Chapter 9

"You're asking me…what?" Shock riddled my words. Even to this day, I laugh at how unexpected it came.

He looked down. "You don't like it?"

"No, no I do, I do. It's just…unexpected." For some reason, I felt hot tears in my eyes, likely in frustration at myself.

He looked worried, wiping tears away with his thumb. "Why are you crying?"

"Well, yes would be desirable, but it's your choice. It'll be okay, I promise."

I laughed once and more or less threw my arms around him. My hadn't wanted him to see my very deep blush.

"Yes, I want to marry you, Itachi."

Not long had passed before things began to change about four weeks. Itachi distanced himself from everyone, including me. He and his father hadn't spoken much after he'd proposed, but this felt different. I had known something must be seriously wrong. By no means did he treat me different…just that he didn't come around as often. When we spoke, he appeared distant, like his mind remained on something else. At the time I dismissed it as stress from missions. I would help Mikoto with various things and help Sasuke with homework and even train with him a few times, though I was nowhere near Itachi's skill at the time.

Two weeks had passed before that afternoon he finally told me what went on…what he must do that night. He had told me he wanted to go for a walk to talk in private, so I followed him. We must have gone a mile at least out of the village onto a hill overlooking it.

He stood still as stone, shoulder against a bare winter tree.

"Itachi?" I ventured.

He spoke without looking at me. "I'm going – I have to leave on a mission, Keitara, a long one."

"How long? When are you due back?" Something felt wrong, so wrong. It gave me chills.

His voice teetered on the edge of breaking. "That's just it…I – It's unlikely I'll return."

"Itachi." I went to him, turning him to face me. Here, the man I loved, falling apart right before me.

"You – After tonight…I'll be known as a S-ranked criminal." He couldn't meet my violet worried eyes.

Correction, shocked eyes. "Itachi, you wouldn -"

"It's not my choice anymore. I -" He sank down against the trunk, face hidden in his arms.

I knelt at his side. I put a hand on his shaking shoulder.

"A war – They'll start a war if I don't…I have to…to kill everyone…my clan," he sobbed.

By this point I knew words would do nothing, so I did the only thing I could. I took him in my arms and tried whatever I thought might comfort him, even a bit.

"I'll come with you." He looked up.

"Itachi, take me with you when you leave."

This seemed to snap him back. He straightened and met my eyes. "No, Keitara, you can't, I can't – they can't know you're alive, none of them. You must run far from here, tonight." He placed his palm to cup my cheek. "You can't come with me, Keitara. I'm sorry. I wish I could say different, believe me, I do. I wish I didn't have to do this at all. I wish to marry you and live out our lives."

"Will I ever see you again?" I asked as he stood along with me.

He met my fearful gaze. "I don't know, Keitara. Fate works in odd ways. If so, I'll still marry you, and you can stay with me as long as you want." His thumb feathered over my cheek and he kissed my forehead.

"I'll always want to stay with you," I murmured.

"Good. Then know that I will always love you, no matter where I am. If I can, I'll find you when it's safer."

Even now as I write this, remembering that kiss, I can almost feel his tears on my face, the heat in his urgent lips, and taste of his tears.

As long as I remember anything, I will never forget the look on Itachi's face or tears in his eyes as I watched him from afar on that black horse's back. Just before turning away from the village for the last time, his tear-filled eyes that once sparkled with joy and fire met mine. All the times laughing by the fire in that cabin, his smoldering eyes and smile that melted my heart, spinning around like children until we toppled dizzy in the snow, it all played in my mind as I watched him disappear into the forest.

Still I knew it hadn't ended. My destiny still waited. I only hope that fate somehow reunites us once more.