Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are created by Masashi Kishimoto, but the new plots (meaning the ones you don't recognize!) are mine. This fanfiction has been written for entertainment purposes only and without intention of infringing upon any copyright.

Title: The Centerpiece

Author: elle6778
Rating: T/PG-13 (If there are any M-rated scenes, these will be posted elsewhere)
Genre: Action/Romance

Summary: Non-massacre AU. Itachi had chosen to involve Sakura in something that he did not wish for in the first place. What he did not expect was for her to quickly become the centerpiece of the events surrounding him.

A/N: This is the sequel to The Chance. It took a while to get this up, but at least it's here now, right? If you're familiar with my work, you'd know that this story is likely to be quite long. Also, I'm aware of the canon Uchiha's background, but in this story, it is a little mangled since it is a non-massacre-AU. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy the introduction to the story.

The Centerpiece by elle6778 – Chapter 1

A battered weapons pouch flew across the room, hitting the cream-colored wall before it dropped down to the floor with a dull thud. There, it lay still as its owner trudged across the bedroom, looking as if she was about to shatter into a million pieces.

Sakura groaned out loud as she sank into her bed fully clothed. All she wanted to do was to sleep for the next forty-eight hours. Much to her annoyance, images from the last few days flashed across her eyes. Team Kakashi had gone through what seemed like countless number of battles with the rogue nins before they finally got their hands on the stolen scroll. It had been a difficult mission. Come to think of it, Tsunade had been giving them increasingly complicated missions lately.

This was all Naruto's fault, Sakura thought moodily as she turned to her side.

Each time they stood in front of the Hokage, her boisterous blonde friend would demand harder and more challenging missions. Sakura did not understand what Naruto was trying to prove. It was not as if they had been doing D-rank missions in the first place. They had been working mostly on B-rank and A-rank missions, much as they had done over the last three years. Well, Kakashi, Naruto and Sasuke had been on more of them that she had, simply because in the past, they tended to leave her behind. But things had changed, since about eighteen months ago.

Since then, she had finally gotten what she wanted from Naruto and Sasuke; acknowledgement. So, instead of spending most of her time being a base medic in Konoha, for the last one and a half year, she had remained a field medic with Team Kakashi. Ever since that week when she went with Itachi on his ANBU mission, Naruto and Sasuke had never let her out of their sight. It was as if they were worried that a certain ANBU captain might snatch her up. The whole idea never failed to make her smile.

Not that their concerns actually made any difference when it came to Uchiha Itachi. That ANBU captain always got his way, no matter what went on around him. Which meant that ever since that first task, she had gone on a number of missions with his ANBU squad, much to Naruto's and Sasuke's consternation. The two of them had tried everything to stop Itachi, even to the extent of dragging Kakashi into the fray. But nothing deterred Itachi when he set his mind on something.

Sakura sighed heavily as she thought over her involvement in the ANBU missions.

At the beginning, she had found that she could not possibly say no to the older Uchiha. For one thing, since he was the one who had opened Naruto's and Sasuke's eyes to her abilities, she had felt quite indebted to him, making it difficult for her to refuse whenever he asked for her presence. Still, she had to admit that that was not the only reason. Which kunoichi in her right mind would refuse the chance to work with Konoha's best ANBU squad? That, in itself, was a privilege. A privilege that she did not think that she would ever give up.

But recently, she had begun to feel the stretch. It was enough to make her wonder if she was pushing herself a little too hard. Surely by now, she deserved just a little bit of a break? Or should she expect this to continue for the rest of her kunoichi career?

Sakura yawned widely. Enough of thinking about work. She needed to sleep now. When she was more awake, she would consider the issue again.

With that thought, she closed her eyes and began to drift off.

Sakura did not know how long she had slept, but the next thing she knew, a soft noise from outside distracted her, drawing a muffled groan from her. Someone was out there.

She was so tired that she could not even find the strength to open her eyes when her windows squeaked open. Unconcerned, she simply buried her face deeper into the pillow. There was no reason for her to be alarmed anyway because by now, she was able to recognize his presence, masked chakra or not.

The barely audible footsteps stopped beside her bed but she made no move to get up.


She kept her eyes and lips firmly shut. Maybe if she pretended to be asleep, he would go away. Maybe he would show some hint of compassion this time and allow her to rest.

"You're awake."

So much for compassion.

Knowing that it was useless to continue to pretend, Sakura cracked an eye open. Uchiha Itachi was standing by her bed, staring down at her with his usual impassive expression. The fact that he was here did not bode well for her tired body. She had learnt over time that when Itachi turned up in her bedroom, it meant that she would soon be running around with his ANBU squad. This was how he usually delivered his mission briefs. He rarely approached her when she was with Team Kakashi, possibly because the instant tension that would arise, followed by the inevitable barrage of harsh words from Naruto.

"I need to sleep," she told him firmly, not moving an inch from her bed.

He quirked a single brow, instantly irritating her. Who did he think he was? He seemed to think that he had the right to demand her presence whenever he felt like it. But right now, she was too tired to try to pander to his whims. Yes, she still held him in great respect, but this was really too much. She needed sleep, damn it!

"What is it, Uchiha-san?" she gritted out as she sat up.

Unlike Genma, she did not find it comfortable to call him Itachi to his face. There was something about him that discouraged that extra step of familiarity. So she had been addressing him as either Taishou or Uchiha-san. Naruto and Sasuke had smirked when they discovered it, much to Sakura's bemusement. It was as if they were glad that there was some distance between her and Itachi. Perhaps it reassured Team Kakashi that she would always be closer to them. Not that they had anything to worry about.

"Your presence is required."

Sakura groaned as she buried her face in her hands. "Please tell me you didn't put me down for another mission."

"We are mobilizing tomorrow at eight in the morning. Be prepared, Haruno," he intoned, dropping a thin folder onto her bedside table.

Her eyes widened, guessing that the folder contained the mission brief. "Tomorrow? But I just got back."

"Therefore Team Kakashi will not require you for a while," he responded smoothly.

"But I'm not in the best condition to go out on an ANBU mission," she pointed out incredulously. "I can barely move now!"

"You will rest tonight."

She felt like whining. She really did. But since it was such an un-kunoichi thing to do, she suppressed the urge to do so. Maybe she should yell instead. Or let loose a single punch to that face staring down so imperiously at her.

Sakura allowed her mind to entertain all the possible suicidal ways of venting her frustration before she finally sighed in defeat.

"Fine," she muttered darkly. "I'll go. I take it you've already obtained the Hokage's approval?

He inclined his head. "I'll see you at dawn out by the gates."

"Great," she replied unenthusiastically.

Then he was gone.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, she flopped back onto her bed.

Uchiha Itachi was going to be the death of her one day.

When Itachi woke up, the sky outside was still mostly dark. Dawn would be approaching soon, he thought as he stood up from his futon. Instantly alert, he began to gather his belongings for the mission ahead. He anticipated it to be a short mission, therefore they would not require extensive supplies.

Once packed and fully dressed in his ANBU attire, he slid open the shoji screen, letting in the soft rays of dawn light. He paused at the threshold momentarily, staring out into the cloudless sky. It would remain clear today, he surmised, which would allow them to travel efficiently to their destination.

Stepping out of his room, Itachi slid the screen shut behind him and strode down the wooden walkway. Not before long, he arrived at the main entrance of his home. It was still very early, but Itachi was unsurprised to see his father standing in the doorway, staring out into the courtyard. Uchiha Fugaku tended to rise with the sun.

As he drew closer to his father, Itachi greeted, "Good morning, Chichi-ue."

Turning around, his father inclined his head. "Itachi, you will be back in time for the clan meeting?"

Itachi suppressed a grimace of distaste. The clan meeting. He had forgotten about it, but now that his father had brought it up, Itachi had no doubt that they would bring up a most displeasing topic. Therefore, it was truly fortunate that he had become quite adept at filling all his time with his ANBU missions, and hence had a valid reason to excuse himself once again.

"No, Chichi-ue. I will not be present. Please extend my apologies."

Itachi was about to turn around to walk away when his father's voice stilled him. "Have you given any thought to what was mentioned in the last meeting? You weren't there, but I told you about it."

The last meeting and the dozen or so before it, Itachi thought dryly. How could he forget? They never let him.

"This is important, Itachi. You know that." His father paused briefly, and then continued, "If you don't choose soon, we will be forced to choose for you."


His father frowned. "I would prefer it if you made your own choice. After all, you will have to spend the rest of your life with her."

It was not as if he did not wish to fulfill his duty, even if it was to keep his father from badgering him every other day about it. But no one seemed to understand that to take a wife was tantamount to exposing said wife to unknown levels of danger. None of them knew that he could not afford such an obvious vulnerability, at least, not until he disposed of the threat.

He supposed he could choose a wife who could protect herself. However, it was not the type of danger that could be handled by anyone but the exceptionally skilled, which meant a kunoichi. Kunoichi of such caliber generally balked at the notion of being tied down to wifely duties demanded by the Uchiha clan, for it meant sacrificing her career. It was not something Itachi would wish upon anyone, provided that he could even find such a self-sacrificing individual.

Not for the first time, Itachi wondered if he should relate the nature of the threat to the clan. Or perhaps the Hokage. However, each time he thought of it, something prevented him from doing so. Perhaps it was simply because he did not know who could be trusted with the information.

Besides, he needed more information about the nature of the threat. And in the meantime, in order to minimize confrontations with his father and his clan, he would continue to take as many missions as he could so that he remained away from Konoha, and hence, the troublesome demands of his clan.

"Itachi. Are you listening? Are you doing something this?"

His father's impatient voice brought Itachi out of his contemplations. He had to say something to appease the clan, much as he disliked it. Keeping his expression even, Itachi inclined his head respectfully.

"Yes, Chichi-ue. It is under control."

Fugaku looked far from convinced. However, much to Itachi's relief, his father allowed the subject to drop. Conversation over, Itachi stepped past his father to make his way to the main gates of the Uchiha compound.

The empty streets of Konoha greeted him as he walked between the rows of shops. It was still too early for them to open. However, he could see a flash of silver near the bookshop, recognizing it as Hatake Kakashi's hair. Idly, he wondered why was the Copy-nin awake so early in the morning. It was a well-known fact that the silver-haired shinobi did not wake up earlier than was truly necessary.

Inhaling the crisp morning air, Itachi headed towards Konoha's main gates to meet the rest of his squad. When he reached the rendezvous point, he saw that the two male members of his team were already there.

"You're usually here before the rest of us," Shiranui Genma remarked casually, a senbon hanging from the corner of his mouth. "Everything okay?"

Itachi nodded once and then glanced around. Everyone except their medic was there.

Answering his unspoken question, Shino murmured, "Sakura is not here yet."

"So, she IS coming?" Genma asked, fingering the ANBU mask at his neck.


Grinning, Genma rubbed his hands together. "Ah. Good to know that."

Sakura arrived not long afterwards, drawing their collective attention. The shadows under her eyes told Itachi that she was far from rested. It was not surprising, considering she had only returned from a week-long mission last night. Perhaps he should not have included her in this mission. However, this was a mission that would benefit from her skills. He would not have requested her presence otherwise, would he?

It was then that it occurred to him that over the last eighteen months, Sakura had been present in more than half of their ANBU missions. Unsurprisingly, in one way or another, their missions always benefited from her skills. Over the last one and a half year, her skills had developed further and she had proven over and over again that she could be relied upon as a team member. Therefore, it was hardly unexpected that he often sought her out, was it?

And yes, it had to be Sakura because he had no intention of settling for second best.

"Hey, Sakura. Are you alright?" Genma asked as they began to move away from the gates.

The kunoichi nodded, strapping on her mask but leaving it dangling around her neck like the rest of them. "Of course."

"She looks tired," Shino observed flatly.

"I am tired." She shot an accusing look at Itachi. "But guess who insisted that I join in."

Genma laughed. "He persuaded you, huh? Well, who knew that the Uchiha Itachi could be so charming? I thought that particular trait is all mine."

Chuckling softly, Sakura drawled, "Of course, Genma. Whatever you say."

The senbon-user moved to her side, waggling his brows. "Oh? I think you need more convincing."

Sakura blinked. "Huh?"

Itachi's brow drew closer as Genma adopted what he called his 'charming' expression. Perhaps he should speak the shinobi about flirting during missions, though it was obvious that Genma was not being serious about it. Besides, Sakura should know better than to entertain Genma's dubious attentions.

"Of my charms," Genma pointed out.

"Oh. That," Sakura intoned flatly. "Go on, give it your best shot, Genma."

Genma shook his head, wearing a mournful look. "See, that's not how you should react. Others would have been blushing by now."

Shino apparently had heard enough. "Drop it, Genma. Sakura's not one of your playthings."

Reaching over to smack the younger shinobi on the shoulder, Genma pointed out cheerfully, "It's just harmless flirting, Aburame."

Shino grunted.

"Thanks, Shino. But I think I can protect my virtue against perverts like Shiranui," Sakura teased. She cracked her knuckles. "I don't think he has forgotten my fists."

Itachi's lips twitched as Genma winced visibly, obviously recalling the one time he had challenged Sakura to a fistfight. The kunoichi had shown him that she was not to be underestimated when it came to taijutsu.

"Yeah, you could defend yourself, alright," Genma muttered.

Itachi returned his attention to the path before them. Genma's words struck something within him. Unconsciously, his thoughts went back to his earlier musings. Sakura was certainly one of those kunoichi who was capable of defending herself. In addition to that, hypothetically speaking, she met all the requirements of what was expected of an Uchiha's wife. After all, she was the Godaime's apprentice.

But he knew that Sakura would not entertain such a notion. If she wished for marriage, she would have done so half a year ago. And yet, she was here with his ANBU squad, instead of being ensconced in the Hyuuga compound like the other wives. Usually, Itachi paid no interest to gossips. But Genma had seen fit to inform them of what he had heard. Apparently, the relationship between the Hyuuga and Sakura had broken down when the kunoichi realized that she would have to give up her career as a kunoichi. Although he had said nothing at that time, Itachi was somewhat relieved that his first choice of medic was still available to his squad.

To think of Sakura and marriage at the same time struck him as inappropriate. Besides, it was not something he intended to broach with her. Her response to such a notion would no doubt be overly violent. The kunoichi would introduce her fists to his face if he ever mentioned such a thing, Itachi thought, bemused. Furthermore, it would damage their professional relationship.

No. The situation was not critical enough for him to consider such a drastic action.

It was not there yet.

Kakashi stared mournfully at the colorful bindings of the books lined up in neat rows before him. All of them were familiar to him, but he had hoped to find a new one stacked on the shelves of the bookshop. Was the publisher late? Or was Jiraiya late again? How could he do this to his readers? It was cruel beyond words.

The wait for the new volume of Icha Icha was nothing short of agonizing.

Shoulders slumped, Kakashi turned away from the books and walked out of the bookshop. He supposed he had to come back tomorrow to check. And the next day, if the book was still not there. In the meantime, he would simply have to re-read the old volumes.

With that thought, Kakashi reached into his pouch, pulling out a colorful book. He flipped it open, reading as he walked towards the centre of the village. A familiar voice reached him just as he turned the corner around Ichiraku Ramen. He lowered his book to peer over it.

Naruto was waving at Hyuuga Neji, his boisterous voice drawing the attention of everyone within hearing distance. Sasuke was with the blonde, but he was remaining some distance behind Naruto. The Uchiha was obviously unwilling to go near the Hyuuga.

Ah, Sasuke and Neji were still at it, Kakashi mused.

"Oi, Neji! Have you seen Sakura?"

The Hyuuga paused, turning around to face Naruto. From the distance, Kakashi could see the puzzled look on Neji's face before he spoke.

"You misplaced your teammate, Uzumaki?"

Naruto threw his hands up in the air. "We looked for her all over the place! Where is she?"

A thoughtful expression crossed the Hyuuga's face. "Perhaps she is no longer in Konoha."

Naruto looked confused. "Huh?"

Perceptive as usual, Kakashi thought dryly. Barely half a day had passed since he saw Sakura leaving Konoha with the Uchiha's ANBU team, but he should have expected Naruto to raise a fuss. Neji obviously had guessed just as much, but then again, he supposed that the Hyuuga should know, seeing that he and Sakura were quite close at one point.

Too impatient to wait for the clarification, Naruto shook his head. "Never mind."

Then Kakashi froze as Naruto's eyes landed on him. Blue orbs narrowing in determination, Naruto set off just as Kakashi turned away, intending to escape the questioning session.

No such luck.

"Kakashi-sensei! Have you seen Sakura?" Naruto yelled, skidding to a stop beside him.

Kakashi slanted a sideway glance at the flushed face staring at him expectantly, questioningly. This time, Sasuke was close behind his blonde teammate.

Pretending not to hear, Kakashi raised a brow. "Hm?"

Joining them, Sasuke crossed his arms over his chest. "Where is Sakura?"

"Sakura? How should I know?" Kakashi responded innocently.

The two members of team 7 exchanged a look. Something passed between them.

"Can you find out from the Hokage, then?" Naruto asked. "Because we looked all over the place, and if she's not in Konoha, she must have left with Baa-chan's approval."

Kakashi slumped. "Why is it so important that you must find her now?"

"She just got back last night and now she's gone!" Naruto finally exploded. "We're supposed to go out for ramen."

"And if she is not in Konoha, she might be on a mission," Sasuke said pointedly.

Naruto scowled and then spat, "That Uchiha had better not have gotten his hands on her again."

The Copy-nin almost winced at Naruto's choice of words.

His expression betraying only a slight hint of concern, Sasuke remarked, "Kakashi, you know as well as I do that the mission we'd just returned from was not an easy one. We just want to make sure that my brother hasn't taken her with him on his ANBU mission."

"Might be too late for that now," Kakashi muttered.

Naruto scowled. "What do you mean?"

"She's gone."

Blue eyes widened immediately. "Gone? GONE? So she really went with that bastard AGAIN?!"

"Shut up, Dobe!" Sasuke ground out, put off by the insult to his brother although he was obviously not happy that Sakura had gone with Itachi again. Turning back to him, Sasuke asked, "When?"

Kakashi shrugged. "A while ago. And before you two think of it, don't bother going after them. They've gone too far for you to catch up."

Naruto sagged visibly.

Kakashi smiled widely, crinkling his eyes as he waved a dismissive hand around. "Don't worry too much. They will be back in a couple of days."

Giving him a suspicious look, Naruto asked, "How do you know that? I thought ANBU missions are classified."

Kakashi raised a hand to tap his chin. "They are, aren't they?" he murmured, adopting a vague expression.

Naruto exhaled in disgust and then turned to Sasuke. "Well. What do we do now, Teme?"

"Nothing," the Uchiha responded blandly.

"What do you mean, nothing?!" Naruto shouted incredulously.

Hardly reacting at all, Sasuke simply turned and walked away. As expected, Naruto instantly followed.

"Oh, come on, Sasuke. There must be something we can do," the blonde whined.

"Like what?" Sasuke muttered.

Their voices trailed off as they moved further and further away, leaving Kakashi to stare after them. Shaking his head slowly, he mused over just how much they had grown. Six years ago, they would never have walked away like that, completely forgetting that he was standing there.

Ah well. It had to happen sometime, he thought.

Another soldier pill made its way into Sakura's mouth as she paused momentarily on the tree limb. Genma and Shino were too far in front now, but maybe Itachi wanted some? She turned to glance over her shoulders, finding their masked captain some distance behind her. Holding up a small container, tilting her head questioningly just as the Uchiha joined her on the tree limb.

"Want some?" she asked.

He shook his head. "You were distracted during the mission," he remarked instead.

Sakura sighed, knowing fully well what he was talking about. The mission was a success, but her performance was undoubtedly lacking. She had been pushing herself with soldier pills, trying to keep her flagging strength up. But there was a limit to what her body could take. Even now, after taking that soldier pill, she still felt drained.

She should simply tell Itachi what she thought. After all, why should she take this from him? She had warned him that it was not a good idea to take her along.

Steeling her spine, she said irritably, "Look, you knew I was tired from the last Team Kakashi mission. I told you as much."


She could not see his face, but she could sense that he was studying her carefully. Not that he could see much, because she, too, had a mask over her face. What was he trying to find? She had given her best in her condition, just because he had asked. But if he was not satisfied with her performance, there was nothing she could do about it.

Perhaps she should stop doing this. As grateful as she was that Itachi had inadvertently helped her back when she was having confidence issues, this was ridiculous. Not to mention detrimental to her very life. ANBU missions were not easy things in the first place, and to go on one in her condition simply spelled trouble.

Cautiously, she ventures, "With all due respect, Taishou, I do need some rest between missions. Carrying out missions back to back like this is simply not advisable."

He did not even twitch at her words. The silence dragged on. And when she was about to lose her patience, he tilted his head slightly.

"Perhaps it is best that you simply joined ANBU. Then, this will no longer be an issue," he murmured calmly.

Sakura froze at his words. He could not be serious, could he? It was something that he had touched upon when she first joined his team. But since then, he had not mentioned it. Why bring it up now?

Well, she was confident that she could do it. After all, she had plenty of practice working with an ANBU squad. But as tempting as it was to join the ANBU ranks, Sakura knew that she would not do it without Kakashi, Naruto and Sasuke. Her teammates were too important to her. Strangely enough, for some reason, none of them had brought the topic up. Well, at least not recently. Naruto and Sasuke had spoken about it often enough when all three of them were younger. She would have thought that as ambitious as Naruto and Sasuke were, they would covet the ANBU title. But they seemed content to remain ranked as a Jounin even though everyone knew that Naruto and Sasuke were more than qualified to be in ANBU.

Hm, maybe it was something she ought to ask them one day. Then, as an idea occurred to her, she darted a speculative glance at the silent Uchiha. He should know the answer to what was playing in her mind. After all, he was her teammate's elder brother. Surely they had spoken about this.

"Say, did Sasuke ever mentioned applying for ANBU?" she asked curiously.

Itachi regarded her silently for a moment, and then he shook his head.

She frowned, puzzled. That was unexpected. "Don't you think it is strange? After all, both Sasuke and Naruto are more than qualified, right? I mean, they are skilled enough to pass the tests, don't you think?"


"Then why?"

Without answering, Itachi turned away from her, gesturing for her to continue their journey. She wanted to push him for an answer, but she knew that he would only respond when he was ready. So she began to move forward again, launching herself in the air to reach the next tree.

After a long while, he finally answered, "Perhaps they do not wish to lose you."

She blinked in confusion, not comprehending what he was saying. "What do you mean?"

Once again, the answer was slow in coming. "I would seek to acquire you as a permanent member of this squad if you were in the ANBU ranks."

Her eyes widened in realization. "Oh."

So that was why Naruto and Sasuke held back. It sort of made sense now. Sasuke probably knew his brother well enough to suspect that Itachi would do something like that. This meant that she was holding them back from something they wanted to do.

A feeling of guilt washed over her. Even with all her skills, she was still holding them back in some way. But could they not tell that she would not deliberately hurt them by moving over to Itachi's squad even if she was ANBU? She loved them and Team Kakashi too much to destroy it willingly.

Taking a deep breath, she glanced sideways at the masked profile of the older Uchiha. "You know that I will stay with them, right? Even if I made it into ANBU?"


What did that mean? Did it mean that he agreed with her, or it was merely one of his standard non-committal responses? Before she could prod further, Itachi gestured to the gap between them and the rest of the team.

"Speed up," he instructed evenly.

When she glanced sideways, she found that he was not even looking at her. She had worked with him long enough to know recognize the signs that the conversation was over. Shrugging inwardly, she injected more chakra into her legs to quicken her movement. He never tolerated disobedience or insubordination.

As for her loyalties, Uchiha Itachi could think whatever he wants. She knew she would never abandon Team Kakashi, no matter what.

The sun was already setting when they finally set foot in Konoha.

Mind filled with the mission report he had to present to the Hokage tomorrow morning, Itachi simply gestured to the squad for them to disband before he headed in the direction of the Uchiha compound. He would try to finish it today and then hand the report to the Hokage tomorrow morning. And while he was there, it would be a good time for him to see if she needed his ANBU squad for another mission.

He had only stepped into the Uchiha compound when a familiar voice rang through the air, stilling his steps.

"Hey, Itachi!"

Itachi turned around to find Shisui running towards him. The grim expression on his cousin's face told Itachi that something was wrong. He waited until the older Uchiha had reached him before he spoke.

"What is it, Shisui?"

The other Uchiha shook his head slowly. "It's bad, Itachi. Bad. I tell you, they've gone mad."

Impatient, Itachi frowned. "Who?"

"The clan! Who else?" he exclaimed. "They are taking things too far this time!"

"Shisui…" Itachi bit out warningly.

Shisui held up his hands. "You missed the last couple of clan meetings. And I swear, I tried to stop them because I know how hard you've been fighting against it. But they did it anyway."

Itachi stared at his agitated cousin. What was going on?

Shisui looked pained. "Itachi, man. I'm so sorry about this. But the clan elders went to some country in the east and they're in the middle of some negotiation as we speak."

A feeling of foreboding crept over Itachi. "What negotiations?" he asked cautiously.

Shisui took a deep breath. "They're discussing the terms to acquire a bride for you."

Numbed silence was Itachi's only response to the declaration. He supposed he should have expected it, but it was still a shock to be presented with such a thing. The clan had finally decided to act behind his back, no doubt with the intent of forcing him to obey their decision regardless of his own wishes.

Itachi's lips tightened in displeasure. What was clear in his mind was that he could not possibly accept the match.

The question now was, how would he counter their move?

A/N: So that's the first chapter done. It'd be nice to know if you like it so far, so that I can decide whether to quit while I'm ahead! So please drop me a review if you could. Thanks!