Chapter 1

All his life, Uchiha Itachi had never worried about women or love or even sex. Though he was at the perfect age for it - fifteen - he never bothered with women in any way, shape, or form. He just couldn't be bothered with them. Despite this, females of Konohagakure obsessed over him as if he were the newest fashion line or style. This was to be expected, of course; he was already a prodigy of the Uchiha clan, along with the entire village. He was the most lethal weapon Konoha had, and so, naturally, became ANBU on his fifteenth birthday, which had passed a few months ago. There wasn't one citizen who didn't know his name and face, who didn't stare with wide eyes as he walked by. More often than not, a reputation of this stature was troublesome; people he had never seen before would approach him and ask for a spar - "Just one?" they would plead - and sometimes even useless things such as a photo or autograph. People couldn't get any more ridiculous than that. Despite this, Itachi would politely comply, giving the stranger anything they asked for without a word of complaint. This only boosted his popularity more.

As his own popularity grew, his Father's distaste for his younger brother followed. It was like a viscous cycle; the more renowned Itachi was, the weaker Sasuke seemed. Itachi loved his younger brother dearly - more so than the rest of his family - and so he tried to rectify Sasuke's solitude by spending as much time with him as possible. Sasuke enjoyed it, at least. Most of the time, Itachi was left alone as his little brother played with his friends - at the playground, as always.

That was exactly what he was doing now. As he sat against his favorite tree, Itachi watched from a distance as his brother played with his friends. The grass was cool between his fingers, the shade his tree provided pleasant. There was a light, crisp breeze that gently blew his bangs into his face. Looking up a little, Itachi entangled his fingers in his hair, pushing it back enough for him to see clearly again. On the play escape, Sasuke courageously jumped from his high perch and into the sand surrounding the area. The other children - boys, mostly - cheered their approval, some even attempting the jump themselves. But none of the others were able to land on their feet as perfectly as Sasuke had. He was praised, he was challenged. Sasuke took all comments with a smile large with victory. He looked over to Itachi. Their eyes met, and Itachi smiled slightly, nodding his approval. Sasuke's smile grew even wider as he returned his attention to his friends.

Itachi relinquished his bangs - the breeze gone - and turned half of his attention to the flowers around him. Some were weeds, but most were beautiful wildflowers. A particular blue one caught his eye, and he gently ran his finger around it, enjoying the soft feel of the petals against his skin. It was a little known fact that Uchiha Itachi enjoyed nature more than people or even training. Training as a close second to simply sitting and enjoying what he saw around him. Nature didn't need someone to talk to, didn't need to be taken care of. It existed before humans, and it would probably exist after. It was a silent testament to what used to be and what forever will be. Nature was everything, and it was nothing. Plain and simple.

Behind him - on the other side of his tree - Itachi's trained ears picked up the sound of soft footsteps, along with the sound of plants being plucked from the ground. Judging on the weight put into the footsteps, the careful way in which the flowers were being plucked, and the octave in which the person was humming, the person behind the tree was a female. Somewhere around Sasuke's age - ten. She was about an inch taller than his ototo, but close to the same weight - in a healthy way. Fingering his flower, Itachi patiently waited for the girl to come to his side of the tree.

As expected, the humming girl ventured to his side of the tree and, missing him completely, stared down at the boys on the play escape with an uncertain expression on her face. She bit her lower lip in indecision, then slowly looked down to Itachi. The girl studied him for a brief moment before looking to the flower he gently held in his right hand. He wasn't staring up at her - instead, he kept his gaze firmly locked on Sasuke and the play escape - and so he only barely saw the glow that overcame her porcelain face when she recognized the flower. "That's a blue cosmos!" She abandoned the flowers she had collected and ran over to the flower, bending down close as Itachi ran his finger up and down the flower's stem. "Do you know how rare it is to find these, Uchiha-dono?" She asked excitedly, looking up to him a little.

What a powerful honorific, Itachi thought as he left his onyx gaze slip over her. Of course, she knew his name - her friends or family probably spoke of him with reverence. He stared down at the little girl as she patiently waited for a response. Unlike other children her age, she didn't flinch away from his indifferent gaze - she seemed to welcome him completely, wanting him to speak. The girl sat upright, cross-legged, and stared up at him expectantly, unafraid. As Itachi silently stared her down, soaking in her appearance, the girl got more and more impaitent - something else he had never seen in a child her age. "Are you going to answer?" she demanded, folding her arms as her pretty face scrunched up in annoyance. She had evergreen eyes and pale blonde hair that was cut an inch above her shoulders, with jagged ends. Her skin looked like porcelain, but still seemed soft. It shined a little, crystal clear and unmarked.

"Nii-san," a second voice - Sasuke's - called from his front. Itachi looked away from the girl and to Sasuke, who was standing in front of him, his hands behind his back. "Can we go get some lunch, onegai?" A smile crept over the younger Uchiha's face. Looking to his right, past the blonde girl, Itachi spotted an ice-cream cart which all of the children in the playground were crowded around. Inwardly sighing, Itachi asked what it was Sasuke wanted. "Five ryo!" The younger said excitedly, jumping once in excitement. Keeping up that inward sigh, Itachi produced his walled from his pocket and handed Sasuke a ten-ryo bill. His ototo's face lit with excitement, but Itachi stopped him before he could run away.

"Get me and this girl something." Itachi ordered, relinquishing his flower to gesture towards her a little. It was only polite to supply a guest with food when you were eating.

The girl's face lit with excitement as her jaw dropped in surprise. She looked from Itachi to Sasuke, then back again. "I-you-I mean, uh...Domo arigato!" Itachi closed his eyes and waved the both of them away. They ran off excitedly, shouting at the other kids.

Itachi opened his eyes again and looked to his left, where the girl had originally abandoned her collection of plucked flowers. They had been tied together with a regular twine, and arranged in such a way that took each flower's individual beauty and turned the whole thing into one dazzling array. Each flower made the one beside it beautiful, up until the flower at the very center, which completed the beautiful bouquet. The girl was an artist - he had to give her that. He had never seen something so beautiful from a child so young.

"Do you like that?" The girl asked as she stood before him, licking her Popsicle in one hand and extending another towards him. He took it silently, tearing off the wrapping and licking it once. Triple chocolate with a hard outer shell made of chocolate. His favorite. "I made that by myself," she plowed on as she licked her Popsicle and sat beside him, bordering his flower with her legs, so that he would have to reach between them in order to stroke it. What a devious little girl she was. "with the flowers I found on the other side of the tree, along with some from the rest of the playground. You can have it if you want." A blush crept over her pale skin.

Itachi gave the bouquet a final once-over before setting it down again. He bit into his Popsicle, lolling the wonderful sweetness around in his mouth. The girl frowned and copied him silently.

Sasuke returned then, a smile on his lips as he bit into his own snack - something fruit-flavored, Itachi's nose revealed. He winced at the thought. Why eat ice cream if it was flavored as fruit? If one was to go through all that trouble, they might as well eat a regular fruit. "Did I get the right thing, Nii-san?" The younger Uchiha asked politely as he sat at Itachi's feet and looked away.

Itachi gave a small "Hn." of acknowledgment before taking another bite. He was not one to waste time on unnecessary words, like the girl sitting beside him seemed to be.

"It was the sweetest thing the ice cream man had," she snorted, wrinkling her nose as she licked her Popsicle again. Her ice cream of choice was vanilla. For some reason, Itachi found that interesting. He had never met someone with a taste for vanilla ice cream alone - most people put toppings on it. But this girl seemed to like it plain - she seemed to be enjoying her Popsicle as much as Itachi was. Interesting. Amazing, even.

"How can you eat plain vanilla like that, Ino-chan?" Sasuke asked for him. So Ino was her name. Itachi resisted the strong urge to wrinkle his nose in distaste. Personally, he thought of the name 'Ino' as a masculine name. But, masculine as it was, it somehow fit the blonde beside him.

Ino exhaled shakily - a weak giggle - and politely countered, "How can you eat fruity ice cream, Sasuke-kun?" Based on the way she got nervous when Sasuke had addressed her, the way she said his name, and the way she carefully countered his question with another of her own - that still was not in an offensive manner - Ino had some serious feelings for his sweet little brother. How cute.

Her reaction to his question made Sasuke blush a little as well. His face went blank with the emotion, and he looked away quickly. An awkward feeling blossomed in the air, keeping a heavy silence before another girl emerged from behind the tree, resting her right hand on it lightly. Without directly looking at her - Itachi had his gaze fixed straight ahead, as always - Itachi analyzed what he could of the girl. She had odd pink hair and emerald eyes that were sharper than Ino's evergreen. She wore a red bow atop her head, the knot visible at the very top. A fierce blush dominated her aolready-rosy skin as she held a delicate-looking flower in her left hand and extended it to Sasuke. She licked her lips nervously before beginning, "Um...Konnichiwa, Sasuke-kun." She managed a small step forward, letting go of her grip on the tree.

Sasuke looked over to her, a smile warming up on his face. "Hello, Sakura-chan," he responded politely, the smile fading slightly as his eyes flickered to the flower outstretched towards him. His brow furrowed in thought.

Sakura's eyes flickered to a silently-seething Ino, who had finished with her icecream and folded her arms tightly, her nose wrinkled in distaste. "K-konnichiwa, Ino-shinyuu."

"Don't call me that," Ino snapped harshly.

Sakura recoiled as if struck, then turned her attention back to Sasuke. Itachi observed the scene with a general interest; it seemed that Ino had been good friends with Sakura at one point, and that their friendship had ended abruptly when they both recognized their feelings for Sasuke. It was a real-life soap opera, but even better. Which girl did Sasuke prefer? Was he even old enough to care, anyway? Boys matured slower than girls - they barely began to notice the other sex's existence at Sasuke's age. What would happen if Sasuke rejected both girls? Would they go back to being friends, or would they despise one another more? This was one reason why Itachi kept his distance from others, but also why he didn't shut himself away completely. Watching humans struggle with one another, with themselves, was directly below training on his list of pastimes. "I-I know this one little flower isn't anywhere as beautiful as Ino-chan's beautiful boquet,"-she sheepishly smiled over at Ino in a sign of peace--"but I wanted you to have this." So Ino's beautiful bouquet of flowers were originally meant for Sasuke. But why, then, had Ino offered it to Itachi before Sasuke? Sakura closed her eyes in nervousness, thrusting the single flower towards Sasuke.

"Oh," Sasuke barely managed, "Domo arigato, Sakura-chan." He carefully took the flower and brought it close to his face, smelling it. Both Uchihas had finsihed their popsickles by now and had pooled them together in the middle of the three of them. Sasuke had accepted Sakura's single flower. Did that mean he preferred her to Ino? After a moment of silence, Sasuke carefully began, "W-would you like to...go play with me?"

Sakura opened her eyes in surprise and nodded vigorously, fighting down a smile. Sasuke gingerly returned her smile and stood, outstretching his free left hand. His new girlfriend didn't bother repressing her excitement now - she giggled uncontrollably, her smile plain on her face, as she took his hand in hers and moved off. Amuzing. This little love-triangle was nothing but that, if not more.

Beside him, Ino was silent for only the briefest of moments before producing an odd choking sound from deep within her throat. Looking over at her with only his eyes, Itachi watched in merciless amuzement as the little blonde slowly lost her composure, weakly fighting back tears. Her fists shot to her tearing eyes, and before Itachi was given the chance to witness the complete breakdown, Ino jumped to her feet and ran off, her footsteps silent to unperfected ears. But not Itachi's; he heard every miserable step the girl took as she ran and ran, away from the pain. After a while, though, they became inaudible even to he, leaving him with nothing to watch but his ototo's date, which was very boring.

Looking back to Sasuke and Sakura's chosen play area, Itachi replayed the day's events so far, analyzing and reanalyzing each particular confrontation as it happened, thinking up different possible outcomes based on even the slightest change of conversation. In about the fifteenth or so rerun of the day, Itachi realized that he could probably have saved Ino such a painful heartbreak if he had at least acknowledged her existence. Itachi chuckled once in morbid humor; it was a hollow sound, similar to something someone might sound like if they had been winded. He was not one for laughter.

The day was coming to an end - the sky was turning a bright yellow color as the first bits of sunlight were forced under the cover of the Earth's crusty blanket. The two Uchihas had been at the play ground since noon and, judging by the setting sun, it was somewhere around six in the afternoon now. Hesitating a moment as he soaked in the last bit of the beautiful scenery, Itachi slowly stood, stretching for the briefest of instants. As he looked around him, he realized that all of the other children had left some time ago; the swings creaked as only the wind pushed them, the atmosphere relieved of the children's high-picthed voices. As he leaned up against his tree - on his feet now - Itachi looked down to his blue cosmos.

His cosmos was where it should have been, but it had been crushed by frantic feet. Ino had accidentally trampled it to the ground as she ran away from her broken heart.

What a waste, Itachi thought with a distasteful frown as Sasuke approached, Sakura long gone. He followed his ototo out of the park as the younger boy prattled on about how much fun he had whith Sakura and how he asked to see her again tomorrow. Sasuke reported proudly that she had instantly agreed, which meant that Itachi was stuck babysitting again. He would have to either cancel his scheduled mission tomorrow, or leave Sasuke to find someone else to bring him to the park. Itachi seriously considered leaving his brother - something he did on a regular basis - but realized that he simply had to see the next episode of this enticing soap opera that he was tied into.

As they walked through the streets of Konoha, Itachi found himself completely ignoring his ototo - something which he had never done before - as he pondered his role in this quickly blossoming soap opera. He was not one for television, must less soaps - as his mother called them - but he found this situation to be nearly identical to one his mother chattered about to her friends. Why watch a television show based so nearly on reality when one could simply go out into the real world and experience the same thing personally? Ino's broken state flooded into his mind, and he suddenly knew the answer: Because reality was sometimes too hard to deal with. Because it was easier to watch an actor's life unravel as they played a part they were paid to do instead of actually bearing the pain.

Itachi's frown deepened as he thought of that. One reason eh kept his distance from others of his kind: they were too weak to deal with the feelings of life themselves, and so they put it on TV and watched other people weep over it.

Pushing down his overbearing distaste for the general populace, Itachi returned to his soap opera. Who was the star? The director? The character who everyone pretended to love but always abused? There were so many different roles, and only four actors in which to fill them. He thought about it more, deeply analyzing each of the four of them and categorizing them into as many different roles as he could think of. Most of the time, his 'characters' filled too many categories, and he would have to combine similar terms to make things simpler. It was actually amuzing, in an odd way that he didn't particularly like.

They made it back to the Uchiha house just in time for dinner. Shouting a happy greeting to their parents, Sasuke ran over to their mother and hugged her tightly, following her around the kitchen as she served dinner. Silently – as always – Itachi took his usual seet on the floor beside the table and waited. His father sat to his left, just as silent. After only a moment of the comfortable, soundless atmosphere at the table, his father spoke. "You'll be leaving for your mission tomorrow bright and early." It wasn't a question, nor a command. Just a simple statement that was laced with underlying demands.

"It was delayed," Itachi lied smoothly, his face and gaze revealing nothing – as usual.

"Delayed?" Fugaku asked, his expression and tone skeptical.

"Hn." He barely acknowledged. It was an ANBU mission – he was not obligated to answer anything. Technically, he wasn't supposed to – not even to his father, who was Konoha's head police chief. ANBU missions were always strictly confidential, although Itachi spoiled his father by indulging him in the outlines of the missions he preformed.

Sasuke and their mother set the table with everyone's plates, then took their respectful seats. Sasuke sat directly before him, his mother closing the rectangle to his right. Giving no traditional thanks for the meal – Itachi never thanked anyone – Itachi began to devour his meal. The icecream he had eaten at the park had stolen his appetite, albeit he had eaten it at least five hours ago. As he ate and listened to the conversations going on between the rest of his family, Itachi found his mind drifting away from them and to the little blonde girl - Ino, he recalled. He remebered his past analizations and frowned when he realized that he did not like Sasuke together with Sakura.

Scrunching his nose in distaste, Itachi quickly finished his meal and excused himself. There was no opposition from the rest of his family as he silently slunk to his room - he was ANBU; he could excuse himself. Itachi made decisions for himself - if his family did not approve, that was too bad. An ANBU had no need for a family's guidance.

In his room, Itachi lay on his bed, using his hands as an extra pillow, and stared up at the ceiling blankly. Ino's broken state drifted into his mind again, causing a frown to crease his olive skin. Why did he even care? He did not know a shred of information about the girl - what did it matter if she got hurt? People were always hurt in his presence - why was it any different with Ino?

The answer came almost instantly: Because it had not been he who had inflicted the pain. Because it had been Sasuke instead.

Itachi's frown intensified. He did not like the idea of Sasuke being with Sakura. Not that he wanted Ino with his ototo instead; it was just the Sasuke and Sakura seemed wrong somehow.

An unconscious will brought him to his feet and to the window. Itachi looked out at the sleeping Konoha nonchalantly and wished he knew Ino's last name. That was when he realized, with a reproach for his stupidity, that Sasuke would know.

Just as Itachi turned from his window and faced the door, Sasuke knocked on it from the other side. Itachi knew it was his brother even before the call, "Nii-san! Nii-san!" Silently, Itachi opened his door and asked what he wanted. "Since your mission was delayed, will you bring me to the park again tomorrow? Maybe train a little with me? Onegai?" Itachi nodded wordlessly. Without any action at all, things were moving in his favor. All he had to do was manuver correctly. Carefully, Itachi invited his little brother into his room - something that rarely happened. Sasuke's joy was apparent as he sat on Itachi's bed, a wide smile lighting his porcelain skin. Itachi slowly took a seat beside his brother, careful to keep a certain distance between them - Itachi was very grateful to the invention of the phrase "Personal space."

Without any speech on his part, Sasuke started his prattling. Itachi had only to pay attention, skimming Sasuke's words for any mention of Ino. Eventually, it came: "I feel bad for Ino-chan, but Sakura-chan's so much prettier and nicer..." Casually, Itachi asked his ototo Ino's last name. Sasuke's nose wrinkled at that, but he answered, "Yamanaka. That clan specializes in the Mind Transfer Jutsu. They also own a small flower shop below their apartment on Fujuyaku Avenue. Right down the street from Sakura-chan." He blushed at that last thought.

Fighting down the urge to scowl at the mention of Sakura, Itachi nodded. He had already known everything about the Yamanakas - all he had needed was the name. Based on the beautiful bouquet of flowers Ino had created the day before, she was most definitely related to the clan. He should have been able to guess that - especially with her blonde hair and evergreen eyes. Telltale signs that the person belonged to the Yamanaka. Carefully, Itachi explained to his brother that it was time to go to bed, that he had a big day tomorrow. Sasuke complained, but didn't put up a fight. He closed the door to Itachi's room behind him, muttering a small "Oyasuminasai." as he did so.

Itachi waited paitently for Sasuke's footsteps to dissapear down the hall before silently leaving out of the back door of his room. The night air was crisp, refreshing. Something about it enhanced the brightness of the stars above him. Despite the beauty of the night, Itachi did not spend long contemplating. Instead, he donned his ANBU mask - the weasel - and jumped off in the direction of the Yamanaka household.


Translations:

Ototo - Little brother

Nii-san - Older brother

Onegai - Please

Domo arigato - Thank you very much

Konnichiwa - Good morning/day

Shinyuu - Best friend

Oyasuminasai - Good night

A/n

...I love this pairing 8D...