Itachi kept his features straight as he studied the woman before him. Her petite body was curled into a defeated position with her legs pulled into her chest. Her sorrow was being revealed through a stream of tears and a distressed expression. The heavy makeup on her eyes had begun to stream down her pale cheeks, creating numerous black lines.
Itachi found himself slightly lost, the only other woman he had seen in such a state was as a child when he found his mother after a very heated argument with his father. He felt it would be intrusive of him to comfort her with the tight embrace he gave his mother. But he still felt a sense of responsibility for Sakura considering she was his former student and a friend throughout both his and his brothers childhood. Not to forget his brothers lover, she could be considered family.
He extended a hand from the long black sleeve of his cloak out to her and immediately became reminiscent of their past together. "I have told you before Sakura, you don't belong on the ground."
A large amount of Sakura's distressed diminished as she starred at the hand offered to her, her once mascaraed eyelashes blinking a few times as if she expected him to be a figment of her imagination. She accepted his gesture with little reluctance and stood back onto her feet, her cheeks becoming flustered as she acknowledged the contact being made between them. She was surprised to find the feel of his hand against hers warm and comforting, and wondered why she thought it would have changed.
Their hands remained entwined and their bodies close to one another for only a brief moment as the two hastily drank in each others appearance. Sakura appreciated Itachi's handsome features more closely than she had gotten to in the meeting room, she was entranced by his intense dark orbs surrounded by thick black hair.
They simultaneously broke contact and took small steps away from each other.
She wiped away the evidence of her break down with shaky hands before she returned her watery gaze to Itachi, whose stare she immediately met. Her exposed legs prickled in the cold breeze as she was brought back to reality.
"I know it's late but happy birthday," Itachi said in a gentle tone as he held out the single daffodil he had kept concealed in his cloak until now. He hadn't planned to bring her a gift until he past a flower bed full of them by chance, he remembered they were her favorite flower and decided this gesture may help her broken spirit. Though he was aware it would take a lot more than a flower to help the woman in front him.
He could see a smile tug on her lips as her trembling fingers reached for the flower. "You remembered..." She whispered breathlessly as she brought the daffodil to her chest.
"Thank you Itachi," she surprised him with a genuine smile.
"You're nineteen if I remember correctly?" Itachi questioned, a black eyebrow arching as he did.
Sakura nodded in response with a faint smile still remaining.
He couldn't deny Sakura had transformed into a woman, a beautiful one at that. His eyes lingered over her exotic pastel pink hair that complimented her emerald eyes, those mesmerizing eyes that looked at him as though in this moment he was the only person in the world. He noticed the faint blush and missed patches of black on her pale cheeks and the slight tremble of her bottom lip. Lowering his eyes further he felt a ping of anger hit him as he studied the red teeth marks carved into the flesh of her neck, he assumed they were the work of Steele. Recovering himself mentally he studied the curves of her body though now hidden under a coat they still showed through. Not to mention the attire she wore earlier that night had captured his imagination.
And as well a pleasing physical appearance she was a strong, intelligent, and independent young woman.
Not that he would admit any of this aloud considering her relationship with his brother, but even a reserved man like Itachi found her striking.
"I'm happy to see you again," Sakura said with a warm smile, as though all her problems were cured by him. He knew better than that.
Itachi would never reveal to the kunoichi that they had in fact crossed paths before tonight. It had actually been two months ago and since then he had kept a close eye on her whenever he found himself in town. He tried to ignore her presence the day she walked past him in the crowded street when her eyes curiously studied his appearance concealed by a straw hat and cloak. But past the curiosity he saw something else that sparked his intrigued and followed her home that day. Eventually finding himself spying on her from the alleyway across from her apartment, which she had noticed almost instantly. It was an error on his behalf, he shouldn't have underestimated her like that. She had been his student after all.
He was surprised when she was taken down so easily by the group of lowlife thugs. But he had a feeling that defending herself in a public place would risk whatever purpose she had for being in this sinful village, her dedication was an admirable trait of hers. Itachi had found himself intrigued by the surge of anger that came over him as he made sure they felt enough pain to last a lifetime. That was the first time he had ever lost his temper in such a barbaric way.
From then on he had begun to follow her on a regular basis, witnessing her defeated posture and empty eyes more times than he could count.
"It's dangerous on the streets this time of night, you should go home," Itachi suggested with a stern expression as his mind rejoined their conversation. He could see Sakura's eyebrows furrow for a second, he knew she hated being told what to do but clearly she would make an exception for him as her expression changed to panic.
"I'll walk you," Itachi broke the short silence, a hint of annoyance in his voice. The longer they linger in the alleyway the sooner they would be spotted by a bothersome thug looking to make a quick buck.
"You really haven't changed," Sakura muttered as her expression relaxed.
Itachi watched her from the corner of his eyes as they walked besides each other. She still held the daffodil protectively to her chest. He realized he wasn't ready to cut their reunion short and he assumed from Sakura's behavior towards him she wouldn't be as well. There was a lot he wanted to know about the pink haired woman besides him. He changed their path without her noticing.
A single word didn't past between the two, just curious glances as they reached the destination Itachi had thoughtlessly led them to.
Sakura's lips parted with surprise as her heels clicked against the wooden bridge they walked across, she assumed it led into the local park. She stopped in the middle just as Itachi did, staying within an arms reach of him. Her emerald eyes took in the small stream below them, and it's surface covered in lilies. The water droplets on the purple petals glistened beautifully under the full moonlight. The sound of crickets chirping filled the silence between the two silhouettes standing on the bridge.
"I haven't been here before... it's stunning," Sakura broke the silence as she rested her crossed arms on the red railing of the bridge. Her attention stayed on the lilies but she would glance at Itachi now and then.
Itachi kept his gaze rested on Sakura. The moonlight clung to her pale skin, pastel hair and emerald eyes making them glow beautifully.
"What is your mission here Sakura?" Itachi straightforwardly questioned.
Sakura narrowed her eyes as she contemplated whether or not to reveal the purpose of her mission to Itachi. He was a missing-nin after all. The realization she was suppose to consider him her enemy made her heart sink.
"I decided Konoha wasn't for me," Sakura lied, something she hated doing but knew she had to.
"You're still a terrible lair."
"I am a good lair! You're just freakishly good at reading people," she snapped as she turned to face the Uchiha.
Itachi fought the urge to roll his eyes, Sakura had not grown out of her fiery, easily provoked attitude. "Spit it out Sakura. My interest isn't with Konoha, it's with you."
Sakura felt a familiar hot flush come over her cheeks as his words reached her. "They heard Izakaya was becoming popular among missing-nin so they sent me here to gather information and keep an ear out for any threats to Konoha and Fire."
"I am disappointed Konoha would send someone like you here, quite typical of them really," Itachi said with a hint of anger in his voice. It was obvious why they had sent her, she was beautiful and skilled. But her talents could be used for something more deserving of her time.
"What is that suppose to mean?" Sakura questioned defensively.
"It was my decision to come here Itachi," Sakura said with a glare as a hand landed on her hip. "I actually care about the village, unlike you."
Itachi brushed off her words with a sly smirk. "And Sasuke let you come here? I can't imagine my brother being so open to the idea."
Sakura's glare ceased as she hid her sadden expression by looking back to the stream. "We broke up before I left," she whispered.
"What did my little brother do?" Itachi questioned bluntly.
"How do you know Sasuke did something?" Her eyebrows furrowed.
"You wouldn't have accepted a mission like this without the wrong kind motivation."
A sigh of defeat escaped her lips as she kept her eyes adverted from Itachi. A part of her wanted to lie and say they just grew apart or he was too focused on his ANBU career, but then why should she hide the truth?
"I found out he was cheating on me with Ino Yamanaka."
Speaking those words out loud brought out mix emotions for Sakura, she wasn't sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry.
Itachi arched an eyebrow, "your best friend? I was not expecting that."
He couldn't deny he was surprised but also disappointed in his little brother for shaming himself with such indecent behavior. As much as he loved Sasuke, Sakura did not deserve such disrespectful treatment. Itachi felt less guilty about his earlier thoughts towards the kunoichi.
"Neither was I," Sakura said with a laugh. "But here I am."
"And that idiotic man Steele is your new lover?"
Sakura's jaw dropped slightly at Itachi's question. Did he really consider that? "No.. definitely not."
"Did he hurt you?" He questioned, his eyes returning to the faint red teeth marks on the nap of her exposed neck.
"I'll live," Sakura answered softly as she followed his gaze and adjusted her collar to hide the evidence of her brutish encounter with Steele. She was glad he could not see the bruises around her small wrist. She would heal herself once she was home. "You should know he doesn't plan to stop selling to Amegakure."
"We established that during the meeting," Itachi said with his eyes remaining on Sakura. "My subordinates should have taken care of him by now."
Sakura felt her fists clench as she shot Itachi an agitated glare. "So everything I just subjected myself to was pointless?!" Despite Steele passing out before any penetration she was still not pleased with how far they had gotten.
"Despite his oafish behavior he was dangerous Sakura," Itachi said calmly, his dark orbs looking into infuriated emerald. "Kakashi and myself almost finished him off years ago but he has a talent for disappearing. It was for the best."
Sakura looked away from the Uchiha as she tucked the daffodil into the front pocket of her coat before taking a single step forward and aiming a clenched fist at Itachi's sternum. He didn't try to dodge it and she didn't hit him with as much force as she could have.
"The rumors about you weren't exaggerated, though I have a feeling you did hold back." A grin formed across Itachi's lips. He took a hold of her wrist and frowned when a small wince of pain escaped her lips. Surely he didn't grab her that hard? Itachi pulled her closer to him, holding her hand in the air as he tugged her sleeve down to reveal bruises embedded in her pale skin. He shouldn't have let Steele take her.
"Your speed has improved as well," he said softly.
Sakura was taken back by the look that filled Itachi's eyes as he observed the bruising around her wrist, it was angry yet gentle. Normally she would have pulled away from his grasp but she felt comforted his gentle touch.
"The Sannin Tsunade took me on as her apprentice after you left."
She broke the silence and Itachi let her wrist slide from his grasp.
Sakura took a couple of steps back as she regained her composure, pulling her sleeve to hide her minor injury. "I was working as a medic at Konoha Hospital before I accepted this mission."
"Your parents must be proud," Itachi said as he tried to mask the emotions brought on by seeing another brutish mark left on his former student. He became intrigued as her beautiful features became expressionless and her eyes filled with a sadness now all too familiar to him. "What happened?
Sakura's voice was low and trembled at times as she informed Itachi of her fathers death in their family home. She recalled the events from the moment he had collapsed, how she failed to revive him and Tsunade herself declaring him dead. She left out the part where she blamed herself. "My mum barely speaks to me."
Itachi couldn't help but admire Sakura's strength. Her dainty, feminine appearance disguised the strong warrior she really was. "I'm sorry for your loss, Kizashi was a good man."
Sakura returned her gaze to the moon. She never talked about her father, though he crossed her mind daily.
"Your family is doing well! Kyoumi even got engaged before I left," she forced a smile as she changed the subject. "She's marrying one of your distant cousins, I forget his name... Their engagement party was nice! Though I can't see myself being invited to the wedding..."
Sakura studied Itachi's vacant expression, unsure of how he would take the news of his ex-girlfriends engagement. Either way he would not reveal his true feelings.
"She always wanted to marry young," Itachi said, showing a small smirk.
"You're not upset?" Sakura questioned and the Uchiha shook his head. "Not even a little bit jealous?"
"Kyoumi was a kind girl but I wouldn't describe her as the love of my life," Itachi answered, he knew Sakura would continue her persistent questioning unless he answered her. "Being with her was more for the clans sake than my own."
Sakura was surprised when she felt relieved by his answer. She realized she was looking at Itachi in a light she never had before. She found herself able to recognize and appreciate how handsome the Uchiha was. Even with his expressionless gaze there was a gentleness that would reveal itself for a second when he talked to her. And though his body was hidden under a cloak she could see his shoulders had become broader and he was taller. She was fascinated by the man she believed she once knew so well.
"Why did you leave?" Sakura threw the question out there, attaching her gaze to Itachi's.
"It doesn't concern you," Itachi answered coldly.
Sakura frowned as she felt the urge to punch him return. "It doesn't concern me? You have no idea... I spent months in my room crying over you until Sasuke and Naruto dragged me out!"
"That was foolish of you," Itachi muttered as he turned his back to her. He knew he had done wrong by her but he couldn't give her the explanation she deserved.
"I guess I was an idiot for believing you wouldn't abandoned your friends, your family, your student and your village for some stupid scroll!" Sakura yelled with clenched fist at her sides.
Itachi quirked an eyebrow, "is that what they told you?"
"What is that suppose to mean?" Sakura relaxed her composure as she tried to understand the meaning of his words.
The squawking of a crow circling the sky above them drew Itachi's attention from the conversation, he acknowledge the bird with a hesitant nod before turning his attention back to Sakura.
"I have to go."
"Don't go," Sakura pleaded to the Uchiha's back.
"I have work to do," Itachi turned around to face her.
Sakura was speechless as she could feel more tears swelling in her tired eyes. She fought them off successfully. She didn't want Itachi to keep witnessing the weak human she had become.
Itachi moved closer to Sakura, until his lips met the shell of her ear. "There was more to that drug ring than Steele, I don't have any names for you but keep a look out, since he is missing they will come looking for those responsible"
"Steele wasn't in charge?" Sakura questioned with a slight blush on her cheeks, she could feel the warmth of Itachi's breath against her skin.
"He was the brawn but someone else is the brains," Itachi answered as his fingers gently brushed over pastel pink strands that reminded him of silk. "I will be back in town in a week, I'll let you know if I find out anything."
Sakura would have smiled at the thought of seeing him again if she wasn't so paralyzed by the feeling of his body close to hers.
"Thank you Itachi." Sakura said with a small smile as the Uchiha moved his body away from hers. She felt her blush deepen as he raised a gentle hand close to her cheek before placing it firmly on top of her head.
The kunoichi groaned.
"Keep safe," Itachi said with a smirk as he ruffled her tresses.
Before Sakura could react he was gone, leaving her with red cheeks and messy hair.
Sakura let the hot water run over her body as she slid to the blue titled floor of her shower. She felt dirty after the events of last night and even the thirty minutes she had already spent scrubbing her body didn't feel like enough.
However seeing Itachi had proven a distraction as her thoughts were being occupied almost exclusively by him. She was almost convinced their whole conversation was a dream. She prayed he wasn't lying and she would see him in seven days, preferably less.
Sakura found herself imaging different scenarios between the two and thinking of words she should have said. Not to mention questioning her reaction to his words and touch. Why did the mere thought of him make her cheeks flush?
She closed her eyes as she tilted her head back, relaxing as the hot water washed over her. There was something wrong with her. Surely her attraction to Itachi was just the novelty of seeing him again, she couldn't think of her former sensei and ex-boyfriends brother like that...
Exhaling she stood to her feet and turned the shower taps until the water ceased.
The mirror was clouded by steam and condensation but she could still faintly make out her reflection. Her long pink hair clung to her wet body, covering her exposed breast. Sasuke always complimented her hair and insisted she keep it long.
Without much thought she pulled open the blue cabinet (everything in the bathroom was blue, the owner had seriously poor decorating skills) and reached for a pair of scissors. She gripped a chunk of her pink hair in her free hand and guided the scissors to cut through it.
She smiled as the mirror begun to clear and she could see herself clearly. She ran a hand through her shorter hair before the wet tresses clung to her neck and shoulders. Her eyes lowered to the sink now filled with the discarded strands.
Sakura yawned as she let the towel wrapped around her body fall to the floor besides her bed. Her eyes studied the single daffodil in a small vase on her windowsill. It reassured her that seeing Itachi certainly wasn't a dream and the fact he remembered her birthday yesterday even after their years apart. With a small smile she closed her eyes, hoping to get enough sleep before shift at work tonight.
"SAKURA!" Mai screamed instantly as Sakura entered Izakaya. Despite wearing heels the petite blonde shot up from the booth she was serving and raced towards the kunoichi, ignoring the whistles that followed her.
"What's up Mai?" Sakura questioned, she could feel a lump form in her throat. She had a feeling it would have something to do with Steele.
Mai leaned in to whisper, "I can't say anything out here but you need to go to Chishin office immediately!"
"Thanks Mai," Sakura put on a surprised expression before heading for Chishin office.
"Let me know how things go!" Mai called out. "I love your hair!"
Sakura mentally began to curse Itachi, assuming she would be questioned about Steele's disappearance. She didn't need this kind of attention drawn to her.
Inhaling deeply she knocked on Chishin door and entered before he could respond.
"Cherry blossom!" Chishin said with a little too much enthusiasm. He was sitting at his desk, his legs propped up on the table with his arms tucked behind his head.
Sakura thought the urge to roll her eyes at the poor attempt of a new nickname. "Hey Chichi," she looked over to a seriously looking Akari standing behind Chishin's chair. "Hey Akari."
"Please sit down Sakura," Akari smiled before her serious expression returned.
Sakura sat in the familiar leather seat, her eyes darting between Chishin's carefree expression and Akari's serious one.
"Last night you were working a meeting between members of Akatsuki and a man named Steele, right?" Akari's tone matched her expression.
"Y-yes I did," Sakura couldn't deny Akari had an intimidating side to her. She had heard rumors about the Akatsuki but never thought Itachi was a member, she made a mental note of it.
"And after that Steele carried you into one of the back rooms, yes?" Akari looked at Sakura with a stern gaze.
Sakura nodded, "how did you know?" She had been quite stealthy last night as she went unnoticed to the staff room and then out the back exit after Steele had passed out.
"Hidan told me," Akari answered, her eyes burning into Sakura's. "But getting to the point... word has gotten back to us that Steele has gone missing."
"Did you kill him?" Chishin questioned with a serious tone, before a grin crawled across his lips.
Akari rolled her eyes, "shut up."
"What?" Chishin said with a shrug. "The girl can handle a kunai."
Sakura remained silent as the two argued among themselves.
"Once someone is missing around here it is safe to assume they're dead," Akari finally turned her attention back to Sakura. "Which is bad for us since Steele has some very nasty friends."
"Obviously we don't think you're a murderess," Chishin added as he rubbed the blonde stumbled along his chin. "But since you were in the meeting room and possibly the last person to see Steele, you'll be a person of interest."
"There has been tension between the group Taka and Akatsuki for sometime now and this will just escalate things," Akari said with a sigh. "Now Taka will show up any day looking for members of Akatsuki and probably you as well."
"But if they are sure it's Akatsuki then why bother with me?" Sakura tried to act concerned. She saw this as a golden opportunity to learn more about the drug circuit headed for Konoha. Though she did wonder why Itachi hadn't mentioned the group Taka to her last night.
"They'll want to know what happened in the meeting," Akari answered a she rested a hand on Chishin chair, using it to support her body. "They'll be questioning everyone about Akatsuki as well. Are you affiliated with any members?"
Sakura shook her head, they couldn't know about her connection with Itachi. "I only served them drinks last night. I hadn't even heard of them until today."
"Don't worry! When they show up just answer their question as best you can and you'll be fine," Chishin said with a grin. "Unless they can't find any Akatsuki and take their murderous revenge out on you..."
"Chishin!" Akari slapped the back of his head. "We just wanted to warn her, not scare her."
"I'm just kidding!" Chishin chuckled as he rubbed the back of his head.
"To be safe we'll keep an eye on everyone you serve and make sure you're never alone," Akari said as she glared down at Chishin. "But Akatsuki will most likely deal with them before it goes too far."
"Who are the Akatsuki?" Sakura asked with a dumbfounded expression. She had a feeling Itachi wouldn't be as willing to provide her with enough information that would fulfill her curiosity.
"We don't know much ourselves but from the rumors we suspect most members are former shinobi turned mercenaries who serve the leader of Amegakure," Chishin said as he brought a hand back to his chin. "A few of the members come here regularly for meetings and Akari always flirts with them."
"I swear to god if you don't shut up old man!" Akari growled, her fist clenching at her sides. Within seconds she seemed to calm herself down, running a hand through her thick black hair. "The three in the meeting last night show up more regularly than the others."
"I see," Sakura whispered. She felt a sting of jealousy at the thought of Itachi in a booth surrounded by beautiful women. Or him following one of them up the stairs to... No, Itachi wouldn't be into that, would he? He was a man after all.
"They're decent guys until you get on their bad side," Akari reassured as she left her position behind Chishin's chair, her heels clunked against the wooden floor. "I should get back to the bar."
"It's about time you did some work," Chishin said as he sat up straight and began shuffling through files on his desk.
"And you should leave your office once in a while," Akari mumbled as she opened the door.
"I'll see you later Akari," Chishin chuckled as his eyes scanned the papers in front of them.
"See ya big boss."
Sakura followed Akari's lead and headed for the door.
"Hey pink flower," Chishin called for her attention.
Sakura stopped mid-step and looked over her shoulder.
"I like your hair short," he said with a wide grin. "Meet me out the front when we close and I'll walk you home."
"Thank you Chichi," Sakura said as she left the room. Though she didn't need his protection, she couldn't think of a plausible reason to reject his offer.
Walking down the empty corridor towards the staff room Sakura found herself concerned for a certain Uchiha's safety. If Steele's friends were out for a revenge that would be putting Itachi at risk. She scoffed herself for thinking so little of her former sensei, whoever this group Taka was they wouldn't be a match for him.
After coming to that conclusion an even more troubling issue crossed her mind, what if Itachi doesn't like her short hair?
A sigh escaped Sakura's lips as she entered the staff room, shutting the door behind her. She realized her thoughts about Sasuke were being so easily replaced by Itachi.
Hey guys, sorry it took a while to get this chapter out. I have been really sick and couldn't even stay awake long enough to string a sentence together. I hope this chapter turned out alright! I know the end wasn't very climatic.
Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read, review, fav or follow this story! It motivates me to write.