And it took 23 pages to wrap this story up. We won't keep you with the rambling – we hope you've enjoyed the ride. Authors Note at the bottom.
This level reach of blue is not my sea;
Here are sweet waters, pretty in the sun,
Whose quiet ripples meet obediently
A marked and measured line, one after one.
This is no sea of mine. that humbly laves
Untroubled sands, spread glittering and warm.
I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
3 Years Ago
The drizzle made the air heavy. Shoving her long ponytail over her shoulder – and ignoring the slight frizz – Ino stubbornly set her jaw and finished the walk to #45. She only knew that Sakura still lived with her parents from some wheedling with Shikamaru. Luckily, she already knew where the home was because she wasn't sure he would have given that up without some form of torture.
Not that she was unwilling to provide the torture, mind.
Sakura was pale, with dark circles under her eyes when she opened the door. By the lack of noise coming from inside, Ino had to guess that forehead's parents weren't home. The surprise was muffled by the obvious exhaustion and Ino shifted her weight.
"Can I come in?"
Sakura still looked startled but that bland, professional expression settled over her tired face and she frowned, green eyes narrowed. Finally she sighed and made a motion with her hand, something almost rueful poking through the cracks of competency.
Ino had mostly expected this kind of reaction but she was surprised to find that she didn't like it anymore than she'd liked not knowing the person who had fixed Shikamaru's stupid leg. Lips pressing together, she marched inside and removed her shoes with just a little force and huffed her way into the living quarters without invitation. The parlor would have been okay, but she wanted there to be space between her and doors and windows before talking. Sakura didn't seem to mind – at least, she didn't say anything, which was more in-line with the behavior Ino expected and not this new Sakura.
"Did you need something, Ino-san?"
Ino nearly curled her fingers into fists – a physical sign that she was agitated. Taking a deep breath, she nearly turned and snarled when an unexpected flash of yellow caught her eyes. Frowning, she leaned forward and blinked at the photo framed by two bright, plastic daises. Two small faces were pressed together and were grinning widely. Sakura was even missing a tooth. There was a childish amusement in the picture Ino hadn't seen in years on either of their faces and the anger deflated. She wondered if it had been Sakura or her parents who had kept the picture.
And Ino decided that she had just about had enough of that. "Really, Forehead?"
She watched Sakura out of the corner of her eye and she blinked when instead of rising to her bait, Sakura reached up and rubbed her temple. It was a sign of just how tired Sakura was that she would even allow that motion with the overly polite way she was addressing her.
"Ino-san, why are you here?"
Ino frowned at her. "You changed."
Sakura blinked. "Of course I changed."
She snorted, giving into the urge to cross her arms and arch a brow at her. Ino knew and didn't care that it was both an aggressive and defensive posture – she'd worry about her physical cues later. "Well, from where I'm standing it doesn't look like they've all been good. You're pale, you have bags under your eyes and your behavior with Shikamaru was ridiculous."
And there was that unexpected spark of temper. She'd seen it before in bursts and half-smothered starts but it flared to life and gave Sakura's face some color. Ino considered that and decided that maybe Tsunade-sama had been good for Sakura in that respect, at least.
"There was nothing wrong with my demeanor with Shikamaru," Sakura gritted out.
Ino snorted and tossed her hair. "Except that you treated him as you if had never seen him before. Kami forbid that you acknowledge us as friends, Sakura-chan."
Green eyes chilled over. Ino frowned as Sakura turned and determinedly walked her way back to the front door. The urge to roll her eyes was almost overwhelming at the way the door was carefully, precisely opened and a blank faced Sakura stared at her.
Ino leaned back against the mantel. "I'll get out when you can manage the chakra to throw me out, Forehead."
Sakura scowled a flush rising in her cheeks. "You just don't know what you talking about. Get out, Ino."
Ino straightened and gritted her teeth, her own temper starting to burn. "Well I'm not the one who stood in a hospital room and pretended that the people standing there were acquaintances, just another notch on the med-nin chart to whatever the hell you do!"
Sakura curled her hands into fists. "You don't know a damn thing about what you're talking about."
Ino marched forward and pointed at her. "I'm not the one who has all but disappeared inside the Hospital and has avoided everyone. You don't go to any of the usual spots, you don't show up at any of the community training fields and you apparently don't bat an eyelash when your friends show up hurt. What, exactly, am I missing, Sakura-chan?"
"It's this little thing called professionalism," Sakura snapped, moving forward to shove Ino's hand out of her face. "As a med-nin if I got upset every time one of my friends was brought in hurt, I would be absolutely useless! And I refuse to be useless, Ino. Not for you, and not for them, and I don't care what anyone else says! Why would I take time from my training to show up on the community training fields? So that you and everyone else could rub it in my face that my team is gone? Is that what you want to see?"
Ino involuntarily took a step back, eyes widening.
"What am I supposed to do, Ino? We show up to train in threes. Who am I going to train with? Why do you think I go to the hospital? I'm going to do this and I'm going to be good at it because what other choice do I have?"
And Ino was momentarily stunned. She had no idea that Sakura had taken the disbandment of Team Seven so hard. Naruto was just an all around annoyance and Sasuke had apparently never developed a spine when it came to his clan. But there was a raw pain in Sakura's eyes and Ino wasn't certain her nails weren't drawing blood she had squeezed her hands so tightly.
And Ino wasn't certain that her feeling of abandonment was just with her team.
"So if you're going to show up here and tell me that you thought I was abandoning you by putting on airs when I was doing my job, I'm going to have to politely tell you to shove it up your ass."
Ino spluttered. Sakura ignored her, hand slashing downward, chest heaving.
"Would you rather I have burst into tears? Started ringing my hands? Shikamaru is walking now, Ino, without a limp and without any significant setback in his training or yours. Because of me." She shoved her hand through her hair and took a deep breath before pinning those dark green eyes on Ino with a palpable rage that seemed almost too much for her thin, pale frame to handle.
"I'm not just becoming a mednin, I am one. So if you ever, ever think about coming in here and telling me how to do my job again, remember that I learned 47 ways to cause breakouts and rashes in the past week."
Ino scowled. "Well it's about damn time someone taught you something."
Sakura blinked, her posture shifting back on her heels. "What?"
Ino nodded. "Damn straight. I'm not entirely sure how you're going to rash someone to death, but at least you're learning. I suppose if the Hokage has decided to take you on there must be some talent to work with – hell if I know what. It's not like you're taking the time to show up and show us all the ways you're leaning to kick our asses. Well, that changes. No more excuses. I expect you to show up on our free sessions on Saturday or Sunday. Unless you're scared."
Sakura's brows tucked together. "I just told you—"
Ino lifted her hand and put force into her glare. "Oh, shut up. Yeah, we work in threes but adding a forth when we aren't doing actual team training isn't that big of a deal. Having someone new work with us is the first change that Shikamaru started insisting on as soon as he became chunin. I think it's just so he can get out of workouts, honestly. "
Sakura crossed her arms. "I am not joining your training sessions as some pity party."
Ino arched a brow. "I am too damn good at what I do to ever invite someone inferior to spar with me and I'll shove something sharper than my foot up your ass if you suggest that again."
Sakura shifted her stance and her chin rose. "Try it."
"Show up on Saturday and I will."
Sakura growled. "Fine."
"Good." Ino tossed her hair and almost preened. "So now that we've got that out of the way, next time I walk into the hospital with Shikamaru's leg broken because he decided to sleep-run, I fully expect Sakura and not a Hyuuga-wanna-be!"
"I'm being professional!"
Ino stared at her. "And Tsunade-sama? What do you call it when she threatens to strap someone to the bed or reinjure their brains in the hope that it realigns what was obviously damage when they were small children?"
"She's the Hokage. She's the best mednin of our time! She could walk into the operating room hung-over and still do a better job than half the doctors in the hospital."
Ino smiled sweetly. "And setting a fine example for dealing with idiots and friends."
Sakura scowled, shoulders hunching. "Go away, Ino. I'm tired."
Ino studied her before nodding. "Alright. I'll see you on Saturday then."
Sakura watched her and finally the edges of a smile just touched the corners of her mouth. "Alight. I'll see you Saturday."
Ino nodded and put her shoes back on. "I'd suggest you bring something a little more threatening than rashes though. While they'd obviously be annoying during the week, they really won't do much to stop Shikamaru from trying to impale you." She paused. "Although I bet it'd be worth it to use it against Kiba just to see how many flea baths he takes."
Sakura cracked an actual smile and shook her head. "Go away Ino!"
Ino stepped back outside and was relieved to see it had stopped drizzling. Her hair really couldn't take much more before it frizzed completely out. Glaring upwards for a moment, she started down the street. It wasn't fixed, but Sakura would show up on Saturday and the Saturday after that and it was clear that she was skipping meals. If her friend was going to do this… mednin thing, then it was clear that she was going to have to make sure Sakura didn't spend all her time haunting the hospital halls.
Decided, Ino changed directions. Clearly her good deed meant she should spend some of her pay on that new shirt she had been looking at.
There was a quiet to the late morning sunshine that was a contrast to how she usually spent her mornings. Instead of chasing down her teammates, scrambling behind Tsunade on medical or Hokage related emergencies or terrorizing her own nurses, Sakura padded on bare feet across the cool tile in Itachi's kitchen. She had at least another half hour before she had to go out and deal with things – like her teammates or the restoration work – but until then, it was just her, whatever was in the fridge and a wide-smile she hadn't been able to completely diffuse since she had woken a second time. The first had been to a persistent, persuasive mouth and lingering hands just before dawn. He had left not long after. She was nearly certain that it was either Tsunade or ANBU who had summoned him; she wasn't certain the clan could have budged him so immediately, or that he would have bothered to setup that level of jutsu to alert him in this home that he was needed for clan business.
Opening the fridge, she tucked her bottom lip between her teeth in an attempt to stifle her smile's attempt to widen. Rice balls. If she hadn't already known that this morning's disappearance hadn't been his idea, this would have clinched it. There was no chance that Itachi would have made these without intending on cashing in on her reaction. Amused, she picked one up and went hunting for her shoes.
Showing her the hand signals to unlock the genjutsu on the house had been the equivalent of giving her the key – but she wasn't sure that meant that she was invited to stay, or if it meant… well, she wasn't sure what it implied at all besides a permanence to this relationship that made her feel almost giddy. They'd have time to talk and set up ground rules later. After…
Sakura found that she was pressing her hand to her lips like a civilian school girl and shook her head with a little laugh. Right. After. First things first – she had to find Naruto and Sasuke. She wouldn't put it past Itachi to tweak his brother about their new relationship and she wanted to be the one to tell him. Tell both of them – they deserved to hear it from her like what it was, something that made her happy, instead of what Itachi would no doubt make it seem to be like – like some sort of expression of superiority.
She glanced in the mirror on her way out of his house and saw that she'd have to set a jutsu over herself if she wanted to hide that glow. Even her hair looked more lustrous than normal, and she couldn't keep back a smile. She'd had lovers before, good ones along with average, but being with Itachi had been…
Her eyes glazed over the slightest bit as she recalled the thoroughness of his exploration, his tightly leashed control, and just how he'd gasped when she'd made him lose it. Her smile turned absolutely wicked and she shook her head, laughing again. She had to get a grip on herself, or Naruto and Sasuke would never let her live it down.
Kami help me if Ino finds me like this.
The horror of that pulled her enough into reality that she managed to reign in her smile. The only thing worse than Ino would be Ino and Tsunade... shaking off that mental image thanks to years of training, she yanked on her shoes and went to collect rice balls for the road. She paused at the door, considering the half-dozen that remained. While she was certainly capable of eating them all, there was also the potential benefit of having them on hand. Naruto would probably call them bribes, but these had fish...
No reason not to cushion the blow and there was no way she was eating ramen.
Decided, she wrapped them up and took them with her. First stop – go home and get a change of clothes. If only there was a jutsu for cleaning clothes after long nights out. Now that would be really useful…
It took her a few minutes to decide how to leave. The shinobi in her wanted to explore, but with the heavy jutsu on the house she didn't feel that leaping from roof to roof was the best course to get home. There was no reason for anyone to connect seeing her in this part of the village to Itachi, but it was best to be cautious until she had a chance to talk to him. So she went out the back door and transported herself into her neighborhood. Then she checked herself for any tags Itachi might have set up to attach to someone leaving from the inside of his house. Finding none, she checked a second time just to be sure and then headed to her place.
Halfway home, she paused and then rolled her eyes. It looked like she wouldn't have to go search her for her wayward teammates after all. By the feel of it, Naruto and Sasuke had commandeered her living room and weren't trying to hide from her. Huffing out a breath, she picked up her pace and pulled out her keys. Unlocking her door, she stepped inside, shutting the door behind her as she scanned the room for her teammates. Sakura paused, gaze resting on the opened kits and empty flasks in her living room and scowled.
"Is there a reason you helped yourselves to my personal medical supplies?"
Naruto hopped off her couch and stalked over to her, wagging his finger like some sort of baba. "You didn't come home last night, young lady! What else were we supposed to do, go to the hospital? And where were you, anyway?"
Sakura stared at Naruto for a moment before flicking her gaze to Sasuke – the sane one – because one of them had to be sane, right? Kami didn't hate her this much. But no, Sasuke was at three o'clock, a few feet away from Naruto, glowering at her.
They'd gotten hurt, broken into her house, and instead of – was Sasuke's arm broken? – going to the hospital, they'd used her medical supplies. With the hand not holding her peace offering, Sakura reached up to massage her temple. "How many times," she started out quietly enough, "have I told you that if I'm not here, you're supposed to go directly to the hospital! Naruto! Sasuke!"
She shouldered past Naruto to give them each a solid thump on the head before glaring at them both. "What did you two do?"
"Us?" Naruto said, nursing the brand new red lump on his forehead. "What did you do? You made that bastard put Sasuke in charge of the clan!"
Sakura turns to look at Naruto, eyes wide as oranges. "What?"
I didn't hit him that hard, did I?
"He's telling the truth."
Sakura whirled her head around – somehow, between yelling at Naruto, hitting Sasuke, yelling at Naruto again, and then wondering if something had shook loose in Naruto's head, Sasuke had managed to sneak up right behind her, and was regarding her with that peculiar light in his eyes which indicated that he had spotted prey. Her own eyes narrow in response. Clearly, they were both in serious need of medical attention. Mental medical attention. Because she had stopped being prey a very long time ago, and they were talking nonsense. She met Sasuke's gaze and without turning around, lifted up a hand to cut off Naruto as his chest swelled with what was probably going to be one of his spouting monologues.
"You know what? Just sit down. You too, Sasuke. I need to see what you stupidly fixed yourself and what is left to deal with."
"Hey!" Naruto spluttered. "We know how to deal with stuff! You taught us!"
"And there are more important matters to deal with." Sasuke didn't move one inch, and in fact attempted to intercept Sakura from heading towards her medical supplies that they had dumped out on her living room table.
Sakura glared at Sasuke while addressing Naruto. "What I taught you was to go to the hospital if I wasn't here! Clearly, I wasn't here so you should be at the hospital! And you," she jabbed her finger mercilessly at where she suspected Sasuke's arm had been broken. He winced. "If you're going to try to take me on, you should at least wait until you're in better shape."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed, and within the space of a blink he moved his arm – his broken arm – to capture her hand in his. "This is more important."
Sakura blinked at him owlishly while Naruto moved out from behind the shelter of Sasuke's back to point accusingly at the bag in her other hand. "Are those rice balls?"
He sounded indignant. Almost offended. That wasn't right. She looked from one of her boys to the other and it slowly sank in on her that they were very, very serious. This had not been part of the plan. "What happened?"
Naruto crossed his arms and looked affronted while still managing that half-accusing stare. "I told you. You did something!"
There was a headache growing behind her eyes. Curling her fingers, she finally turned back to Sasuke. He studied her for a long moment, arm dangling oddly, expression almost grim. Then he made a gesture that on anyone else might have been a resigned shrug.
"Itachi gave up his position of heir – he is now autonomous within the clan."
Sakura stared blankly at her teammate. For a moment, everything went absolutely silent as her brain tried to process something, anything other than – holy fuck. Gave up. Autonomous. Her brain just couldn't seem to get past that to casual sentence – he could do that? Why would he...
"Oh sweet kami."
Naruto waved his arms. "I know. So what did you do? What sort of jutsu makes a person crazy like that... I mean, he's already crazy but that's crazy."
Sakura felt herself wobble before sitting down abruptly. Naruto's eyes widened and he half-lunged to catch her, just missing. The thud of her tailbone hitting the wood of her floor pulled her out of her daze so that she could appreciate the startled expression on both of their faces. Swallowing, she absently noticed she hadn't sat on the rice balls.
"Sasuke... did you just say that Itachi, your older brother, is no longer heir to the Uchiha clan?"
Sasuke pulled his face back under control and almost managed his usual sneer. "Yes."
"Holy shit," Sakura said blankly. "Holy shit."
The world was upside-down and nothing made any sense anymore. "Why would he – do that?"
The look on Sasuke's face turned calculating. His voice still managed a detached monotone, but it carried a silky undertone of something she couldn't identify – kami, was it inherent in the position itself to be inscrutable? "Why don't you tell us, Sakura?"
She'd love to. She really, really would. But her brain seemed to be stuck at the moment. Why would he do that? He'd never seemed particularly attached to it, true, but Itachi never seemed particularly attached to anything. She knew that he was attracted to power, and the position of heir, of taking over the clan—
- the clan.
"Say that second part again," Sakura said.
"What?" Naruto said, still peering down at her with a confused and concerned look on his face.
"That second part," she insisted. "He's no longer the clan heir and he's – what?"
"He's declared himself autonomous." Sasuke's monotone cut through her confusion. There was a pause before he continued, explaining the word to her as if she was very slow. "He and his family will have the protection and privileges of the Uchiha name, but they will be exempt from clan politics."
Sakura squeezed her eyes shut. Just fuck. This was… impossible. Wasn't this impossible? This should have been impossible because… 'Can you really propose 'always' with me without your clan's approval?' Swallowing what wanted to be a whimper; Sakura opened her eyes to find one perturbed and one concerned face staring at her.
Naruto blew out a huge breath. "Sakura-chan, I'm the dense one! It means that Sasuke is the heir and Itachi is not. Are you okay?"
No, she was definitely not okay. Because she slept with him! And he… he… 'maybe if it was just you and just me… I won't marry into a clan, Itachi. Especially yours.' Because she'd told him… 'I've seen what they've done to Sasuke. I want better than that for my children. I've seen what clan politics are like… I won't do it.'
And now he'd – done it. She'd made him getting away from the clan a condition for her 'everything' and he'd – done it.
Her mouth moved without her permission, the thoughts still clicking together in her brain. "Holy fucking hells, I think I'm engaged."
Naruto took a breath and glanced over at Sasuke. Something unspoken passed between them. Sakura wasn't really interested in their non-verbal communication. Instead of worrying about whatever was going on in their heads she opened her stash of rice balls and popped the first one into her mouth.
"Well, I guess I really can't kill him now." Naruto grumbled, flopping onto the floor next to her and reaching for his own rice ball.
Sakura yanked them out of his reach, startled. "What?" Who said anything about killing Itachi?
Sasuke looked put out. "We're not having this conversation again."
"What conversation?" Sakura insisted, looking between her teammates. They were not going to get away with talking around her on this one, not when – just shit.
Naruto eyed the rice balls. He opened his mouth and got a good look at the expressions on his teammates faces. "Um..."
Sakura maneuvered the rice balls away from him. "Naruto, what are you talking about?"
"Aww, it's not like that Sakura-chan! It's just..." he paused, considering his words. His eyes cut over to Sasuke who looked resigned to his fate. To Naruto's relief, he shifted his weight to catch Sakura's attention and took over.
She curled her fingers into the last rice ball and met his eyes.
"Obviously, what was done was done for you."
Sasuke's eyes were dark and impassive, but the clue is never in an Uchiha's gaze, it's in the way the corners of their eyes tighten ever so slightly, and Sasuke's were having a regular crease parade. He was upset.
Itachi had done this – for her – given up his spot, maneuvered Sasuke like a shogi piece and – and Sasuke had been struggling his whole life for his brother's acceptance and admiration and now she had just swept in and taken it, leaving him with the life-long responsibility of dealing with the fucking Uchiha Clan Counsel.
And on top of all that – she was engaged to Itachi. She wasn't sure how Sasuke would feel about that when he'd been against the connection from the first – he'd always been protective of her, both her boys had and now… Itachi had tricked Sasuke into taking his place… so he could take their place? Was that what they thought? Was that what Itachi thought? If that's what he thought he had another think coming, but what hadn't he told her and…
Sakura finished off the last of her rice ball and the room was too small. The walls were caving in and her boys were looking and her and she – she didn't know what to tell them. She didn't know what to think. She sprung up abruptly. "I need to get out of here."
Naruto followed her up, hand curling at his side. Then he relaxed, boyish grin back in place and something in his eyes easing the growing tension in her chest. "Punch him good for me, Sakura-chan!"
Naruto, at least, wasn't giving up on her. She turned back at the doorway to glance back at Sasuke – Sasuke who stood there with the broken arm she couldn't focus long enough to heal, Sasuke with the inscrutable expression on his face, Sasuke who had been hurt by this, "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just – I'm sorry."
Sakura turned and left her apartment before she had a chance to see a curious flicker of emotion cross Sasuke's face. Outside was full of open air and the room to breathe. Both which had been missing inside her apartment. She was torn between a giddy, unbelievable happiness and uncertain kind of rage. Itachi had used Sasuke, his brother and her teammate, to get what he wanted. That she was what he had wanted was something else entirely. She wished she knew if she wanted to kiss him or punch him.
"Forehead! You will not believe what I heard this morning!"
Sakura looked up and blinked at Ino as she marched down the street. "Ino?"
Ino reached her and instead of stopping, simply grabbed her arm and tugged Sakura down the street to a much quieter corner, near the civilian market. Pushing her into a half-alley, she met Sakura's eyes straight on.
"What do you know about the shake-up in the Uchiha Clan?"
Sakura's brain may have made an actual sound as it fizzled and snapped. "Ino – I think I'm engaged."
Ino's big blue eyes went wide, and a few hand signals later she'd transported them to her apartment. "Tell me everything. Now. Start with who you are engaged to and how. Because I thought you were still having your fling with Itachi."
Sakura opened and closed her mouth and finally just shut it, staring at her long time friend. Ino frowned at her, blue eyes narrowing before her eyes went wide.
"Wait... are you saying that you're engaged to Itachi?"
Sakura swallowed. "I think so."
"You think?" Ino flung her hands out, her eyes even larger than they had been moments before. Sakura was taken momentarily aback at the similarity to Naruto in the gesture. "How do you think you are engaged to Itachi of all people? What even gives you the idea?"
Sakura ran her fingers through her hair. "We went on a mission together."
One shapely brow crept upwards and Sakura hastily continued. "Before the mission... we had a discussion. On the monument. About us. What... the expectations were."
Ino frowned at her. "Only you would use a mission as an excuse for a discussion."
Sakura ignored her. "He... he said he wanted everything."
A wrinkle formed between Ino's brows. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? For a shinobi with his qualities, that's a pick up line that is seriously lacking."
"I don't think he was referring to sex, Ino."
"Why in kami's name not?"
"Because... because I asked him. What he meant and how long." Sakura took a deep breath. "He said always, Ino. Always. So I told him the truth. I told him that I wouldn't be his mistress and that I wouldn't have anything to do with a clan. Why I don't like clans. And he... he asked if that was the only thing holding me back."
When Ino finally spoke, her words were carefully measured. "Forehead... what business is happening within the Uchiha Clan that Tsunade-sama called Itachi in for a crack of dawn meeting this morning?"
"Itachi gave up his position of heir – he is now autonomous within the clan."
"Bloody fucking hells." Ino breathed. She sank down on the couch behind her, eyes slightly dazed as she processed the information. "That's... that's..."
Sakura planted her face in hands. "Sasuke is heir. Itachi used him and how I'm engaged to him... and I..."
"I cannot believe that he goes for pink hair and huge foreheads!" Ino burst out, overriding the uncertainty in Sakura's voice. "He dumped the clan for you! How does that work?"
Sakura's head snapped up. "What?"
Ino was on her feet and pointing. "You! This is just ridiculous! You somehow manage to not only get the single best catch in the village, but you managed to talk him into getting rid of most of his baggage! Voluntarily! Without anyone dying! In the process, you set your best friend/teammate up to be able to completely smack the rest of his clan around, deal with his father on even footing and somehow, somehow you do this with that giant forehead! Don't even get me started on how this is going to affect the politics in the village when it comes time for Tsunade-sama to step down! Why are you sulking?"
Sakura sat there stunned. A loud lecture on the nature of the benefits and unfairness of this situation was the last thing she expected and Ino had a point – but Sasuke… but, yes, well, this would work out for the better for him and she and Naruto would have his back so Fugaku wouldn't dare – but Itachi had used Sasuke to get what he wanted and – in doing so, given Sasuke exactly what he always wanted.
Maybe… maybe it hadn't been something horrible. Or maybe it had been and that was okay, it didn't matter, because in the end… in the end Sasuke would see this was just giving him room to step out from behind Itachi's shadow, that as heir he could set his own rules and make them abide by it. And Naruto… what would this mean for him when he became Hokage? He'd have the Uchihas' support and…
Itachi would make a horrifying clan head anyway. He'd never cared about the clan, he's never cared about anything other than pushing his own potential and those few, few people he'd chosen to take into his care.
And he'd chosen her.
Sakura blinked up at Ino. "Ino. I'm engaged." A slow smile spread her lips, a happy giddy feeling cresting the wave of her uncertainty. Engaged. To Itachi. If she was right…
"Yes." Ino's lips pursed in an attempt to hide the twitch of a smile in the corners of her mouth. "So you've said. Although I still don't see the attraction for pink hair. I can't figure out what is more ridiculous – that you managed to catch Itachi or the fact that he went and rearranged his entire clan to do it."
Sakura's smile widened. "He did, didn't he?"
"It's disgustingly romantic and not something I would have given that particular ANBU credit for. It's unfair, Sakura. You weren't even trying." Ino threw up her hands and flopped back onto the couch, losing the fight with her own smile. "Can you just imagine Fugaku's expression?"
Sakura blinked. "Shit."
"Can you imagine Fugaku's reaction?"
"I'm sure..." Ino paused. "Oh."
"He doesn't think Sasuke is strong enough to be heir. He..." Sakura swallowed. "What do you think Itachi did?"
Ino paused. "I'm pretty sure I don't actually want to know."
Sakura bit her lip. There was no way the clan would have let Itachi go without some sort of resistance but... "I'll see you later Ino!"
Ino blinked as she suddenly found herself alone. She narrowed her eyes. This conversation was far from over. There was a lot of information Sakura had clearly left out – what the hell had led up to that conversation on the monument? When had she finally jumped Itachi's bones? And most importantly, what kind of damage was going to be appropriate if this turned out to be one giant Uchiha mind fuck?
The meeting with the Hokage had gone as well as could be expected. Fugaku was limited in what he could say; by agreeing to Itachi's terms, he had tied his own hands. This entire matter neatly fell into the overall jurisdiction of the Uchiha Clan, which left Tsunade very little to work with. Other than her firm discussion on how this did not lower expectations for his duties to the village, in fact, it would possibly increase them; she had been surprisingly docile about the entire affair. Itachi wondered if she saw through his mechanisms and realized the whys as well as the hows – she'd had that disturbing glint in her eye towards the end, like when she'd told him Sakura was practicing with Lee…
The genjutsu was elaborate and it settled over him like a weightless net. It took him half a step before he managed to realize the edges of it and another handful of heartbeats before he had cut through the strings of it. The room was small, painted an ugly shade of green and sharingan bright when the last of twisted landscape faded from view.
And his ka-chan stood between him and the door, hands folded together – gaze pinwheel bright.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, the eight-year-old who had watched his ka-chan threaten his oto-san with a spoon gulped. He had never had his mother's gaze trained on him in such a fashion before, and Mikoto's tightly leashed fury was easily discernible in the lethal fluidity of her posture. Itachi was not frightened, but he didn't mind admitting to himself that the ambush left him the slightest bit… nervous. The fact that the excitement he should feel at being faced with anything like a challenge was conspicuously absent was cause for concern; even more so because it was replaced with the uncomfortable feeling of a boy who'd been caught sneaking dango before supper.
"Ka-chan," he acknowledged, pleased with the modulation of his voice. "Your genjutsu was—"
"Don't." His mother's eyes narrowed dangerously. Itachi got the message: his mother was not in the mood to be placated by one of his rare compliments. "You and I have a few items we will discuss. I am exceedingly disappointed in you, Itachi. You haven't even checked the room for traps."
Itachi's nostrils flared in surprise and as his gaze flickered into the first stage of the sharingan, Itachi found himself on the unfamiliar footing of being caught off guard as his mother continued.
"I have had all day to prepare this room for our little chat, Itachi. You are an exceptional shinobi, but with proper planning and the element of surprise, even an exceptional shinobi can be eliminated by a very, very good one. I am very, very good. As are many others in our clan. Do you think that they have forgotten you standing in front of them and threatening to eliminate them? Do you think they are willing to let that threat stand? Because of your insistence of doing this on your own and doing it immediately, you have painted on yourself a target for assassination! Instead of achieving your goal through careful planning and incorporating your allies into it, you have made enemies of your entire clan! This was foolish, and sloppy, and I sincerely hope she was worth it."
Itachi considered both his ka-chan's stance and what little expression she was allowing to show under the disappointment and rage. He had expected a reaction from her, and he wasn't so caught up in his own strength not to acknowledge his surprise. She was challenging not only his maneuverings within the clan but making it absolutely clear that she knew why he'd done it. Sakura. And his mother challenging his justification that she had been worth the very real threat he had laid at Fugaku's feet.
And by structuring her displeasure in such a way, by catching his attention with her genjutsu and the possibility of traps, she had ensured that she had his undivided attention. It wasn't so much that his mother was worried about assassinations – a probability he had considered, planned for, and discarded – but that he had failed to come to her with this before the meeting with the council. In his maneuverings, he had managed to upset his ka-chan. Her display was a reminder that he was not invulnerable and that should she chose, Uchiha Mikoto was a very real threat.
With great deliberation, he let the sharingan die in his eyes.
"Then let me make one thing perfectly clear." Mikoto met his gaze fearlessly, her eyes stern and hard. "You are not keeping me from my grandchildren."
Itachi knew better than to laugh. "Of course not. Who else would I trust to babysit them?"
"Then we understand each other."
Itachi tilted his head. "We do."
Mikoto nodded and the motioned with her hand for him to follow her out of the room. He strode to her side and opened the door. As she left, he studied the angle of her face.
Itachi paused. Mikoto arched a brow at him in faint puzzlement while her dark eyes held the faintest spark of amusement.
Mikoto laughed, the sound surprisingly open in the pale hallways of the tower. "Itachi. As if I'd put traps like that in Hokage tower! I'm only prepared to owe Tsunade so much."
Sakura did not immediately seek out Itachi after her conversation with Ino. She had a lot to think about and Pig had given her even more. Sasuke wasn't a child the clan could manipulate and intimidate into doing whatever they wanted anymore; even if they didn't know it, and with her and Naruto's backing… it would be good for the clan, good for Naruto and good for Konoha.
Could she really be upset with him using Sasuke if it was to his own benefit?
…no. They were shinobi. They were all tools of the village. And yes. They were family. They shouldn't have to play these kinds of games.
…but on the other hand, this was Uchiha Itachi she was talking about. She couldn't expect anything less than games. Uchiha Itachi who had, apparently, set his mind to remove every impediment for their… permanent exclusivity.
Married. She would be married. If she said yes. She wanted him. Last night had only increased that desire. She wanted to learn every part of him, seek out the spots that made him moan; memorize a map of his body with her fingertips and mouth. And… she wanted to be known by him as well.
But he was dangerous. He was so, so dangerous. And he probably would never be entirely sane.
That shouldn't excite her so much.
Sanity was clearly overrated.
Mind made up, Sakura paid her bill – as thinking this over had clearly called for a cup of sake –
and made her way back to Itachi's home. First, they would have to talk. Then, if what he had to say matched up with what she thought were his reasons… he'd have to ask. He wasn't going to get away with declaring that she was his as if they were in the protolithic era.
Then… Sakura smiled at the thought of what would come next, eyes lighting with anticipation, her heart too eager to betray her by increasing its rhythm. But first, she had to wait for him to return. She thought about seeking him out, but quickly discarded the idea, preferring privacy for their upcoming discussion.
It didn't take her long to make her way back – even using the transportation jutsu to and from; she had a pretty good lock on where the house sat. It had been automatic to check the skyline for the Hokage tower and the do a quick scan for shadows to use the sun as her second focus point. Still, even with knowledge of the general location, if not for the key to the genjutsu and her perfect chakra control, she wouldn't have been able to relocate his home. Traveling the way she had, she had been able to see how far from the house the first tendrils of the jutsu had started. It was both terrifying and fascinating to see just how much control he had – she had to bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling as she reconfirmed how much effort he put into his privacy.
And how far he had let her in.
Entering the house, she immediately knew by the sounds in the kitchen that she didn't have to wait long. In fact – not at all. Suddenly and obscurely nervous, she took the time to smooth down her hair before entering the kitchen. The sudden domestic feel to the situation struck and she didn't know whether to be amazed (Itachi, domestic) or slightly terrified. But this wasn't the first time he had cooked for her and Sakura didn't back down.
Even when her heart beating staccato in her throat.
Which might have explained the funny hitch in her breathing when she walked in to find Itachi molding a handful of rice, a plate of white balls not-yet wrapped in nori and something simmering on the stove. She paused in the doorway and watched him and he arched a dark brow at her.
"Rice balls?" She refused to be embarrassed by how delighted she sounded at having them twice in one day.
"You already ate them all." It was a statement and a question and she grinned.
"I was hungry."
"Hmmmm," Dark eyes sparked for a moment and somehow he managed to make the noise hungry as he reached out and start to work another rice ball into shape, gaze intent. Sakura lowered her eyes to watch those long fingers against the rice for a moment before she moved to sprawl against counter. Glancing up from her lashes, she watched his gaze narrow before she reached out and snitched a rice ball, popping it into her mouth.
The edge of her mouth lifted as she fought her smile at the way he managed to convey his amusement and disapproval before she sat on the stool next to her. Bracing her chin on her palm, she glanced over at the stove before turning her attention back to him.
"I ran into Naruto and Sasuke. Or rather, they were waiting on me when I finally made it home."
The barest quirk of an eyebrow was his only response. Aggravating man. Sakura saw that he wasn't going to make this easy on her and was abruptly… emboldened by this. She didn't need him to make it easy on her. "They told me what you did."
His face became studiously impassive.
"Itachi." She said his name and – if she hadn't had all of his attention before, she felt it now, sizzling on the end of her skin like static. "Why did you leave me to hear that from Sasuke?"
"I did not anticipate them camping in your living room like children." Itachi's eyes warmed infinitesimally. "I was… preoccupied."
Sakura bit her lip and admitted he was right. There had been no reason for Itachi to plan for Naruto and Sasuke using her living room as a makeshift hospital; hell, she hadn't anticipated it. Especially since they knew better! Since she had already realized he hadn't left on his own accord, she decided she could let him off the hook for not telling her immediately. Still.
Tilting her head, she kept her eyes on his. "There isn't anything stopping you from telling me now."
Itachi was perfectly still, his eyes darkening for a moment before he gave a barely perceptible nod. Sakura watched him, waiting to see if he would explain himself to her. He'd never come out and explained when he could lead her to the answer, but she needed to know if he would. If he would risk her rejection.
"The Uchiha Clan agreed to my… request for autonomy." His tone was utterly mild but the small hairs on the back of her neck rose anyway at the inflection at the word 'request.' "Doing so has placed Sasuke in the position of Heir."
She hardly had a chance to sort through her feelings on that, when he blinked, and the pinwheels of the sharingan twisted through the darkness of his eyes. "Does anything else hold you back now, Sakura?"
Sakura bit her lip. It was one thing entirely to reason out that he had done this for her, for her, for the… possessing of her, so that nothing would hold her back, but it was entirely another to have him confirm it. Her breath caught in her throat, eyes dilated. She was standing in Uchiha Itachi's kitchen and he was telling her that he had negotiated a way past all her reasons to reject him. He'd gone beyond telling her that he wanted to learn her, beyond telling her that he wanted her, he'd shown her the depths of his desire for her last night and now he was revealing just how much he wanted her to stay and be his alone. He was telling her that he wanted to marry her.
She narrowed her eyes at that thought. At least – she assumed he wanted to marry her. Crossing her arms, she managed to ready herself for battle instead of just – leaning in, reaching out, touching – "There is one more thing."
His eyes narrowed at the corners. "And that is?"
Sakura frowned at him. "You haven't asked."
Itachi appeared as close to poleaxed that she'd ever seen, in that he went absolutely still at the slightest pucker appeared on his usually smooth forehead and the sharingan faded from his eyes. Sakura tilted her head to the side, considering. She really didn't think she was asking for too much.
…but when his silence dragged on a few, torturous heartbeats, her gaze hardened. "I am not entering into this relationship on an assumption, Uchiha-san."
'You've wormed your way far too deep into my heart for that. All my cards are on the table, Itachi. You did this. You escalated this – moving the pieces around so there would be 'no impediment.' And now it's all or nothing.'
Itachi lowered his lashes and studied the set to Sakura's mouth and the stubborn, determined look in her all-too expressive eyes and considered. It was an expression similar to the challenge she had given him on the monument those few weeks ago; nearly the same as that first sparing session when she had broken his rib. She wasn't backing down. She wanted him to lay his plans at her feet, to explain them – to have the right to accept or reject all that he had done.
Challenging him on his intentions – the same way she had challenged his methods on their mission. She had made it clear that she would be treated like an equal partner then, 'don't make the mistake of treating me like a toy,' and he found himself frustrated and grudgingly accepting.
He'd made his choice. Proved it. He'd caught that brilliant glimpse of acceptance behind her eyes as that sharp, exquisitely controlled mind had understood what he had been telling her. As she realized exactly why he had done what he had. But even knowing his motivations, taking all the pieces he had let her collect – she still wanted to hear it.
Impossible, infuriating woman. Something sparked and heated in his gaze at the way she demanded respect, made him prove himself worthy… and he had, and he would. For her, only her, he would explain himself.
And when he was done, she would be so completely his that any memory of any previous loyalty, any other affection, and any other lover would be so completely burned from her mind that all she would see, all she would breathe, all she would know was himself. He had accepted her previous entanglements, made her loyalties his own, acknowledged her weaknesses as his… and now in return she would return his fascination, his desire – even his possession. He would see to it.
Slowly, so slowly, Itachi wiped his hands clean of the rice he'd been forming, watching Sakura the whole time, gaze greedily noting the way she swallowed before stalking towards her on silent feet. He stopped just short of her, where each breath of her body brushed his and he breathed in, his eyes dilating in return as a wealth of last night's memories flooded his mind in response to her scent, to the way her green eyes had taken on an almost-glazed, almost-too-aware look while continuing to meet his. Itachi felt himself begin to respond to her, and welcomed it.
He reached out with the very tips of his fingers, placing one hand on her neck in a caressing motion before those fingers slipped around to brace the back of her neck. His other hand reached out to smooth a strand of pink away from her face and – drawn by a curious impulse – he lifted it up to his lips and kissed it. Itachi felt her gaze follow the movement, hid his satisfaction at how wide her eyes became, the way her mouth dropped open just enough to soften her lips.
He wouldn't need anything more. Just this slight touch – it was enough. She was his, and he exulted in it. "Marry me, Sakura." He dropped the strand, reached out for her anyway, that hand easing her hair away from her face before tilting her face just so – and he bent down, holding her gaze, and breathed against her lips. "Marry me."
Those heartbeats felt like years, but he did not move forward when she spoke – in fact his sharingan switched on almost of its own accord. He wanted to remember every inflection, every play of light and emotion on her face when she breathed out, "Yes."
Triumph was heady as it rushed through him – triumph and a rush of heat that burned through his veins with an unexpected potency. Slowly, willing to savor instead of take, he brushed his lips against hers, wanting to taste her acceptance, to feel her willingness. Instead, she rose up on her toes and pressed against him, fingers sliding into his hair before dragging sharply down the back of his neck.
Sakura couldn't get close enough – even with Itachi's hands buried near-painfully in her hair and their mouths pressing hard enough to bruise. Pulling back for a deep lungful of air, she ran her hands down his spine and digging into the firm muscles of his lower back, she put just enough chakra into her movements so that when she shifted forward he staggered backwards with her. She heard his sharply drawn breath – felt the way his muscles coiled – and rose up on her toes to press against the firm line of jaw when he hit the curved edge of the two counters. The sudden barrier gave her leverage and she pressed herself eagerly along the front of him, pushing her hands under his shirt to feel the smooth skin of his sides.
The glittering of the sharingan as he parted his lashes was the only warning she had before he leaned down and caught her lower lip between his teeth and tugged before curling his hands along her hips and lifting her off her heels. Gasping, she dug her fingers into his sides as he spun her suddenly, settling her on the edge of the counter and stepping in-between her legs, hooking one arm around her waist before the other returned to her hair – pulling her hips closer while he lowered his mouth to hers and took.
Sakura wrapped her legs around his waist eagerly in response, working on ridding him of that shirt. She made an impatient noise against his mouth when he refused to move back to accommodate her, and the shirt became a casualty of war. Then – of course then – the impossible man shifted, tracing hot kisses down the side of her neck while the hand not occupied with angling her head by her hair cupped her ass to move her closer, shifting her over himself just so – and Sakura gasped, arched her back, and pushed further into him.
The warmth of his skin was heady – it was hard to think, hard to breathe like this – and she wanted her own shirt gone. Wanted to press against that heat without the thin barrier between them. Tugging on his hair, she rolled her hips into his and smiled at the hiss of breath that escaped him. She leaned back, using his palm to steady her and spoke between short, panting breaths.
"Too. Many. Clothes."
He made a rumbling noise of agreement low in his throat and she shivered as he fisted his hand in the back of her shirt and tug it up, working to remove it without actually letting go of her. Locking her legs behind his waist, she angled her head to meet that sharp, hungry gaze and, knowing the reaction it would get, deliberately pressed the palms of her hands below his collarbones before dragging them down the line of his sternum and digging her nails lightly into the tight muscles of his abdomen.
He jerked her back to his mouth with a hungry noise that made her skin break out in Goosebumps and she gasped at the sudden, purposeful wandering of his hands. The rest of their clothes quickly disappeared in a flurry of ripped fabric and all that was left was the hot rush of skin and touch.
Sometime the next day, Sakura found herself once again searching for her teammates. There were a few things that needed straightening out, and she was determined that they wouldn't have to hear it second-hand. Of course, she got a later start than she wanted thanks to wandering hands and intense eyes and so, of course, she missed their morning practice session. But that meant she could find them at the ramen stand, and find them she did.
"Finally decided to show up, eh?" Naruto slurped his ramen loudly.
Sasuke's dark eyes flicked up and over her, assessing. She met his look unashamed, even if she was uncomfortably aware of what he'd find there and – brother. Awkward.
Indeed, Sasuke looked faintly ill and pushed his ramen bowl slightly away.
Her eyes narrowed. Screw that. He'd just have to get used to it. She moved to sit down at the end, blocking their escape.
"Good morning to you too!" She said, refusing to let Naruto and Sasuke ruin the giddy bubble she'd been in for the last… hours. However many hours. "How was practice?"
Naruto held up his finger. "Ah ah, you know the rules. You sit, you eat."
Sakura wondered if it was possible to die from sodium overdose and why Naruto hadn't managed it yet. Smiling sweetly, she waved over at Ayumi and mouthed her order before turning to give Naruto a dirty look. Treating her like she'd never been there before.
"Don't make me hit you."
Sasuke glanced at her and Sakura blinked when he turned back to the ramen in front of him and took a careful, precise bite. Eyes narrowing – Sasuke was one of the many reasons why there was at least one option besides ramen each day on the menu – she leaned forward and pressed her elbow on the counter to spin her stool so she was facing her teammates.
"The reason why Itachi became autonomous from the clan was because I told him I would never marry into it."
Sasuke choked on his ramen. Naruto's eyes widened comically and he began enthusiastically pounding Sasuke on the back. Sakura leaned back slightly, watching both of them. So much for tact and careful planning. Now that she'd started she'd have to keep going. She waited just long enough for whatever lodged in Sasuke's throat to become disengaged – he'd need all the air possible going to his brain.
"We're engaged. I know you're upset with the way that—"
That was Naruto, and Sakura winced. She was pretty sure Gaara heard that over in Suna. She looked from him, to Sasuke, whose posture was very, very tense… and who appeared to be coiling chakra.
She slammed a hand down on the table, rattling their dishes. "You heard me – I'm getting married. Sasuke's going to be the best man, so Naruto that leaves you to be the maid of honor – and you're going to be happy for me, because I am happy."
Naruto gaped at her and the chakra went out in barely a flicker. Sasuke looked like she had sucker-punched him but Naruto's eyes were starting to burn and she was pretty sure his hair was standing completely on end.
"Like hell I'm going to be the bridesmaid!"
Sakura allowed a tiny smirk to curl her lips. "Just think of Ino and the glee she's going to get picking out your dress."
Naruto spluttered, hand going to fist in his hair. "Are you crazy! She'll kill me. Are you insane? Sasuke is the pretty one. Make him wear the dress."
Sasuke had his eyes squeezed shut in that familiar, pained expression that said he was trying to pretend that the entire situation wasn't happening. Since Naruto was still fumbling with his words, Sakura took a deep breath and reached over and touched his hand. His eyes snapped open.
"Sasuke? He did this for you too, you know."
Something infinitesimal eased about his shoulders, and Sakura took that as her cue to move forward. It wasn't as if Itachi had said any of this, but Sakura had first-hand experience now as to how he manipulated all factors to care for the people he called his own. Sasuke had always been too close to see it. But if she could open his eyes… " Why do you think he's been pushing you to stand on your own? Why do you think he left them no other option but you? They could have elected one of your cousins. But - no, he made sure that it was you. How many times have you raged against your father, but been unable to do anything about it? Now you can."
Her voice was low, buried under Naruto's swearing and she had to bite her lip to hide her smile at the way his eyes widened at the edges. She let him consider that for a moment, saw him loosen just a fraction as he finally recognized what she'd needed Ino to point out.
She shifted forward, using her hair to hide her next words from everyone but Sasuke. "Think about how many blocks he has now removed from Naruto becoming Hokage."
Sasuke blinked and frowned but before he could say anything – there was so little they could actually say about this here – Naruto suddenly made a deep, frustrated noise. His hands were still buried in his hair and he was staring at them with wide, betrayed blue eyes.
"Wait, wait, wait! Sakura is marrying Itachi. Itachi is your brother. You actually get Sakura as a sister! How is that fair?"
There was a moment of silence and Sakura's shoulders slumped with relief – if that was his only objection then everything would be all right.
And then Sasuke smirked. "But you get to be the maid of honor."
When we started this story, in our delusion, we figured we'd wrap it up in somewhere around 10 chapters. All we really wanted to do was write something that show cased a realistic piece about Sakura/Itachi without taking away the awesome that is Time-Skip-Sakura or making Itachi nice. Or completely unfeeling. Or some random version of shinobi/bloodlustingvampire. (You get the picture.)
Little did we know! 25 chapters and roughly 360 pages later, we've completed Way of the Wind. The main story bulk is finished. However, in our many and extensive plot conversations involving this little AU-Spin Off, we had to do a lot of work on the cannon. This eventually led to conversations about post-story cannon so that we knew what we were building towards even if we didn't manage to put it in here.
And some of those conversations have eaten our brains. So even though this story is finished, there are a series of one-shots that will probably be written and posted separately to continue a few of our plot points. So keep your eyes open for those in the future!
And even as we have been on a great journey together - we've sincerely appreciated every review, every bit of fanart, and all the fun times we've had. Honestly, we started this as a lark - and never anticipated the result we received. So thank you so, so much for your fantastic reviews and honest appreciate – it's meant the world.