A/N: I know that you are staring at your computer screaming, "It's about freaking time!" I've had such problems with this chapter and hope that I've finally gotten over them. Anyways, here is the chapter and please read and review. Thanks!
"Sakura, I know that I'm not Sasuke, but I love you and I won't leave you." Naruto said, his blue eyes serious as he took her hand in his. She waited, her breath catching in her throat as he took in a deep breath and said, "I've loved you for as long as I can remember and even though I know that I am not what you dreamed of in a man, I would spend the rest of my life trying my hardest to make you happy. Please, Sakura, please give me a chance."
It amazed her that when he wanted to be, Naruto was a force to be reckoned with when it came to words. It was from that moment that she decided to take a leap of faith and placed her heart in his hands. She supposed that she had grown to love him, but for him to make such a plea to her and to put his entire heart in her hands, it was only fair that she give him her heart in return.
As she rested in her room, Sakura's eyes closed and her body relaxed, the memories that came to her made it easier to remember her mission and those whom she had to save. However, when the happy dreams ended, the nightmares never failed to make an appearance.
"I've got to go with them, Sakura." Naruto snapped, his own temper matching hers. Despite the fact that he was normally very easy going, when he got mad, everyone knew it. "I will not sit back and watch any more of our people die. I will not hide behind these walls as kids who are only genin try to protect our village. I have a duty to this village and nothing, not even you, will stop me. Not this time."
"And if you die, what happens then, hm?" She demanded as she followed him through the village. "Naruto, this isn't some kind of game that we can afford to lose. Hanabi is too strong right now. She has too many people who have listened to her bullshit and who want to make their name by helping overthrow Konoha. Please, don't do this. Don't go."
He stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. For the first time since they married, his eyes were hard and unyielding. "No, this isn't a game." He said. "This is real life, Sakura. We die when it is our time. I will not watch the village I love be ripped apart by that spiteful bitch. I know that Hanabi has a lot of hatred towards us and Konoha, but I will not permit her to do as I permitted Sasuke. This time, I will be the one to end the life of the threat. I will not hide behind my wife's legs just because I can't bear to let go of the past. Hinata died because she trusted that snake. Everything that Hyuuga clan built was ripped down because of her. Now, she will die because of me. Believe it!"
He turned on his heel and motioned for his team to follow him. He paused in his steps when he heard her whisper, "Please, don't go."
"I love you. I've loved you for as long as I can remember. I'll always come back to you, Sakura." Naruto said and motioned for the guards to close the gates once his team was outside the walls of Konoha.
"Don't go!" She cried and rushed to the gates. "Please, don't leave!"
"Don't go!" She screamed and sat up quickly, her body shaking and the bile rushing to the back of her throat. In the quiet room, she could hear her labored breathing as the dream remained fresh in her mind. Sadly, Naruto didn't keep his promise. He didn't return and she had become a widow only days before she took on the title of hokage that should have been his.
As her frantic heart beat began to slow, she realized that she was not alone in her room. Glancing over at a chair that rested in the corner of her room, she watched as her uninvited guest leaned forward and rested his elbows upon his knees.
"Are you aware that you talk in your sleep?"
Kisame had heard the scream and lifted his eyebrow at the sound and continued to clean samehada. Women were strange creatures and they were too difficult for him to attempt to understand. But, seeing as how his partner was determined to see if the girl could follow through with her offer, he had gone into her room and would wait patiently for her to awaken. Let him deal with the pink-haired nut.
"What are you doing in my room?" Sakura demanded, her eyes narrowing. She watched as the man stood up and approached her. Knowing Itachi the way she did, he was obviously curious and if it were true that she did talk in her sleep, she probably revealed events that had not occurred yet, thus stirring Itachi's curiosity.
A curious Itachi was a dangerous thing, indeed.
"I was unaware that you and the kyuubi-container were in a relationship." Itachi stated. He stopped at the foot of her bed and tilted his head to the side. "The information I received was that you were still emotionally attached to my foolish brother and maintained a friendship with the kyuubi-container."
Sakura swung her legs off the bed and glared down at the floor. "I've already told you that I do not hold any further feelings for your idiot brother." She snapped. "As for me talking in my sleep and being in a relationship with Naruto, that is none of your concern. Everyone clearly knows my business already so why are now curious about my anything with Naruto, hm?"
Itachi allowed a smirk to form upon his lips. "And yet you have not denied that you and the container are in a relationship." He countered and moved to sit at the edge of the bed. "You are clearly upset and are hiding something. I wonder what it is."
"Has anyone ever told you that you are incredibly nosy?" Sakura replied tartly.
The dark-haired man stood up and made his way to the door. "And, has anyone ever told you that you are horrible when attempting to lie? Your ability to direct conversations in other directions is also lacking. If you are going to attempt to keep information from myself and Kisame, you will need to be much better at deception." He threw back and walked from the room with his head held high and it was at his back that Sakura childishly stuck her tongue at him.
"I saw that." He said dryly, as he closed the door behind him and leaving Sakura to fume. Of course, he didn't really see her, but he was telling her that he was already able to anticipate certain reactions from her and if she were honest with herself, she was somewhat comforted. Her Itachi, in the future, always anticipated her reactions and that was why he had such good luck at calming her down before she could blow up completely.
He was also correct, of course. She was horrible at lying and could never redirect him or the big-blue bully from what they wanted to know. More often than not they would harass her until she finally gave in and told them what they wanted to know. She could only thank the powers that be that she had never been captured by them when Akatsuki was still active. She would have been responsible for the downfall of Konoha.
When she decided that she had sulked long enough, she opened the door to her room and walked into the living room to find both Itachi and Kisame watching television. Well, Kisame was watching, but Itachi was listening. Taking a seat beside Itachi, she waited for a commercial and calmly said, "I want to eat first and then I'd like to examine your eyes."
Itachi nodded and cocked his head towards her. "I was rude and intrusive. For that, I apologize." He said, his tone even.
Sakura fought back the urge to groan. Gods, now he was in the polite stage and have even resorted to pointing out his own behavior in an attempt to get her to talk and perhaps give up information. He was trying to get on some sort of common ground about both of their rude comments to each other and was now expecting her to fall for it. Well, it wasn't going to work. Not this time.
"Thank you for your apology." She sniffed. "You were being rather rude."
Kisame was staring at each of them as though he was watching a tennis match and was currently staring at Itachi to see how he reacted to her comment.
Itachi lifted an elegant eyebrow and gave a slight nod. "I was only inquiring because you seemed upset when you awoke." He countered. "I was concerned that you would be too upset to work on my eyes."
Kisame turned his gaze towards her and waited for her reply. Forget the television show; this was better than what was on cable.
Sakura sucked in a deep breath. "Well, as you can tell, I am perfectly fine and am in total control of my emotions." She stated. "I am more than capable of fixing your eyes, so you need not worry."
Itachi smirked at her tone. "You appear to be agitated, Sakura. I wonder why that is." He said and leaned back in his seat.
"I am hungry." She snapped and stood up to walk over to the phone so that she could order dinner. With any luck, she could hide out in her room until it got there.
Kisame held his breath as a sneer crossed his partner's lips and knew that this little match was over. Itachi – 1, Sakura – 0.
"Tell me, Sakura." Itachi asked, his tone casual. "What exactly did Hyuuga Hanabi do to upset you so?"
Hanabi watched with careful eyes as Sasuke walked through the village, his hand rubbing over the cursed seal. She quietly followed him and when he was close to the Uchiha compound, she decided to make her presence known.
"If it still hurts, I will sooth it for you." She offered, her face schooled in innocence as she stood behind the avenger. "There is no reason for you to walk around in pain, Sasuke."
Sasuke turned to find the youngest of the Hyuuga standing behind him and he sneered down at her. "What makes you think that I'd ever want you to help me?" He demanded, his cursed seal making his temper even shorter than before.
Hanabi smiled. "Am I not the one who told you about your teammate's deception?" She asked. "I am one of the only people you can truly trust, Sasuke. After all, I have no vested interest in your life or what you do and I can, at least, ease your discomfort. I do hate to see people suffer."
Sasuke snorted, but then decided to let her try to help. After all, she had been truthful about Sakura, though he didn't believe that Sakura deceived him. Sakura had a right to her own belief about his character and after leaving her unconscious on a bench when she had tried to help him, he supposed that he deserved some distrust from her.
He watched as the young Hyuuga approached him and leaned down when she motioned to him. As soon as her hand touched his seal, he felt instant relief and closed his eyes to savor the sensation.
As she worked to sooth his seal, Hanabi leaned forward until her lips touched Sasuke's ear. "I am sorry for everything that you have been put through, Sasuke. I understand your need for vengeance and can help you." She whispered.
"Help me?" Sasuke asked, his eyes slowly opening to regard the young girl beside him. "How can you help me?"
Hanabi smiled and calmly asked, "What if I told you that I knew information about your brother and that Sakura held a soft spot for him?"
"I'll kill you!" Sakura exclaimed and dove across the table, reaching for the man who drew her ire. "Kisame, give it back!"
Kisame allowed his eyes to widen and innocently asked, "What? This?"
Sakura gritted her teeth as her last piece of fried chicken waved in the air on the top of Kisame's chopstick and then promptly disappeared into his mouth, his eyes closing as he savored the flavor.
Itachi sipped at his tea and listened as the young woman's teeth ground together. This entire situation was turning out to be more amusing than he thought it would be. The girl, Sakura, was so easy to harass and she took to the bait that he and Kisame set out perfectly. However, while the girl was entertaining, he needed to decide if she could be trusted enough to aid him and his partner in gaining retribution against Sasuke. After all, it had been Sasuke to send those hunters after them and it would be Sasuke who felt his wrath. He had given up so much for his foolish, little brother and despite resigning himself to a future of being on the run, he felt cheated in his life and what could have been and now if was as if Sasuke was attempting to rub salt into his wounds or at the very least make the hell that was his life even more miserable.
This would not do. Sasuke was about to learn that he should never anger his elder brother because despite everything, he was still stronger and smarter. In fact, Sasuke probably had no idea that his curse seal was beginning to affect his health. From what he had gathered from his initial conversation with Sakura, all of Orochimaru and Kabuto's experiments were beginning to take their toll on his body and Sasuke was none the wiser.
Taking a deep breath, he listened as Sakura moved around the room and when she finally called out to him that she would meet him in her room after she had taken her shower, he inclined his head in agreement and waited until she closed the door to her room. He quickly came to the decision that if she would not discuss the Hyuuga, then perhaps he could get her to discuss Sasuke.
Kisame leaned back in his seat, his good mood apparent. He gave a jaw-cracking yawn and said, "You know, for a leaf, she isn't half bad. You know who would have liked her? She and Konan would have gotten along famously."
Itachi hummed in agreement and when his ears picked up the sound of the shower cutting off in Sakura's room, he stood up and slid off his forehead protector. "There is more to this girl than meets the eye. I believe that she can be trusted." He said, though he really didn't expect Kisame to argue with his statement.
Kisame scratched his chin thoughtfully. "You know, it would be nice to have a medic around who could treat us." He said. "She smells pretty nice, too. And, she isn't a shrinking violet."
Itachi smirked as he agreed with his partner's thoughts regarding Sakura's scent. It was very pleasing, but he was no fool. She may deny it if asked, but he was positive that her heart belonged to the kyuubi vessel and even though many would claim that he didn't have any, his honor would never allow him to pursue a woman whose heart belonged to another.
When Sakura finally opened her door, she glanced at the two men on the sofa and softly sighed. Both men turned towards the soft sound and she shook her head as a soft smile crossed her lips. Memories from her true time came rushing forth and she realized that this exact scene had played out several times before in the future, but the only difference was the décor of the living room.
"Ok, Itachi." Sakura said as she opened the door wider. "You may come in now. Lie down on the bed and get comfortable. You will be there awhile."
Kisame wolf-whistled as Itachi stood up and began walking towards the room. Sakura shot a glare towards the blue-skinned male and before she closed the door, she stuck out her tongue and asked, "Jealous much?"
Kisame stared at the closed door and allowed a wide grin to cross his face. "Hell yeah!"
Itachi settled on the bed, as he listened to Sakura move about the room. When he felt the bed dip beside him, he stiffened momentarily, but then forced himself to relax. Her fingertips were soft and cool as they rested against his forehead. He heard her soft exhale of air and softly he asked, "What is it?"
Sakura bit her lip as she glanced down at him. "I cannot imagine how much agony you must be in." She whispered as her fingertips moved slowly over his eyelids. "I've known men who have broken down due to severe migraines, but from what I am finding; your migraines are in a class of their own. Technically, you should not even be able to operate, yet you move as though you are not in pain. How do you handle it?"
Itachi was quiet for a moment, but then said, "I have lived with it for a long time. If I don't move, I die. I have too much to do before I die and so, I keep going. There is not a question of how, but more of a question of why."
Sakura lifted her fingers and peered down at his face. He looked completely relaxed, but she was anything but. Despite their closeness, he had never told her about his past before the Uchiha massacre. Instead, he always told her that it was best to let the dead alone and that the events that had occurred were best forgotten.
So, because he had stoked her curiosity, she cautiously asked, "Then, why?"
His eyes slowly opened and Sakura felt her heart go out to him as his sightless eyes stared up into her own. His hand reached up and he allowed it to trail down her arm as he softly replied, "Love."
Naruto looked out into the night sky and only shifted his glance when Sai landed beside him. His blue eyes were trained upon the stars and he softly asked, "Do you think that Sakura is ok?"
"Butterfly is more than capable of taking care of herself." Sai replied, though his tone wavered slightly. "I've noticed some things about her and I've wanted to discuss them with you, if you have the time."
Turning to face his teammate, Naruto said, "Ok, but not here. Let's go and get something to eat and then you can talk."
Nodding, Sai followed Naruto towards a restaurant that was known for its late hours as Ichiraku was closed. Once they were seated, had their drinks, and their orders placed, Sai folded his hands on top of the table and quietly said, "I have noticed that butterfly has been friendlier with you in the last few days and her demeanor towards the Uchiha has grown colder."
Sitting back, Naruto nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I noticed it, too." He said, but then his blue eyes began to twinkle. "Maybe she is finally seeing that I'm a better catch than the teme."
Shaking his head, Sai said, "I don't believe that is it." While Naruto visibly deflated, Sai continued. "From what I have seen, her control over her emotions has matured and she carries herself much like Tsunade-sama. She is diplomatic, yet authoritative when she needs to be. I have seen this ability only in leaders who are older and much more experienced. Yet, when it comes to you, she is softer and looks at you with eyes that are filled with memories."
"How would you know what her eyes are filled with?" Naruto asked, curious. It wasn't as if Sai were the most intuitive guy around. Hell, he still thought that gifting people with nicknames would endear him to others. But, his insight into Sakura was nearly identical with his own. To be honest, he was enjoying the attention that Sakura bestowed upon him and for once, he didn't get the feeling that she was trying to make Sasuke jealous or that she was trying to prove some kind of point. It was as though she had done a complete one-eighty in attitude. He liked it.
Sai drummed his fingers on the table top and murmured, "I knew someone with eyes like hers. His eyes were filled with the memories of the ones that he lost, but he never gave up hope that one day, he would find someone to fill the void. Even though he was in ROOT, he never lost who he was and even fought against the strict codes. Both of them have the eyes of a survivor, someone who has been through hell and has lived to tell the tale. But, while I know his story, I do not know what has caused butterfly to have those same eyes. It is rather curious."
Naruto was quiet as he thought Sai's explanation through. Now that he mentioned it, he had also seen the shadows that danced through Sakura's eyes, especially that night when they were all at the bar and Shikamaru had thanked her for butting in. However, those shadows were gone just as quickly as they came and he had not thought anything of it…until now.
He didn't care what it took. When Sakura came home, he would sit her down and talk to her. He would attempt to get her to talk. And, if she could not or would not, he would figure it out on his own. After all, he would die fighting for the one he loved.
He waited until the younger men left before he lowered his book. Really, he had not meant to overhear their conversation and it was not his fault that they didn't notice him. But, after listening to them, he could not help but wonder if they were onto something.
He, too, noticed a drastic change in his former student, but he had not taken a real close look at her. Not until she challenged his authority. Oh, he was man enough to admit that even at the destroyed village, he had also come to the conclusion that there was something brewing, but unlike Sakura, he had not wanted to voice it. And, he didn't voice it because he knew what could happen if what he thought was correct. Sakura, on the other hand, had called it like she saw it and unlike him, she wasn't afraid to call it out. Her own tone had been authorative, even after he sent her back to the village and not once did she whine or cry like she would have before. No, instead she merely looked at him and simply told him what she thought.
This new Sakura was not someone he wanted to tangle with as he didn't know what to think about her. Sure, he'd been around plenty of opponents who took him by surprise, but at least he knew a bit about them before actually facing them and then pretty much winged it from there. With this new Sakura, he couldn't count on past experience to help him. It was as if she had evolved into someone older and more dangerous, though kept it carefully hidden behind beautiful green eyes that seemed to be searching for something.
He wasn't stupid. He knew that out of all of them, she was the one he failed the most. The little cry-baby who stared after the untouchable Uchiha had now become a woman whose eyes were haunted and for the life of him, he could not help but wonder if he helped put that look there.
He was always trying to shield her from the dangers out on the field, but he also knew that he was doing her more harm than good. Sure, she was a capable medic and kunoichi, but he treated her as though she were a civilian and now, she was slipping away and he didn't know how to fix it.
Standing up, he placed his money on the table and shoved his book into his back pocket. He walked out into the dark night and wondered if Sakura ever blamed him for his neglect because he sure as hell blamed himself.
She stared at him, her eyes wide as he waited for her answer. At first, she didn't think that she had heard him clearly, but as he waited patiently for her to respond, she realized that she had, in fact, heard him correctly and now, he wanted an answer.
Clearing her throat, she softly said, "I don't think you really understand what you are offering. You would be revealing all of your secrets to me and you don't know what I will do with the information after we part ways."
Itachi cocked his head to the side and replied, "And, you would be telling me your secrets, as well. We would have to trust that neither one of us would betray the other. However, who would ever believe a clan-murdering psychopath like myself when compared to you, the beloved Konoha medic. Please do not think that I have not heard the rumors of your intelligence and beauty. Your word carries weight with the hokage and other leaders such as Suna's kazekage. You would be gaining insight that no one has ever been able to obtain and I will truthfully answer any and all questions that you have, but in turn, you will answer mine."
"Itachi," Sakura murmured, her eyes closing as she thought of ways to get out of this situation as gracefully as she could. "There are things about me that are so unbelievable that I doubt that you would or even could believe me. It's not a fair trade."
Itachi gave a soft smile and said, "You would be surprised at what I could and could not believe. Now, Sakura, do we have a deal?"
Taking a deep breath, Sakura knew that he had her. If she were to truly accomplish what she had come to do, she would need both him and Kisame's help. So, when her eyes opened, she calmly said, "We have a deal, but will Kisame be a part of this?"
Nodding, Itachi said, "As I am sure you have noticed, my partner and I share a closeness that not many have. He will not reveal any of your secrets, either. And, he has his own secrets that may interest you."
Itachi closed his eyes and relaxed when he felt Sakura's fingertips gently settle on his eyelids. As her soothing chakra entered his damaged optic nerves, Itachi began his story.
"There once was a clan that coveted power so much that they were willing to wage war against their own village to obtain it. The village had its own agenda regarding my clan and they, too, were willing to wage war to retain that power. Stuck the middle, I was the pipeline to the village nerve center and this is where my story truly begins."