Thanks to MakalaMea for betaing.
Upon returning to Konoha after a mission, Itachi's first action, even before reporting in to the Hokage, was to visit the Memorial Stone. It had been his habit before Danzo's reign, and now that Konoha had been restored to Genshi, it was his habit again.
Part of the ritual was to pay homage to his fallen comrades, to tell them he had completed one more mission to keep the Village safe, and to reaffirm his vow to continue where they had left off. Another part was to honor the lives he'd taken in keeping that promise. To remember that each man or woman he killed on his missions probably had family or comrades themselves, who would now be mourning them before their own monuments. It was Itachi's hope that doing these things would keep him sane, keep him human.
It appeared to have worked so far.
Itachi was halfway through the long meadow that carpeted the land in front of the Memorial Stone with thick grass when he realized he was not alone. Someone was already at the Stone, paying her own respects.
Itachi almost turned and left; though the park the Memorial Stone stood in was technically public property, the nature of the place was such that it was possible to intrude on someone there. Grief was, after all, a private thing for many people.
But even as he realized that someone was there, he realized who it was, and felt neither the obligation nor the desire to leave.
Sakura, he was sure, would not begrudge him his presence, and he did not mind hers.
She was standing in front of the Stone, her hands clasped behind her back. At her side, a small pug dog wearing a vest and a hitai-ate sat on his haunches. Both were staring at the Stone. He didn't think they spoke.
They certainly didn't when he stepped up on Sakura's other side, his eyes on the Stone. The silence was gentle, though.
Itachi took one of the sticks of incense that sat in a bowl beside the Stone and lit it with a tiny Katon jutsu. He put his palms together, the stick held horizontal between his thumbs and the sides of his hands, and bowed to the Memorial Stone. He straightened after a moment, wisps of the incense twining around him. His gaze ran over the Stone, catching here and there on familiar names before moving on, touching each name.
Then, he remembered each of the men and each of the women he had killed in this latest mission he'd completed. If he'd seen their face, he held the image of it in his mind briefly, before letting it drift away, releasing with it his guilt.
After, he bowed again, and bent to place the burning incense into a holder in front of the Stone.
It was then that Sakura spoke.
"Tsunade said you found the scrolls," she said, "Did you destroy them?"
Before, Itachi had known little about Haruno Sakura in his Other Past. He had known her skills, her standing as a ninja, that she'd had a crush on his little brother, and that she had killed Sasori. He was beginning to understand her as a person now.
After the Battle of Chi no Mori, he had told Sakura of the truth of his past—that he had been thrust back through time. Amazingly, she had believed him. More amazingly still, she hadn't fled from him. He still remembered from time to time what she'd said to him afterward—We're Teammates, Itachi-san.
"Yes," he answered her question presently. She half turned her head, enough to look him in the face with one green eye.
"Good," she said, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth. Then she fell silent again, and Itachi's attention wandered down to Pakkun, the pug still seated on Sakura's other side. The ninken's eyes were still fixed on the Memorial Stone, and Itachi didn't have to trace the angle of the gaze to know which name.
"It is good to see you again, Pakkun," Itachi said sincerely. The pug looked up at him.
"Itachi-san," Pakkun said easily—having been Kakashi's Teammate on several missions, Itachi had grown to know all of the late Hatake's dogs. The pug's nose flared subtly. "You smell of blood."
At this, Sakura turned to face him fully, scanning him with a medic's eyes. "Are you injured? Do you need treatment?"
He shook his head. "None of it is mine."
"You just came from a mission," Pakkun said. It was a question couched in a statement.
"Yes," Itachi replied. Sakura blinked at him, then gave him a second look, this time taking note of the fact that he wore his uniform and that it bore evidence of rough travel.
"You've just returned? And this is the first place you went?"
He lifted one shoulder in a noncommittal response. Sakura's expression of disbelief flickered into one of wry amusement.
"You Uchiha," she huffed in mock exasperation. Itachi quirked an eyebrow at her. She echoed his half-shrug.
"This. It's like the nonverbal version of 'hn.'"
This caused a flicker of amusement to flit across Itachi's eyes. He said: "Hn."
Sakura was silent for one beat, and then she burst into laughter. Even Pakkun snorted in amusement. Itachi smiled.
When he'd first gotten to know Sakura in this timeline, she had been six-years-old and painfully shy. He'd tutored her, alongside Naruto and Sasuke, in a few of the ninja arts. They'd all looked up to him as a big brother.
"I come here after all of my missions," he said to fill the silence that fell when her laughter faded.
They'd viewed him as a brother, but then came the Fall. And then the next time Itachi saw any of them was when they were twelve or thirteen. Long absence coupled with circulating stories of his exploits had resulted in a distance between them. And they'd all grown older, changed as people do when they grow from children to adults. Naruto and Sakura treated him with a sort of deference, a respectful distance. It had made him a little sad, but he had known the reason for it and couldn't fault them. He'd let them have their distance because, if he was honest with himself, he didn't know what else to do. Making friends was not, apparently, something they put on the list of skills they gave to prodigies.
His hand had been somewhat forced, in this instance. Sakura had heard him talk to Danzo in the midst of battle, had heard Danzo mock Itachi with Itachi's own secrets. She'd heard enough that to not tell her would be a foolish mistake. She was curious enough that she would search the answers out herself, if he didn't tell her, and that would have caused a whole new set of problems. What if she went around asking questions, and in doing so aroused someone else's curiosity, and then that person went out asking questions, and so on? Better to just bring her in on the secret, let her know and make sure she understood that she couldn't breathe a word of it to anyone.
"Oh," she replied, nodding as if she understood. Itachi thought that she probably did.
He had been somewhat surprised to find that being forced to trust Sakura did not rankle much. Perhaps that was because he essentially already did trust her. In a way, she was already a friend.
His jaw worked subtly, as if he were rolling the word over his tongue. It tasted vaguely foreign, but sweet.
Yes. Haruno Sakura was his friend.
Itachi stood next to his friend, thought of eating dinner with his family tonight, and breathed in the woodsy scent of Konoha. And smiled.
TH: The end. Yep, this wraps up my "Dreams" universe. I won't exactly say they lived happily ever after- there's always some kind of conflict to deal with- but they got pretty darn close.
Those of you who wish I had put in romance can read between the lines for Naruto/Hinata. And Itachi/Sakura, if you like. If you don't like, then they're just friends. Whichever way you want to interpret it. I left it kind of open.
I will be writing more in the Naruto fandom. I'm not sure when my next story will start, or what it'll be about, but if you're interested/curious, keep an eye on my profile.
BIG BIG thank-you to all of you who reviewed Perchance to Dream; Ravel, Unravel; Shades; and Horizons. I really appreciate the feedback, and I like hearing from you guys.
And another massive thanks to MakalaMea, who gets to fix my mistakes :P Much obliged!