Title: The Riverside Serenade
Summary: Itachi did not know what had compelled his brother's teammate to seek him out. But he was intrigued enough to follow her. One-shot.
50-shinobi Theme No 27: Violin
A/N: Just a short piece written for Valentine's day. Please enjoy!
The Riverside Serenade by elle6778 – Chapter 1
Itachi stared out of the window at the cool, cloudless sky. He was seated on a flat cushion, his steaming tea in front on him on the low table, as he mulled over the ridiculousness of this day which had forced him to seclude himself in the Uchiha compound instead of honing his skills in one of the training grounds.
Itachi did not know when the event had become so popular in Konoha; he only knew it as one of the most troublesome days in the year. It was something which had been brought back from a foreign country, a foreign culture, but the residents of Konoha, particularly those of the female persuasion, took to it like fish to water.
He failed to comprehend the purpose of this celebration, for could one not simply declare one's appreciation to another without this day? Why should one single day per year be allocated specifically for this?
His mother's voice broke into his musings and Itachi turned around to find Uchiha Mikoto standing at his bedroom door, looking a little puzzled. There was a little smudge of flour marring her cheek, and he smiled affectionately at the sight.
"Okaa-san," he returned, standing up to walk towards her. Reaching out, he wiped the flour off her surprised face. "Flour."
"Ah," she chuckled good-naturedly. "I'm trying my hand at dango, since you like it so much. Not much success so far, though."
"You should not trouble yourself, Okaa-san. The stall in the village sells it."
She gave him a dry look. "I like making things for my family."
He inclined his head, knowing that it was pointless to attempt to save his mother more work. She seemed to enjoy spoiling them, so he supposed he should humor her.
"You are not usually home at this time. Is something wrong?" she asked, clearly concerned.
So, that was why she was checking up on him. He shook his head in response. "Not until tomorrow. I gave the squad a day off."
"Oh, I guess since it's Valentine's day today, most of them have plans, huh?"
He also needed to remain out of the public eye on this day, for he did not feel like handling the unwanted attentions from the women who had not grasped the fact that he was simply not interested in them. It was incomprehensible how they could just dismiss his words when he had clearly given them repeated verbal rejections. Did they not believe him, or were they just foolishly tenacious?
The sound of someone knocking on their front door rang out, startling his mother. She glanced in that direction briefly and then down to her flour-streaked hands, grimacing as she did so. Even before she looked to him with the question in her eyes, he already knew what she was going to ask.
"I will get it."
She smiled gently. "Thank you, Itachi. It's probably one of Sasuke's friends, but I'll be in the kitchen if it's for me."
And with that, both of them stepped out of his room and separated into opposite directions. His sock-clad feet barely made a sound as Itachi padded across the tatami-mat-lined hallway until he reached the small entrance area in front of the door. Their visitor tapped on the door again, and from inside, Itachi could see the silhouette of a female form through the semi-transparent screen. It did not matter, though, for he already knew who it was standing outside.
Reaching out, Itachi slid the door open to the familiar sight of a pink-haired kunoichi standing at the doorway, her hand raised to knock again. Her green eyes were wide as she stared at him in surprise, her mouth slightly parted as if she wished to say something, and could not. Then, much to his confusion, her surprise was soon replaced by unease and she began to shuffle her feet, her eyes darting everywhere but at him.
He could only surmise that she was here for Sasuke, and the Uchiha compound sentries had, as always, allowed her entry. Her behavior, however, was a deviation from her usual cheerful friendliness. Perhaps she was here to present Sasuke with his Valentine's gift? Or perhaps more, which could explain her trepidation. If he recalled correctly, Sasuke had once admitted, with no small amount of disgruntlement, that Sakura had declared her love for him when they were twelve. They were fourteen now, though. Was the kunoichi still enamored with his brother after all this time? If so, she had been doing well hiding it these past two years.
Deciding that he should not contribute further to her discomfort, Itachi turned to walk back to his room, pausing only to call out over his shoulders, "I assume you know where to go."
She had been in their home often enough since she had been teamed up with Sasuke and Naruto. As far as Itachi knew, there was barely a day that passed without them spending time together. And that meant that she and Naruto were frequent guests in this house as well as making regular appearances during family trips. So by now, she should know her way around.
Leaving her to her own devices, Itachi walked in the direction of his room. The soft pad of Sakura's footsteps could be heard just behind him, but he was not surprised. After all, she needed to travel the same hallway to reach Sasuke's room. What he kept detecting though, was the nervousness which practically radiated from the kunoichi behind him. What could be the matter?
Reaching his room, Itachi slid the shoji screen open and stepped it.
His perplexity increased tenfold when, instead of walking past him to Sasuke's room situated further down the hallway, Sakura halted in front of his door. The unease he had detected earlier was now clearly visible by the way she was clenching and unclenching her hands, worrying her bottom lip with her white, even teeth as her brows furrowed. The redness of her lips drew his there and he frowned inwardly.
She froze, and then slowly, without looking at him, she inhaled deeply, releasing her bite on her own lips. There seem to be some mental debate occurring in her mind, he noted with amusement. Them, right before his eyes, she seemingly relaxed, allowing a smile to grow on her lips as she finally looked up at him.
"Sorry about that. I was just a little… uhm… nervous."
"I can tell," he intoned dryly. "What is the matter, Sakura? Sasuke's room is down the hallway."
Her smile wobbled slightly. "Ah, you see… I'm not here to see Sasuke."
He arched a brow at her words. "Then, why are you here?"
"I came here to see you."
Itachi could only stare at her, not expecting her answer at all. He could not even begin to guess why his brother's teammate wished to see him. So, there was only one response he could give.
"Come with me. I have to show you something."
As odd as the situation was, Itachi found himself intrigued. Her eyes promised secrets, and her lips curved in an inviting smile. At that very moment, he was very aware that she was no longer a child, and yet, still not a woman.
The realization… unsettled him.
A discomfiting suspicion slowly trickled over him then, making him wonder if instead of being infatuated with his brother, she had now transferred her interest to him. The notion was not one he had considered before, and he was not certain how he should react to this.
She was watching him now, her large eyes displaying her returning uneasiness, even as she attempted to keep smiling at him. Her efforts to persuade him to go with her were transparent, guileless, and he could not help but feel drawn to it. She wished for a positive answer from him, while he was considering dismissing her request.
As he continued to remain silent, staring at her, her apprehension began to overtake her, sweeping over her features. Her lips pressed tighter and the light in her eyes dimmed, and now, her disappointment was crystal clear.
Itachi found then that he disliked being the one responsible for placing that expression on her face.
"It's okay," she told him with a heavy sigh. Then, under her breath, she muttered, "Didn't expect you to say yes, anyway."
Itachi blinked once, thrown by her admission.
"I'd better leave now."
His voice finally made an appearance when she was halfway down the hallway.
"I'll go with you."
Her steps halted immediately, her entire body growing rigid for some reason. Had she not expected him to agree, despite her attempts to persuade him? Her reactions were confusing, to say the least.
For a long while, no one moved. Then, slowly, she turned over her shoulder to look at him, a small smile teasing her lips. "It won't take long, I promise."
He simply nodded, and closed the distance between them. Their steps fell into an easy rhythm, her long legs keeping up with his stride well as they exited the house, and later, the Uchiha compound. The guards raised their brows at the sight of him walking with Sakura, but wisely held their tongues.
"Where are we going?" he asked as they moved further away from the centre of Konoha.
"The forest," she told him.
Surprised by her choice of location, but interested nonetheless, he continued to follow her until the sounds of people was replaced by the sounds of the forest.
The presence of two shinobi hidden in the trees did not go undetected by Itachi as he followed Sakura further into the forest. They could be part of the routine patrol, or perhaps some of Sakura's friends seeking to tease her. Whichever it was made no difference to him. He was only here to see what the kunoichi had up her sleeves.
Soon, the gurgling sound of water reached his ears. The pink-haired kunoichi continued to push forward without pause, now heading into a territory he was familiar with; she only took the longer route there, whereas he usually came here straight from the Uchiha compound exit.
And when she finally stopped, Itachi found himself standing in a spot that he frequented often. It was his favorite place by the Nakano River, after all. The trees were dense here, but not too dense to prevent the sunlight from hitting the ground in patches, or reflect off the water on the surface of the river. He always came here when he wished for solitude.
The question was, how did the kunoichi know of this place?
However, his questioning look went unheeded as the kunoichi concentrated on a scroll she had just withdrawn from the small pouch strapped to her hips.
"Wait a moment," she murmured absently. "Almost there."
He watched as she performed the seals to unlock the scrolls, and then, with a burst of smoke, a large wooden object appeared in her hands. His eyes scanned over it, noting the four taut strings spanning between a long, narrow neck and a wider, shapely polished wood body. It was then that he noticed her holding a strung rod of some description.
"It's a violin," Sakura explained to him, almost hesitantly. Then, waving the rod slightly, she added, "This is the bow."
He raised a questioning brow. The words were unfamiliar to him in this context, and he was beginning to wonder if it was a wise decision to come here with her.
"It's a musical instrument." Cheeks reddening, she gestured at a nearby rock, one which he usually sat on when he visited this spot. "Sit down."
"I prefer to stand." In case this was some odd plan to ambush him, although he highly doubted it. Sakura did not seem like the type to play pranks on others. She was the most serious member of Team 7, as far as he knew.
She shrugged carelessly at his response, and then placed the wider end of the violin to her left shoulder, her chin resting on its end. A pause followed as she gave him a hesitant look. It was almost apologetic, something which intrigued him even further. It was then that he realized that she meant to play this violin… to him. This day was turning out to be unusual, indeed.
Then, taking a deep breath, Sakura murmured, "Just… listen, okay?"
She brought the two pieces of instruments together with shaky hands. The first note which rang through the silent forest was a loud, grating whine, and Itachi almost winced at the abuse on his auditory senses. What was the girl thinking? Was this meant to be some form of torture?
"Sorry," she muttered, clearly flustered.
The next sound which resulted from the draw of the bow against the strings was less grating, and Itachi slowly felt the tension leaching away from him as the second note followed the first smoothly, until there was a string of notes melding together harmonically. There were a few wavering notes which betrayed her nervousness initially, but it soon gave way to confidence.
She was… serenading him, with that instrument.
This was surprising, Itachi thought as he watched the pink-haired kunoichi grew more absorbed in playing the violin, almost as if she had forgotten that he was there. Her eyes had fluttered shut and her body was swaying slightly to the music as her arm manipulated the bow up and down the strings, the fingers on her other hand pressing the strings down, presumably to vary the pitch of the notes.
Itachi remained silent as he listened to the poignant strains of the unfamiliar melody filtering through the forest. The song continued, rushing high at places and dipping low at others. It struck something within him, and he decided there and then that he would learn more about this foreign instrument and the music. The knowledge would not harm him, after all.
A rare feeling of serenity soon settled upon him as the song continued to fill the air. He was truly enjoying this, and he could not recall the last time he had felt so at peace. Usually, he was almost always on the move, constantly training to maintain his body as the perfect tool for a shinobi and when he was not doing that, he was keeping continually alert during missions and so forth. It was his responsibility to ensure that he did not fail Konoha or his family, even though sometimes, the sheer weight of it seemed overwhelming for a nineteen-year-old.
Today was different. Today, he felt almost human again.
All too soon, the music ended, and the kunoichi lowered the musical instrument from her shoulder. As she held it carefully close to her, he noticed that all traces of her previous apprehension were no longer there.
He finally asked, "Why are you doing this?"
The smile she gave him was soft. "It's Valentine's Day."
He waited for her to elaborate.
She flushed slightly. "It's… um… a gift to you."
His brows furrowed at her response. "That is not a satisfactory answer, Sakura."
She deflated visibly, averting her eyes now. Her agitation was back in full force, he noted with interest. It confirmed to him that there was something else at play here, something the kunoichi was attempting to hide not so successfully from him.
Finally, she heaved a loud sigh. "Okay, you got me."
"So, why, Sakura?"
She grimaced. "I can't really tell you why," she admitted.
Growing somewhat impatient at her evasiveness, he took three steps forward to close the gap between them, drawing a surprised gasp from Sakura when he gripped her chin with two fingers. She immediately looked away from him, directing her gaze somewhere to his right.
"Then tell me what you want in exchange for your…" He flicked a glance at the violin before he continued, "… performance."
Her eyes shot up to his, her emerald orbs clouded with hesitation. And then her lids slid down, hiding them from him as she murmured under her breath, "You'll kill me."
An amused smile tugged at the corner of his lips at her overreaction. He was simply asking her a question, and besides, she had done nothing to push him to murder her in cold blood. Instead, she had shown him something new, something which took him away from his responsibilities even though it was only for a few minutes.
"I assure you that you will not die by my hands today," he told her evenly.
Surprise made her jerk up, her lips parted as if she could not believe what he was saying.
"Answer my question, Sakura," he prompted. "Is there something you seek in exchange for this?" Because this was far too random an act otherwise.
She winced right before his eyes, and then he watched as she contemplated the question. To his relief, she soon nodded.
"Right, there's something I want."
"What is it?"
She flushed, looking flustered. Without meeting his eyes, she murmured, "A kiss."
He tensed at the unexpected request.
The first reaction he had was that he had been mistaken, that perhaps she was actually interested in him. Then all the telltale signs returned to his mind, telling him that she was not. It was truly confusing, to say the least.
And then he recalled the so-called routine patrol. Perhaps they were not actually part of the patrol, but someone Sakura knew? Perhaps this was simply a set up, for a bet of sorts, and the terms prevented her from telling him the truth, which explained her evasive answers.
His lips twitched at the realization.
The truth was, he did not mind this. In fact, he appreciated the distraction. So, if the price was a simple kiss, he supposed it was worth the moment of serenity he had experienced earlier, though the notion of kissing his brother's young teammate was somewhat unsettling.
"Itachi-san? It's okay, really. You don't have to do it," she said rapidly, breaking into his thoughts as she took a step backwards, clearly embarrassed now by the heightened color on her cheeks.
He reached out, grabbing a slender wrist and then pulled her toward him. A shocked exclamation left her lips as her chest collided with his, and he found himself captured by her wide-eyed gaze. He was struck by her subtle beauty then, something he had not appreciated in the past. The girl was only fourteen now, still too young, but something told him that in a year or two, she would be fending off admirers.
At that thought, Itachi sent Sasuke and Naruto a silent wish of luck, knowing just how protective they were of their female teammate.
"W-What are you doing?" she stammered in alarm, still staring at him with those wide green eyes.
"Giving you what you want," he responded smoothly.
A choked sound sounded from her throat, and while he did not think that it was possible, her eyes grew rounder. "I… uh…" Her words sputtered into nothingness.
And then, as if coming to a decision, she squeezed her eyes shut, presenting her left cheek to him. Her entire body was frozen, the lines of her body tensed.
At that very moment, Itachi almost laughed out loud. Instead, he settled for a wide smirk, not that the kunoichi could see him with her eyes tightened to a line like that. He had expected her to request a kiss to her lips. This, however, certainly confirmed that she held no interest in him, at least not of the romantic nature. She was clearly doing this for some sort of challenge, he was certain of it now.
Deciding that he could cease prolonging her torture, he leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, hearing her inhale sharply as he did so.
Releasing her wrist, he took a step back and watched as Sakura's breathing gradually evened out and her eyes peeled open to look at him with an expression which conveyed relief and gratitude. Her hands unclenched and she took a deep breath before a smile stretched across her face, lighting up her features.
"Thank you, Itachi-san."
Much to his surprise, she darted forward to give him a brief hug, quickly whispering, "I appreciate the help."
And with that, she released him, spun around, and streaked away from him. Leaving him to stand by the gurgling river alone, watching her retreating back. Soon, much as he had expected, the two not-so-well-hidden spies disappeared as well, further confirming his deduction of her motives.
This event had been most interesting indeed, and it allowed him to view Sakura in a different light, one which he had not seen before. In his mind, the pink-haired kunoichi had always been just his brother's teammate, but now, he could see her as an individual. A child as the brink of transforming into a woman. Someone who could play the violin so beautifully that she unknowingly made him realize that there was something else out there that could touch him deeply enough to make him feel the way he had felt.
He stood there for a while longer, just enjoying the solitude.
And when Itachi finally proceeded to make his way back to the Uchiha compound, there was a small smile on his lips.
The day had not turned out too badly so far, despite it being Valentine's Day.
A/N: And that's the end of this piece. Hope you've enjoyed it. Might add another piece or two to it in the future, but we'll see how it goes. And please review if you could - it always encourages more writing! Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!