note: Schizophrenic mix of one-sentences/drabbles/stuffs. Chronologically organized; starts at the beginning, ends after the end. If you have not read 'Shades of Sunrise,' it will only make minimal sense. If you have read 'Shades of Sunrise,' it might only make minimal sense. To everyone who made a request: I tried and I hope you are satisfied!
sequel to: Shades of Sunrise
She is the one to draw the battle lines, but she is also the one who first breeches them. Eyes bright from fever, Sakura is curled up on her bed and watching him carefully. When she speaks her voice holds the sting of a hiss but none of its force. "I can't stand how much you look like him."
They bump into one another, late at night when Sakura is trying to get to the bathroom. She is still weak, still wobbling on loose, sore knees, and holding the wall for support. But when Itachi appears in front of her, she is fully capable of falling into a crouch and scowling for all she's worth. Without acknowledging her, Itachi goes right, at the same time Sakura goes left. They both go the other way. They weave back and forth in a silly dance that is as serious as death for a few more seconds until Sakura stops, crosses her arms and raises her chin. She is threatening in her acknowledgement of him. Itachi looks down without anything behind his eyes.
They are at an impasse.
She is mad, she is insane, she is ludicrous – she is dead serious as she asks him, can I braid your hair?
Naruto does laugh, and people do ask her about Itachi, and when her mother cries, Sakura does too.
They lock him up for (too long) a time, and they tell her to leave him be; she sits in the hallway outside his cell and when they come to shoo her away, hisses, "Make me." They glare at her with eyes that blame and distrust and ask her why would you trust the traitor? She sits back and makes sure the weight behind the glares is never given the chance to manifest into anything more dangerous than scoffs and half-hearted threats.
Fact number one: Everyone loves Sakura.
Fact number two: Everyone is scared of Itachi.
Fact number three: Itachi loves Sakura.
Fact number four: Fact number one has a tendency of making people – especially eligible young adult males – forget about facts two and three.
But it's ok, Itachi reasons, because they always seem to remember. All he has to do is tower, scowl, and let his eyes flash red for the tiniest second.
She gets him the glasses to help keep his delicate eyes safe from his habitat of reading insane amounts; she tells him to wear them because they're sexy.
"So, you must have been, like really conflicted about your wild lust for Sakura, huh?"
"You know. Way back at the beginning. When you first found her and realized how much you wanted her."
"That's not what happened."
"No? It's ok. You can tell me about your angst. I bet it was really hard for you. Don't worry – Sakura won't mind if you tell me. I'm her best friend."
"... It was never like that."
"Like – like angst and lies and … want."
"Well then, what was it likes?"
"It was… It was like sunshine and chocolate and smiling through your tears."
Ino pauses, looks at Itachi with a calculating purse to her lips. Then, she smiles slowly. Her hand reaches out and thumps a shocked Itachi heartily on the back.
"Good job! You have officially passed the best-friend approval test!"
Sakura leans back with a long, slow sigh. Her chakra retreats, fizzles out of him, curls back into her, a warm weight of soft, humming light. Itachi feels the way the sofa shifts to accommodate her, the feather weights of her fingers skimming circles around his eyes, tracing the planes of face. "Ok," she says, and her voice carries a smile. "I think I'm done."
Itachi does not want to open his eyes. He is silent, because he is scared.
Then her fingers are back, thumbs tracing the shape of his lips. He can feel her breath fanning over his face, warm and moist and sweet as spring. "Itachi," she says.
He opens his eyes.
There is a tiny mole near Sakura's right temple, and thin, individual pink hair pull away from the mass of her bangs, spiderwebs in the light. Her eyelashes are clumping together at the outer corner of her right eye, thick and dark and curling; her lips are chapped, split but healing in the middle. And her eyes are like rolling hills, like new buds, like the sun shining through your blinds at dawn, like pretty glasses in storefront windows, like dark nights in wild woods – like all of these things woven together and given the light of stars. Behind her, all around her, the world is sharp and clear and bright and new.
She is smiling at him, and there is warmth is every line of her face.
Itachi opens his eyes and he sees.
Sasuke is one day away from Madara and four feet away from his brother. He is nervous and ready and full of an energy that crackles and boils and distracts him to the point of openness. "I don't mind," he tells his brother, not looking at him, but at the way his sword shines as he sharpens it. "You and Sakura, I mean." Itachi lifts his eyebrows and Sasuke continues. "I know you worry about it. I can tell."
Itachi looks still and shocked. But then something around the corners of his mouth softens, and his words bounce just enough to not be entirely somber. "I would not care if the lack of her was killing you, little brother. If you want her, you will have to fight me." He pauses, tilts his head in exaggerated consideration. "You would likely have to fight her as well."
Sasuke smirks in a loose way. He scoffs, rolls his eyes. "In that case, I better just hold my ground."
And because they are Sasuke and Itachi and their wounds are still fresh and raw, this is enough.
Itachi reaches down and pulls Sasuke's arm over his shoulder.
"Fuck," his baby brother says before spitting out a great mass of blood and bile.
"He's dead," Itachi says. Sasuke sways and Itachi holds his breath to keep from screaming.
They stumble back towards their camp, shoulder to shoulder. They collapse into graceless heaps, feet touching and arms too close to overlapping. When the tips of their middle fingers meet, Sasuke does not jerk away.
Itachi's laughter sounds like a wet, wheezing cough. Sasuke's doesn't sound much better.
They see the elders one day, as they walked down the street: Itachi freezes up and Sakura scowls before leaning to whisper, "They're not worth it," into his ear.
Naruto trips Itachi.
It is entirely on purpose.
He did not think it would work out so well.
Itachi is eerily silent as he pulls himself out of the river and leaps onto the bride Naruto and Sakura are standing on. Sakura is laughing so hard her face has turned bright red, and there are tears sliding down her cheeks. Naruto is grinning nervously, still a little shocked and more than a little afraid.
Itachi face is set in a I-am-above-expression glare that is more that vaguely terrifying. Then Itachi grins.
Two seconds later, Naruto is flung from the bridge.
As he hits the icy water, every last doubt he has about Itachi disappears. Spluttering and cursing as he surfaces, grinning madly, Naruto is already plotting his revenge.
She drags him out to the training grounds, fingers laced tightly through his, declaring, "I'm telling you, Itachi, if your abs start to get soft, I'm not going to be happy."
"Work," she says, pulling her fingers through her hair and stretching her back with a series of pops, "sucks."
"I guarantee there are a good number of people that are grateful you were at the hospital today," he says. She makes a scrunched-up face and he bops her nose. She laughs a huff of air and presses her face against his shoulder.
"Whatever." She grabs for his hand, pulls him towards the door. "Let's go have an adventure, or something."
One day, Itachi looks in the mirror and realizes that he does not hate the man he sees reflected.
Old Time Photo
Naruto catches a swift elbow to the side. "Pay attention!" Sakura tells him. Then she hooks her arm around his neck and pulls him closer. He grins and loops an arm around her waist, rubs his cheek against her hair until she head buts him. Beneath her other arm, Sasuke stands, arms crossed, and when she pinches at his elbow he smiles reluctantly. Kakashi hovers in the background, not nearly as towering as before, but the wild ends of his hair still ensure he's the tallest person there. He places his hands on Sasuke and Naruto's shoulders.
"One… Two… Three," Itachi says, and pushes the button.
Itachi goes drinking with his brother and Naruto. They are safely drunk and talking about who knows what when Kakashi arrives. "You're late!" Naruto shouts, slurring his words and smiling more loosely than normal.
Itachi and Sasuke roll their eyes at Naruto and Sasuke mutters something that sounds suspiciously insulting.
Later, after even more alcohol has been consumed, Kakashi leans close to Itachi. Naruto and Sasuke lean in too, shameless in their eavesdropping.
"She's too good for you," Kakashi says.
Everyone stiffens but Kakashi, who throws back another glass of sake. Itachi is silent.
Kakashi's voice is a little deeper, edged in an anger that not even the booze can hide. "I don't know who you think you are, but –"
"Fuck off," Sasuke says, and the dim lighting catches a second of red in his eyes.
Naruto scoffs and wedges himself between Itachi and Kakashi. His lips are twisted and his hand shoves at Kakashi's shoulder. "You're a mean drunk, sensei. You always do this." He turns to Itachi, clapping him on the shoulder with a heavy hand. "He's a mean drunk, Itachi. An asshole drunk. Don't listen to him."
Sasuke shuffles closer to Itachi, glare still heavy on Kakashi's shoulder blades, and Naruto keeps his hand on Itachi's shoulder even after Kakashi has muttered out something like an apology.
It rains on their wedding day. After the ceremony and the party and the hours spent surrounded by love, they dash home under the cover of night and the relative safety of awnings, holding hands. Sakura hold her arms above her head in a futile shelter as her giggles and occasional squeals are lost in the steady thrum of rain and wind. Outside their door, Itachi turns around and grins like a man he almost forgot he could ever be. He scoops Sakura up like the bride she is.
"You're beautiful," he tells her.
He does not carry her over the threshold. Instead, he steps out from the safety of their little porch, into the storm, and spins in wild abandon. They are wet and cold and it is ridiculous and their fine clothes are going to be ruined, but Sakura is laughing and Itachi is too and this is what perfect feels like.
The night is dark around them, their house still and silent, and Sakura is giggling into his mouth even as he fumbles with her zipper and she yanks on his shirt hard enough that there is a short hiss of ripping seams. His hands are places they have never been before and the feel of her against him is making the world burn down. And Itachi is half ashamed and half hysterical because, damn it all, here he is, seconds away from the start of a new world, and here he is, about to burst into emotional tears. This never happened before. He never used to feel the hot sting of tears and a swelling throat. But he cannot bring himself to regret the change from empty, cold, and alone to full, so full, hot, so hot – burning up and out and this is the world burning down and he is not alone, never alone, because Sakura is right here, heated skin flush against him, hand everywhere, her puffing breath tattooing a pattern against his shoulder and it's ok if he's crying, he decides.
Sakura, wiping the trails away later, cheeks all red and eyes all drowsy, tells him, "You jerk." She bites her lips, shakes her head, drops a quick, full kiss against the hollow of his cheek. There is a wetness to the action, and she sniffs messily. "You're making me cry too."
Life has a new rhythm, now, one that is sunstained and sticky-slow, and Itachi finds himself standing beneath the blue sky and breathing like a man who has all the time in the world.
The missions is complete. Sakura grins at Naruto and returns his flashed victory sign. She bends down to touch her toes, feels the pull of used muscle, and stands in a quick, sharp movement. Her fingers ghost over her weapons, making sure all are accounted for.
"Come one, Sasuke," she says, crouching into a sprinters start. "I'll race you home."
"What are you in a hurry for?" he asks, rolling his eyes but settling into a start nonetheless. She smiles at his willingness to humor her.
"Are you kidding?" she laughs. "Don't you want to get home?"
Sasuke smirks, looks away from her, out and away and towards Kohona, faraway and invisible.
"Yeah. Let's go."
Girl's nights are required to include sweets. Sakura enjoys this immensely, and tells Ino that she wouldn't bother showing up if it weren't for the cupcakes. She is lying, of course, and everyone knows it.
"So how's hospital?" asks Ino, gazing the selection of chocolates.
"Great," says Sakura, tying off the braid she's been weaving in Hinata's hair. She smiles down, pats a stray strand into place.
"Thank you," Hinata says.
"Think you could braid mine?" asks TenTen, standing from her palce on the floor with a huge stretch.
"Sure," says Sakura. "But you have to tell me about that mission you were on last week. The one Lee came back from with a broken leg."
TenTen laughs. "It's top secret."
"Indulge us," says Ino, settling down with a bowl of popcorn.
They all laugh.
It is not the house he grew up in, and the similarities end shortly after the fact that both have roof and walls, but some nights he still feels them. Still hears them. Still sees them lurking just beyond what he can focus on.
The ghosts raise dry skeleton hands to scritch scratch at his sanity, to wail at the walls in his mind, to demand blood with dark, cracking mouths that hiss like a blade drawn over wet stone. And for moments that stretch into an infinity of leaves scattered down bloody alleys beneath full, dark skies Itachi feels the strain of history pulling him down beneath who he has become, down down down through the darkness of eternity and the fires of hatred. Down down down and he cannot breathe, cannot think, can only fall down down down and when he lands, he is there once more, he is lost once more, he is a boy-man-child and there blood on his hands and guilt in his bones and he is falling down down down.
But then he curls up closer to Sakura, places his ear against her chest, and matches the rise and fall of his breath to her steady in and exhalations. He rises back from below the below, comes to himself and the warmth of her skin on his, because she in an anchor strong enough to withstand the lies that boil behind the pretty facades and she is enough to overcome the darkness that seeps from every corner, every shadow, every moment, every day. Because she is Sakura and she is breathing in-out in-out while her heart beats lub-dub lub-dub.
And the ghosts cannot compete with that.
She hates mornings, he knows, but he can get her to wake up smiling by almost-singing into her ear, "Good morning, good morning, good morning; good morning good morning good morning, good morning and how are you?"
"I'm sorry," Sakura says for the eighth time, hovering and anxious. She dips her fingers into the bottle, nods to herself, and attaches the nipple. She sits down next to him and scoots close.
"Don't be," Itachi says.
Her hip is against his and she is leaning over the bundle in his lap. Her words do not match the way her voice coddles and coos. "You're sure you won't mind? I mean, I'll be at work a lot this weekend and he will be a ton of work for a few weeks and – "
"We will be fine." Itachi runs one finger down the kitten's silken, bloated belly. The too-tiny creature (Three weeks old, I think, Sakura said, worrying over the patch of fur, Who would just dump him in the alley? So sad.) stirs, sucks heartily at his bottle.
Sakura looks up at Itachi and something in her face melts. Her smile lights her up and she kisses him on the cheek. "You're so great."
She stands up, wanders towards the kitchen. As she ducks around the corner, she peers at him over her shoulder. The crooked cast of her smile tells him she is teasing him, but the way she bites her lips tells him there is a truth beneath the joke. "He can be practice. For later."
Then she is gone, humming from the other room as she makes them drinks.
Itachi grins down at the scrap of grey fuzz and huge yellow eyes. "Practice indeed."
And then one day she smiles at him, sings guess whaaaat? and builds the world anew with the promise of a small life cradled by her blood and bones.
Sometimes – when he is folding her socks, when she is massaging his scalp, when they are standing hip to hip and brushing their teeth, when she hums in front of the mirror and rubs her swollen belly – it hits him all over again with that knock-your-breath-out butterflies-and-rainbows first-time strength: he loves her.
She gives birth to their first-born son and when Itachi starts to cry, Sakura can only smile at him with wobbly lips and whisper, "He's got your hair."
"I'm home!" she says, kicking off her shoes and stepping up into the house. "Itachi?"
"Welcome back!" His voice sound from the kitchen, and Sakura pads down the hall, a bag of groceries under her arm.
Itachi is standing over the counter, half-grown kitten curling around his ankles. The air is full of a purr that rumbles like a tiny motor and the sweet heat of chocolate delight. Itachi has a sharp knife in one hand and a spatula in the other. There are brownies on the tray in front of him. He smiles at her. "I made brownies," he says, even though it is the most obvious thing in the world.
Sakura puts the bags down. "I fucking love you," she says.
"What's that?" Sakura asks, laying out the food. Itachi looks up from the letter he is holding and continues to rock the almost-sleeping baby.
"The Academy wants me to instruct for them."
Sakura steps forward, peers at the letter and rubs a hand along her son's back. "Really? Don't they know you're working for the police force?"
He shrugs. Sakura takes the child from his arms. "What are you going to do?" she asks.
"Tell them no," he says. "I am not a teacher." He frowns, "I also have an infant."
Sakura nods. Then she hums, glances at the little sleeping face so close to her own. Itachi meets her eyes and they have been one long enough that she does not need to form the words.
"I am not a teacher, but I am a father. He will know the sharingan."
They eat in the sort of silence it takes years to cultivate.
Itachi's hand shakes as he reaches out to light the incense. He says a quick prayer, dips his head, steps back, and hears the ugly voices in his mind hiss you don't deserve to be here.
Sakura's hand is at his elbow, and her smile is soft. Itachi tries to smile in return and rubs his cheek against the back of the baby dozing against his shoulder. "Give your daddy a hug," Sakura says, nudging the three year-old forward. Chubby little arms wrap around his leg, and Itachi rests his hand against a tiny head of thick black hair. Impossibly small fingers curl around his pointer finger.
The family – his family, her family – turns and exits the shrine quietly.
His little son pulls his finger, asks to go up! Up! He transfer the still-sleeping baby to Sakura, scoops up their son and throws him towards the sky - he is rewarded by high, wild giggles and arms that throw themselves around his neck with a perfect sort of adoration. And his wife watches with sparkling eyes, a black-haired baby in her arms and he guesses he really doesn't deserve this, doesn't deserve to be here, not at all.
But he's not complaining.
His daughter screams as he guides her feet into her pajamas. She pulls at his ears and hair with angry two year-old fists. Her snot and tears mix together and smear against his shirt.
Itachi tickles her belly and sings nonsense songs to her in a ridiculous, mostly intelligible voice. Her sobs become squeals and she tries to blow a raspberry against his cheek. But she is tired and when her smile gets droopy he scoops her up and they go for a walk. She is fast asleep by the time he slides back into the house as quietly as possible.
Sakura presses s finger to her lips and points to their son's room. Her belly is getting bigger every day.
He lays the child down and kisses her forehead. She is tiny and pale and she has Sakura's nose. She innocent and fragile and she has his chin.
That ancient, undeniable voice – the voice that was born with and for his children – growls a threat to the universe: I will protect her.
And the world shifts, the world changes, his family grows and the lingering hurts of yesteryear fade in scars he forgets he has. His children grow and his wife ages and there are days of darkness and years of blinding brilliance.
He sits with Sakura as the children play. Her fingers are in his and her hips press against him and the perfection and beauty of the moment are almost painful. Almost.
She comes home, slams the door, kicks off her shoes, and growls at him when he welcomes her. She doesn't speak in more than two-word phrases and her mouth carries the weight of a scowl and a bad day. But when he stands beside her and listens to the silence of her screaming, she sags into him and welcomes the arms the stretches over her shoulders.
And when she is old and he is older still, when their children are grown and her hair has turned white, she still holds his hand and tells him with all the certainty in the world, "Always."