks the Uchiha family practically adopted Sakura Haruno. She felt like she had a second home. As for Sasuke, he felt like he had become a different person. He believed that he had a responsibility to look after her, just like Itachi did for him.

One sunny afternoon Sasuke was finally going off to do some real training with Itachi. Ever since he joined the ANBU Black Ops Itachi had been busier than ever. But now he had some spare time. Sasuke packed his bag in the house. This was going to be exciting.

"Big Brother?"

Still sitting with his backpack in front of him, Sasuke turned to see Sakura standing in the doorway.

"What is it?"

"Will you come to the park with me?"

"I can't. I'm training with Itachi today. Ask Mother to take you."

Sakura made a small whining sound and put on her best sad puppy face.

Sasuke looked at her and made a motion with his hand, indicating for her to come over.

Sakura's face changed to a look of curiosity. She ran toward him.

When she reached him he poked her forehead with two fingers.

Using his best imitation of Itachi he said, "I'm sorry Sakura. Some other time, okay?"

"…"

Sasuke closed the bag and swung it over his shoulder.

"Big Brother, why do you always do that? You jab me on my huge forehead and say the same thing every time."

"Well then, why do you keep falling for it?"

Sakura stuck her tongue out and rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment.

"Hey at least I always keep my word, right?" Sasuke said, standing up.

"Yeah!"

♦-----♦

True to his promise, Sasuke took Sakura to the park one afternoon when shuriken practices were done. They played in the sandbox and on the seesaw. They spun on the miniature merry-go-round. They slid down the slide. Sasuke pushed Sakura on the swing.

When they got tired they sat at an empty picnic table to have something to eat.

"Mom's triangle sandwiches taste different…" Sasuke commented aloud.

"That's because I made them."

"Oh?"

"Mrs. Uchiha is starting to teach me how to cook a little. She even gave me her own personal cookbook."

Then they started talking about other things.

"How come I didn't see you at all yesterday, Sakura?"

"I stayed behind to watch Ino's flower presentation."

"Ino…and flowers?"

"Yep. Her family owns a flower shop."

"Wow. And I always thought she was too much of a wuss to say she liked girly things―"

"Don't talk about her like that, Big Brother. Ino's my best friend. She changed my life. I don't know what I would've done without her…" Sakura's voice trailed off as she thought about her past. She used to be so scared and miserable before she met Ino.

Sasuke remained silent. It was partly because he was sorry for what he said, but also because…

"I thought I was her best friend."

They were both quiet for a little while, but eventually the conversation resumed again.

"So did you get your grade report yet Big Brother?"

"Yup! And guess what? I got the highest marks out of everyone in the class!"

"That's great!"

"I was surprised that I did well on the written tests. I guess it was thanks to you. I showed Father and I could tell that he was proud."

"And I managed to pass the more physical exams thanks to the training you gave me. Thank you, Big Brother. I'm sure someday we'll be flying high." She looked up at the sky as she said this. "Oh look, there's a full moon tonight."

"…!" Sasuke's eyes opened wide.

"What's wrong, Big Brother?"

"My parents wanted me back home before it got dark!" He hurriedly packed his stuff. "C'mon, I'll take you home on the way."

"No, it'll take too long. You go on."

"…Are you sure?" He didn't want to leave her alone at night, but he didn't want to get in too much trouble either.

Sakura smiled. "I'll be okay."

"Do you want to come with me? I'm sure they'll let you sleep over."

"Sorry, but I have relatives arriving early tomorrow morning. Don't worry about me."

So Sasuke had no choice but to rush home without her.

It took him a lifetime to reach the entrance of the Uchiha clan's living quarters. But he still tried to waste as little time as possible.

"I'm so late," he thought to himself. He kept running but at one point he felt like he was being watched. The feeling vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Then about 30 seconds later he noticed something was wrong. There was not a person in sight. Uneasiness swept over him. None of the lights were on.

"It's still too early for everyone to be asleep…"

♦-----♦

The next morning he woke up in a hospital bed. The bright room made his eyes hurt and already he had a headache.

"A dream…?" Even as the words crossed his mind he knew that last night was no dream. He had never felt so exhausted.

Outside his room he could hear voices. "…and he was the only one spared…"

And now his tummy hurt. His whole body ached. He just felt sick all over. The only thing he did was stare at the ceiling.

"Oh! You're awake!" Two nurses entered. Sasuke sat up.

"What a horrible ordeal…" one said quietly.

The other spoke to the patient directly. "Is there anything you'd like? Do you want anything, need something?"

Of course. He wanted his mom and dad. He wanted to be at home in his own bed. He would like for everything to go back to normal. But that was all impossible now. In less than a day he lost everything. The ones closest to him were gone…except…

"Sakura…Haruno…

"Bring her here…"

She was all that he had left. The nurses went out instantly. Sasuke stared at the covers.

Somewhere around 8:00 a.m. a tired and puzzled looking Sakura was ushered in. The door closed behind her.

"What's going on…? They said you wanted to see me and it was an emergency…" She rubbed her eyes. "Big Brother…did you get hurt?"

He had to tell her sooner or later. Not only that, he had to admit it to himself as well.

"My family…the Uchiha clan…was slaughtered. Itachi killed them…"

The girl stopped rubbing her eye. Did she hear him right? What he said made no sense. Her eyes grew big and her puzzled expression was replaced by one of shock and disbelief.

"No…that's not true…you're lying…….you're lying!!" Without another word she dashed out the door.

"Sakura!" Sasuke threw the covers off of him and found the strength to chase after her.

Gray clouds covered the sky and the air was cold but it didn't slow either of the two down. In a matter of seconds he knew where she was going. He didn't want her to be there. It would break her heart.

It started sprinkling by the time they reached the destination. But the gateway into the area of the Uchihas was covered in yellow police lines. They looked at them in silence. Two motionless streams of tears hung from Sakura's eyes. Ignoring the lines, she crawled through them. Sasuke followed suit.

The rain fell a little more rapidly. Sasuke and Sakura walked along the wet paths, each lost in their own memories. When she turned a corner Sakura stopped at what she saw. The alley was demolished. There were broken windows, torn lanterns, barred doors, and body chalk outlines everywhere. Fresh tears started forming in her eyes again. Sasuke didn't know what to say.

Sakura took off. She sprinted forward with the Uchiha survivor in close pursuit. She was heading for the place that had been like another home to her. She nearly slipped and fell a few times, but she made it. Luckily the door wasn't locked. She burst inside while Sasuke only took one step in. He stood there and watched her disappear to the other rooms.

"ITACHI! MR. UCHIHA! MRS. UCHIHA! WHERE ARE YOU!?!?!?"

He could hear her sobbing far away. Was she in his parents' room? He started walking in that direction. The house was dark. Quiet. Empty. He almost forgot what it had used to look like. The door to the master bedroom was open. Sasuke approached it cautiously. Sure enough, she was in there. He went inside, but kept his distance. Sakura was kneeling in front of the bed with her head resting on top of it. She was crying quietly.

He didn't know how to comfort her. He had never seen her this sad. Next to him was a dresser that caught his attention. If he hadn't been looking down he might've missed it. Something was almost completely beneath the drawer on the floor. It looked like jewelry. Was it his mother's? Sasuke picked it up quickly and put it in his pocket.

"B-Big…Brother," Sakura sniffled. "Why, why did this have to happen…?" She didn't understand why someone like Itachi would do something like this.

"I…" His mouth couldn't form words. He went to her and kneeled down on his knees too. His eyes were glossy and moist.

At that moment she hugged him for the first time. Or rather, she clung to him. And it was because of this that Sasuke came to an important resolution.

"But, from now on Sakura, I vow…to always protect you. I will never let harm come to you." His voice grew stronger with each word. He never wanted to see her so depressed again. He never wanted to see her hurt again.

The child looked at the one she called brother. His determination made her trust him completely.

They held each other for a long time until they were ready to stand. Then they walked back to the hospital hand in hand.