Title: hair clip

Author: paws_bells

Beta-ed by: MelissaRose85

Characters/Pairing: Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi

Type: Two-shot (Complete)

Genre: Romance/Humor

Word Count: 5593

Theme: LJ Community, 50-shinobi theme #14, hair clip

Rating: T (Contains content not suitable for children)

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-san.

Summary: fiesta-verse Non-Massacre AU. In which the truth finally comes out. In which the cat is let out of the bag. In which Ino makes a big mistake. In which Naruto is definitely not amused.

Created on: 06/05/08

Completed on: 03/08/08

Chapter Last Revised on: 17/01/09

Chapter 2

Sakura choked on her food. Her eyes watered as the delicious prawn ball went down the wrong way, and it took more than a few coughs to dislodge it.

"What?!" the pretty medic-nin croaked, her tone clearly one of disbelief over Ino's completely erroneous deduction.

How on earth did Ino come up with something like this?!

Unfortunately, Sakura's teammates, who happened to be close enough to listen to Ino's loud declaration, were not amused.

"What?!!!" One of them, namely Naruto, was quick to make his displeasure known, and rather loudly too, mind you. Sakura winced as she literally felt the air somewhere behind her shift to an atmosphere of annoyance. That would be Sasuke.

"Boyfriend?? Neji??" Not surprisingly, those were the two most horrifying words that Naruto had ever heard in his life. The blonde Jinchuuriki sounded agitated too—and was growing more so by the second. He turned himself around to look at Sakura so quickly that his pink-haired teammate was surprised he didn't accidentally twist his neck in the process. "What the hell is going on here?"

Before Sakura could even open her mouth to explain the mistake, Ino nodded in agreement, her eyes dancing with unholy cheer. Sakura promised herself to strangle the Yamanaka girl when all this was over. "Yes, just what is going on, forehead?"

Somewhere behind them, Shikamaru fought the urge to smack his hand against his forehead. Mendoukusai.

Poor Naruto looked almost betrayed by his darling heart's sister. How could Sakura-chan go off and get herself involved with Neji! Not that Neji was a very bad man; at least, the Hyuuga had reverted, becoming somewhat normal after he had beat all that 'fate and destiny' nonsense out of the older Byakugan-wielder.

B- but- but!!! It was Neji!! Neji and Sakura-chan together!!! Neji was Sakura-chan's secret boyfriend!

It was apparent that Naruto was about to suffer from a mental meltdown.

"Neji is not my boyfriend!"

Sakura declared immediately. Dear god, how on earth did the situation degenerate to this? "Ino is talking nonsense. I am not involved with Neji in anyway whatsoever; so you can stop hyperventilating now, Naruto."

Naruto was only too glad to calm down. So Ino had only been joking. She must be!!

The Yamanaka in question pouted.

"Mou, so who is your mystery man really, Sakura, if he isn't Neji?"

Naruto's eyes started to glaze over again with shock.

Hinata looked worriedly at her boyfriend.

"…What is Ino talking about, Sakura?"

The pink-haired medic-nin winced inwardly at the mildly displeased tone of her other teammate. Sakura turned slightly to look at him. Predictably, Sasuke was standing with his arms crossed, a small frown wrinkling his brow, lips flattened in a manner that portrayed his irritation, his dark eyes piercing hers as he demanded answers.

It was apparent to Sakura that the game was up. Like it or not, she was going to have to spill the beans today.

Once again, Sakura reminded herself to kill Ino later.

She looked first to Naruto, and then to Sasuke as she mentally geared herself for the coming barrage of questions and denials.

"You guys are not going to like this," she managed to blurt out lamely.

Sasuke scowled. Naruto clutched at his heart in a comical manner that Sakura did not appreciate at all.

"So, it really is Neji?" The blonde could not help but ask. He knew it!! That Neji-teme had always been secretly plotting ever since he had been going out with Hinata-chan! Naruto had never figured Neji to be so petty!! Just because he stole away the Hyuuga's cousin didn't mean that Neji had to do the same to his Sakura-chan! His Sakura-chan was precious! Sacred! Like the vestal virgin on an altar—never to be touched, only admired!!

Evidently, Naruto was on a roll.

"It's not Neji."

Surprisingly enough, it wasn't Sakura who made the denial. The surprised pink-haired kunoichi turned to look at the indolent Nara.

"Mendoukusai…" the pineapple-haired man could only mumble irritably.

Ino lit up, literally, like a light bulb.

"Ahah! I was right!! You know who he is, don't you, Shika?!"

The man in questioned palmed his face. Sakura looked like she wanted to do the same as well, only she was still holding a stick of shrimp takoyaki in one hand and another box of it in the other.

"Tell us who he is, Shika!"

But the Nara was proving to be more resilient than his lazy countenance proved to be.

"No," Shikamaru refuted the request of his curious girlfriend flatly. "You should respect the privacy of your best friend. This is a matter between herself and her lover; you don't really need to know about it."

Poor Naruto turned blue.

"L- lover?!" the blonde sputtered. He was still having trouble getting over 'boyfriend,' and now Shikamaru had just dropped the 'L'-word bombshell on him, just like that.

Sakura turned bright red.

Sasuke just looked plain uncomfortable. Sakura's private life really was something he didn't need to contemplate.

"It was just a figure of speech, you idiot!" the pink-haired female hissed. "Nothing happened between myself and-"

She stopped abruptly.

"Yourself and who?" Ino probed nosily.

Sakura quickly decided that she was doing a great job digging herself a deeper and deeper hole. The fact that Naruto was looking so very betrayed made her feel even worse. The kunoichi took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She really shouldn't have to feel this way.

But the cat was already out of the bag, and belatedly, the pink-haired kunoichi realized that she had made a mistake when she had decided to keep her relationship with Itachi a secret. Hell, she should have dragged the man down the streets the very moment she could, screaming to all her romantic involvement with the stoic Uchiha clan heir.

Sakura prepared to admit the truth, but it was too late.

It was as if a lightning bolt of recognition had suddenly struck Sasuke, and his eyes widened in stunned realization.

"That dagger…"

He had finally remembered just where he had seen that decorative weapon.

It was part of a set of his mother's heirlooms, passed down from her family line to every firstborn daughter. And since Mikoto had birthed no girl child, the heirloom would naturally be passed on to…

The bride of the eldest son.

Sasuke looked like he had just run straight into a wall, so dazed did the normally sharp-eyed Uchiha appear all of a sudden.

Sakura was involved with his brother, and the fact that Itachi had given her part of the heirloom set…

Simply unbelievable. All the 'when's' and 'how's' flooded into Sasuke's head, not to mention all the unbidden mental images of his brother and Sakura together, doing what lovers do…

Sasuke wanted to scratch his brain out with a toothpick. Of all the men Sakura could get involved with…!!

Judging by the overdone constipated expression on Sasuke, it was apparent that he had finally figured out who her other half was. Sakura winced inwardly at the disturbed look on Sasuke's face.

"He gave you that dagger…"

Sasuke sounded a little dazed.

Naruto, on the other hand, grabbed onto the topic immediately.

"Dagger?! Are you talking about that pretty-looking dagger in Sakura-chan's apartment?" The blonde began to bellow. "Who gave it to her?!!"

Sakura was so astounded by how quickly the entire situation was going downhill that she took a quick step backwards.

She ran into someone, no doubt a passerby who was enjoying the festivities in a way that she was clearly not, distractedly muttered an apology without even looking at the person before taking a step forward again.

At the same time, Shikamaru started to tug at Ino. "This is getting ridiculous. Let's go."

Somehow, the Nara was not surprised when his hand was merely batted away from his entranced girlfriend. Ino had always had a strange fixation for drama, and the one unfolding before her was probably as juicy as it was ever going to get. Not to mention, she still hadn't gotten the identity of Sakura's secret boyfriend yet.

Shikamaru sighed irritably. Why did he choose to be involved with such a bothersome woman?

"Naruto, why are you so agitated?" Sakura asked at last.

"Wh- Why am I so agitated?!" Naruto sputtered even as he fought to be heard above the crowd. "You are going behind my back with a boyfriend!! You can't do that!!"

Sakura obviously did not like what she was hearing. She started to frown.

"And why not?" the kunoichi asked.

Naruto scowled.

"We are a team; that's why not! We should do everything together!"

Sakura looked nonplussed by her blonde brother's answer.

Sasuke looked downright queasy.

"I certainly hope not," the younger Uchiha muttered.

Hinata, who had been trying to calm Naruto down, but to no avail, turned bright red. So did Naruto, for that matter.

"Hentai!! That was not what I meant!" the blonde frantically defended himself. "Sakura-chan, why didn't you tell us that you had a boyfriend!" he wailed. "I thought that we were like sworn siblings; we are a family!"

Sakura felt guilty immediately.

"Naruto, I just didn't want you to overreact." She tried to placate her friend with the truth. "I just-"

Naruto cut her off before she could finish.

"Oh, sure. Why on earth would I overreact? You are only going out with Neji!" His sarcasm was glaringly obvious.

Sasuke scowled.

"It's not the Hyuuga." Now that the younger Uchiha had time to think of it, Sakura was certainly better off with an Uchiha than a Hyuuga, even if he had to force himself to see past the fact that his teammate was having…relations with his brother.

It didn't seem like Naruto even heard what Sasuke was saying.

"Sakura-chan, we are supposed to protect you! What are we going to do if you got your heart broken by some honky-tonk man?"

Sakura was beginning to look exasperated. Naruto was obviously being ridiculous.

"I don't think Neji-san is a 'honky-tonk' man," the pink-haired kunoichi muttered dryly.

Naruto despaired, even as two thirds of Team Ten watched the drama unfold in the middle of the streets.

"So I was right! It was Neji!"

"It's not Neji!" Sakura denied, starting to get frazzled by the situation. What on earth had all of them been discussing the entire time?! And what's wrong with Naruto, going on and on about the Hyuuga ANBU?

"If it's not him, then why did you accept Neji's dagger?! I saw it in your living room! Don't deny it!"

"For the love of god-" Sakura broke off. "Can you stop talking about Neji? No, the dagger is not his, and no, I am not involved with him whatsoever!!"

An annoyed Sakura bellowed back at her heart's brother, frustrated with his assumptions.

Slightly stunned by the normally not-so-temperamental Sakura, Naruto managed to shut up. Even Sasuke appeared mildly surprised, but that did not last long when he caught a glimpse of just who was currently standing behind the agitated, heaving female. The younger Uchiha stiffened.


Sakura, who had been mercilessly hounded and was getting very harried by all the attention on her love life, quickly snapped.

"That's right, I have been seeing Uchiha Itachi!" the pink-haired medic-nin burst out at last. "Are all of you happy now?"


The soft breath that brushed across her ear was so very familiar that Sakura froze immediately in surprise. She wasn't the only one.

He was here.

He was here. Shikamaru eyed the powerful Uchiha currently standing very close behind Sakura, his lean form towering over hers in an almost menacing manner, if not for the fact that the pink-haired kunoichi in question didn't appear alarmed at all by his proximity.

Ino could only look on in stunned awe at the raven-haired ANBU captain, still dressed in his combat uniform, obviously just returned from a mission. With the exception of Shikamaru (who really didn't care one way or another), the small group of Jounin could only watch in a stumped stupor as a masculine, gloved arm slipped casually around Sakura's waist as he boldly stepped even closer to her, and then the powerful Uchiha heir actually nuzzled her hair once with undisguised affection, before turning his attention to the group of people gaping at himself and Sakura.

The truth was out, and there was nothing more that Itachi wanted.

He nodded cordially at Sakura's teammates.

"Otouto. Naruto-kun."

Naruto's mouth was hanging wide open in shock. Oh no. Oh no. If Neji was bad news, this man standing protectively over his Sakura-chan was downright disastrous.


After all, he knew the Uchiha well enough to understand that the members of the clan were a bunch of ridiculously obsessive people, and since this guy was all but rubbing himself against Sakura like a satisfied, overly pleased tomcat, something told Naruto that it was going to be very difficult to separate him from their Sakura-chan.

"You are Uchiha Itachi," Ino blurted out in surprise. "Oh…oh." The blonde Yamanaka looked at her bemused best friend. Sakura was so very sly!! She had landed one of Konoha's most eligible bachelors and she was still acting all shy and modest about it.

Sakura was going to be in for an earful the next time they meet for some girl time!!

"…Aren't you supposed to be on a mission?" Sakura asked at last, even as she tried to discreetly move out of his reach. He did not let her go; if anything, his hold on her tightened slightly, and people passing by were starting to notice.

Sasuke twitched.

"It was completed early," Itachi answered easily. Finally, he deigned to let her go, moving to stand by her side instead.

Sasuke quickly took the moment to speak, before his brother could do something potentially embarrassing again.

"Aniki," the younger Uchiha muttered as he shot a quick glance at a hyperventilating Naruto. "Do you care to explain what is going on here?"

The long, raven-haired male met his brother's gaze calmly.

"Sakura and I are involved."

Naruto choked on the words. "I- Involved?"

A small light of amusement appeared in the Uchiha heir's eyes at the look of panic on the blonde's face. Itachi nodded.

"So you were the one who gave her that dagger."

The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki sounded almost accusing. The older Uchiha raised a dark brow.

"Is there a problem with that, Naruto-kun?" he asked mildly.

Naruto gurgled unintelligibly, and Hinata tried in vain to soothe her boyfriend.

Sakura made a sound of distress, but Sasuke had had about enough of this entire situation.

The Uchiha didn't come all the way here in the middle of this appalling crush of loud, sweaty humanity just to muddle through his brother's love life.

"Forget it, that's all I need to know," Sasuke muttered, "Aniki, just take Sakura and go."

Naruto looked at Sasuke disbelievingly.

"Hello?! I can't help but notice you just asked Sakura to go off with some strange man!"

Sasuke refrained from rolling his eyes at his idiot teammate.

"He's my brother, you idiot, not some strange man," the Uchiha of Team Seven retorted. "And he gave her the dagger, so don't worry."

Naruto glared.

"I'm not supposed to worry because your brother gave Sakura a dagger? What kind of stupid logic is that?!"

Shikamaru sighed loudly. "I think there is nothing more to see here, Ino. Let's go look for Chouji." For once, the lazy man assertively ignored his girlfriend's protests and started to tow her away.

"Don't leave with that honky-tonk man, Sakura-chan!" Naruto called out. "He might be dangerous!!!"

Sasuke really did roll his eyes this time.

"Shut up, dobe." The younger Uchiha was really regretting that he had agreed to attend the festival tonight. He wasn't being paid enough for this. He wasn't being paid at all, period.

"No, you shut up, teme! Sakura-chan!"

Sakura had enough of this.

"Naruto!" The pink-haired kunoichi looked at her best friend, willing the distraught man to look at her. He did; Sakura seldom used that particular tone unless she was very serious about something.

"I like Itachi, Naruto," she confessed to her best friend, even as a part of her could hardly believe that she was doing so in the middle of the street crowded with people. "I really like him. Please be happy for me."

Naruto froze. The soft, beseeching look on his sister's face made him feel a twinge of guilt, and he quickly realized that he had been discomforting her with his own panic and worry. It made him pause and think. For once.

"Naruto…" Sakura called out again when shadows obscured the blonde's eyes. "Are you really unhappy because I'm having a relationship? If so-"

"No," the foxy Jounin admitted at last. "I'm unhappy because I worry that you may be hurt." Naruto spoke his worst fear. "I don't want you to be hurt, Sakura-chan. I want to protect you, but I can't do that if you keep things from me."

Emerald eyes softened.

"I just didn't want you to worry, Naruto."

"Well, but I am!" the blonde muttered. "I don't want to either, but I am!" he paused, and then he started again. "Are you sure you don't want Neji instead? The Hyuuga are rather nice, transparent people, you know. 359° x-ray vision and all."

Sakura could only smile at Naruto's hopeful tone.

Then Itachi interrupted.

"Sakura is already taken, Naruto-kun," the raven-haired Uchiha spoke with surety. "I'm sure I can keep her busy enough that she won't be looking for an alternative lover."

Sakura blushed. So did Naruto. Sasuke had a mixture of disturbed horror on his face.

The younger Uchiha started to take an involuntary step away from his brother, managed to catch himself in time, and ended up scowling very hard instead.

"Itachi. Take Sakura and go," the uptight Jounin almost commanded his brother. "I will explain to Naruto about the meaning of the dagger. He won't bother the two of you again, hopefully."

Even Sakura was bewildered.

"Meaning of the dagger?" she echoed as she looked at him.

Itachi merely gave her a small glance.

"I will explain later."

Predictably enough, Naruto had not been very happy when Sakura left with Itachi. He had no choice, however. Even Hinata had sided with Sakura and Sasuke, and in the end, the blonde could only put on a sickly smile after his dear girlfriend had whispered some words into his ears, saying with great reluctance that they would continue this tomorrow, and to enjoy tonight's festivities with her male friend.

Naruto could not even say the 'B'-word without choking, and even though Sakura cringed inwardly at Naruto's behavior, a sideways glance at her other half only revealed amusement at the blonde's antics.

It just figured that Itachi would have been amused by Naruto's predicament, of all things.

Eventually, though, the group dispersed after Hinata promised to tell the rest of the original group that Sakura had to leave early, and to relay her apologies for her sudden absence as well, and then the remaining of the Rookie Nine went one way, whereas the pink-haired kunoichi and her lover went the other.

Itachi must have appeared rather imposing in his ANBU uniform, for the crowds parted easily for him and his beautiful companion, and eventually, they found themselves back in the training grounds, where their relationship had started at first in a rather unconventional manner.

It was quiet here compared to the loud, boisterous joviality of those intent on celebrating the festivals in the downtown portion of Konoha, but Sakura secretly preferred the peaceful silence compared to the overwhelming crush of people her teammates were no doubt stuck in the middle of at this very moment. Belatedly, Sakura almost felt guilty for leaving a completely displeased Sasuke to fend for himself all alone in the middle of such a great amount of humanity, but then she quickly pushed the thought aside. Sasuke could take care of himself, Sakura was rather certain of that.

Meanwhile, there was his brother to contend with.

"Well, that went well."

Onyx eyes glimmered as he looked upon the pink-haired female currently staring morosely at the trickling stream.

"Indeed." The mild amusement in his tone was apparent, almost like an 'I-told-you-so,' when he had calmly advised against hiding their relationship from her closest people. Sakura was immediately disgruntled. So she had made an error in judgment; now what?

"Your brother and Naruto are going to gang up on me tomorrow," she muttered dourly.

"You worry too much," he replied. "Sasuke has already come to an understanding regarding my relationship with you. I'm sure he will be able to convince Naruto-kun to do the same as well."

Sakura looked at him suspiciously.

"What understanding?" she asked, even as a thought occurred to her. "Does it have to do with that dagger nonsense that both my teammates were going on and on about earlier on?"

The irritating man had the gall to give her an ambiguous shrug, and then he folded his lean form to the ground and gestured for her to sit as well.

She frowned at him, and gestured at her kimono-clad form.

"I can't sit on the ground in this," she informed him primly. "It is going to get dirty."

He didn't even blink at her comment.

"You can sit on my lap," he offered mildly.

She could only stare at him, and he merely arched a thin brow.

"Sit down, Sakura, or you won't be hearing a word regarding the dagger from me."

The kunoichi narrowed her eyes at his deviousness, but when he was unmoved, she stubbornly gathered the material of her kimono and hiked the ankle-length, silky material all the way past her knees, revealing the delicate arch of her ankles and a milky expanse of smooth skin in the process. His brow lifted a tiny fraction higher at the sight, but when she prepared to kneel to sit on the back of her calves in the traditional manner, he easily caught hold of her wrist and pulled her to him instead. She tumbled onto his lap with a muffled yelp, a beguiling mix of long, pale limbs and crimson silk.

It was a startlingly familiar position that she found herself in, and he watched her in a bemused manner.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Itachi!" Sakura could only growl with displeasure. "Do you have any idea at all how difficult it is not to rumple this kimono? Look at what you have done!"

Oh, Itachi was looking, alright.

His eyes darkened with genuine pleasure, and he ducked down slightly to deliver a long, languid kiss on her lips to stop her protests.

"Sakura," he whispered against her soft, parted lips. "Have I told you that you look exceptionally beautiful today?"

Her breath stilled in her throat at his heavy-eyed stare, and she could only blush at his gentle compliment.

"Are you trying to distract me?" she asked, her voice a little too husky for her own liking.

His eyes half-lidded, and he looked at her from behind sooty, dense lashes that were almost feminine in nature.

"It depends," he drawled lazily, even though his eyes were gleaming with a different kind of playfulness. "Is it working?"

He was obviously flirting with her, and such an occurrence was so very rare that her mouth went completely dry and her mind went blank. It took her two tries, but at last she came up with a proper retort.

"No, it's not," she managed at last.

The masculine amusement that filled his eyes was blatantly obvious in the face of her white lie.

"That's a pity." There was something in his soft, lilting tone that made her heart race despite herself. Sakura shook her head inwardly to try to bring her thoughts back to the situation at hand.

"Now tell me what you mean about that dagger you gave me."

He dropped a kiss upon her mouth, before withdrawing slightly to look at her, the playfulness in his eyes fading slightly to reveal his usual seriousness.

"It is part of a set of heirlooms," he explained simply. "It was passed down from my mother's family, from mother to daughter, for as long as she could remember."

Sakura looked at him, surprised.

"Heirloom?" she echoed, aghast. "And you just left it in my house like that? Take it back right now, before your mother realizes that it has gone missing!"

"My mother is well aware of the dagger's whereabouts, Sakura."

It took a brief moment for his calm reply to hit home, and hit it did.

Sakura gawked at his casual reply.

"Your mother knew you gave an heirloom to me, a stranger?" she sounded surprised. "And she didn't come knocking on my door, demanding to have it back?"

She truly was completely oblivious when it came to certain matters.

His eyes warmed with increasing affection.

"No." His voice was gentle as he told her the truth. "She's hoping to pass them over to you, one at a time."

"Pass them over to-"

Her mesmerizing emerald eyes flared with genuine shock, and it was evident that she had finally realized what he was trying to say. Immediately, she started to look slightly wary.

"What does that mean?" she asked cautiously.

He tilted his head slightly at her. It just figured that she wouldn't be jumping for joy at the implication that she had just received. Itachi normally wasn't one to boast, but his family was considered a rather prestigious clan that most would have jumped to sink their claws into, but evidently, Sakura had been taught to be suspicious when it came to dealings with the noble clans, no doubt a behavior picked up from her powerful mentor, the Godaime Hokage-sama.

He approved of her caution.

"It means this."

He took one hand off her waist, reached into his vest, and extracted an exquisite, jeweled hair stick that could easily serve as a senbon. The familiar design of the semi-precious stones encrusted in the delicate lacquered wood accessory easily informed her that this was probably yet another piece from his family's heirloom set. She stiffened in realization and tried to back away from him, but he was having none of it, and besides, he had a much longer reach on her than she had on him, and thus, it was easy for him to slip the elegant hairpiece in amongst the bun that she had tied her lustrous pink hair in.

She emitted a soft sound of objection at his action, but he easily silenced her with a kiss on her parted lips.

"Your clan-" She started to protest, only for him to drop another kiss on the side of her mouth. She sighed.

"-is not for you to worry about," he answered her. Then he casually dropped another bomb on her "My parents are aware of my courtship of you, and they approve."

She gaped at him.

"A-approve?" she stuttered in genuine shock.

Mikoto had been thoroughly relieved that her seemingly asexual son had a love interest after all, though Fugaku had only been reluctantly satisfied that the girl in question possessed the adequate abilities and connections to make her an advantage to the clan, even though she lacked the name of a prestigious family, should Itachi persist on pursuing the kunoichi. The head of the proud Uchiha House had no idea whatsoever that his son had no intention of including Sakura in any of the clan's schemes to gain more power, and by developing an interest in his younger brother's teammate, had immediately gained an invaluable ally within the family to help him in protecting his future mate.

There was still a lot more to accomplish, favors to be called in, subtle threats to be made, compromises to be reached before he could safely and steadily eliminate all the possible threats, political or otherwise, that may pose a danger to her. Like a brilliant chess master, he was already slowly and subtly making his moves, discreetly covering his bases and foreseeing all the possible outcomes like the strategist that he had been groomed from birth to become, and this time around, he had no qualms whatsoever using it against his clan if he had to.

Having Sakura by his side would be the only indulgence that he would allow himself, and he was meticulous enough to want to ensure that absolutely nothing would go wrong when it came to her.

However, there was still some way to go before he was confident enough to claim that he had his clan's situation fully in hand, and until then, he wouldn't be able to bring Sakura into the clan the way he wanted; in his own terms, and not that of his overbearing, controlling family.

That didn't mean he couldn't start to acquaint and accustom Sakura to the notion that he fully wanted her still, that he had a staked claim over her, one that he would eventually fulfill when the time was ripe.

The woman in question, however, was understandably nowhere near as certain of her position compared to the raven-haired male who had evidently decided that he was going to keep her. It was a good thing that he was wise enough not to tell her of his intentions yet; normally placid and mild-mannered or no, she would never have tolerated that type of condescension, not even from him.

He was going to have to convince her slowly, and it was a good thing that he had all the time in the world when it came to her.

"Itachi…what exactly are you trying to say?" Sakura asked cautiously after she forcibly pulled herself out of the daze that he had singlehandedly pushed her into. And how did his parents know of their secret relationship? Did he tell them himself? Not to mention, the ramifications of his parents' approval were dizzying—and relieving. Sakura did not know what she would do if Fugaku-san and Mikoto-san disapproved of her relationship with their eldest son, but she knew enough that she was beginning to care so much for the raven-haired ANBU that she wasn't going to give him up easily, not even if she had to fight to remain by his side.

The realization shook her, as well as the depth of fierce emotions that stirred to life at the thought of a possible separation from Itachi. It made her eyes gleam with new resolve. Sakura really did not know what she would do alright, but anyone trying to take him away from her had better be prepared for an ugly and violent confrontation.

She looked at him.

"Are you trying to…court me?"

He shook his head, much to her inner disappointment.

Then he spoke.

"I have been courting you since the second week after we met during the summer festival," he clarified, much to her surprise. "I think I may have progressed well beyond 'courtship' now."

Sakura pinkened. She had been blissfully oblivious, as usual.

But Itachi was not done yet. "I would like a small measure of assurance in return." He watched her intently as he made his request, watched as she mulled over his words and drew her own conclusion.

"Small measure of assurance?" she repeated with a small frown.

He nodded once, and then his gaze became absolutely demanding as it pierced into hers.

"Accept my suit, Sakura."

She looked him straight in the eyes.

"Are you serious about this?" she asked him solemnly. "Because I am, and I want to know that you are just as fully committed to this relationship as myself."

His onyx eyes were calm, patient.

Waiting for her to come to him.

"I wouldn't have asked, if I didn't mean what I said."

His quiet assurance was more than enough for her.

Sakura lifted her hand and touched the elaborate hairpiece gently. It had been a relic of the past, and now, it was the symbol of her future. He had never made a promise he couldn't keep, and just for that alone, she knew that he wanted her by his side. This wasn't going to be a promise to be made and remembered temporarily, just in the heat of the moment. If she accepted him now, she would have as good as sealed her fate.

For he was never going to let her go.

But yet, Sakura couldn't think of anywhere else she would rather be but with him. He was so much more than most had seen, and Sakura was only too glad that he had chosen her to reveal his true self to. It made her very protective of him, which was ridiculous, since he had proven time and again to be more than capable of defending himself, and those under his watch as well. But her feelings refused to be denied, and like it or not, she would watch over him in the same manner he was looking over her.

If she chose this, she would never be able to let him go, either.

Her eyes never left his, and a small, gentle smile graced her lips as they sat there, in the abandoned training ground where their unlikely story had first begun. The uncertainty had faded away, leaving behind a pure, sure trust in the man before her, the belief that he would not let her down shining true in her soft emerald gaze.

She would be his.

"It would be my greatest honor, to accept this."


Questions That I Would Like To Answer Before You Ask:

Ahaha, I have no idea who to pity more; Naruto for the repeated heart attacks that he's given, or Neji for having his name dragged through the mud this tragic evening. You readers can make that decision, huh?


I know that this started out funny and ended somewhat mushy in the end, and even though there was no fixed 'they got married and lived happy-ever-after' for this particular verse (definitely not with all the murky clan politics floating around), there was at least a hint or two of their romantic relationship as well as to the direction they were heading, which was what I was aiming for anyhow. Yay for subtleness! Including ramen-verse Itachi (who I admit is sort of a dork but will still probably emote about as much as the other verses' Itachis, if only a little nicer), I just can't see a spontaneous Itachi who goes forth spouting promises of forever and eternity without ensuring that he could back it up first.

At least, that's my theory.


So here ends 'hair clip.' Hope you guys enjoyed the ride. I know I certainly had lots of fun writing it! Like I had mentioned in the previous chapter, this installment will tentatively be the last of the fiesta-verse series, at least, until inspiration strikes again, eh?


Once again, if the Naruto cast had reacted in a crack-ish, OOC manner in 'hair clip,' it's purely intentional!


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