"... I sure do hope you're somewhere with air-conditioning, because it is hot, hot, hot."
Sakura shot a slightly bloodshot glare at the obnoxious, flickering screen, positioned directly above a display that consisted solely of wilted cabbages. Glaring down at the pathetically shriveled leaves, she felt mild, simmering exasperation and irritation churning in her gut. Groceries and then kunai - that was all she needed, having already gotten her purchases from the chilled isles.
She might have lingered had it not been chaos down there; sweaty, disheveled shoppers elbowing each other and mulling over whether mild cheddar, or extra mild cheddar would be a better purchase and blocking the whole isle with their giant trolleys while they greedily soaked up the wonderful coolness. It wasn't worth the risk that she might just deck some irritating civilian right in the jaw just to get at the coldest spots. Not at all.
Wiping her hand across her sweaty brow, Sakura attempted to remove the sticky strands of pink hair that stuck like leeches and let out a low, deadly hiss of irritation that had the normally jumpy cashier in shaky fits. His long pale fingers shook so badly that the polythene bags crackled more violently than the firecrackers Naruto had been so fond of shoving into inappropriate places, during one of his more annoying phases.
She actually felt bad for a second, not that anyone could tell from her facial expression.
"That'll be -"
"Yes, thank you-" Here, she thrust some of the creased notes from her pocket at him brusquely, "-And put the change in the ... charity box, or something."
Proceeding to abuse her abilities, she applied a small amount of chakra to the soles of her feet and dodged the sluggish, heat-dazed crowd that lingered between the checkout and the door. Outside it was just the same stagnant, heated air that probably forecasted one hell of a thunderstorm. The small fingers curled around the handles of the plastic bags quickly became uncomfortable and nearing on quite damp.
Sakura cursed her near religious wearing of her gloves - it was just too damn hot. Peeling them off would be an unpleasant, sticky encounter that would be best saved for the cool, breezy air of her apartment - which she would be at within fifteen minutes if she hurried to the general weapons supplier at the end of the road. Her last batch of kunai had gone AWOL during a fight with a weak, but rather sneaky, mercenary group they had fought for the possession of a scroll the other day. The leader's ability to create a magnetic force had been infuriating and had cost her many of her weapons (and the ones that were left ended up completely bent out of shape).
Shifting her bags to one hand as she walked, she managed to count out enough money to buy a full new set - which would boost the somewhat-misshapen, depleted pouch strapped to her thigh. It was quite old and stretched now; the painstakingly stitched initials and cherry blossom motifs dulled with age and discoloured by numerous washing and use. It wasn't like she could afford to replace it on a whim anyway.
The bells above the door tinkled merrily as she stepped into the blissful ... paradise that was the air-conditioned interior. Her tense shoulders sagged as though all of the anger had drained out of them and she took a deep breath of the delicious crisp air.
"Sakura-san, pleasure to see you again," drawled Shuya from behind the counter.
She smiled earnestly for the first time of the day at his slouched form half draped across the worn surface and gestured to their surroundings.
"It feels wonderful in here."
He let out a low chuckle and straightened up enough to look at her properly. She always half wondered why most of the men in her life she admired for their knowledge were like this; lazy, slouching - she saw the way his brown eyes followed her languid movements as she stretched - and complete perverts. With Shuya she didn't mind as much, she supposed. It was almost flattering - in a way. Not at all like Lee or Naruto's I-worship-the-ground-you-walk-on looks.
"Got some new merchandise to try and sell to the ever-so-gullible me?"
"Yeah, you know you're the only one that gets the brunt of my sales talk, Saku-chan."
"Say that again and you'll have whatever it is so far down your throat…"
"Flashing me might even get you a discount," he interjected, a funny half-smile on his face, and dragged his eyes over her form in an exaggerated, almost theatrical, way.
The smile she gave him twisted into a disdainful look as she looked away more than might have been necessary. Someone was certainly upping the charm today - he wasn't normally so forward. Irrationally, she felt her pulse flutter slightly and wondered if today he might arrange to meet her somewhere outside of the setting of the shop. She wondered if she wanted to accept, but then his warm smile, and banter filled her thoughts and took away the doubt.
Stepping forward, she slid behind the shelves to hide the silly smile that had swelled to fill her face, turned the corner and nearly collided with the person walking in the opposite direction. Large hands covered in scratchy gloves clasped her bare forearms tightly as though he - for it was undoubtedly masculine - had expected her to walk straight into him. Sakura's nose wrinkled in distaste, she had been about to move, but obviously he thought her incapable.
Looking up, her irritated words died in her throat as she saw Sasuke's elder brother, Uchiha Itachi, looking down at her with his usual solemn, almost languid, expression. This was the first time she had ever been so close to him - so close she could reach out and trace the deep twin lines of stress that were almost carved into his skin... or give him one good, hard right-hook for treating her like an incapable female.
"You can let go of me now," she told him firmly, after a pause, refusing to allow her gaze to waver.
His hands seemed to tighten minutely before he released her. It seemed as though the very tips of his fingers trailed across her exposed flesh as he withdrew and despite the coolness of the air she felt hot flashes of warmth where the rough fabric had touched her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw goose bumps rise on her skin as the tiny hairs stood to attention and hoped that he wouldn't notice. That was probably futile, it felt like he saw everything.
Just as Sakura was about to speak to break the silence, a silky tenor cut through her thoughts. "I apologize. Please excuse me."
She nodded as he stepped past, irrationally sure that he had brushed against her on purpose. Just as he disappeared around the corner, she caught a quiet "Saku-chan."
It made her blood boil. So much so that she barely paid attention to an outrageously flirtatious Shuya as she paid for and retrieved her purchase, then proceeded fumed all the way down the road.
Digging her toes into the soft rug at the entrance of her bedroom, Sakura gave a long sigh and stretched out her heavy limbs. Shopping away, and fans on full-blast - the perfect combination for her only afternoon off before the weekend.
Taking a slow step inside, her finely honed senses suddenly trilled in alarm. A sweet heady smell of perfume - something she never wore - hung in the air around her...
And the beautiful, wispy and sinfully expensive silk dress Ino had been given her on her eighteenth birthday was lying spread across her, now made-up, sheets. A small, folded note written in Ino's own curling hand rested innocently on top of it.
The feeling of foreboding she often felt when faced with some previously unknown – so, anything to do with Ino and her schemes – made itself known.
That dress. That emerald necklace and earring set. Those fancy little knickers and a cute little push-up bra she had never seen before...
Not another blind date - for the love of God!
Memories of pasta being spat across the table at the speed of shurikan; prematurely balding young men; broken straps on dresses – they whirled through her head at full speed.
Summoning all the courage she had developed over years of training and serving as a kunoichi Sakura reached out and gingerly picked up the note as though it was an exploding tag.
Forehead, I'm disgusted by the lack of quality underwear you own. Have I taught you nothing? Honestly, you owe me one for throwing out the worst lot... And getting you that nice new set...
Anyway, besides you now having a shopping trip planned (I've written it on your calendar so you can plan ahead! You never have time for your best friend anymore... That doesn't mean I haven't forgotten how anal you are about organization.) you're also going to be attending that party being thrown at the Hyuuga compound tonight. I mean it. Seriously. I'll pick you up at seven and we can go in together - meaning that at least some of the sexy ANBU I know are being invited will have a look at you because you'll be next to me.
Shower. Shave. I'll see you at seven.
Grasping the corner of the tiny piece of fabric that Ino considered appropriate she scrutinized it. Best to wear them really. Ino would check that she was - no, really - if she detected even a hint of a lie in Sakura's voice... It had happened before. Screwing up her nose at the memory, she held them up to her and looked down. Shower first; was the only thought that ran through her heat-fogged brain.
The feeling of foreboding she had felt all the way to the tips of her toes hadn't quite gone away. Oh yeah, something bad was going to happen.
"Something bad" turned out to be yet another blind date. Not with Shuya, not with that cute civilian guy that ogled her as he walked (deliberately) past her every morning on her way to the hospital, and not with any of the aforementioned "sexy ANBU".
"Name's Kaz," he said as he extended a pale, soft hand that looked, and felt like, it had never seen a day of combat.
"Kaz," she repeated, politely, as she delicately clasped his extended hand. It was like holding a slab of meat.
"Short for Kazuo. You're Sakura - right? - have to say; you're much better looking than I expected," he said, smiling between those limp, fleshy lips as though he had given an award-winning compliment. As though she should drop her cute, new panties right there just for that.
And, what could she say to him? "Yeah, you're good looking in a soft, weak kind of way, but your eyes look like someone has stabbed the irises and let all the colour run out - kind of like a dead fish's looks." Of course not.
He had stood up when she approached the table and moved around to pull out the chair for her and carefully slide it back in. Attentive, at least. Good looking, as she had previously thought, in a sort of way. His suit and tie were immaculate right down to the perfectly twisted cufflinks and polished shoes. He worked in a lab somewhere - she had been told. Used to be a ninja, but gave it up for a more academic pursuit.
That was probably a good idea - he looked like he would have been long dead by now, had he stayed.
Running her finger around the edge of her glass, she caught Sasuke and Naruto murmuring conspiratorial from the corner - shooting glances at her every now and again. They were no doubt plotting some scheme to separate her date from her, she knew what they were like; howling for blood when any man got close... Not that she liked this Kazuo particularly; it was just simply the principle.
She was a grown woman, and should be able to choose whomever she wanted - even this weak, little man.
"Ino told me you worked in a lab..." she began, dragging her eyes up to his face.
His chest puffed out a little at that.
"Yeah, we're the ones who work on the latest variety of soldier pills that are used out in combat–"
It jolted out of her before she could stop it. "Do you miss it? Combat, I mean?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, before running a hand over his hair, throat contracting a little.
"It's dirty work out there – hard too. It's just not right for me."
Her opinion of him dipped a little more.
"Anyway, we've been developing a new kind, one that works twice as long with less repercussions. I've just been promoted..."
Sakura let his words wash over her in a warm, comforting swell of syllables and sounds as her eyes went back to drifting across the room every time he wasn't looking. Shame he just didn't meet her standards because it had been a long time - since we've gotten any action in a while, said a sly voice. That too, Sakura snorted inwardly. There was never much time to seek companionship between the hospital, the missions, and her boys...
Speaking of which, she saw they were now gone. Vanished. That deep, prickly feeling of foreboding she had felt earlier trickled all the way down to her toes. Oh, yeah, something was going down – and it wasn't just her opinion and respect of this dullard blabbermouth.
Hours seemed to pass and all he did was talk, talk, talk with only her occasional input of "mhmm", "oh yeah?", and "really" to spur him on. It was so warm in here, but not the kind of cloying heat that was almost choking earlier. Instead, a warm, heady, near womb-like feeling of being encompassed in heat, coupled with the dim lights and the comfy chair, let her drift pleasantly off into some place where he wasn't there and talking.
What she wouldn't give for a little interference from one Blondie and Pretty-Boy about now - screw her earlier thoughts; she loved them and their meddling, infuriating ways.
A hand lightly touched her shoulder just then, and she became aware that Kazuo had stopped talking. Glancing over her shoulder, she met the wide, wicked grin of Uchiha Shisui with a full, curved smile of her own, thanking whatever deity had been listening to her silent plea.
"Got a little situation brewing, Medic-san. Need your expertise to see to our … somewhat reluctant Taichou."
Ohh, Kakashi always was such a pain - never wanting medical attention, having to be dragged to the hospital... The air of mischievousness (you know, the I'm-going-to-raise-hell beams that radiated from Shisui at all times) seemed magnified somehow. Sakura supposed he was just enjoying the fact that Kakashi was soon going to be suffering a full medical examination. He was a sadistic git like that.
"Sorry, Kazuo-san, duty calls," she chirped, almost too cheerfully.
Cue mad dash to escape- I mean… To see to her patient-in-need.
They moved through the trees at a relatively fast pace for a few moments wherein Sakura simply enjoyed the refreshing feeling of moderately cool air washing over her features. Thankfully, she was as pedantic and prepared as usual, thanks to some sliding (well, crammingwas probably a better word for it) a pair of the standard, shinobi sandals into the cerise silk handbag she had brought with her.
"So, Sakura-san, who was the civilian comb-over connoisseur you decided to lower yourself to be seen with?"
He raised a single, angled eyebrow at her and let out a snort at her hastily placed serene expression.
"Fucking coward then to boot. Aiming for the sky, I see."
She looked at him sideways, his pale sharp features easily found in the darkness. There was malice there, and not just the sort of playful kind he usually exuded (if that wasn't an oxymoron in every sense of the word; playful malice). This was real and somewhat vicious.
"It was a blind date," she replied, wishing she wanted to defend the man, but lacking any enthusiasm for the idea.
"You tell me next time you're dateless. Can't have such a pretty girl with such trash. There's plenty of good, ninja men I know that would love to sit across from your gorgeous ass," For the second time that day, her heart jumped a little irrationally - even if the compliments were wrapped in a layer of chauvinistic asshole-ness.
Taking a swipe that deliberately only brushed his spiked hair she grinned at him, "You're such an elitist, it's hardly even funny."
When they started to angle towards the general direction of the Uchiha Clan Grounds rather than Kakashi's apartment, or the hospital, as she had expected her mind began to whir into motion. Sharpening her eyes, Sakura picked out tell-tale signs of strain and worry in Shisui's expression and the general movements of his body. His earlier comments were probably just his idea of an emotional defense; Uchiha tended to be severely constipated in the emotions department. Just look at Sasuke...
It wasn't Kakashi they were going to see, not Sasuke - she had just seen him. The hospital was still open at this time... Whoever it was should have gone there. She had expected it to be someone she knew well, because being treated by a stranger in your own home was surely the same as being treated in the hospital.
They passed the walls without shinobi swooping at them from all directions and mind-fucking her, with those crazy eyes of theirs, into a little ball of nothing, or reducing her to ashes with a well-placed Katon, so she supposed Shisui had cleared her admission with the aggressively bureaucratic Clan Elders.
He just looked tired as she started to speak, leading her into the seemingly empty house. Despite the Uchiha and the Hyuuga being rivals to the core, they still invited each other to their formal get-togethers. Purely for showing off purposes, of course.
"My baby cousin, of course."
His baby cousin? That was his beyond amusing nickname for Sasuke when he was in a bad mood... Apparently, it was not just restricted to the younger of the siblings.
Shisui's expression tightened a little as he spoke quietly, "Look, Sakura, you're the only one I could ask... He's not so bad - doesn't bite, I promise -"
"Shisui..." murmured a suddenly present voice; one that was far too close to her to be entirely comfortable. The aforementioned shinobi whirled around to glare at his cousin venomously, completely ignoring the somewhat hostile expression on the younger's, normally blank, face. "Don't you fucking look at me like that, Itachi. If you bled to death, whose balls would your Mother rip off and stuff down his throat? I'll tell you whose: mine."
"I have taken the proper procedures, and applied a few minor healing techniques; it will be fine," he supplied, blandly.
Elite shinobi and their complete disregard for their own health was a major irritation for Sakura. Pointedly narrowing her eyes at her "patient" she debated speaking and reasoning over leaping at him now. She wasn't in the best of moods with this one anyway - having called her that ridiculous, mortifying nickname only a few hours prior. However, if he mentioned that in front of Shisui, he would be a dead man – prodigy or not.
"You're kidding, right? I can still smell the blood. Hell, I've seen the damn thing," Shisui grumbled.
Deciding that it was time to intervene, she finally spoke up, "This will only take a few moments, Uchiha-san. If you co-operate now."
It was though he hadn't noticed her before, which obviously wasn't true, because suddenly his eyes were all over her. Perhaps time had already dulled the memory of having his full gaze; that intensity and deep concentration all focused on her at once. If he had his Sharingan on, Sakura was sure that with just a look alone he could have paralyzed anyone. An eternity passed in a moment when his gaze met hers and held her pinned in place.
The smile she gave him was one of relief and quiet amusement as she saw Shisui sag somewhat - obviously having been prepared to fight tooth and nail to get his cousin the proper medical attention. The unexpected concern was sweet, Sakura supposed. She had never seen much - if any -affection in this Clan, save for the love that almost seemed to radiate from every fibre of Mikoto's form.
"Unless you're willing to accompany me to the hospital the best place would be a bathroom." Easier to clean, less likely to have bacteria lingering on fabric surfaces, easy access to water...
Itachi turned on his heel and walked, expecting her to follow him like some obedient little puppy. Normally, she would have scornfully pointed this out, but Sasuke would no doubt be distraught if his beloved Aniki were to bleed to death on her watch. So, for that, she was silent.
"Tea would be pleasant."
A snort was the reply to that calm remark as Shisui acidly fired back, "If you can still be thinking about goddamned tea, you're obviously not half as bad as I thought."
The somewhat tense air that seemed to have surrounded the meeting - the entire grounds were hostile here, even the air seemed to hiss 'outsider' - dissipated somewhat after that exchange. She shot an aggravated Shisui a sort of half-smile before following her charge upstairs to a large, spacious, tiled room. As he was walking she watched and saw how he almost seemed to stalk forwards - the sinuous movements of a well-trained body could be described as nothing less.
"Where are you wounded?"
"The lower back," was his clipped reply, sharp only in its length rather than delivery. She could have sworn he seemed less tense now that they were alone.
"Shirt off then, and we'll get this done quickly."
Slipping into "medic-mode" was as easy as breathing. This profession was what she lived for. Especially with views like that. Blinking like a stunned deer in the face of an oncoming vehicle she absorbed his perfect, lean torso and well defined arms in the space for a heartbeat and cursed herself acidly for her schoolgirl behavior every second. Taking matters into his own hands he turned and presented an equally visually pleasing back - the lithe body of a mid-ranged fighter pleasing to look at...
(Probably even more so to feel.)
"I'm surprised you gave in so quickly," she said to break the silence.
The shining whiteness that surrounded them gave the scene an even more surreal feeling. Standing in an Uchiha bathroom in a fancy dress, behind a wounded, shirtless Uchiha Itachi, remorseless killing machine, who was currently perched on the closed lid of a toilet - seemingly completely willing to let her paw him. Odd didn't even cover it.
"You wouldn't believe my reasons if I told you."
Clear as crystal - just like his brother.
"That sounds like it should make me wary."
"Probably," came his vague agreement.
She was sure he was looking at her over his shoulder now, watching her bend over and probably seeing a glimpse of the cute push-up bra meant for someone else's eyes entirely. Suck on that Ino-pig. Kazou would have said something, Itachi did not.
"Move your hair, please."
She might have liked to run her fingers over it, but that completely overstepped any and all boundaries that casual, we've-never-properly-spoken acquaintances should have. Besides, if what Sasuke had said earlier was anything to go by, he'd probably just drown her in the sink if she tried and casually mention the fact that her body was cluttering up the bathroom to Shisui over tea. Well-bred, nickname-using asshole: that's what he was.
It wasn't a life-threatening gash, she mused as she peeled back the blood spotted bandages wound around his torso in a semi sloppy way - but only a trained eye would think that. It would scar if left alone, possibly get infected, but definitely restrict his movements. Making a soft hum to herself, she delicately probed the inside and the ragged edges, checking for any foreign particles that could potentially cause any sort of problem.
Knitting together the flesh and muscle was a practiced move that came so easily to her, she barely thought about it now. Other wounds marked his shoulders and back - pale silver flecks that caught the light, resting on marginally less-pale skin. Despite his colouring, there was nothing about it that made him seem fragile – in fact, it was just the opposite. It was warm even in there and the use of chakra heated her up even more so.
Her silk dress began to cling to her thighs, stomach and chest as she perspired even more. There was a sheen of sweat even on his skin, it would make him taste salty and musky and delicious. Slapping herself viciously mentally she stood up properly and moved to wash her hands at the sink - unaware of the eyes that followed the smooth curve of her spine and noted the outline that could be seen through the flimsy dress.
"All done," she declared unnecessarily, thankful he was so co-operative and that the wound was on his back, so he couldn't watch her eye groping him.
"Thank you for your assistance," was his reply after a pause.
Maybe she liked him a little better now, and could forgive him for his earlier name related slight. (Not just because he was some serious eye-candy mind - she had some morals).
"You'll stay for tea." It wasn't phrased like a question.
"I'd like that," she replied softly.
Anything to wash the taste of yet another god-awful date with a silly little man.
"Good," he murmured, that single word and the look he fixed her after that holding more sensuality than anything anyone had ever said to her before.
She had thought her pulse had sped up when she spoke to Shuya and Shisui earlier... Now it was racing. Coupled with the dark, close heat as they moved through the darkened halls and the sound and smell of him that hung in the air, and it was intoxicating.
The heat indoors was unbearable, so the three of them sat outside in the darkened gardens. Sakura peeled her stockings from her feet and wiggled her toes eagerly before dipping them into the cool water of the pond that dominated a large section of the garden. She was oblivious to the two sets of eyes watching this movement. In this heat Sakura wondered why the hell they were drinking hot tea of all things.
Huffing to herself, she drank it anyway, if only for the look on Itachi's face when he sipped the beverage - the way his intense eyes - mere pinpoints of light in the heavy darkness around them - focused on the drink, and then shut while he drank as though in ecstasy. When she caught herself wondering what she would have to do to get him to look at her like that she shook her head viciously and cursed the numerous glasses of warm wine she had downed earlier to try and drown the boredom.
"One of us should walk you home, hmm?" Shisui said at some length. None of them knew what time it was, but it was late.
"Afraid for my girlish innocence?" Sakura teased lightly, flicking water at him with a speed that was twice as startling, being juxtaposed with her languid tone.
He laughed at her then, the sound low and relaxed. Standing, he offered a hand that she accepted and squeezed a little tightly on purpose.
"You can walk me to the gates, I wouldn't put it past your maniac relatives to try and assassinate me."
Turning, to Itachi - who she would never have thought she could have shared such an enjoyable evening with; what with his reputation and Sasuke's frequent horror stories about serial forehead-poking and the general emotional-fuckwittage.
He gestured with his re-filled cup and spoke calmly, "Sleep well, Saku-chan."
Shisui choked on his own spit.
He was a dead ridiculously sexy man.
Written during the crappy snow and ice besieging a few weeks previously when all I wanted was a little unseasonable July weather. Next chapter will be out soon... hopefully.
Beta'd by the lovely Sakura4eva.