Wow. I am totally overwhelmed by the positive response to the last chapter – thank you so much to everybody who reviewed, and for the amazing birthday wishes. :) You guys are truly awesome and make me very happy. Lyrics later in this chapter are the copyright material of Taylor Swift's single, Love Story. This epilogue itself is set one and a half years after the previous chapter, and the war with Sound is still on, except dwindling to a close.


When Konan informs Itachi over breakfast one morning that Pein has a special solo assignment for him, Itachi is hardly worried. Too much time spent cooped up in Headquarters – with the dubious company of Hidan, Kisame, Deidara, and Tobi, no less – makes him restless, which, therefore, makes it all the much harder to control his customary murderous impulses.

When she tells him, however, that he will receive the assignment briefing in the dank, dilapidated Akatsuki basement, Itachi is even more interested. Since Leader-sama had begun dating Konan, years ago, he had preferred a more comfortable and familial environment for the members of his organization to enjoy; therefore, the basement is reserved for only the most serious and dastardly forms of business.

Itachi takes a bottle of Vitamin Water along for the ride, and descends into the depths of the basement, finding the Leader waiting for him at the round table. It is early enough for the rest of Akatsuki to be sleeping, still, and the house is unusually silent. Normally, he prefers silence, but this particular brand of eerie calm is unsettlingly reminiscent of the eye of the storm.

They exchange the typical civilities, before Pein steeples his fingers and braces his chin on them, as he regards one of the most senior Akatsuki members, and Itachi notices that the Rinnegan is flickering on and off.

"You are still – affiliated – with Haruno Sakura, correct?" Pein asks abruptly.

Itachi had hardly been expecting to hear this, and he raises an eyebrow impassively. "Very much so." There is a heartbeat of silence. "Will this prove to be an obstacle to the nature of this assignment?"

The Leader clears his throat. "Ah – no. Actually, it is essential to the…nature…of your assignment."

The Uchiha prodigy blinks; surveying his Leader through narrowed, cautious eyes. In a marked contrast to his usual calm demeanor, Pein seems to be positively…twitchy. "Really," Itachi comments, before inclining his head slightly. "In that case, I would appreciate some clarification as to the exact details of my assignment."

To his surprise, Pein shakes his head, looking off into the distance. "Konan and I have been…close…for an extended period of time. Several years, as a matter of fact."

Upon confronted with a non sequitur of such epic proportions, Itachi is disconcerted to realize that he has no concept of what an appropriate response would to this be. "…Ah," he says tactfully. "With all due respect, how does this play into—"

Pein waves his hand, a little agitatedly, and the Rinnegan flickers even faster. "After much consideration," he continues, at length, "I have come to the decision that I would like to make my relationship with Konan – official. Legitimized."

Even though no outward emotion reflects in his features, Itachi is now positively alarmed; a lesser Akatsuki member would have been shaking at the knees, or cowering under the table, as the case may be.

Pein clears his throat again, before fixing his unblinking violet gaze on Itachi. "In answer to your earlier inquiry, you and Sakura will provide the catalysis for the operation of my plans."

It takes approximately one second for Itachi to decipher the meaning behind this ambiguous statement, but he stares at the Leader for another two, wondering if the strain of organizing and leading Akatsuki for so long has finally taken a toll on his sanity. "…Pardon?" he asks, for sheer lack of anything better to say.

"You heard me," Pein counters, folding his arms.

If it were not firmly beneath Uchiha dignity to gape, Itachi would be doing so very devotedly. "I refuse," he says flatly, on principle.

It is Pein's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You have never refused an assignment, Uchiha Itachi. As a matter of fact, you know that refusal of assignments is strictly prohibited. And do not even think of threatening resignation – you and I are both aware that you would never be content to retire to a small apartment, live the civilian lifestyle, and spend the rest of your days authoring bestselling novels."

Itachi and Pein engage in a solid minute's worth of Battle Of The Menacing Doujutsu, before Itachi relents. "There must be some other possible – catalyzing factors."

Pein actually snorts. "We are a notorious terrorist organization comprised of mass-murdering psychopaths suffering from various degrees of insanity. There are no other catalyzing factors."

Itachi scowls, looking decidedly menacing. "Create some."

Pein glares back. "Do not mistake me – this assignment is not an option." He pushes his chair back, and then rises. "I trust you will make the right decision, as there is only one right decision. Needless to say, this entire endeavor is highly confidential; nobody may know, not even the rest of our brethren. They lack discretion."

"Naturally, as they would find it so very easy to believe that somebody of my nature would consider – ah…" Itachi seems to struggle with the word, "proposing…so suddenly and out of the blue. In order to afford you with the perfectly opportune moment in which to inform Konan of your long-term intentions."

Pein smirks in a rare moment of levity, as he makes his way up the rickety wooden staircase. "As a matter of fact, I think they would accept it quite readily. In case it has escaped you, we live in a very strange world."

In the next moment, he is gone, leaving Itachi sitting alone in the dark, alone with his thoughts, his completely unhelpful Vitamin Water, and what is undoubtedly the Mission From Hell. "Quite to the contrary, I am very much aware," he says to himself, and the Sharingan engages itself and begins to swirl, while the beginnings of a devious plot begin to unfold within his mind…


Three Days Later


"I still can't believe the bastard decided to propose, un," Deidara marvels, for at least the hundredth time, while spoon-feeding the mouth on his hand some Frosted Flakes. "Wonders never cease. I wonder what she'll say, un?"

"Now, now, Deidara-senpai," Tobi chides, as he flips a waffle, "I'm sure that Itachi-san is perfectly legitimate. And of course Sakura-san will accept!"

Kisame smirks at him, before reclaiming the box of Frosted Flakes. "Care to bet that she won't accept?"

Deidara shudders at the memory of the original bet. "No thanks, un. I found out that it's bad luck to bet against the little red-eye. Besides, the whole Vitamin-Water-for-a-year thing cost me like six months' worth of assignments, un! Six months!"

Hidan has more pragmatic thoughts on his mind; he drinks the last of the milk right out of the carton, and slams it back down on the table, so that droplets go flying everywhere. "Bit sudden, though, don't you think?"

Deidara cringes, wiping the milk off him delicately. "She's put up with his freakishness for one and a half years, un. And here I thought we were the only ones who could deal with him for that long."

Hidan shrugs, still not completely convinced. "Whatever. Where is he, anyway?"

"Basement, talking to Leader-sama," Kisame replies absently.

"Actually, no," Itachi cuts in smoothly, as he enters the kitchen, before proceeding to scan all the counter surfaces with his gaze. "…Where are the Fruit Loops?"

"There should be an extra box in one of the cabinets, Itachi-san," Tobi chirps cheerily. "But I'm making my best strawberry waffles! Do you want some of those instead?"

Itachi takes a moment to consider this momentous question, before his concentration is abruptly shattered by the sudden arrival of a purple pig. Tobi shrieks and burns his waffle, Deidara yelps and the hand on his mouth vomits liquefied clay, and Kisame chokes on his Frosted Flakes.

"Fuck!" Hidan screeches, after he manages to pull himself up off the floor. "I fucking hate animal summons! They suck!"

"Aww, poor piggy…" Tobi reaches out toward the pig, having recovered fairly quickly, but surprisingly, it bares its teeth and snorts aggressively at him, before advancing, and butting Itachi on the arm.

Itachi blinks; surely enough, it has a pink envelope clutched in his mouth. Somewhat warily, as the obnoxious creature is pawing the ground as if considering the idea of a charge, he reaches out and extricates said envelope.

Deidara, mopping up the mouth on his hand, wanders over, followed by Kisame. The artist frowns upon seeing the name on the front of the envelope. "What the hell is a Yamanaka Ino, un?"

The name sounds oddly familiar, and Itachi frowns, trying to place it. "…I believe that it may be one of Sakura's friends."

The irritable pig nips Kisame on the elbow, and the shark-man winces. "Hurry up; I think this annoying little thing wants you to open it."

For the sake of preventing any further injury to his partner's person, Itachi expressionlessly withdraws the letter from the envelope. It is written on Sakura's customary mint-green memo paper, but the script is very different – it is crafted out of sparkly blue gel pen, along with several flourishes that are oddly reminiscent of Deidara's style of handwriting.

This isn't the truly horrifying part, though. That honor is reserved for the moment when the finely wrought silver-and-emerald engagement ring that he had purchased for Sakura falls out from the envelope, landing with a gentle clink on the counter's surface. Tobi has to bodily pick the angry purple pig up to prevent it from attempting to ingest the ring, and, feeling somewhat dazed, Itachi slips it back into the inner pocket of his cloak, as the other Akatsuki members stare at the letter curiously.

Dear Itachi,

You don't know me, but I know you. Wait – that sounds really creepy, yeah, but it's true. I've never actually seen you before, but Sakura's told me enough that I feel like I've got a fairly good grasp on your personality to judge this situation correctly.

So. You probably know that Sakura's on that diplomatic mission to Suna, and won't be back for another couple of days. I assume that's why you chose yesterday to sneak into her apartment and leave this lovely little engagement ring on the center of her empty coffee table, seeing as, due to the strategic positioning, it's likely to be the first thing that Sakura sees upon entering her apartment. I know this, because when I stopped by last night to make sure her plants were watered, it was the first thing I noticed. It was a cute gesture, I guess.

However, it is most certainly not the right way to propose to Sakura. I mean, it would be okay if this was just some random little gift, but it is so not. This is a proposal of freakin' marriage. And it's not just any proposal, either. It's your proposal to my best friend in the entire world, and you are not going to fuck it up. It had better be really damn perfect or you're going to have the combined wrath of the Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi clans upon you for the rest of your life, Uchiha. I'm not even kidding.

Due to my kind and benevolent nature, I grabbed the ring on my way out, and decided to send it back to you – giving you a second chance, of sorts. Although, seeing as all you have for company are a bunch of guys who seem to be as socially retarded as you are, your second chance may turn out to be an even bigger screw-up than this one. So, my advice is to watch the fourth season finale of ANBU Romance, when the Hawk proposes to the Cat. That's all I'm going to say; the rest is up to you.

-Yamanaka Ino

Itachi blinks upon concluding his perusal of the scorching missive. Upon lowering it from his immediate field of vision, though, he does not see sympathy written on the faces of the other Akatsuki members – rather, expressions of unmitigated horror and revulsion.

"What the hell, un? You tried to propose by leaving the ring on her coffee table?" Deidara squawks indignantly, as if he had been the one to suffer this inglorious proposal.


"That's just so fucked up," Hidan interrupts, shaking his head slowly.

Itachi turns to Kisame, but the shark-man puts his hand in front of his face. "Please don't look at me. I need a moment."

Thankfully, Tobi prances over to him, waffles forgotten, and attempts to hug his arm. "Why didn't you just ask us for help, Itachi-san?"

Itachi's left eye twitches slightly. "…The answer should be self-explanatory. And don't touch me."

Kisame promptly grabs him by the other arm, none too gently, and begins pulling him to the main lair. "What are you doing?" Itachi asks, scandalized.

Kisame glares at him. "Don't give me that, Uchiha. That Ino girl is definitely right; we have some serious ANBU Romance watching to do."

Itachi fairly digs his heels into the ground. "I refuse—"

Deidara and Hidan promptly aid Kisame in escorting him to the main lair. "Sorry, un. Refusal isn't an option."

Itachi glowers silently, dislocates Hidan's left arm and Deidara's right, and stalks into the lair of his own accord, while wondering when that phrase had become the story of his life.


However, two days later – after watching far too much ANBU Romance for his own personal health – the torture pays off, when, at approximately 11:53 PM, Sakura accepts his proposal. Itachi just smirks. And he doesn't stop until about a week later, when his fiancée informs him, over dinner at the Rusty Hangnail, that before they can set a date, there is something highly crucial that they must do.

Itachi blinks. "…In the past year or so, I have come to develop a slight appreciation for the art of snide witticisms, but I do not think that one is appropriate in this situation."

Sakura laughs nervously, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "I, uh – I'm not joking. At all."

He is somewhat unsure of how to respond to this latest new development, and in the end, he settles for crushing a complimentary fortune cookie into dust. "Who?" Itachi asks abruptly.

Sakura takes a sip of her martini, and can't help but shudder at the very thought. "…Naruto," she says, in a very small voice.

Itachi just stares back at her. "I was under the impression," he pronounces, "that you had – informed everybody important."

The pink-haired kunoichi fidgets uncomfortably. "I did. Trust me. I'm never going to forget an experience of that caliber." Horrible memories flit through her head, of Tsunade-shishou choking on sake and Kakashi fainting and being in a near-comatose state for the better part of two days and Lee and Tenten's looks of sheer, unadulterated horror and Genma's swallowing his senbon and puncturing his tonsils—

Itachi takes pity, and reaches forward to pat her hand lightly. She gives him a small smile of gratitude. "You know Naruto's been off training with Jiraiya to become Rokudaime, and – well, if I told him, he'd just come running back, screaming all the way, completely convinced that I was under the influence of some vile genjutsu…so…I just refrained, for the sake of the well-being of Konoha? But don't worry," she hastens to reassure him. "He's been gone for two years, and from his letters, he really does sound like he's mellowed out and gotten a lot more mature."

The Uchiha prodigy raises an eyebrow, his skepticism evident. "If you say so."

Sakura kicks him in the shin playfully. "Don't take that tone; he is one of my best friends, you know. Just leave it up to me. I'll handle it."

"My faith in you," Itachi deadpans, "is overwhelming."

Sakura laughs and throws a sushi roll at him, just for old times' sake.


The Next Day


"Freak! Asshole! Bastard! Stay away from me! Or, actually…" there is a disturbingly scarlet flash in Uzumaki Naruto's normally clear blue eyes, as he struggles futilely against the chains that hold him to the iron chair. "Come a little closer, so I can rip your stupid eyeballs out, feed them to you, and then kill your sorry ass!"

Itachi sighs nearly imperceptibly, advancing on the Kyuubi vessel, who redoubles his efforts to extricate himself. If this is how Sakura 'handles' her irritating counterpart of a best friend, he shudders to think about what the little brat would have been like as a younger adolescent. "Calm yourself," he says impassively.

Naruto only struggles harder against his bonds. "No! I refuse, you – you…teammate-stealing-cradle-robbing-clan-killing-Sasuke-torturing-sadist-asshole-bastard!"

This remarkable list is entirely uttered in the same breath, and Itachi takes advantage of the ensuing moment of silence to get a word in edgewise, as he folds his arms over his Akatsuki cloak and regards the obnoxious future Rokudaime dispassionately. "Let me address your claims in sequential order," he says evenly. "I never stole Sakura from either you or my foolish little brother, in any case, she is not a possession to be stolen. Furthermore, she is a mere five years my junior; hardly scandalous. I choose not to address the third attack, as it is completely irrelevant to the situation at hand. The fourth – I would refrain from it, if it were not so exquisitely enjoyable. As for the rest, in order: guilty as charged, join the club, and I admit that I have many redoubtable qualities, but I do assure you that my birth was under perfectly legitimate circumstances."

Naruto blinks, ceasing his struggle for a moment. "…I don't give a damn about your stupid rebuttals! I hate your freakin' guts and I'll never approve you and Sakura-chan being together!"

Itachi smirks slightly, enjoying his position of power over the younger man. "You say that as if it makes a difference."

Naruto gawks, momentarily lost for words; for a moment, Itachi thinks he has won, but then a look of surprising cunning slides into his eyes. "Fine!" he exclaims abruptly. "You know what, Uchiha? It makes a difference, and you know it. But," he considers, a look of deep thought sliding over his face. Itachi observes in silence, privately amazed that he is even capable of such an expression.

"Bring back Sasuke," Naruto tells him coolly, having summoned some sort of previously unknown reserve of composure. "And then we'll talk."

Itachi had hardly been expecting this, of all things; he masks his confusion by raising an eyebrow. "You want me to retrieve my foolish little brother? For you?"

He hadn't expected the look of barely concealed pain that flickers over the Uzumaki's face, either. "I can't do it," he manages. "Don't get me wrong, I hate asking more than anything else, but – you're the only one who can. And it's not just for me – it's for Sakura, too. We were all part of Team Seven. We were family."

Itachi studies him in silence for a few moments, through veiled eyelashes. Finally, he inclines his head, very slightly. "I will make no promises. But I will try."

Reluctantly, a small smile breaks out over Naruto's face. "You better work that sick, twisted mind of yours extra hard then – it's not going to be easy."

"Quite the contrary," Itachi counters evenly, before smirking in a way that can only be described as the essence of pure evil. "I have the perfect idea."


Small Town On The Outskirts Of Sound


Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi are proud to announce the joyous occasion of their upcoming marriage! Your presence would be welcomed at the ceremony itself, as well as the fantastic reception afterward. Please (personally) RSVP as soon as possible to Hokage Tower or Akatsuki Headquarters, respectively. We look forward to seeing you there!

The beautiful ivory-colored wedding announcement drops from Uchiha Sasuke's suddenly nerveless grip, to the cold, stone floor. He stares at it for a whole minute, before throwing Uchiha clan dignity to the wind and falling to his knees. His fingers scrabble at the corners of the invitation, before he brings it an inch away from his nose. Further scrutiny does not change the elegant script – it still reads, as clearly as day, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Itachi.


Team Seven Sakura. Little pink-haired sweet innocent too nurturing and too strong and too emotional Sakura.

And Itachi.

Uchiha Itachi.

Uchiha freakin' Itachi.

Sasuke throws his head back, and begins to laugh. It is a strange sort of laughter, one that is bordering on hysteria.

Suigetsu sticks his head out of a nearby bar, looking at him quizzically. "…The fuck? You okay?"

Juugo goes a little further, and actually walks over to his team leader, trying to help him up from his knees. "Sasuke?"

Sasuke actually acquiesces, pulling himself to his full height, and subsequently wiping something from the corner of his eye. He tosses the wedding invitation at Suigetsu, who has joined them. "…Read this."

Suigetsu and Juugo make quick work out of reading the invitation; Juugo raises an eyebrow curiously, but Suigetsu is less refined. He barks with laughter. "Wait, Itachi – the guy who we're hunting down. Your clan-killing psycho brother. And…Sakura? Isn't she that irate pink haired chick who used to have a thing for you, Sasuke?"

Sasuke's brows draw together, and he makes a small sound of irritation in the back of his throat, as he reclaims the invitation. "Pathetic," he sneers. "Thinking that I could fall for a ruse like that…"

"How very stupid of them?" Juugo offers meekly.

"So we're just going to ignore it and keep trying to find the Akatsuki Headquarters?" Suigetsu asks hopefully, his hand going to his sword. "I've got a bone to pick with that Hoshigaki wannabe—"

"No," Sasuke interrupts flatly, before offering them a small, dangerous sort of smile. "We're going to Konoha."

Juugo gapes. "You're going to your crazy brother's wedding? I mean, I know there's clan etiquette and stuff, but in light of past circumstances, I think you'd be off the hook…"

Sasuke smirks. "Hardly. If they're asinine enough to believe that they could lure me into capturing range through a scheme like this – well, a fight is obviously what they want, so that's what they are going to get. And they are going to be in way over their heads."

Juugo nods resolutely, and Suigetsu licks the blade of his sword eagerly. "Bring it."


It is ten-thirty at night, and they are just an hour away from Konoha's gates. This fact is of no importance to Sasuke, whose breath is coming in shallow gasps, as his eyes flicker between onyx and crimson, his gaze darting frantically around the deserted clearing.

Juugo nudges Suigetsu. "Is he – all right?" he mutters in an undertone. "He's been like this for the part fifteen minutes."

Suigetsu shrugs, but Sasuke turns toward them sharply, letting a shuriken embed itself into a nearby tree. "My Itachi Senses," he mumbles, fairly shaking with repressed emotion, "are tingling."

Suigetsu shoots him an alarmed look, while inching away. "You have…Itachi Senses? That's just fucking creepy, man."

Juugo laughs nervously. "Well. Then. I think I'm going to go to the stream – take a bath. Or…something."

He flees, leaving the sharky Suigetsu alone with their bordering-on-insanity team leader. Sasuke is still trembling slightly, chakra dangerously flaring and sparking along every exposed nerve. Suigetsu squeaks a little, makes the requisite excuses, and follows in Juugo's footsteps.

Now alone – or, well, almost alone, Sasuke tries to take a few deep breaths, steeling himself. Small puffs of smoke flare from his nostrils upon every exhalation, though, and the Katon is just aching to burst free of his lungs. His idiotic teammates had noticed nothing amiss, but he can just feel his elder brother's presence.

Sasuke inhales and exhales again, forcing himself to achieve some semblance of calm, and running his icy hands through his hair. When he looks up, though, his gaze is bright with the crimson of the Sharingan. "Itachi," he whispers, almost raggedly. "Cut the psychotic shit. Both of us know that I know that you're out there – and that I'm more than ready to take you on. If you think you're man enough, step out and face me."

Even before his statement is over, Uchiha Sasuke finds himself pinned to the bark of the nearest tree, his brother's icy fingers having curled mercilessly around his throat. He barely has time to blink, and Itachi leans forward, his Mangekyou swirling, and a predator's cold smile on his face. "Remember this, Sasuke – you asked for it. And," – his grip tightens – "you just may live to regret it."

Sasuke narrows his eyes right back, giving as good as he's got, and in one lightning-fast sweep of his hand, a wall of chakra springs up, forcing Itachi an arm's length away from him. The younger Uchiha laughs, a little, a kunai springing to his fingertips. "Is that the best you've got?"

Itachi raises an eyebrow. "Not in the least. But it is kind of you to ask, nevertheless."


The fight is on, and it is unrivalled in viciousness, brutality, and sheer uniqueness – it is the first time in recorded history that two Uchiha have ever gone head-to-head with killing intent.

Two hours in, Sasuke is unable to keep from gasping for breath; he staggers forward, a little unsteadily, and manages to score a long, shallow gash above Itachi's heart. Despite his fatigue, he sneers. "Losing your touch, aniki?" he taunts. "Getting rusty with age?" He lunges forward again, his kunai just missing his elder brother's throat by a hairsbreadth. "Or maybe your time is over. Maybe it's time for my ascendancy."

Completely unconcerned, Itachi wipes some of the blood away from his chest with a fingertip, taking his time to observe it, apparently fascinated with the color. "Do you know what our father would always say to me during our training together?" he comments offhandedly, sidestepping a shuriken.

Sasuke blinks, thrown off for a moment, before the harsh, barely-constrained rage overwhelms him again, turning his voice into a snarl. "Don't you dare mention him to me!"

This time, Itachi easily catches the dagger that is aimed at his heart, before sending it back in Sasuke's direction. "Father always used to tell me," he repeats softly, the Sharingan swirling hypnotically, "to maintain caution at all times – because pride always comes before a fall."

Sasuke blinks again, hastily looking away from his brother's doujutsu. "What—"

Then he hears a horrifyingly familiar telltale puff of smoke, and, again, Itachi's – the real Itachi's – icy, merciless grip has locked around his throat, throwing him back against the tree with enough force to rattle his spine and take his breath away. Now Itachi is nose-to-nose with him, or almost; the five years difference between them has still given the elder several inches' advantage.

By the time Sasuke tries to close his eyes, it is too late; Itachi murmurs a soft jutsu under his breath, and it feels almost as if horrible, freezing fingers have plastered Sasuke's eyelids to his eyebrows. Itachi smirks in his most infuriating manner. "I've humored you for far too long, foolish little brother," he murmurs. "Tsukiyomi."


Death, all around him – blood and death and the most unimaginable forms of agony, incomprehensible to anybody who has never experienced this before. The flat side of the katana's blade forces Sasuke to his knees in the middle of what had once been the Uchiha compound, under the light of the scarlet moon, and Itachi follows, studying his younger brother's beaten, tortured body with an expression of scholarly interest. "You haven't screamed yet," Itachi observes. "Curious."

Even in this horrifying parallel universe, Sasuke manages to bare his teeth at his brother. "Perhaps I have grown stronger – wouldn't you like that?"

Itachi reaches forward, locking his grip around Sasuke's throat once again, stroking his vulnerable jugular with one purple-painted fingernail. "I doubt it," Itachi says softly, drawing him closer. "Perhaps I am just not trying hard enough."

Just like that, Sasuke is thrown into an even deeper circle of hell; he is thrown into Itachi's memories, seeing the atrocities his elder brother has committed – death, death, accidentally wearing blue nail polish instead of purple, more death, torture, Hoshigaki Kisame gagging after eating some of the chicken Itachi had cooked for dinner, Shisui, the massacre, a fleeting vision of a blonde missing-nin howling after Itachi had broken his arm, blood everywhere, a flash of pink and green and red and of a familiar smile, more torture—



Itachi feels his younger brother tense; he laughs softly. "See anything that surprises you?"

Sasuke looks up at him, and hisses, almost like an injured cat. "Sakura."

Itachi simply watches him. "…Yes?"

It is a testament to Sasuke's strength that he is even able to struggle against the Tsukiyomi, which is what he is doing now. "Show it to me," he snarls. "You – her – what is she doing in your memories? She has no business in there! What; have you been going after my former teammates?"

Itachi raises an eyebrow elegantly. "I do not believe that you could handle the answer to that particular question."

Sasuke actually coughs up a small ball of fire in his distress. "Stop fucking around and show me, damn it!"

Itachi smirks slightly. "I would like to cite you on inappropriate word choice, and very well – it is your funeral, brother."


In all actuality, Sasuke had not known what to expect, but it is fairly certain that it had not been this.

Sakura and Itachi, sitting across from each other in a dimly lit room, with her fingertips gently pressed on his eyelids. Itachi, handing her a plate of her favorite food. Kneeling next to each other in some sort of mint fields at night, talking civilly about nail polish. Itachi pressing a pair of designer sunglasses into her grip, curling her delicate fingers over them. Sakura kissing him on the cheek by proxy. Writing to each other. Itachi, authoring a morbid poetic epic, and Sakura, staying up all night to read it. Sakura and Itachi sitting across from each other at a fancy restaurant, sharing ice cream in comfortable silence. Itachi, holding a shriveled black rose and kissing her, and her kissing him back, wholeheartedly, her fingers tangled in his hair—

In short, Sasuke watches Sakura, the girl who had loved him, fall in love with the elder brother who had, effectively, ruined his life, and his lips and lungs tremble with the strength it takes him to remain silent.

Itachi withdraws, dispassionately watching his brother fight for ragged breath after ragged breath. "No," Sasuke gasps, at last. "That's not real. That can't be real. I was supposed to be – she was never supposed to get over – with you, of all people – she was always going to wait for me, for me to finish my business with you—"

"Let me assure you, foolish little brother," Itachi whispers, tilting Sasuke's head up again, to meet his gaze. "It was very much real – but is apparent that you may need some more convincing of that little fact."


Sakura and Itachi, pressed up against a wall—

Sasuke's left eye twitches slightly; at that precise instant, something in his brain snaps, and he can no longer restrain his screams of pure, undiluted agony.


Fifteen Minutes Later


Naruto and Sakura are pacing back and forth in front of Konoha's gates; Naruto is trembling slightly, not just because of the cold, but she has a comforting arm around her best friend's shoulders. He stiffens when he feels Sakura's muscles tense, and she looks into the dark forest sharply. "They're coming."

Almost as if summoned by the words themselves, Uchiha Itachi flickers into existence in front of them; it is something that Naruto does not think he will ever get used to, and he growls, his hackles rising – before he sees the heart-stoppingly familiar black-haired, black-clad figure slung over his shoulder, and all the breath leaves his body. "…Sasuke," he croaks.

Without further ado, Itachi dumps his younger brother's thoroughly unconscious form into Naruto's waiting, orange-clad arms. To his credit, the fox-boy doesn't flinch, although his eyes narrow upon noting his former teammate's lack of response. "You didn't—" he glares up at Itachi.

"No," Sakura interrupts, placing a firm hand on Naruto's shoulder, and, for a moment, Itachi thinks he sees her eyes mist over with tears, but she blinks a few times, and her vision clears again. "He's fine. It's just – the aftereffects of the Tsukiyomi, if I'm not mistaken."

Naruto pokes Sasuke in the throat, checking for a pulse. "You didn't hurt him?" he presses, suspicious.

Itachi is unable to hold back his smirk. "Let me assure you that my foolish little brother is physically unharmed."

This time, it's Sakura who gives him the suspicious look. "Mentally?"

Itachi offers the two younger shinobi a dangerous sort of smile. "I cannot make any promises."

"What?" Naruto squawks, quite alarmed.

Itachi shrugs, unconcerned. "He pushed me. And he may never be the same again, but in my personal opinion, from here, there can only be an improvement."

With a swift kiss to Sakura's cheek and a slight nod to Naruto, he is gone, leaving Team Seven standing – or being carried, as the case may be – but whole again for, the first time in a decade.

"Hell of a weird guy you've got there, Sakura-chan," Naruto grouses, attempting to adjust Sasuke into a more comfortable position. "But I have to admit that this is a pretty awesome wedding present."

Sakura smiles, flinging one of Sasuke's limp arms over her shoulders, as they make their way back into the village. "For once, Naruto, I agree with you – on both counts."

And for his part, Sasuke just adjusts his head and drools a little.


Three Months Later


Ever since the tender age of ten years old, Haruno Sakura has fantasized about her perfect wedding.

This is most definitely not it.

Well, to be fair – she does have the perfect venue, a breathtakingly gorgeous Vera Wang wedding dress donated by the tearful Tobi, the presence of all the people she loves the most in the world (with the addition of the Akatsuki), and she is, after all, marrying an Uchiha.

(According to her childhood daydreams, however, she is most definitely marrying the wrong Uchiha, but that is totally besides the point.)

The most important point is, that when Sakura envisioned her wedding, she had hardly expected it to be an armed camp. Which is, unfortunately, what it has descended into – at least according to the periodic reports from Konohamaru and Moegi.

"Oh, damn," Sakura winces, as Konan and Tobi help adjust her gown, making the final last-minute preparations for her walk down the aisle. "Maybe holding two separate ceremonies would have been a better idea."

Konan takes a moment to pat her on the hand soothingly. "Nonsense. I'm sure everybody is conducting themselves with the utmost maturity and composure suited to such a wonderful occasion."

Tobi fussily fixes the sleeve of the gown. "Don't worry, Sakura-chan! I'm sure my friends and your friends are becoming best friends!"

Sakura swallows doubtfully. "…If you say so."




"I hate you."

Pein blinks at the blonde Kyuubi vessel. "…Pardon?"

"Get a damn hobby, why don't you?" Naruto explodes, tugging irritably at the collar of his dress shirt. "You've been trying to kill me for the past decade! You ruin everybody's life! Can't you just take your stupid organization and make them do other things besides jinchiruuki extraction?"

Pein sighs in his most world-weary fashion. "It is nothing personal, I assure you, although I strongly object to your calling my organization stupid. And what else are we supposed to do beside jinchiruuki extraction? Organized crime rings have so few options nowadays. Originality has always been a priority with Akatsuki."

Naruto scratches his head thoughtfully. "If originality's what you're going for, you could train all of your people in poker or blackjack and become card sharks."

The Akatsuki Leader frowns. "I doubt it will suffice, but it is an interesting idea nevertheless, brat. Perhaps we can discuss this further at the punch table."

"Not a brat, that's 'Future Rokudaime Hokage', to you." Naruto scowls, crossing his arms. "And I'll only come if you promise not to extract anything on the way there."

Pein sighs again; damn boy and his stupid loopholes. "…Fine."


"You don't remember me."

Gai frowns deeply, staring at Kisame in his most thoughtful manner. "No, you don't ring a bell. Not in the least."

Kisame fairly growls, wishing that Sakura hadn't mandated that Samehada stay at Akatsuki Headquarters for the duration of the day. "We've met twice before, spandex freak. I've kicked your ass both times."

Gai considers this for a moment, before bursting out into one of his impossibly bright smiles. "That was all in the past, though! Let us embrace the power of youth and begin a wonderful friendship, in which we learn from each other's strengths in order to better ourselves into even more remarkable individuals!"

Kisame sighs, rubbing his aching temples. "…Not until you remember who I am, green machine."

Gai stares at him intently for a minute straight. "Oh, my Buddha!" he gasps at last, his eyes widening to the size of dinner plates. "I've got it! I can't believe I didn't realize it before!"

Kisame grins in his most shark-like fashion. "About time."

"You were in Jaws, weren't you?" Gai screeches triumphantly, before launching forward and prodding Kisame's face curiously. "Wow, they really did wonders with your makeup…"

At this point, Hoshigaki Kisame, feared member of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, sighs and tries his best to retreat without shedding any blood.


"Oh, no you didn't, bitch," Yamanaka Ino glares, drawing herself up to her full height and placing her hands on her hips. "You stole my fucking hairstyle."

Insulted, Deidara sneers. "It's not your hairstyle, un. Besides, I wear it much better than you do, you washed-up platinum-blonde—"

"What?" Ino screeches, brandishing a toothpick at him. "Did you just call me washed-up, you…you…pansy-ass artist boy?"

Deidara narrows his visible eye. "Damn straight I called you washed-up, un. Platinum blonde was so last season and aesthetically out to begin with. Honey blonde," – he twirls the end of his ponytail around a finger demonstratively – "has always been a richer, fuller, and more flattering shade, un."

Ino regards him with equally narrowed eyes. "Really."

"Yeah, un," Deidara scoffs, giving her another once-over. "In all fairness, though, you wouldn't be a complete loss if you switched to my shade. It would do wonders for bringing out the blue in your eyes, un."

Ino sniffs, before taking his arm and leading him over to the front row. "Fine, then. Sit with me, and we'll talk highlights. Since you're supposed to be so artistically savvy, and all. But don't get any weird ideas or anything."


"Hey there, hot stuff," Hidan grins lasciviously, advancing on the terrified-looking Hyuuga Hinata.

In the interests of preserving peace at one of her closest friends' wedding, Hinata refrains from shutting down all of his tenketsu on principle. "H-hello," she stammers nervously, inching away from the Akatsuki member. "H-how are you on this lovely evening?"

Hidan smirks, and Hinata blanches as he slips one strong hand onto her shoulder. "I'm fine, but I would be better if you and I could—"

Suddenly, there is such a spike of murderous intent in the room that Hidan actually thinks that Itachi had appeared behind him. Instead, the Akatsuki's resident zealot turns to face ANBU Captain Hyuuga Neji, dressed in full formal regalia, and looking ready to kill. "Unhand her immediately," Neji pronounces, each word dripping poison.

Hidan sneers, and slides his arm more completely around the white-eyed girl's shaking shoulders. "Possessive bastard, aren't you? Don't you know that that shit's illegal, where I come from?"

Hinata squeaks, and, upon recognizing the implication, nearly faints.

Neji's left eye twitches.

In the next second, the massive punch bowl has been overturned on Hidan's head, and he collapses to the floor bonelessly, all of his tenketsu having being shut down.

"N-Neji, you didn't have to do that," Hinata says, horrified.

Neji gives an aristocratic sniff and nudges the limp Hidan with his foot. "He insulted you."

"Hinata has a point."

Much to his horror, Neji looks around to find the Godaime Hokage, tapping one high-heeled foot on the floor and looking very, very angry. Without further ado, her hand snaps out, grabbing the ANBU Captain by the ear. "I know this is an – awkward – situation," Tsunade hisses, "but I promised Sakura I would ensure that she had the finest wedding possible, under the, ah…circumstances. One behavioral demerit, Hyuuga."


Tsunade releases him, glaring. "And I'm telling Sakura."

Neji pales.

After the Hokage has stormed off, Hinata joins him, before patting him on the arm timidly. "…Told you."


"Eh, Sakura," Tsunade says, poking her head into the dressing room. "I hate to rush you, but, uh—"

Sakura's eye twitches. "What happened?"

"Naruto and the Akatsuki Leader are involved in an increasingly competitive game of poker, I think Hoshigaki Kisame might kill Gai any second now, Yamanaka Ino and Deidara are flirting like the world's coming to an end tomorrow, and Hyuuga Neji just threw the entire punch bowl over Hidan's head."

Sakura only smiles at her reflection, before graciously accepting her bouquet from Konan. "That's it, Tsunade-shishou – I'm walking down that aisle right now. And when I'm done with that, I'm kicking all of their sorry asses."

Sakura sweeps out of the room, and Konan nods at the Godaime Hokage civilly. "You did an excellent job, if I do say so myself."

Tsunade beams, pleased. "I know."


Having just managed to extricate himself from Gai in the nick of time, Kisame goes wandering through the bowels of the church, utilizing the very same breathing exercises that he is always going on about.

That is, until he passes a certain door, the door flies open, a certain icy hand locks around his windpipe and drags him in, and suddenly, Kisame is face-to-face with Itachi, who is breathing very shallowly and looking quite a bit more dangerous than usual – which is really saying something.

Kisame gasps for breath, massaging his throat, and his eyes widen slightly upon making contact with his disheveled-looking partner. Itachi's hair has been thrown up into a messy bun, his white dress shirt is rolled up to his elbows and buttoned up unevenly, his scarlet tie has been knotted at the wrong angle, the jacket has been thrown into a corner, and his eyes are switching from crimson to onyx at an alarming rate. "Kisame," Itachi rasps hoarsely. "Help me."

It is a frightening sight, and an even more frightening prospect, to say the least, but Kisame cannot help but chuckle as he looks at his rather demented partner. It is one of the rare glimpses of a more human side of Itachi, even though these moments have become more common in the past one and a half years. "You know, Itachi," Kisame comments, as they both attempt to re-dress him in a more composed fashion. "If Deidara or Tobi were here, they would say that you're kinda cute like this. Like – a confused little puppy, or something."

Itachi removes his tie, gives Kisame's neck a pointed look, and then snaps the tie. "Shut up, Kisame."

Kisame sniggers, now positively enjoying himself. "Little Itachi, all grown up and getting married—"

Now dressed properly – although still radiating scariness – Itachi kicks Kisame out of the room. Literally. The shark-man's shoulder makes contact with the other side of the hallway, and he rubs it ruefully. "Some things never change, I guess."


By the time the ceremony begins, everybody is seated properly, the punch has been mopped up, all weapons have been checked at the door, Hidan has been slapped back into consciousness, Naruto and Kakashi have firm holds on Sasuke's straitjacket, and everybody has been more or less forced into sullen silence. There is the requisite awed hush when Sakura makes her way down the aisle, breathtakingly beautiful in her ivory wedding gown, and, miraculously, nobody throws any sharp and pointy projectiles at Itachi.

This isn't out of some kind of sudden rush of goodwill or even grudging acceptance of the eldest Uchiha, though. Every single Konoha shinobi in the area thinks about offing Itachi, wishes that they could off Itachi, and Naruto and Kakashi almost hatch a plan to throw Sasuke at the priest to create a distraction, subsequently charge the altar, and then 'accidentally' stab Itachi through the heart with one of the butter knives from the snack table.

Then, however, they remember Sakura. And it is not out of respect for her feelings, but a healthy respect for her ability to reduce a solid stone wall to ash with one twitch of her fist, that they do not do anything rash.

Luckily, Sakura has no idea of their thoughts, and takes her vows with a smile.

Itachi, however, does have a very good idea of their thoughts, and takes his vows with a smirk; happy with the knowledge that he is, by this act, not only ensuring his happiness and Sakura's, but sticking it to Konoha again. And that is certainly cause for celebration.

Much to Deidara's alarm, Ino begins sobbing violently, even as the entire party breaks into reluctant applause for the unlikely couple. Deidara cringes away. "Bit late for second thoughts, un?"

"No, it's not that," Ino sobs. "My little Sakura, all grown up and getting married…"

With a look of interest, Deidara unearths an Akatsuki-embroidered handkerchief and flings it at her. "The fact that she's marrying an S-class criminal doesn't bother you in the least, un?"

"Not at all," Ino sniffles, mopping at her eyes. "Just look at them! They're so well suited!"

Another intriguing thought crosses his mind. "So…you wouldn't be opposed to dating a criminal, un?"

To his horror, the sodden handkerchief lands on the shoulder of his dark blue dress shirt, as the definitely interesting Yamanaka Ino wipes the last of the tears from her face and makes her way through the crowd to congratulate her best friend. "I wouldn't," she calls over her shoulder, before disappearing from sight, "but it would be hard to find a good one, don't you think?"

Deidara watches her go, before deflating somewhat. "Ugh."

Tobi bounds up out of nowhere, only to cling to him in a hug. "Oh, Deidara-senpai!" he wails passionately. "Wasn't that just so beautiful?"

"Kind of, un," Deidara concedes, trying to pry him loose, before freezing, horrified. "Uh, Tobi – why does Hidan have the microphone?"

Tobi and Deidara turn around, panicked, and scanning the crowd until they find Leader-sama and Konan, both of whom look as astounded as they do. The Leader makes frantic 'kunai-across-the-throat' gestures with a paper kunai that Konan had hurriedly crafted for this express purpose, but it is too late.

Hidan smirks.

"Attention!" he hollers, his voice amplified to a startling level, and all activity within the church comes to a close, as all shinobi, Akatsuki and Konoha alike, stare at him with something akin to pure terror written on their faces. "One, everybody get your asses over there and congratulate the lucky bitches, and two; let's get this party started!"

To Pein and Konan's surprise, this statement triggers an overwhelming roar of assent through the crowd; Pein looks at Konan, raising an eyebrow. "Interesting; he's a crowd pleaser. Maybe we could rent him out to birthday parties, wedding receptions, and events that require a DJ."

Itachi relaxes fractionally, despite having just been referred to as a lucky bitch. Then the latter part of Hidan's statement registers, and he frowns. "Sakura," he murmurs in an undertone, while quite determinedly ignoring Hatake Kakashi attempting to glare a hole through his back, "you never mentioned anything about a party."

Sakura hugs Lee and Tenten at the same time, and beams at him over their shoulders. "What did you think 'fantastic reception afterward' meant?"

"A quiet and dignified get-together, of course."

Four echoing cracks sound from across the hallway, and Itachi stiffens – before realizing that it's just Deidara, Kisame, Genma, and Raidou, who have begun to pop champagne bottles and toss them out into the crowd. "Any and all toasts welcome, un!" Deidara yells, before shooting a warning look at the straitjacketed Sasuke. "But not you, un."

Sasuke deflates slightly.

"Open mic!" Hidan howls, before grinning at the advancing Kiba. "Not so easy, dog-boy. You've got to rap-battle me if you want it…"

Itachi and Sakura watch the madness, feeling somewhat overwhelmed. "Oh, my Buddha," Sakura laughs, as she listens to Ino and Deidara battle over who can make a more eloquent toast. "They're coexisting. In a kinda sorta peaceful manner. This is shocking. This is momentous. We may have started a trend, or the beginning of a new era…"

Itachi winces as he sees the undoubtedly dynamic meeting of Tobi and Maito Gai's protégé, the infamous Rock Lee. "Buddha forbid," he says dryly.

Sakura laughs, standing on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. "What are you looking for?"

He glances down at her, before deciding to impart some of the truth. "…Leader-sama and Konan."

Sakura's eyes widen slightly. "No."

Itachi smirks at the predictability of her reaction. "He believed that a wedding would be the ideal occasion in which to voice his – sentiment – toward her."

Sakura finally spots them, engaged in polite conversation with Neji and Hinata. "Well, this," – she gestures vaguely to their surroundings; namely, Hidan and Kiba's extreme rapping, a great variety of drunken toasts, and generally, a good deal of mayhem and madness – "is hardly conducive to a romantic proposal."

Itachi's eyes narrow when he sees where she intends to go with this. "Sakura—"

"Nope, we're in this together, Uchiha," Sakura replies, undaunted, before grabbing him by the hand and beginning to weave through the crowd. "I know that you're only romantic in the twisted, creepy sort of way, but together, we can work wonders. First, we've got to find Tobi…"


It takes a long period of intense and discreet planning to make Sakura's plan work. It is late, and the reception is beginning to wind down, when Tobi takes the stage, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Sakura and Itachi follow in his wake; Sakura looks radiant, while Itachi merely looks like he is in pain, but that is the normal state of events, after all.

Tobi taps the microphone a couple of times. "Um, hello?"

When all attention shifts to him, he grins and waves at his audience cheerily. "Hi! My name is Tobi and I'm very glad to meet all of you!"

"Hi, Tobi," Lee, Tenten, and Gai recite back to him.

Tobi nearly falls over with glee at such a cheerful reception. "As all of you know, today was a wonderful and joyous day. As it is winding to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a certain very special song to Itachi-san and Sakura-san, as they get ready to embark on their life together—"

"I'm going to fucking puke," Hidan whispers to Deidara.

Deidara snickers, noticing the tortured expression on Itachi's face. "Maybe little red-eye's going to beat you to it."

"—And for any couples who want to join in and dance," Tobi continues, blissfully unaware of his comrades' side conversation, "please feel free! Spread the love!"

As Tobi begins to strum his guitar, Itachi casts a significant look at his new wife. "Sakura, I don't think this is a very good idea."

"Why?" she asks innocently, moving closer to him and taking one of his hands.

Itachi winces almost imperceptibly. "I cannot—ah, I can't dance."

Sakura gives him an incredulous look, while watching Lee spin Tenten around gracefully. "You can't dance?"

"Sakura, I spent my formative years as a member of the world's foremost criminal organization. That does not leave much time for instructive dance lessons, and," – he raises an eyebrow upon catching sight of Neji and Hinata waltzing in a corner – "my clan found it of greater importance to push me through the shinobi ranks as quickly as humanly possible, rather than spending much time focusing on the social graces."

"Mmm," Sakura slips her arms around his shoulders, subtly guiding his hands to her waist. "We can improvise, I guess – argh!"

"What?" Itachi narrowly avoids stepping on her toe.

"See the lights, see the party, the ballgowns, see you make your way through the crowd and say hello," Tobi warbles flawlessly—

"Pein and Konan are dancing!"

Itachi smirks, resting his chin on the top of her head for a moment. "Oh, joy," he deadpans.

Sakura pulls back, looking definitely alarmed. "Oh my Buddha, I just freaked out with glee upon noticing that the leader of your criminal organization is dancing with his girlfriend and may propose to her within a few minutes."

"After your wedding to a member of said criminal organization, no less," Itachi says dryly.

Sakura blinks up at him, a stray lock of hair falling into her eyes. "Our lives have been really screwed up, haven't they?"

"Because you were Romeo and I was the scarlet letter, and my daddy said stay away from Juliet—"

Tobi's voice hits a high note that it, biologically, should not have been able to hit, and Itachi draws Sakura close in a rare tender moment. "Yes. But it is rather more entertaining than living an average, mundane sort of life."


"Oh my Jashin-sama, are little red-eye and the irate kunoichi actually engaging in PDA?" Hidan gasps, scandalized.

Kisame glances over at them – "For Buddha's sake, Hidan, he just kissed her forehead."

"This love is difficult, but it's real; don't be afraid, we'll make it out of this mess—"

"Ugh, Sharky, Leader-sama and Konan should shut Tobi up, I may puke," Hidan sighs.

"Where are they, anyway?" Kisame asks curiously.

Hidan turns, scanning the crowd. "Deidara's dancing with the blonde chick who looks like his twin sister; what is up with that shit? And – oh holy fucking mother of Jashin-sama!"

Kisame pounces on Hidan, stifling the zealot's mouth with his hand. "What?" he hisses.

"Konan! Leader-sama!" Hidan gestures wildly, obviously traumatized. "He gave her a fucking ring! Just now! Slipped it on her finger and I swear to Jashin-sama she had a tear in her eye!"

Discretion forgotten, Kisame stands on the tips of his toes, and he chokes on his glass of champagne when he sees that Hidan had, actually, not been hyperbolizing. "…Wow," Kisame manages, stunned.

Hidan and Kisame promptly seat themselves in the nearest chairs, stunned.

"Itachi and Sakura," Kisame ticks off on his fingers. "Leader-sama and Konan, and I'll bet that Deidara and that Ino girl are next. And who knows about Tobi? I bet after this little singing debut, all the single kunoichi here are going to be throwing themselves at him like he's a member of one of those crappy little pop bands."

"…Fuck, we're missing out," Hidan sighs ruefully.

"Maybe we should, you know," Kisame suggests, "…find some interesting kunoichi, one of these days. See what all the fuss is about."

Tobi's voice rises poignantly. "You'll be the prince, and I'll be the princess; it's a love story, baby, just say yes—"

In perfect unison, Kisame and Hidan crack up. "No," Kisame wheezes, clutching at his aching ribs.

Hidan actually wipes a tear away from the corner of his eyes. "We don't need that shit – we can just laugh at the sorry assholes that this actually happens to."


It is late, by now, and the only people left at the church are Itachi, Sakura, and the rest of Akatsuki. Well, in all fairness, Sakura is trying her Tsunade-approved best to finish the champagne, and is egging Itachi on. "Come on! I want to be the first person to ever get the Uchiha Itachi drunk!"

"Never," Itachi deadpans, looking quite content with his shotglass of Acai-Blueberry-Pomegranate Vitamin Water. "I wouldn't want to put myself in a vulnerable position in which I could get taken advantage of, after all."

Sakura laughs, and is about to playfully shove him in the shoulder when Hidan, Kisame, Tobi, and Deidara stroll up. The former seems to be holding something behind his back, while the latter smirks at them. "Damn. Save it for later tonight, un."

Without further ado, Itachi reaches out and breaks the shotglass over Deidara's head. "Shut up."

Sakura smirks at the blonde artist. "So says the guy who was found in a closet, making out with my best friend."

Deidara smirks right back, shaking the shards of glass out of his disheveled mane. "I don't kiss and tell, un."

"Anyway," Kisame offers, smiling in a rather sharky and suspicious way. "We brought a – wedding present. Of sorts."

Itachi raises an eyebrow at him, sensing something amiss. "Really."

"Show him," Kisame decrees.

Sakura and Itachi blink as something resembling a tiny pillowcase, embroidered with the black-and-red Akatsuki clouds, is thrown at them.

Sakura lifts it up, inspecting it. "Wow, guys – that was really nice of you, but…we already have a lot of linens and stuff for the house…"

Itachi just glowers menacingly.

The other Akatsuki members smirk in response, before Hidan nods to Tobi. "That's not linens and stuff, Sakura-san!" Tobi chirps happily. "It's clothes!"

"…For the little sprog, when it arrives," Kisame completes.

Sakura's left eye twitches, while Itachi busies himself trying to look as if he would rather be anywhere but here. "What," she says, with a tone of deceptive calmness, "makes you think that I would want my innocent future offspring to toddle about dressed in Akatsuki colors?"

Deidara smiles evilly, preparing his artistic finish, while jerking a thumb over at the pale Itachi. "Oh, I seem to recall the Uchiha promising that we could dress the kid up and he could be like our mascot, un."

Sakura turns to Itachi. "…Mascot."

"Mascot!" Tobi repeats, for clarification.

"We could hold him out before we killed somebody, so they could be like, 'oh my fucking God, it's a cute little baby,' and then they would be all disarmed in the face of the cuteness, and then we could kill them and it would be a piece of fucking cake!" Hidan crows, before sobering somewhat in the face of Sakura's glare. "…All little red-eye's idea, of course."

Itachi chooses this moment to rip his jacket off, lunge forward, and attempt to strangle Hidan with his tie.

Deidara smirks. "Time to go, un?"

Kisame grins. "Naturally."

"But we can't just leave Hidan-san!" Tobi chips in, worried. "Not with Itachi-san trying to strangle him with his tie, and Sakura-san trying to stab his eyes out with one of her stilettos!"

"Of course we can, un," Deidara explains.

Kisame smirks, looking at the violent scene in front of him with an expression of scholarly interest. "…Damn, they really are well suited, aren't they?"

Deidara grins. "Definitely, un."


the end.


for realz this time.

You know, I came up with the entire idea for this story while I was in the shower on the morning of November 1st, after listening to Taylor Swift's Love Story. I wrote it purely for the lulz and on the spur of the moment, but as long as I've got at least a few of you to laugh a little bit along the way, then, well, my purpose in writing this is pretty much complete. :)

Thank you so much for your kind feedback throughout; knowing that other people enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it has been great.

Until next time, feedback appreciated!