(What can I say? I'm weak.)
I can't believe I finished this monster. Thanks to all the encouraging little peoples: allurement, ANGELforSHOW, smakn, and especially HPBabe91. I know this is freakishly long, but I hope you guys enjoy it. :) It only took me a million years to finish.
The Course of True Love
"When I grow up," nine-year-old Tenten said very matter-of-factly, "I'm going to marry Neji."
The group of girls surrounding her murmured appreciatively amongst themselves. Tenten shrugged modestly, smiled a bit, and sat down next to Hinata, to whom she added, "But don't tell him yet; it'll be a surprise."
Hinata ducked her head, nodding shyly.
Ino stood up then, and immediately everyone fell silent. She tossed back her blonde hair, put a hand on her hip, and announced, "That's nothing. I am going to marry Sasuke-kun."
Immediately, the entire group burst into conversation. Some were amazed at Ino's daring. More were angry at her assumption that she would be the one to marry the Uchiha Sasuke.
Haruno Sakura, Ino's best friend, sat quietly beside her, watching all of this with mild interest. It was only when the group finally sat down, some of them shooting glares at each other, that the others noticed her.
"What about you, Sakura?" Ino asked, eager to divert attention from herself – for once. "You interested in Shikamaru? I could introduce you."
Sakura smiled. "No, I don't like Shikamaru. Or Sasuke, or Neji, or any of those boys," she added evasively.
Ino was impatient at the best of times. Now, she was practically foaming at the mouth. "Spit it out, Sakura. Who do you like, then?"
Sakura cupped her chin in her palms, elbows on her knees, and looked up at the clear blue sky. Full clouds floated lazily, and the sun was bearing down on them. She and her friends were sitting under the shade of a cluster of trees, sipping comfortably at some cold lemonade Ino had brought for them to share.
"I like someone older, someone really strong," Sakura began. She looked at her friends. Their gazes were fixed on her. "He's really smart. He's my hero!"
She smiled brilliantly; a smile unlike those the normally introverted girl was used to sporting.
"When I grow up, I'm going to marry Uchiha Itachi!"
Being put on a team with Sasuke was, Sakura decided, the best thing that could have happened to her. It was no secret that the boy worshipped his older brother after all, and with a few well-placed comments, Sakura could finally get the chance to meet and speak face-to-face with he-who-she-would-someday-marry, Uchiha Itachi.
So it was on a day when she, Sasuke, and Naruto were waiting for Kakashi-sensei that she finally spoke up.
"It sucks that we got stuck with such an unprofessional teacher." She sighed, shook her head, snuck a glance at Sasuke. He was listening. "How are we ever supposed to improve?"
Naruto, always eager to join in, exclaimed, "I know! Kakashi-sensei's a pervert!"
"And always late," she added.
"And an idiot," Naruto said. "If only we had someone different…"
Sakura smiled to herself. "But I guess he is basically one of the best shinobi in Konoha…"
"He's not so great," Sasuke said offhandedly.
"You think you could take him?" Naruto sneered. "You couldn't even handle me!"
Sasuke ignored him and continued, to Sakura, "My brother could defeat him easily," as if daring her to argue otherwise. Normally, Sakura wouldn't dream of it, but this time…
Well. Drastic times called for drastic measures.
"Could he?" Sakura asked, looking down at her nails disinterestedly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sasuke bristle. Hmm. She was better at this manipulating thing than she thought.
"Have you ever met my brother?" Sasuke demanded.
Yes. "No, I haven't," she lied. "Is he any good?"
"Everyone's better than Sasuke, Sakura-chan," Naruto informed her. She smiled appreciatively at this, and that was all it took for Sasuke to turn on his heel and stalk away, snapping over his shoulder, "Come with me; you can meet him."
Sakura resisted the urge to jump for joy.
Itachi looked up from where he sat under the trees at his favorite training grounds. He was reading over some scrolls before he began his training for the day – or at least, that was the plan, before he saw his little brother and his teammates heading towards him.
"What is it, Sasuke?" he asked, turning back to his scrolls. He noticed his brother deflate, if only slightly, at his apparent brush-off. That was to be expected. What wasn't, however, was the pink-haired girl behind him doing the same.
"Could you…" Sasuke paused. Itachi had no time to teach them, but how else would he show his teammates how strong he was?
"Could you fight me?" Sakura asked suddenly.
Everyone turned to her. Naruto's jaw had dropped, and he was looking fearful. Itachi looked up impassively, but Sasuke knew he must have been as curious as he himself was. After all, Sasuke couldn't have been the only one to hear the eagerness in Sakura's voice. And Sakura wasn't really a fighter…
Itachi stood up, and Sasuke raised his eyebrows in disbelief. Surely he wasn't going to accept?
"Why?" Sakura demanded.
Itachi looked at her. "You're too weak. I could snap you in half if I wished." He pulled out a kunai, noting how Sakura's eyes lit up, even while her mouth was twisted in an outraged scowl. "Get stronger first."
Then his arm shot out, the kunai flew behind him, and landed right in the center of the target – the one that had been behind Sakura's head only moments before.
Naruto looked shocked. "You… you…" he sputtered. "You're crazy!"
Sasuke looked perturbed. "Aniki, if she hadn't moved…" Ah. So Sasuke did care.
But Sakura, instead of looking appalled, looked ecstatic. "So if I train harder, you'll fight me?" she asked. She didn't seem to even care that she was sprawled on the ground.
Itachi shrugged lightly. "Shouldn't you three be getting back to training?"
It was only when he was packing up his things at the end of the day, that Itachi noticed his first kunai was missing. He smirked at the empty target.
Itachi moved silently but quickly through the shadows, aiming for the dark figure headed for his house. More specifically, Sasuke's window.
Whoever it was moved stealthily enough, but not so much that he hadn't seen, coming back after an assassination mission. He didn't want to raise a ruckus and disturb the entire clan, so he didn't stop the intruder at once with a shuriken, instead deciding to take them out with his bare hands.
The intruder slowed, stumbled, and as they lifted their head to look up at Sasuke's window, Itachi saw a flash in the moonlight, of pink hair.
Sakura, Sasuke's teammate, was fond of lurking around their house at all times. Then again, many girls were, but she was the only one Sasuke didn't tell off, so she kept coming back. Itachi saw her many times, but he didn't usually bother with her. She was usually here in broad daylight, and he had no reason to be suspicious of her then.
He had caught up to her by now, but rather than turning to go to bed, he deliberately made his steps heavier so she turned with a gasp and wide eyes, to stare at him.
Immediately she turned bright red.
Itachi stared at her expectantly. Why was she here? Why was she sneaking around in the middle of the night like a criminal? Why did she—
Why did she look like a child in a candy store?
Itachi's gaze turned wary. He hadn't had many interactions with the girl, but she was clearly mentally unstable. She had mood swings. She was violent. Worst of all, she was a teenage girl, with all that implied.
"I was here for Sasuke," she admitted. "I was going to take him and Naruto on a midnight picnic."
Itachi had nothing to say to that.
On one hand, it was such a ridiculous idea, he was almost tempted to laugh. On the other hand, it was such an innocent idea, and he was glad that, if nothing else, Sasuke had friends who wanted him to act his age.
"Then where is the food?" he asked, one eyebrow raised almost imperceptibly.
Sakura smiled suddenly, a brief flash of teeth that lit up her entire face. Something about that smile immediately put Itachi on his guard.
"It's a little ways off, by the river." She paused. "If you don't believe me, you can go see for yourself."
Itachi was ready to refuse, point-blank. No Uchiha had to worry about a scrawny little girl—
"But you can trust me," Sakura went on earnestly. "I outgrew my fangirl phase days ago."
That made him pause.
"And it's just some food. And Naruto will be there! Maybe."
Sasuke – and every other good-looking Uchiha (i.e., all of them) – was terrified of fangirls. The ones in Konoha had always been exceptionally rabid. Itachi found it just a bit ridiculous, but…
He eyed Sakura. Wasn't she the one training under the Godaime? She may have inherited her teacher's strength. Could Sasuke hold up against that?
Itachi frowned inwardly at himself. He was being ridiculous. Itachi was never ridiculous.
"I will check," he said finally, turning to go. Sakura nodded a little too eagerly, turning back to Sasuke's window. Her lips were still curved into that smile Itachi didn't like.
"And you will come with me," he added.
Sakura seemed surprised, but with a hesitant glance up at Sasuke's window, she nodded, stepping forward to lead Itachi up into the trees.
Sakura moved much slower than Itachi was used to. It wasn't even that she was younger and less experienced than him, and so unused to speeding through the trees. It was more that she just didn't seem to be in a hurry.
Itachi was impatient, but he didn't let on that he wanted to return to his home as soon as possible. He attempted to prod Sakura into moving faster, but she remained happily oblivious to his actions, going so far as to try and engage him in conversation.
"So, Itachi—" She was being very familiar, Itachi noted. "Did you just come back from a mission?"
"Sasuke says that a lot," Sakura observed. "Do you need any healing? I've been learning from Tsunade-shishou."
Itachi suppressed a weary sigh, but answered all the same. He was an Uchiha, after all; he had a reputation to uphold. "No, I'm fine."
"Oh." Sakura looked vaguely put-out. Then she brightened. "I've been training hard under her, though. Will you fight with me?"
Itachi didn't answer at first, merely looking her over lazily. "Why are you so eager to fight me?"
Sakura stopped, one foot already off the branch, and looked over her shoulder at him, suddenly serious. "I want to improve myself." Then she smiled. "After all, a girl needs to know how to protect herself, doesn't she?" she said meaningfully.
The words registered faintly in Itachi's mind, unlocking a memory long since forgotten. Sakura took off again, faster now, but Itachi stood still for a moment, trying to remember.
Love At First Sight
"Itachi!" His teammate, Kei, was looking quite alarmed. Busily fending off a pack of rain-nin, he could only point to where the carriage had overturned and a little bundle of white cloth was trying to go unnoticed. "Get the girl!"
One of the members of the enemy gang had found her, and he loomed over her, large and vicious. He picked her up with one scarred hand, and she screamed.
Itachi virtually sliced his way through the two he was fighting, leapt over fallen bodies, and aimed a well-placed hit to the back of the enemy's head. He crumpled, unconscious before he hit the floor, and the girl dropped into Itachi's arms.
She was small for her age, which Itachi could only presume to be around his brother's five years. Large green eyes peered up at him from behind a pink fringe. Unusual.
The girl was the treasured daughter of a wealthy businessman from Konoha, who was sending her back home to Konoha to stay with his wife. Itachi had been on an escort mission to retrieve the very defenseless target.
Kei and Hikari finished off the last few nin easily enough, and they all gathered around the girl, Sakura.
"Aw, she looks terrified…" Hikari murmured, reaching for the girl. She shied away from Hikari's hands, further into Itachi's arms. She hadn't torn her green gaze from Itachi's face, and he was starting to feel uncomfortable.
"Thanks," she whispered to him, expression one of awe.
"A regular knight in shining armor, aren't you?" Kei snickered. Itachi grunted, looking down at Sakura. she was going to be a target as long as she lived. Some people would do anything for money.
"A girl needs to know how to protect herself," he told her when he was helping her back into the carriage.
Then he shut the door on her surprised face.
Tokens of Affection
Sakura had never been very big on Valentine's Day. Sasuke always got heaps of chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals on it, and, not being a fan of sweets, pretty things, or fluff, he always handed them off to his teammates. She treated her teammates to dinner, and that was about it.
She had debated, year after year, whether to give Itachi something, but if he was anything like his brother, he wasn't very fond of Valentine's Day gifts.
But they had slowly become somewhat more comfortable with each other. Having spent so many years with Sasuke, Sakura had become well-versed in the ways of the Uchiha, and she knew her limits when it came to Itachi. For his part, Itachi must have remembered their first meeting, and maybe that was why he was less than distant around her.
They weren't best friends by any means, but she could now greet him easily when they ran into each other (rare as it was) and receive a reply.
And that was reason enough to give him a present. Unfortunately, she didn't know what to give. This would take some thought.
Some thought… and Sasuke.
"It's almost Valentine's Day!" Sakura squealed one day when the three of them met by the bridge for training. Naruto cheered right along with her, but Sasuke looked irritated by the mere thought.
"Can you hint that you like chocolate with nuts?" Naruto asked eagerly. "Those are my favorites."
"Yum. And some carnations, too?" Sakura added. Sasuke glared at the two of them.
"No way in hell."
Sakura pouted. "You're no fun. Don't you like any presents?"
Sasuke paused thoughtfully. "Tomatoes. And fangirls dropping into pits."
Naruto made a face. "This guy's a twisted freak, Sakura-chan."
"You said it, Naruto." She rolled her eyes, leaning against the railing with a sigh. "Uchiha boys are the most popular, yet they don't like anything. I mean, there has to be some present they would like…"
Naruto laughed. "What, hoping to make some easy money on Valentine's Day, Sakura?"
"That's not a bad idea," she mused. "So, c'mon, Sasuke, tell me and I'll give you twenty percent of my sales."
Sasuke just looked at her, hardly impressed. Sakura wondered if he could see through her plan.
Eventually the subject was dropped, Kakashi arrived, and the rest of the afternoon was spent training. Sakura was mulling over how she could bring up the subject again when Sasuke, passing by her on the way home, muttered, "My brother likes to read."
And then, clearly embarrassed, he disappeared, leaving Sakura to beam after him.
Valentine's Day dawned bright and early, and Itachi was showered with gifts and shy confessions. Being so much more intimidating than his little brother, Itachi didn't receive nearly as many gifts, but he had no problem with that.
He calmly accepted everything that came his way, with a polite Uchiha "Thank you," and nothing more. At least, until, leaving the Godaime's office with a mission for the following day, he came upon Sakura.
She was flushed and gasping for air, evidently having run some distance. She reached up to smooth down her hair with one hand, which brought to Itachi's attention the neatly wrapped package in the other.
"Hi!" she greeted, a bit breathlessly.
"Hello, Sakura," he returned.
"Happy Valentine's Day!"
"…You too," he said, a bit awkwardly. "I see you've received a present," he added, nodding at the gift in her hand.
"Oh, no!" Sakura's eyes widened, and her cheeks reddened further. Thrusting the gift at him, she mumbled, "Um, this is for you…"
Itachi, not without some surprise, took the present automatically. His fingers barely brushed hers as he did so, and the contact only served to fluster her further.
"Happy Valentine's Day again hope you like it gotta go bye!" She said in a rush, turning on her heel and all but flying away from him.
Itachi cocked an eyebrow, looked down at the gift in his hand, and smiled sincerely, though unnoticeably when he pulled off the wrapping. It was a thick text. Not your typical romantic gift… but then, Itachi wasn't your typical man.
Raising his eyes to stare after her, Itachi had to wonder about her. Fiercely loyal to his little brother, intelligent, and – no harm in admitting it – rather pretty, it seemed that Sakura had a little crush on him. How… unexpected.
Sasuke, for the first time ever, had invited Sakura and Naruto to his house. Both teammates were thrilled, albeit for very different reasons.
"It's something like a dinner party, very formal," Sasuke told them. "I'm not allowed to attend, so my mother told me to have you over for dinner in one of the other dining rooms."
Naruto was almost salivating as he and Sakura made their way to the Uchiha mansion in anticipation of all the good food he was sure to get. Sakura, having decided to doll herself up a bit with a fancy updo, a bit of make-up, and different clothes from her usual training gear, skipped excitedly beside him.
"This is going to be so cool," she gushed. Really, she was more thrilled about seeing Itachi dressed up for dinner, but she was excited about seeing Sasuke's home, as well. She had never been inside before. "You better be on your best behaviour, Naruto. We can't get Sasuke in trouble."
"I'll be good," Naruto promised.
When they strolled up to the door, Naruto had barely even made to knock before Sasuke opened the door, looking nervous and, when his gaze landed on Sakura, concerned.
"The dinner has already started," Sasuke muttered, beckoning for them to enter. "So we need to be quiet. We're going all the way to the back." He glared at Naruto for good measure, and, satisfied that the blond was going to keep his mouth shut, led them away.
Meanwhile, Sakura was thinking. Analyzing the sounds and sights around her, memorizing every detail of the house so she could find her way around, she was waiting to find out which room Itachi was sure to be in, having dinner with the clan's Elders.
Sasuke tried to divert her attention to the two of them several times, but Sakura was not about to be deterred. And when her efforts finally paid off, she was glad for it.
Now she just needed to get away.
It was when Naruto started arguing with Sasuke, effectively distracting the both of them, that Sakura excused herself.
Wandering down the hallways, around the corners, down the stairs, she eventually found herself outside the dining hall where Itachi was. She loitered outside the door for a few minutes, unsure of how to get Itachi to come out. She contemplated making some noise to lure him out, but it was too weak of an idea; what if someone else came instead?
It was when a few maids came down the hallway carrying dishes of food that Sakura got an idea.
"Do you need some help?" she asked sweetly.
And that was how she found herself, moments later, a standard genjutsu in place to hide her hair color so she could go unnoticed, setting down a plate by Itachi's elbow. He seemed to be deep in thought, dark eyes intent on an older man sitting at the head of the table. There was a woman around his age sitting across from him who kept looking at him, and Sakura stifled the urge to fling a plate at her head.
She set down her dish, and moved to step away, when he turned and looked straight at her.
Sakura wasn't foolish enough to think her genjutsu would fool the ever-observant Itachi, especially after he raised one eyebrow coolly at her. She smiled, a bit sheepishly at being caught so blatantly, and tried to scurry away while the going was good, but apparently, she wasn't fast enough.
"So, Fugaku, you accept my proposal for my daughter Megumi to marry your son Itachi?"
The gasp tore from her before she could even think to stop it, her head whipping around to stare at Itachi. He was looking straight at her.
The room had fallen silent at her actions, and everyone was looking at her. But she only had eyes for Itachi.
He was the first to turn away from her, pick up his glass, and drink from it.
He didn't look back, even as she pressed a hand to her mouth, turned her back on him, and walked out of the room, tears already spilling over.
Furious with herself, Sakura swiped at her cheeks, trying to erase any evidence of her heartbreak as she heard footsteps approaching. It was bad enough that Sasuke had found her and said, looking uncomfortable, "I didn't want you to hear…" She really didn't need anyone else knowing how torn up she was.
"Why are you crying?" Itachi asked.
Sakura's heart stopped.
Gravel crunched underfoot as Itachi neared, crouching by her where she lay on the grass in Team Seven's training grounds.
She sighed, rolling her head away from Itachi. The grass was prickly beneath her cheek, but she didn't really care. "I'd think that'd be obvious."
Itachi stayed silent, and Sakura wondered idly why he was even here, the man she had admired for over ten years but barely ever spoken to. Why couldn't he leave her to mope in peace?
"It isn't," he finally said.
Sitting up abruptly, Sakura snapped, "It doesn't matter anymore. Just leave me alone!"
Itachi looked down at her, dark eyes smoldering, and Sakura slumped, the fight going out of her just as suddenly as it had appeared.
"Isn't it obvious?" she repeated again helplessly. When Itachi didn't reply, she took a deep breath, peeked up at him from beneath her eyelashes, and said, "I was upset… about the marriage proposal."
Everyone thought Sasuke was the sole most gorgeous resident in all of Konoha, and Sakura had to agree, he was incredibly good-looking. But there was one person that would always be first in her mind, heart, and opinion, for everything. Someone who was more intelligent, cunning, skilled, strong, and gorgeous than she could imagine. Someone who had long raven hair, stunning features, and hands that had killed to save her so long ago. Someone who had taught her the most devoted kind of love before she even knew his name.
"Why?" he asked again.
"I didn't want you to marry her."
Itachi looked at her seriously. "Didn't or don't?"
Sakura was at a loss. "…I don't," she finally said.
"Why?" he prodded yet again.
Sakura didn't reply, only met Itachi's gaze headed on. Green burned into black, and black burned back for seconds, minutes, maybe more, yet neither moved, only breathed in unison.
Finally, Itachi stood, and Sakura felt dizzy as their locked stare broke, as if thrown off balance. She felt disoriented, heavy and sluggish, yet somehow free and lighter, as if something had been released.
As if something had shifted.
"I don't plan to marry her," was all Itachi said.
There was an age where a person changed, from child to adult, naïve to mature, self-centered to empathetic. For Sakura, it was seventeen.
Months ago, she had been devoted to Itachi, and while she had never been embarrassed about her feelings, she had never been quite brave enough to admit them to him – or her teammates.
Of course, sometimes she thought Sasuke knew, as perceptive as he was. Whenever the topic of Itachi came up, he watched her closely, and he didn't seem to be too comfortable with his sometimes-annoying teammate with the ever-ready fists crushing on his hero of an older brother (which Sakura, frankly, found ridiculous – she would never dare to harm Itachi's pretty face).
She hadn't had much interaction with Itachi for almost a year, after Sasuke had explained to her how his brother was always getting proposals from clans who wanted to strengthen their bonds with the powerful Uchiha clan. Embarrassed by her outburst, Sakura had stopped visiting the Uchiha compound, and since Itachi was rarely at Ichiraku or the hospital, she figured she was safe.
But Sakura forgot that even Itachi wasn't perfect.
She yawned, dropping onto her chair in her office. There was already a stack of files on her desk, for the patients she had to see for the day. Sakura groaned. She loved her job, it was true, but the workload, heavy-duty training with her team, and late nights were taking their toll.
With a sigh, she pulled the stack of files to her, taking a glance at the room number on the first one.
Sakura furrowed her eyebrows, standing and making her way out of the room. That was the critical ward. Who was there?
The clacking of heels behind her announced to Sakura the arrival of her mentor, and she beamed when Tsunade handed over a steaming Styrofoam cup.
"Thank you, shishou," she said, taking a grateful sip.
"You're going to need all the energy you can get," Tsunade warned. She looked grumpy and tired, but Sakura didn't have to wonder why, because her next words were, "You're good with Uchiha brats, but…" She bared her teeth, made a violent gesture, and stomped off, leaving Sakura staring bemusedly after her.
It was only when she was turning the knob of the door of Room 142 that she realized what her teacher had said.
Pausing for only a beat before she pushed the door open, Sakura wondered who could be behind the door, and decided that no matter who it was, she would be patient and professional to impress Tsunade.
So she strolled right on in, sunny smile plastered to her face, every bit the patient, professional medic she aspired to be – until she saw Uchiha Itachi lying on the bed, looking at her intently.
Sakura was at a loss for words.
Minutes ticked by, and still Sakura stood, unable to process what was happening. She had avoided Itachi for a year, too embarrassed by her boldness to even think about trying to talk to him again, and now he was here, in front of her, waiting patiently for her to start examining him… at least, on the outside he looked patient. Inwardly, he was probably wondering if she was some kind of idiot.
The thought made her cringe inwardly and, steeling herself, she strode forward, intent on doing her job to the best of her ability. So she re-pasted her bright smile on her face, cast her eyes down to the clipboard briefly, set down her coffee on the table in the corner, and said politely, "Rough mission, Uchiha-san?"
Fractured ribs, internal and external bleeding, head injury, poison wounds… Rough didn't cut it. Sakura winced sympathetically, but all Itachi would say was, "We had a minor mishap."
Sakura didn't even want to know what Itachi would qualify as major.
Instead, she walked over to his side, set down the clipboard, and—paused.
Sakura tried very hard to be professional, and usually, she was. If someone like Ino or Naruto was in the hospital, she couldn't resist a little teasing, it was true. Even with Sasuke, she had to have a little fun, getting the most giggly nurses to take his blood samples or change his bandages just to see him squirm. If the situation called for it, she could be just as capable and poised as Tsunade-sama, but she indulged her inherent teenager whenever she could.
And now, her inherent teenager was demanding she take a few appreciative moments to ogle the sheer perfection that was Uchiha Itachi's bare, though bandaged, chest.
Immediately, Sakura reddened. And the embarrassment only furthered when she snuck a glance up to Itachi's face, and found him looking at her. The dark eyes were inscrutable, but the softened line of his lips told her he wasn't exactly unfeeling at the moment. The corner of his lips twitched very slightly, only proving to her that, indeed, Itachi knew that she was checking him out.
She really wanted the floor to open up and swallow her whole now.
Taking a breath to calm herself, Sakura said (hoping that the blush had receded), "Uchiha-san. I need to change your bandages and take a few tests before I complete the re-knitting of your external wounds." As she spoke, Sakura gathered up the materials she needed, set neatly on a tray by one of the nurses on the table by the door. She glanced longingly at her coffee for a second as she picked up the tray, but this was no time to rejuvenate herself: she had a job to do.
Itachi hadn't replied, and Sakura faltered. Normally, her patients at least acknowledged her, which she took as agreement to proceed with her job. Itachi hadn't though, and she didn't know whether to go anyways, or ask again. What if he didn't want her to touch him? She wasn't afraid of Itachi in the way most people were, but she was still a bit nervous around him.
She might have tried, but she hadn't succeeded in quashing those feelings she had had for him since she was only five years old.
"Could I have a drink?"
That wasn't expected… but Sakura could comply.
"Of course!" She made to pour him a glass from the pitcher by his bedside, wondering why he hadn't done it himself. Sure, he probably couldn't – but these Uchiha were always so stubborn and proud.
But he interrupted in that low murmur again.
"No, not of water." When she looked up, she noticed how tired he looked, and it clicked before he even said it: "Coffee."
Sakura bit her lip. She didn't think she should be giving caffeine to her patients – but the rules didn't always apply to Itachi… especially concerning her. She debated for only a moment, before nodding in hesitant agreement.
"As soon as I've finished up here, I'll send you a cup. Will that be okay?" She hoped he would agree. She couldn't very well leave him already…
Itachi set his jaw, and Sakura almost groaned. Of course…
"Now, please, Sakura."
The use of her name threw Sakura off, and she found herself heating up again – all because he remembered her name! It was really quite disconcerting to realize how much power he held over her – especially when he didn't even seem to realize it.
She really couldn't refuse him… but she had a job to do.
Glancing over to the door, she spotted her own cup of steaming hot coffee sitting on the table. Could she give him that? The thought made her flush.
Itachi seemed to read her thoughts because he said, "That will do."
She flung him a startled look. "But I—"
He raised an eyebrow and said, in a voice that was used to handing out orders, "Sakura."
—drank from it.
With a sigh, Sakura walked over to her cup. She doubted Itachi really cared – he probably just needed his caffeine boost for the day. An amusing thought; Uchiha Itachi was dependant on coffee. She stored the information away for a later date, picked up her cup, and carried it back to him.
"I hope you don't mind black, Uchiha-san," she said as he took it from her.
"It's my usual," he informed her offhandedly, taking a long sip. Sakura's eyebrows flew up as he drank, digesting this new tidbit. "And you may call me Itachi."
Finally, he set the cup down and, satisfied, allowed a very pleased Sakura to begin her work.
When she left, taking the cup with her so no one would find out she gave caffeine to a patient, she noticed that there was still a sip's worth of coffee in it.
Smiling to herself, she raised the cup to her lips.
Moments of Truth
In the past three years, Itachi had been to the hospital a grand total of eight times. For most, this would be an extraordinary amount because it was so small, but not for Itachi.
Sakura worried for him, because he was Itachi, and he was coming in to the hospital, wounded and unconscious, with alarming regularity. Itachi was smart and strong and fast, and he must have been fighting something really dangerous if he was getting so hurt. The gratification she got when he was placed under her care at, Tsunade hinted, his own request, wasn't anywhere near enough to lessen her concern.
So when she made it to ANBU and was placed on the team of none other than the object of her affections, Sakura was overjoyed. Finally, she could be of some real help to Itachi. Maybe she wasn't as good in battle as him, but she was smart, and she was at least a better medic.
Or, anyways, that had been the plan.
They had been up against a blond with a volatile temper, an artist who could make his creations explode at will; his extra spurts of rage hadn't helped Itachi in defeating an already tough opponent.
He was finally defeated, but now Itachi was sporting burns and broken bones, laying on the grassy earth by a stream, where Sakura was washing up so she could heal him without spreading infection.
Itachi's already pale skin was even paler, and even though he made no indication of it, Sakura knew just how much pain he must be in. Carefully, she knelt by his side, placed her hands just above his abdomen, and let green chakra flow out. It wasn't healing, just a painkiller, but immediately Itachi seemed to relax, his muscles losing some of their tension.
"Just relax," Sakura said, rolling out her bandages, some cream, and disinfectant. "This won't take long."
Burns were tricky, because they required her to peel off the damaged skin, which could be a painful process. Thus, she usually talked to her patients to give them something else to think about. The hard part was always the anticipation before the healing, not the actual healing itself.
Did Itachi really need – or want – her to baby him? Probably not. But she did it for Sasuke, and even their father, so she would do it for Itachi, too. No need to treat him like a separate species because he was better than her – and everyone else.
"Are these the kinds of missions you've been going on for the past few years?"
"Wow, it must be tough. That guy was a pain."
Itachi closed his eyes. "Hm."
Chatty, aren't we? "Do you ever wish you had a fanclub?"
Itachi's eyes flew open, his eyebrows furrowing just the slightest. "Excuse me?" he asked, clearly caught off-guard.
Sakura shrugged. "Sasuke has a huge one, and you don't, because people are scared of you. Do you want one?"
"Are you afraid of me?"
Sakura grinned at him, getting to work on resetting his bones. "No. Should I be?"
He didn't reply, not that she thought he would, so she continued.
"You saved my life once, you know." She paused in her work, meeting his gaze head-on. "I'm never going to be scared of you."
Later that night, when Sakura nodded off, and Itachi, healed well enough to move and fight, took over the watch, he kept his eyes on her sleeping figure.
Blind trust in a virtual stranger was unheard of, especially for a ninja, but this girl believed in him above all others, so he would honor that.
He would protect her.
It wasn't often that Sakura was admitted to the hospital, and when she was, everyone knew about it. the Yamanakas sent her almost a third of the flowers in their shop; Sasuke, Sai, Naruto, and Kakashi visited her daily; the Hokage disappeared into her hospital room for hours at a time; Lee brought her presents and dragged his team to visit her in the hospital.
And Itachi? He fulfilled his vow to himself.
Sasuke was the one to tell him one day when he found his older brother training viciously. Awkwardly, he informed Itachi on all the details of their mission, as well as the man who had attacked her.
Two days later, the man was dead, and Itachi was in Sakura's hospital room.
She was struggling to sit up, obviously surprised to see him there. "Itachi! What brings you here?"
"I came to see you."
Sakura flushed. Obviously.
"That was nice of you," she said, still clearly bemused. "Thank you."
Itachi strode forward to crouch beside her bed so he was at her eye level, and pressed down on her shoulder. "Lie down," he commanded.
"I'm fine," she protested. "It's no big deal. Stupid man just caught me off guard," she added vehemently.
Itachi was pleased by her reaction. All girls should be confident enough to take care of themselves, and it was good to note that Sakura had taken his words to heart all those years ago.
He didn't deem it necessary to inform her about the status of the shinobi that had put her in the hospital. Knowing Sasuke, she would find out soon enough.
"Your training is paying off, then."
Finally he noticed. It had only been nine years.
"It is," Sakura beamed. "And you still haven't fought me."
Itachi stood up, looking down at her. The painkillers were making her drowsy and lightheaded, but Sakura could've sworn she saw him almost-smile at her.
"Maybe one day," was all he said.
And then Sakura's eyes closed and the world went dark.
When she told Ino the next day about Itachi visiting her, she didn't believe it. That didn't stop her from telling everyone she knew, though.
"What are you girls doing?" Sakura asked suspiciously.
The three girls, in their mid-teens, jumped guiltily and turned slowly to face their superior. "Hello, Haruno-san," they chorused with forced innocence.
Sakura put her hands on her hips. "Why are you standing outside the Hokage's door?"
One of them, a girl with short raven hair, coughed. "Tsunade-sama is supposed to be showing us a surgery at the hospital."
"Why isn't she there yet? Don't tell me she's late." Before either of the teenagers could answer, Sakura reached out and pushed the door open. "Shishou, I hope you're not drinking agai—"
Tsunade rolled her eyes, Naruto snickered behind his hand, and Itachi glanced at her lazily over his shoulder.
I have got to stop with these entrances.
"Um. Don't you have a surgery?" Sakura asked nervously, gaze darting around the room.
"If I did, I would be there." Tsunade looked indignant. "How irresponsible do you think I am, Sakura?"
Sakura wisely chose not to answer.
"Itachi, you're dismissed. Now I need to talk to Naruto, and you need to teach my dear student how to knock," she said pointedly. Sakura, looking properly abashed, stepped away from the door and back into the hall. Itachi followed.
It was only when the door closed that Sakura noticed the girls from earlier had retreated to the end of the hall, giggling and staring quite blatantly at them. Or, rather, one of them.
Sakura groaned. Figures.
"I guess you do have a fanclub," she said, since she was waiting for Tsunade, Itachi wasn't leaving, and Sakura liked to talk.
Itachi didn't even spare the trio a glance.
"So why were you talking to Naruto and Tsunade-sama?" Sakura prodded, hoping for a response she probably wouldn't get.
"Naruto and I are going on a mission." Itachi glanced at her and added, "It's his first ANBU mission."
"Ah." Sakura nodded, not bothering to hide her relief. As strong as Naruto was, she would worry incessantly about him if he was alone. But now, not only was he going with someone experienced, he was going with the Uchiha Itachi. "Take care of him, will you?"
"Make sure he eats his vegetables and sleeps enough and washes up before a meal…"
Itachi looked at her. She was grinning sheepishly at him.
"Just making sure you're still listening?" She coughed. "So why isn't Sasuke going with you?"
"He's going on another mission, with Kakashi," Itachi replied.
At the other end of the hallway, three young women were gaping unabashedly at the couple.
"First she gets Sasuke-sama on her team," one girl complained. "And now she gets Itachi-sama, too!"
"Some girls have all the luck," her friend agreed glumly.
The last girl wasn't so convinced, and she flounced down the hall, calling over her shoulder, "I won't believe they're together just yet. Are you coming?"
Sakura turned from her surprisingly two-sided conversation with Itachi when she felt a tap on her shoulder, and came face to face with one of the girls from before, the raven-haired one. Behind her were her two friends, one with long dark hair and green eyes, and a small one with brown hair.
"Hello, Haruno-san," she said, flashing a quick, close-lipped smile.
"Hi…" She trailed off expectantly.
"Maki," the girl supplied. She gestured to the green-eyes girl, "That's Ayano," and the brunette, "And that's Emi."
"Nice to meet you," Sakura said politely. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Just a little question," Maki said.
Sakura nodded, anticipating a medical question, maybe even a question about genjutsu or chakra. What she got instead was:
"Are you and Itachi-sama going out?"
Sakura was torn between cracking up at the honorific and dying of embarrassment, especially when she chanced a sideways glance at Itachi, only to find him, one eyebrow raised, looking at her.
"No!" she squeaked out, completely mortified. Emi and Ayano looked mollified, but Maki looked expectantly at Itachi.
As Sakura expected, he didn't answer, didn't even look at the girls, until Maki said impatiently, "Itachi-sama?"
God, that name did not suit him.
Itachi apparently thought so too, since he glanced over at them and, with the barest hint of irritation, said, "Yes?"
"Are you dating Haruno-san?" Maki was brave, Sakura had to give her that.
"I fail to see how that concerns you." Itachi was always polite, but even Maki knew she had crossed a line. She flushed scarlet.
"Um, I… I'm sorry," she stammered, stepping back. "I—" Apparently at a loss for words, she turned tail and, with her two friends, scampered off with one last look at the duo.
Itachi was silent so, as usual, Sakura felt the need to fill the gap.
"Well, that was weird, huh?" She looked at him, smothered a grin, and added, "Itachi-sama."
Itachi glared at her.
Sakura was just very amused.
At least until two days later, when her teammates demanded of her – Sasuke anxiously, Naruto in horror, and Kakashi in vague interest – when she had started dating Itachi and was it true they were going to elope?
"This is the most embarrassing thing in the world, multiplied by about three thousand," Sakura decided.
Ino laughed. "Well, think about it this way: you're making progress."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "It would be nice if it was true. Seriously, Ino, I have been in love with this guy for seventeen years. How has he still not noticed?"
"Maybe he isn't as smart as everyone thinks he is," Ino suggested, arranging a dozen roses into a bouquet.
Sakura glared at her. "No, he's smarter."
Ino laughed again. Sakura was obviously suffering from hero-worship when it came to Uchiha Itachi.
"Why don't you tell him how you feel?"
"Yeah, right. Like what? 'Hey, Itachi, I've been in love with you since I was five. Marry me, please?'" Sakura scoffed. "Hardly."
Someone cleared their throat behind her, and Sakura's blood ran cold.
"Sasuke!" Ino exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
Indeed, Uchiha Sasuke was standing before them in full ANBU gear, surrounded by daisies and tulips and carnations and looking very uncomfortable.
"I needed to see Sakura. Could you come to my house later tonight?" he asked stiffly. Sakura blinked, blush receding.
"I can come now, if you want," she offered.
Sasuke shook his head. "Come at ten or so. Just wait outside." And with that, he left, though not without an intense look, leaving Sakura to wonder just what she had agreed to.
Meeting the Parents
Sakura had known Fugaku and Mikoto for years, had spoken to them, had healed them, had visited their home many times. She had never been particularly scared of them before, no matter how strict the Uchiha patriarch was.
So why did she feel like throwing up now?
Itachi's hand, resting on the small of her back pressed down insistently, and she was forced to keep moving.
She was still bemused as to how she had gotten here. One minute Itachi was dismissing an over-eager teenager, the next, she was in a relationship with him.
She should have been over the moon. Instead, she was still a little dazed.
When Sasuke invited her to meet him that night, she had gamely agreed, only to find that it was all a ruse to get her to meet Itachi with no chance to run away (she had still felt a bit awkward around him since the rumors).
Then Itachi had told her of his clan's belief in those rumors and he asked her to go along with them, reasoning that the clan elders would stop pestering him to find a bride and thus allow him to focus on his missions. He also added that the elders would be more accepting of her and allow her to spend more time with Sasuke, and that the rumors would stop, but the first one had cinched it.
She didn't want to meet another Megumi.
Thinking back on the night he officially asked for her hand in fake-girlfriend-ness, Sakura had to admit that it wasn't very romantic. He made it sound like more of a battle plan than anything.
"Mother, Father, you know Sakura," Itachi was saying.
Sasuke stood just behind his parents, and he looked very disturbed. When his parents weren't looking, she glared at him, daring him to ruin this for her.
It turned out that he didn't have to.
Halfway through dinner, Mikoto said brightly, "So, how long have you two been seeing each other so secretly?"
Sakura let Itachi answer, "Eight months."
Fugaku leaned forward in his seat, raising a glass to his lips. "So, when do you plan on marrying?"
Sakura's jaw dropped, but Itachi only said, "I haven't yet asked her."
"Do you plan on doing so?" Fugaku wanted to know.
Itachi drank from his glass, set it down, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and looked his father in the eye. Sakura thought she might explode from the tension.
"Of course I do."
"You are not marrying my teammate," Sasuke said stubbornly.
"Hey!" Sakura protested.
"I won't if you're so opposed to it," Itachi said mildly.
"You planned on actually marrying her?" Sasuke asked, looking very green.
"Why not? I need to marry. Sakura is a talented kunoichi and a renowned medic. I've known her for many years." Itachi shrugged coolly. "I see no disadvantages."
"That isn't romantic," Sakura grumbled but, as usual, she was ignored.
Sasuke glared at his brother. "Don't marry her out of convenience. She really likes you!"
Sakura was oddly touched by Sasuke's protectiveness, but she wished he didn't blurt out her secrets like that. Itachi glanced over at her, expression unchanging. She met his gaze head-on, even though she could feel her cheeks heating up. Finally he looked away and back at Sasuke, who was still looking angry.
"I know she does."
"You know what? I'm just going to say it," Sakura announced, getting to her feet. Itachi glanced up from his mission scrolls to look at her from where he sat in the grass at the training grounds.
"This is the weirdest relationship in the world. You say you want to marry me, but you have yet to actually indicate that you like me. You don't hold my hand or stick up for me or call me cutesy names… though please don't," she added hastily. Itachi's lips lifted into an almost-smile, but she was too busy ranting to notice. "You've never kissed me, you barely talk to me, and oh yeah, your brother wants to kill either you or me every time he sees us within five feet of each other." She huffed. "I see no point to this."
It was true. They had been "dating" for almost a year, and Itachi never showed her any affection. Sometimes she wondered why she was still acting this out with him, but Itachi seemed serious, at least, about the two of them, and Sakura couldn't refuse him. She had had eyes only for Itachi all her life: she just couldn't turn him away for someone – anyone – else.
"You enjoy it," Itachi pointed out.
Sakura turned her head to hide her blush and crossed her arms over her chest. "Next."
"I plan to marry you one day," Itachi said. As usual, her stomach flipped over when he said the words, even if it was in his usual neutral tone.
"Would you like me to kiss you?" he went on politely.
Sakura whirled around to gape at him. Was he seriously asking her if she—
"What?" she sputtered.
Itachi had stood up by now and was heading towards her with long, purposeful strides. Sakura stepped back, flight instinct kicking in in such an unknown situation, but he caught her by her upper arm, pulled her closer, and kissed her.
And it was unreal. It was everything Sakura had always wanted. He didn't touch her, except for his hands on her arms, and the kiss was lingering at best, but—
Still, Sakura had to scowl. "You don't like-like me!"
Itachi stepped back, turning his head so that this time she wouldn't see his smile.
"You've trained with Kakashi, Sakura. Why don't you try looking underneath the underneath?"
Words of Advice
Ino said, "It means he loves you with the fire-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns."
Kiba concluded, "It means he's looking for some action."
Tenten suggested, "Maybe he really loves you? And he's really shy. Or gay."
Shikamaru said, "Go away, you troublesome woman."
Shino asked, "Do you really want to know what I think?"
Naruto said, "That's why you should've gone out with me while you had the chance."
Sasuke was the only one that was of any help. "It means, you moron, that Itachi's showed more interest in you than anyone else on the planet. It means he likes you. It means you're going to be my sister-in-law."
He looked disgusted, so Sakura squeezed his arm. "We'll make one hell of a family."
Sasuke rolled his eyes, but he didn't look entirely unhappy. "You're annoying."
"Okay," Sakura said, standing with her hands clasped before her. Itachi, on his way out of the Hokage's office, paused.
"Okay," Sakura repeated, nodding. "Okay, I'll marry you!" She was blushing so hard, she was surprised her face didn't explode. Idly, she wondered if she would ever get over her shyness around him. This was really getting ridiculous.
Itachi was silent, still looking at her, and Sakura was struck with a sudden, horrifying thought. Maybe she had misunderstood him? Maybe Sasuke was wrong? Maybe—
"Good." Itachi was holding out a hand patiently, and Sakura looked down.
--Or maybe not.
Carefully, Itachi slid the ring onto her finger. It was white-gold, cool against her suddenly warm skin, and laced intricately through with diamonds and emeralds, but she was busy admiring a different sight entirely.
Itachi was looking down at her, and while his gaze wasn't adoring, his expression wasn't tender, and he wasn't saying a word, Sakura thought she had never been happier.
Itachi said, "We'll talk when I get back," and tried to leave, but Sakura tugged him back by the hand she hadn't let go of.
She was smiling, gaze lowered bashfully. "When I was younger," she began, "I told all my friends I was going to marry you." She peeked up through her lashes, and breathed a laugh. "It only took fifteen years, hm?
Itachi smirked at her. "Hn."