A/N: I know I'm going to get the, "I thought you died" comments and "where have you been" queries. The simple answer: I lived in a place that I could not write. I thought about finishing Harken's Bell before posting anything else, but because that's not how I started this story, I realize I have kept people waiting a very long time. So thank you to everyone who still reads this work. I will finish it. It's just taking me longer than I had initially thought. Also, just a Warning: This chapter does have some adult content, but I tried to keep it in the "T" rating as much as possible.

Chapter 38

Disclaimer: I do not own Sakura. I think that's the more apt disclaimer here.

One by one, Sakura could sense the chakra signatures retreat. The voices of the spirits' quieted and the forest hushed. Dancing limbs calmed and the breeze stilled. She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand, wiping away the perspiration that dotted pale skin. Splaying her palm against her chest, she sucked in a deep breath in an attempt to slow it down. She hadn't realized that her heart could pound so hard.

Malachite eyes grew large the moment she sensed a lone chakra signature coming straight for her. Recognition hit her immediately, and if it were possible, the tempo of her heart increased once again.

A smile formed on her lips. Of course he would chase after her. That's the way it had always been. He was the only one who truly pursued her.

Sakura moved to an opening, her knees brushing against the high grass listing beneath the gentle wind. Brushing a stray strand of pink hair behind the shell of her ear, she waited.

Itachi flickered into view, several feet away from her. Silky black hair had come loose from it's binding. The tresses spilled over his right shoulder, evidence of the effort he had made to catch up to her. Malachite clung to obsidian. In that moment, where it was only the two of them, they stood in silence.

A playful grin tugged at the corners of her mouth, and his expression answered in kind when she chortled, "You think you can catch me?"

"You believe you can escape?" He immediately countered. His cultured tone held a measure of arrogance. An ebony brow rose, taunting her.

Instead of answering him, she canted her head to the side.

She watched him with a smile still affixed to her petite features, her eyes dancing with mirth when he approached her in several, swift graceful strides. The moment he reached for her, she immediately twirled out of his grasp and with a snicker she was off.

The bells around her wrists tinkled, and like a young spring doe she was bounding away from the predator who hunted her into the safety of the forest canopy. The mood of her playful escapade changed drastically. Sakura wasn't certain what to make of the sudden earnest desire to escape and be caught all at the same time.

The trees rattled, tattle-telling the shinobi's location as Itachi hopped from branch to branch. He trailed her as she zigzagged just ahead of him around tree trunks and sprawling bushes. A mischievous laugh sprung from the confines of her throat as she came to a full blown stop.

Itachi changed direction and landed right next to her. She peeked at him surreptitiously through lowered lashes, and she danced to the side just as his fingertips brushed against the material of her chalcedony sleeves.

Dark eyes narrowed on her, and she clasped her hands behind her back as for step for step she waltzed just out of his reach every time his fingertips nearly made contact.

Even with his chakra enhanced movements, the air spirits kept her just out of his grasp with no effort at all.

However, Sakura knew the instant that Itachi grew serious in his efforts to capture her. The playful lines around his eyes smoothed away, and his amused smile fell flat. Dark eyes pierced right through her all the way down to her core. Faltering mid stride, Sakura paused, green eyes widening at the relentless black blur coming straight for her.

Lifting her chin, she quickly gathered her scattered wits and with the aid of the spirits, sprinted away from her pursuer. Her smile and playful demeanor melted away, and she focused primarily on staying out of his reach.

Mischievousness vanished, and all that was left was a serious focus on the task she'd taken on.

She twisted and gyrated at each and every turn to escape him, and he used his activated sharingan and speed to capture her. Like a bird that had finally escaped its cage. Sweat ran down her temples, as the effort to evade him became more and more difficult.

They danced this odd tango until the light of the sun was starting to set and the cacophony of crickets' song began to echo across the quiet woods.

Petal-hued lips parted to form a small smile as she weaved her way around the tree trunks, a light blush dancing across her flushed cheeks at the ever increasing intensity of Itachi's unwavering gaze.

Their gazes clung for several long moments and her mouth opened slightly when he smirked at her. He raised his arms and executed several unknown hand gestures and with a loud slap of palm against palm, he whispered a series of words she didn't quite hear.

Puffs of smoke heralded the entrance of three his doppelgangers popped into existence. Sakura in turn sent the real Itachi a quirky grin. Some part deep inside her celebrated. She was able to evade the shinobi and the other Nuwan for the most part, and Itachi had exhausted all tactical measures before resorting to using a jutsu. Or at least, that's what she was assuming. With Itachi, one just never knew. Either way, the knowledge of her accomplishments, no matter how small gave her hope.

Eyeing the new obstacles attempting to bar her path, instinctively she knew which ones were the fakes and that the real Itachi had disappeared into the shadows beyond her natural sight, but she could sense his chakra signature nearby - however with the clones holding a small piece of his chakra, it made it more difficult to pinpoint his exact location.

The mischievous giggles from the spirits tickled her lobe, and without batting an eyelash, she was sprinting away again. No matter the speed she was able to manage with the aid of the wind spirits, the shadow clones ghosted alongside her. The one on her immediate left made a grab for her, but she easily shifted away, however that put her in the reach of the one on her right.

Ducking under its arms, she nearly tripped over a protruding stone during the effort, but the wind spirits kept her upright and before the scattered shadow clones had a chance to regroup she changed direction.

Within moments, the clones surrounded her causing her to veer at an angle, heading into a part of the forest she didn't recognize. A shiver wracked her frame when the waning light finally lapsed into darkness. It wasn't cold, but the veil of night beneath the canopy of woods was not in the least bit comforting.

At least not by Sakura's standards.

Her mouth twisted into a frown. Itachi was definitely persistent. That thought itself forced a small, amused smile onto her lips. Maybe that was why he was the only one for her. He was, if not more stubborn than she was.

The desire to escape was eclipsed by a yearning to be held and ensconced in the safe cradle of his arms. An intense longing for his warmth. A strange feeling to have while being pursued by said person. Even if said person, was in fact her husband.

The spirits cackled in her ear, chortling about this game that she had started.

Biting her lip to smother the smirk that wanted to surface. She was the one who started it; why shouldn't she be the one to end it?

And then an idea hit her. The thought alone made a blush spread across glistening milky cheeks.

Green eyes gleamed with the telltale signs of plotting. Sakura almost snickered at the quickly conceived diabolical plan.

Before she could bring her silly plot to fruition, she was forced to an abrupt stop just as she hit the edge of the tree line. A shudder coursed through her, and she swallowed hard as her gaze scaled the sheer granite cliff. The base was spread in the shape of a crescent moon, effectively trapping her from darting to the left or the right. It was a well-played move indeed. Had she expected any less from him?

The shadow clones were only decoys, she realized with a small start. Itachi had her exactly where he wanted her. The three clones stalked towards her, with that panther-like grace that only Itachi seamlessly accomplished.

Sakura smirked at the clones, even as she released the link with the playful spirits. One tugged the tip of her pink bangs as it flit away into the sky. Lifting her chin at a jaunty angle, she eyed the clone that stood at the forefront. She knew her idea was gutsy and just a bit crazy at best, but still, she was more than ready for the game to end.

Confidently, she strode up to the clone who held her eyes. It grabbed her forearm, but that didn't deter Sakura. She stood on her tip-toes, and whispered against its half open lips and whispered softly, "I guess you caught me after all. Am I in trouble?"

It was out of character for her to be so bold, but this was just a shadow clone after all. Enacting a part of her plan, she pressed her body against the clone only to be surprised that it felt rather solid and warm. With her free arm, she looped it around the back of his neck, her fingers slipping up the nape of his neck into his hair. She pressed her lips against his.

Her eyes widened when the clone released his grip on her, and wrapped his arms around her in a tight squeeze that left her feeling breathless and just a bit giddy.

She had only done this to draw Itachi from his hiding spot, but it seemed that the Itachi clone had other ideas. His hands fell to her waist, his fingers cradling themselves against her hipbone, drawing her even closer into him. The action caused something deep inside her to flutter, and her eyes shut as he flicked his tongue against the closed seam of her lips.

A melting sigh left her, and instinctively she opened her mouth.

Before the clone had a chance to kiss her more deeply, a hard snap broke her trance and the clones disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Eyes fluttered open, gleaming almost like a cat's as the real Itachi approached her in ground eating steps. Sakura couldn't help the goofy smile that took residence on her face, "So who caught who? Hmm?"

Peridot and crimson met, each pair of pupils mirroring varying emotions. Sakura's playful expression disappeared beneath the potent gaze boring into hers. Once again, he was stalking towards her, but now she was rooted in place. Maybe she shouldn't have tried to mess with him, she bemused silently.

The imp on her shoulder had her grinning at him, "Jealous?"

Pale moonlight bathed the forest floor with dim light. Sakura's eyes traveled upwards and she took in his angular, yet firm jaw and something inside her fluttered. His lips curved into his trademark hybrid smirk smile.

She gazed at his broad shoulders that carried the weight of his duty on them; a place where she had rested her head on many times. She watched as the crimson bled from his eyes leaving behind the depthless onyx that were softening the longer she blatantly stared at him.

Embarrassment that she couldn't quite explain caused her to avert her gaze. She could feel the heat filling her face, and her heart started to beat just a little bit faster. His masculine scent filled her nostrils and the tempo of her heart increased further still.

Callused fingertips grazed the soft skin under her chin and she looked up at him. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, what she should be expecting. He wrapped his arms around her and his lips came crashing down against hers. Immediately, Sakura leaned into his touch and her fingers dug into the material of his shirt, clinging for what exactly - she didn't know.

Her fingers curled against the cloth and she opened her mouth and goose bumps rose on her skin the moment his tongue met hers. His hands traveled over the curve of her hip and cupped her bottom and pulled her flush against him.

The feeling of his hard length pushing insistently at her through the fabric of their clothes, caused her eyes to open and then roll back into her head when her body responded in kind. Sensation that she didn't know existed tingled and the warmth nestled between her legs dampened. A moan tore from her throat and something primal, instinctual took over her in that moment.

She nipped at his lower lip and tugged, a growl eliciting from deep inside her. Lifting her arms, she wrapped them around his neck and pressed herself as close as she could to him. Sakura wanted nothing more than to explore this feeling, this hunger that was building up in her so fast, she couldn't keep up. Innocence and shyness be damned, she wanted this man. Her husband. Her soul mate. She wanted all of him.

Becoming the aggressor for a moment, Sakura pulled back just a little bit. Bringing her arms down, she ran her fingertips over the top of his shirt. She slipped her hands into the waistband of his pants and lifted the hem of his shirt. The fleshy pads of her fingers quickly moved upward over the flat of his stomach to the hard plane of his chest, running over his skin greedily, taking in the feel of his skin by her choice and at her leisure.

A low, throaty chuckle made her stop mid stroke.

She looked up when Itachi's fingers threaded through the tendrils of her hair. He smirked down at her, the gentle caress of his touch drew her closer yet as she tilted her head to the side, following the feeling of his hands until her cheek rested in the cradle of his palm, "Caught you."

An answering smile caused the corner of her lips to tilt up, "I suppose you did."

"Aa." Was his only response and he was kissing her senseless again. This time, it was his hands that roamed over the frame of her body until she was breathless.

Sakura begged in a half moan, "Please, Itachi."

"Here? Now?" He inquired simply. His dark eyes gleamed but, his voice gave away his trepidation.

She found it bizarre that he seemed nervous. Itachi was never nervous about anything. Or at least, that was the impression he gave off.

She pressed her palms against his chest and stepped back. Her fist curled against her chest and she stepped back and smiled at him. Beyond her desire for her husband, she loved him more than anything.

"Itachi," Sakura started and then raised her other hand when he stepped forward, "You were the only person who ever tried."

"Sakura…" The sound trailed away, leaving only the sound of the breeze intermingling between them.

"No, I just want to say this. After everything that has happened, you know…" her green eyes shimmered with banked emotion, and she swallowed back the lump growing in her throat, "I know you remember the first day we met. I was rude, obnoxious, abrasive and I had a wall this high," she lifted her hands to measure the imagined height and smiled, "I didn't want to let anyone in. I thought I was strong for it, you know?"

She paused, and when Itachi didn't cut in, her smile widened and her eyes started to burn when she thought of all that had happened between them and where they were now. Even in this moment, when she wanted to finally let go of herself and just be with the man she loved, she felt as if there was something there, in the way. A wall between them that they should have breached a long time ago.

"But I wasn't strong. I was a weak person, still am a weak person trying to pretend I am stronger that what I really am. I used angry, hurtful words as a shield to make it seem like I was bigger than I really was. I mean, Itachi," she pointed to herself with a wry smile, "Look at me. I'm barely over five feet, and people were scared of me for no other reason than I was able to keep up the rumors. No one questioned. No one cared enough. Until you." She stepped forward again and pressed her palms against his chest, "Why? I still don't understand what it is about me that…"

Itachi only smirked and instead of responding vocally, he cupped her cheeks with his palms and kissed her deeply. It was the kind of kiss that had her bare toes curling into the slightly moist dirt. She gripped his elbows with her palms and returned it with a fervor that brought her emotions from a slow simmer to a fiery inferno.

Sakura wanted nothing more than to be skin to skin, and as close to him as was humanly possible. She wanted his hands all over her body, touching her, caressing her, and finding the completion that her body yearned for above all reason. She remembered the sight of his naked body in the bath back in Helath, and that thought, in and of itself caused her to release a throaty moan that brought a groan out of him.

"By Kami, I want you," he whispered against her lips. It was his way of asking permission, Sakura realized. Her heart fluttered even as he hesitated, and settled with resting his warm hands on the cradle of her hips.

The pleading timbre of his voice caused her to chuckle softly, the husky note pitched the sound into a small whimper where words would fail her. She had no idea what she should be doing, or how to go about asking him to do it. A small part of her was nervous and just a little bit scared, but the much larger part, the deepest part of her trusted him completely.

Like Itachi, she didn't vocalize the words that were stuck in her throat, instead she peppered tender kisses along the sharp angle of his jaw. Words only seemed to get in the way anyway. Her eyes shut as she breathed him in, her palms fanning out over his chest in reflex. Taking her actions as an affirmative, he captured her lips in a kiss that deepened instantaneously.

His nimble fingers touched her everywhere, and where they ran a blaze of sensuality over her skin, he gently undid her garments until she was bare before him. The juxtaposition between his caresses battled between gentle and demanding. Sakura enjoyed every moment of it, even as she crushed the whisper of fear of the unknown wanting to blossom inside her.

Instead she grabbed at the pure primal animalistic instinct that took hold of her and didn't let go even as he shed his clothes and brought them both gently down to the ground, skin to skin, mouths fused and limbs lacing and locking together.

Sounds that she didn't know that she was capable of emitted from her lips beneath his relentless fingers and mouth. Her backed arced and a sigh of pure pleasure tore from her throat, animalistic and primal when he found the spots that pulled the most reaction from her. He repeatedly caressed and licked the sensitized skin over and over again until she shook beneath him.

Dark eyes watched her response to his touch. A masculine smile formed even as he continued to run his hands down every inch and curve of her body over and over again.

The moment he moved inside her, pain raced through her but soon gave way to an immense pleasure that filled her and released her from the emotion that had been building inside her. This measure of time between just the two of them was more precious to Sakura than she would have ever realized it could ever be.

Beneath the moonlight, in the grass under the protective canopy of the sentinel oaks and birch of Konoha amongst their scattered and forgotten clothes, the two fell asleep together in each others' arms, the sense of belonging leaving behind a blanket of content and replete that left behind a blanket of peaceful ebb mingling with the waning hum of crickets.