The morning light spilled in, setting the room in an ethereal glow. Sakura shifted in her sleep, shielding her sensitive eyes from the light using his arm. The young ANBU captain was already awake, but unwilling to move from his comfortable position next to Sakura. If he moved, Sakura would wake immediately, judging by how lightly she was breathing - she was on the verge of coming into consciousness. Besides, he rather liked the feel of her relaxed body next to his, which reminded him of serenity and the better side in life.
Life as a shinobi often kept him wound up and alert, but being with Sakura right there was like being covered with a blanket of peace, a kind of relaxation of the senses that he had almost never allowed himself to indulge in. Even at home he was kept on his toes by his watchful parents, a younger brother that looked up to his every move, and the possibility of a spying clan member. Not everyone agreed that he would make a suitable heir.
Next to her, however, he could let go for a bit. He could temporarily ignore the existence of the Uchiha clan, the responsibilities, the expectations. He could indulge in physical pleasures freely, and enjoy reprieve from the stressful life that came with the territory.
In the back of his mind he was very well aware that this would not last forever. Somewhere along the way, this arrangement would either end or become something more, and whether it was the former or the latter neither bode well with the Uchiha genius. If it came to an end, he would not enjoy these periodic relaxations, but if it became something more it was inevitable that Sakura would be brought into the messy politics in his life. Then instead of him suffering alone, she would be dragged into the whole ordeal as well. He wasn't sure if he liked the idea. And truth be told, he didn't want to think about it, but somehow, out of habit, he always thought ahead.
Sometimes he wondered how Sakura felt about it all. He'd heard oral reassurances and confirmations, but more often than not he had a gut feeling that Sakura was still hiding something from him and from her friends. And since the gut feeling had yet to fail him in battle, he trusted it. She was never truly open, though she gave that impression, but Itachi supposed it was a good trait, what with their job description. Itachi wasn't altogether sure if she was in this with him because of loneliness, of boredom, or some other reason that he was unaware of, but nevertheless he was still glad of their arrangement. Itachi could only hope that she was getting as much out of this as he was. He believed in taking as much as giving.
Itachi had never thought that he could share something more than an acquaintance with his brother's pink-haired teammate. In fact, it had never crossed his mind until that fateful night. She had always been just there; she never really caught his interest in a mind-blowing way, but he supposed she hadn't been trying to get his attention anyway. Their paths simply didn't cross at the right time, until the night at the bar.
It was rather interesting how things worked, Itachi mused. Now that she had his full attention, he began to notice just how much of a chameleon she was. She played her role so well, whether it was as a part of Team Seven, as Head Medic of ANBU or as Tsunade-sama's apprentice cum assistant. She executed her duties flawlessly. With such an ability to adapt into whatever role she was in, Itachi was rather surprised she even had time to just be herself.
Itachi found himself hoping that she was her true self when she was with him. She wouldn't have specifically developed a character just for being with him, would she? At this point in time, Itachi could not be a hundred percent positive. On a certain level, she was truly a dangerous character.
His musings were cut short, however, as the body beside him tensed and stirred. Her parched throat emitted a cracked groan as her sleep-filled eyes fluttered open momentarily.
"Why do you look so awake," Sakura mumbled sleepily.
Itachi tucked a loose pink strand of hair behind her ear in response.
She opened her eyes fully this time to look at him. Her eyes looked strained, and Itachi quickly shifted his thumb to rub the sleep out of her eyes.
"You make me feel like a baby," she said with a pout.
"You sleep too deeply."
"You tend to have that relaxing effect. It's like you're lavender oil or something."
Itachi didn't know whether to be offended, being compared to lavender oil. In general, shinobi felt a greater sense of accomplishment when their name was used in conjunction with awe or fear. Not relaxation ointments.
Sakura grinned at his lack of response. "Or maybe it's just the sex."
"Hn," was all he deigned to reply.
"Anyway," Sakura said, untangling her arms from his, "I have a shift at eight. You want some breakfast?"
"Is it possible for you to eat something other than cereal for breakfast?" Itachi asked pointedly.
"Occasionally I have tofu and porridge for breakfast. Maybe once a year. What's your deal with cereal anyway? It increases your brainpower."
Itachi remained silent as the mob of pink hair disappeared into the bathroom, door left unclosed and the shower turned on. He threw on the pair of pants that had been left on the floor last night (it would be so much more convenient if he had a couple of fresh clothes here), and made his way to the kitchen.
The fridge contained eggs and fresh vegetables, while a little digging in her cupboards revealed ingredients for miso soup. He placed the uncooked rice into the cooker and set it to cook, while he turned on the stove to boil the eggs and make miso soup.
He was almost done when Sakura's fresh scent from the shower came wafting into the kitchen, and said woman appeared moments later, dressed in a casual shirt and boy shorts. She wasn't wearing a bra. It was at times like these that Itachi wished he didn't have such keen observation.
"You dislike cereal that much, huh," Sakura commented jokingly as she scooped porridge into two bowls.
Sakura sat down at the dining table with the steaming bowls as Itachi brought in the pot of miso soup and boiled eggs.
"I didn't know you knew how to cook."
"I merely copied what my mother did," Itachi explained as he picked up his chopsticks.
"Still, you didn't have to," Sakura said, genuinely grateful. "Thank you."
"Do you usually not cook?"
"Well," Sakura said with a gulp of her porridge. "I kinda suck at it."
"It comes with either practice or the Sharingan," Itachi said wryly.
Sakura burst into laughter.
Sakura was about to take her lunch break when Sasuke knocked on her door.
The familiar mob of black hair came into her view, and Sakura greeted her teammate cheerily with a smile. Catching a glimpse of his rather sombre face, however, with a dull light in his eyes, Sakura immediately grew worried.
"Is something the matter, Sasuke-kun?"
"Is Naruto not coping well?"
Sasuke glanced at her abruptly. "Well, yes, but that's not important right now."
"What is, then?"
"Is someone hurt badly?"
"Are you hurt or anything?"
"Anything bad happen?"
"No, not really."
"Do you not like your new team?"
"Sasuke-kun?" Sakura said finally, exasperated.
Her dark-haired teammate turned his gaze fully on her. Sakura felt offended that they were slightly accusing. He was the one being mysterious and ambiguous here! She wasn't some sort of mind-reading psychic.
"Itachi only came home this morning."
"And?" Sakura asked impatiently. They'd had this conversation before.
"Was he with you?"
Sakura remained silent. What did he want her to say? Did he just want confirmation? Or would he prefer if she'd lied?
"Why don't you ask him?"
"He said he was."
"Then why are you asking me?"
"Can't you guys stop?"
"Are the two of you serious about this?"
It occurred to Sakura then that Sasuke never truly understood the nature of her relationship with Itachi, and the elder brother never sought to rectify the fact. But she supposed she understood Itachi's dilemma. What could he say? I'm screwing around with your teammate for fun, no strings attached? Or what was she supposed to say? I'm sleeping with your brother because…I don't really know, but I'm sleeping with him anyway. And no, we're not seeing each other or anything like that.
Yeah, she could see how well that would go down.
"Can I just ask you to please leave it alone?" Sakura pleaded.
"This…isn't about getting back at me for something or another, is it?"
Sakura rounded on him at the accusation. "What? No! I don't hold any grudges against you, Sasuke-kun, I thought we were clear about that when we broke up."
He flinched. Sasuke was exceptionally good at masking emotions, but Sakura had been trained to detect even the slightest hint. It helped that being in ANBU and interacting with Itachi had improved her skills dramatically. But even though she could read him, she was confused. They'd broken up so long ago - why was he bringing up the past?
"Sasuke-kun…this really has nothing to do with you," Sakura said gently. "In a good way."
He nodded mutely.
"Anyway," Sakura said, hoping to change the subject, "have you talked with Naruto? I have to pretend I don't know anything about it, but he hasn't come and talked to me either, so I'm getting a little worried."
"He wouldn't even fight with me when I asked if he wanted to spar," Sasuke replied rather dejectedly. "For some reason he was very sure that I got in."
"Well, obviously you did since you didn't say that you didn't."
"But I didn't say I did, either."
"We all know ANBU can't announce that they're in ANBU. Naruto may not be Shikamaru but he's not oblivious either."
"Maybe he'd be more willing to talk to you."
"Well, he is due for his physical," Sakura thought out loud. "Speaking of which, so are you."
"Meeting with Unit One right now," Sasuke muttered incoherently, before disappearing with a flick.
Sakura scrunched up her face in disgust. She was so going to deck Shisui for teaching Sasuke the Body Flicker technique. It made her life so much harder.
Resigned, Sakura grabbed her purse and decided that the sooner she finished her afternoon shift, the faster she would get to Naruto. However, the plans were foiled when Shizune's head peeped around the door.
"Sakura, Hokage-sama asked for you to go to her office."
"Yeah," Shizune gave her a look of pity and understanding. While Tsunade generally let Shizune alone because she was running as the director of the hospital, she didn't extend the same courtesy to her younger apprentice, and thus despite Sakura's equally heavy shifts and responsibilities, she was still expected to be at her Hokage's beck and call.
Not that she minded particularly, but Sakura did feel a little suffocated every now and then. Not to mention feeling slightly abused and taken advantage of.
"I'll be there," Sakura reassured the busy woman. "Thanks."
"Oh, and could you feed Tonton as well, on your way out?"
Sakura smiled kindly. "Sure. Go busy, Shizune-san."
Sakura followed after Shizune's departure, chewing on a sandwich she had grabbed from the deli on the way to the Hokage Towers. Upon reaching the entrance, however, Sakura felt something off. Tsunade had cast a sound-proofing jutsu. Sakura hurried her footsteps, stopping only to get some food into Tonton. It was possible that Tsunade had called for another ANBU meeting.
Sakura had only raised her hand to knock on the door when she heard her shishou's voice through the door. "Come in."
Obeying immediately, Sakura opened the door, only to find Naruto standing up with a fist in the air, shouting, "BUT OBAA-CHAN IT'S NOT FAIR!"
Having been too riled up to notice the entrance of his teammate, Naruto gasped in surprised and turned to face Sakura.
"SAKURA-CHAN, TALK SOME SENSE INTO OBAA-CHAN OVER HERE!"
"Is she drunk again?"
"Sakura," Tsunade warned in an exasperated tone.
"THE OLD HAG REFUSES TO LET ME INTO ANBU!"
"Isn't there some sort of test that you have to go through?"
"AND SHE DIDN'T LET ME PASS!"
"Naruto," the blonde Hokage snapped. "If you can't even pass the captains' examination I don't even have the chance to vet you. Try again for the next one."
"But the next one is next year! I want to be in ANBU now!" The loud blonde whined.
"Then I suggest you work hard and figure out what went wrong."
Naruto was about to open his mouth again when Sakura spoke up.
"Naruto-kun," Sakura said firmly, "It is a matter of protocol, shishou can't bend rules for you."
"Sakura-chaaaannnnn…" Naruto pouted.
If the whole situation wasn't so serious, she would actually have thought that he was kind of adorable when he did that. Naruto could still be childish at times, but Sakura attributed it to the fact that both she and Sasuke indulged him. To a lesser extent, Kakashi did as well.
"I didn't even know you went for the exams," Sakura lied calmly through her teeth.
"Well, I wanted to surprise you!"
Sakura smiled as she ruffled the blonde's hair. "Surprise me next year?"
"I'm going for lunch right now, you got time to spare?"
Naruto clasped his hand into a fist, eyes alit with determination. "No! I am going to train right now and become so kick-ass awesome that YOU," he pointed a finger at Tsunade who was rubbing her temple, "will have no choice but to let me into ANBU by the end of the month!"
"I'm going Ichiraku today," Sakura mentioned softly.
The poor blonde looked torn for a split second. "Alright! I will train right after ramen! Let's go Sakura-chan! There is no time to lose!"
Tsunade breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind two-thirds of Team Seven. She could always count on Sakura.
Yay, another chapter up! Want to give special thanks to Challa for pointing out my mistake in Chapter 7! 3