Prize fic for FullMo0n because she is an awesome reviewer who figured out my challenge for chapter 7 of FF. Since she requested a non-masacre Itasaku, I have delivered. (I had so much fun writing this.) I decided since there was no traumatizing deathfamily familydeath past for Sauce, he wouldn't be such an asshole. Yay for non-asshole Sauce.

Okay. I'm done blabbing now.


Kaleidoscope Days

There was a girl sitting in the corner. The smell of her fruity shampoo was there under the harsh smells of alcohol and illness.

If he hadn't been sure before, the steady beep of the heart monitor in his ear let him know that he was in a hospital. He tried to swallow and his tongue felt heavy and swollen in his mouth, like something was pressing down on it. When he sucked in a breath, he gagged and sputtered against the tube blocking his airways. Light footsteps hurried across the linoleum. There was a hand pressing down on his chest, urging him to stay still. In one swift motion, the tube was pulled from his throat and placed on a waiting tray. He gasped at the cool air that rushed into his chest.

"What's going on?" he heard his little brother's panicked voice demand as it rushed into the room, "What's wrong with him?"

"He's breathing on his own now. He's awake right now but he'll probably fall back asleep in a bit," the girl calmly explained. Her hand lingered on his chest and he felt the warm touch of chakra seeping into his skin. After a moment, the hand disappeared.

"Oh alright," she said in an exasperated voice, "You have 5 minutes." Again, her footfalls were quiet, almost silent, even as she stomped out of the room.

"Nii-san," Sasuke called out, sounding a little hysterical.

Very slowly, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his temples, Uchiha Itachi forced his eyes open to find his brother hanging onto the rails of the bed. Sasuke breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed in the orange plastic chair left for visitors. Behind him, in a corner, was an unruly stack of paperwork and medical texts on top of a worn armchair. His gaze returned to Sasuke after a moment. His younger brother looked tired and a little scruffy, like he hadn't shaved in a few days….or showered.

"Nii-san?" Sasuke said again, panic creeping into his voice.

"What day is it?" Itachi rasped, still coughing a little. He lifted his hand to rub his throat, only his arm was sluggish in responding. A dull ache resonated in it every time he moved. Looking down, he found his lower arm encased in a diabolical-looking metal brace.

"It's Tuesday," Sasuke responded.

"Sorry, Sasuke," Itachi said and his little brother looked baffled.

"I missed your party. Congrats on becoming ANBU," clarified Itachi. Sasuke looked at him like he had gone insane. He crossed his arms over his chest, clearly trying to look like he wasn't ecstatic that Itachi had remembered.

"You fractured your skull in two places and you broke three ribs. It's not like you could stay awake during your surgery to watch Shisui get drunk. And they said something happened to your lung…" Sasuke said, not looking at him.

"Actually, it's four ribs. And you had a pneumothorax," the girl's voice from before interrupted. The brothers looked up at her standing in the doorway. There was a clipboard in her left hand and a Styrofoam cup of hot tea in the right. She crossed the room and handed the cup to Sasuke. Itachi immediately recognized her footsteps from earlier.

"A what?" Sasuke demanded after he had taken a big gulp of tea. After a moment, Sasuke turned to Itachi and offered him the cup. Sasuke brought it to his chapped lips and Itachi took a careful sip of the hot beverage. It was incredibly strong without even the barest hint of honey. He glanced up at the girl, curious. Not many people knew about Sasuke's preference for the ridiculously bitter. She was writing something on the clipboard, her eyes periodically flickering to the beeping machines by his bed. It took her a moment to realize that Sasuke was eyeing her with confusion.

"A collapsed lung," she explained when she met two blank stares. Itachi watched as she looked at Sasuke and gestured towards her own chin. Sasuke grumpily rubbed at his stubble as he drank some more tea. She laughed fondly, lightly hitting him in the arm with her clipboard. She had a pleasant smile with white, even teeth. When she turned back to him, Itachi lifted his left arm to silently question about the brace.

"Just a hairline fracture in the radius," was her explanation.

"We couldn't tend to this," she said, tapping her pen against the brace, "Because we were busy with that." She pointed to his stomach. Itachi pulled the blue hospital sheets aside and lifted up the edge of his shirt. There was a patch of tender, red skin to the right of his navel. It was about the size of his palm and it ached when he touched it.

"We prefer to let bone and internal organ injuries heal as naturally as possible to avoid unnecessary strain on the body," she added, almost musing to herself. After a moment, she wrote something else down on the chart.

"Alright, Sasuke-kun, it's been five minutes. Go home," she ordered as she looked at Sasuke. Sasuke's face pinched into his most impressive scowl. If he had been crossing his arms over his chest, he would have looked like a 5 year-old throwing a tantrum in comparison to the girl's calm demeanor.

"I said five minutes. Get your ass out of here, go take a shower and go shave," she said in a much firmer voice. After a minute, grumbling under his breath, Sasuke got to his feet. Itachi couldn't help but be a little amused at how easily his stubborn brother was pushed around by this girl.

"Come back tomorrow. Itachi-san needs his rest," the girl sighed as she pushed Sasuke to the door. Sasuke peered over his shoulder to look back at him once. And Itachi briefly raised his injured arm in greeting and his little brother looked a little less worried. The girl paused in the doorway and took hold of a nurse's arm as she walked past.

"Can you get some morphine to Itachi-san's room? He's going to be a little uncomfortable if it wears off," she requested. The older woman nodded once with a polite smile and scurried off.

"Sakura. Quit pushing me. I'm leaving," Sasuke complained as he shoved his hands into his pockets. The girl put her hands on her hips and frowned.

"Sure. Just like that time I told you to go get your vaccines and you were going," she snorted as she gave him another light shove. Itachi watched as they bickered a little more before she took hold of his shoulders and cheerfully steered him down the hall. The funny thing was, Sasuke didn't actually look too annoyed by it. But before he could look into it, a short nurse with graying hair waddled into the room wielding a syringe. As she injected the clear liquid into his IV drip, he felt his eyelids grow heavy.

Every time he woke up, he was aware of the girl curled up in the corner of the room. If he had heard his brother correctly, her name was Sakura.

The first few times he found the energy to open his eyes, he saw her bare feet and arms. Even though it was freezing outside, she was always wearing a loose sweater with the sleeves pushed up and black leggings in favor of the white uniform the other nurses wore. Her black boots were tucked away beside the armchair in favor of letting her little feet free. She was curled up in the old armchair in the corner of the room with her legs hanging over one of the armrests. An obscenely heavy book would be opened in her lap and the pen in her hand would jump as she jotted down notes in the margins. After a minute, the medicine would kick in again and he would fall back into dreamless sleep.

The other times, with the morphine weighing his eyelids down, he would simply lie in bed, listening to the scratch of her pen. A few times, she set her book down with a disturbingly loud thud and stood. Her bare feet hurried across the floor and she would return along with the smell of coffee. Sometimes she would mutter to herself as she crossed the room to fiddle with the thermostat or open and close the blinds. He began to wonder why the pretty, young nurse was always wasting her time in his room.

"- but he was sleeping. How is he?" Itachi heard Sasuke whisper the next time he surfaced from the haze of painkillers. Sakura yawned and her pen scratched something down in one of her books.

"He wakes up every few hours. I think it's the pain. But we can't up his dosage without the risk of addiction," she sighed, cutting herself off with another yawn. Sasuke grunted.

"Go home, Sasuke-kun. I'll let you know if anything's changed," Sakura's tired voice murmured.

"You should rest too. Dark circles aren't flattering on you," Sasuke retorted and a loud smack resounded through the room. Sasuke hissed quietly, obviously trying to keep from shouting out loud.

"Shut up. Your father is breathing down my neck about this. If I step foot outside this room and your brother so much as sneezes and I'm not there to wipe his nose, I'll have one Uchiha Fugaku-san setting voodoo dolls of me on fire,"

"My father does not set voodoo dolls on fire, Sakura," Sasuke snorted and they both laughed quietly. After a moment, Sasuke left, leaving Sakura to heave another big sigh. Itachi listened to her flip through the pages of her book as he drifted back to sleep with the image of his reserved, proper father surrounded by matches and charred straw dolls.

A week later, Itachi was released from the hospital. Although Sakura had given him stern instructions not to train and how to change his bandages every morning, he was allowed to recover in the comfort of his home. It was a relief since the stale smell of antiseptic seemed to have rooted itself inside his nostrils. Besides, after hearing some nurses' gossip about how she had reconstructed his ribcage piece by piece, he decided that it was worth listening to what she had to say. In exchange, Sakura arranged to visit him every few days to check on his progress and administer short healing sessions. He had a vague feeling that his father and his supposed collection of voodoo dolls had something to do with the situation.

There were some nurses hovering outside his door as Sasuke helped him to his feet. Sakura sat on the windowsill, filling out some last-minute charts and prescription pads for him. The nurses giggled amongst themselves, occasionally peeking in and blushing when they met his eyes. He heard Sakura's pen tap a little too loudly against the clipboard. Sasuke snorted audibly at the chatter outside.

"So noisy," he grumbled. Itachi was inclined to agree but something about the way Sakura's gaze suddenly flew to the clock and then the way her body grew tense made him hold his tongue. Beside him, Sasuke suddenly froze too. In the few times he had been awake to see their interaction, he could see that Sasuke truly feared the girl's wrath.

"Sana!" Sakura barked as she strode over to the doorway. The group of girls suddenly huddled together like petrified lambs as their eyes all grew wide. The one in front with dark hair and a scattering of freckles responded with a meek "yes".

"What time is it, Sana?" Sakura inquired with an edge to her voice.

"It's 11:32, sensei," Sana replied in a whisper. Her expression suddenly froze, as if she remembered something horrifying.

"What time is Yamanaka Inoichi-san supposed to receive his medication every morning?" Sakura continued. As she spoke, even though she was only an inch or two taller than the nurses, they all seemed to shrink before her.

"11:30, sensei," Sana choked out as tears filled her eyes, "I'll go right away. I'm so sorry!"

"Relax, Sana. Yamanaka-san was released earlier this morning," Sakura said before the girl could take a step. When Sana looked confused, Sakura's expression softened. Then, Sakura turned to the remaining nurses, putting her hands on her hips.

"I know you're junior nurses so you're not used to your responsibilities yet. But this is a hospital. If you slack off, people will die. So I need you to focus and only spy on the handsome patients during your breaks. Alright?" she said, fixing each girl with a significant look. A chorus of head-bobbing and apologies later, Sakura sent them scattering.

"Sensei?" Itachi asked as she turned back to him. Sakura arched her eyebrow at him. She looked down at her clothes and she seemed to realize what his confusion was about. She walked over to her armchair and picked up the white coat flung over the back. As she shrugged it on, the little nametag with Dr. Haruno Sakura came into view.

"Did you think Sakura was a nurse, Nii-san?" Sasuke inquired, looking like he was trying not to laugh. Itachi lifted his right arm and poked his brother in the forehead, effectively silencing him. Sakura smiled as she ripped off a piece of paper from her prescription pad and handed it to Itachi along with a few forms.

"Just give these to one of the nurses at the front desk and they'll take care of everything. I'll see you on Friday, Itachi-san," Sakura instructed. With a polite nod of her head and a friendly pat on the shoulder for Sasuke, she strolled out the door.

"Nii-san," Sasuke groaned as Itachi absently watched Sakura pause at the nurse's station to talk to someone. She laughed and tilted her head in his direction. Their gazes met and she turned the faintest shade of pink before she turned away.

"Nii-san, don't look at my teammate like that," Sasuke pleaded as he shook his shoulder. At this, Itachi's eyes widened.

"That was 'crybaby Sakura'?" Itachi demanded as he watched her lift an intern by the back of his shirt and into a room with a stern expression. He had only heard bits and pieces from his younger brother's experiences as a genin. Most of them were complaints about how loud Naruto was and how annoying Sakura's obsession with him had been. It seemed that things had changed… drastically. Sasuke nodded weakly. Itachi couldn't help the way his eyes lingered on the graceful nape of her neck when she took a moment to twist her short hair up into a ponytail. Sasuke smacked his head against the wall muttering something that sounded suspiciously like a curse word.

"She's cute."

"Man, she's scary as hell."

"She has this way of drawing people in."

Itachi took a deep breath of the cool evening air. He had spent the past hour questioning his fellow shinobi and found that many of them were quite familiar with his little brother's teammate. The responses ranged from elevating her as a living saint to defining her as the second-most terrifying woman in the village save for the Hokage. Itachi was pulled from his thoughts when the delicious smells wafting from the nearby ramen stand lured him in. As he ducked under the plastic flap with 'Ichiraku Ramen' written across it, his eyes automatically landed on the shock of pink sitting at the bar. Her oversized beige sweater was slipping, exposing her pale right shoulder.

"Welcome, Itachi-san! The usual?" Teuchi asked from behind the counter and Itachi nodded as he took a seat, leaving an empty space between him and his brother's teammate. To her right sat Kiba, Inuzuka Hana's younger brother. Itachi noticed the faint smell of alcohol in the air just as Ayame reached over to set a porcelain bottle of warm sake in front of Sakura. His upper lip twitched when Kiba leaned over, grazing her outer thigh with his hand. A little twinge of satisfaction ran through him when Sakura slapped the wandering hand away.

"So Naruto reaches over to Sasuke in his sleep, mumbling 'Hinata-chan, Hinata-chan, when did your boobs get so small?'" Sakura said, miming Naruto's sluggish groping actions, "Sasuke punched him right off the bed." Kiba roared with laughter and Sakura giggled too. They leaned into each other until she was clinging to his shoulder for support. Itachi couldn't stop himself as he slid into the seat next to Sakura's just as she swayed back a little unsteadily. He placed his hand on her shoulder, subtly tugging her shirt back up, and she twisted around, not quite drunk. Her cheeks were pleasantly rosy as she fixed him with a wide smile.

"Itachi-san!" she exclaimed. Her whole face lit up like a child's on Christmas. Behind her, Kiba eyed him for a moment. With a slightly worried expression, he set some money on the counter and got to his feet. Sakura heard him move and she turned back to him.

"Are you leaving already, Kiba?" Sakura inquired, her lip jutting out in a little pout. Kiba's eyes lingered on her a little longer than was polite, narrowing in particularly on her mouth. But his face split into a grin.

"I've got a mission tomorrow. Can't wake up with a hangover or the Hokage'll skin me," he said as he put his on hand on the back of her head and placed a noisy kiss on her forehead. Sakura laughed as she pushed him away.

"Will you stop that?" she half-heartedly scolded him. Kiba shrugged innocently.

"The only time I get to do that without you punching me through a wall is when you've been drinking. See you around," he said as he turned to leave but not before he cast Itachi another worried glance. Sakura sent a well-aimed kick into his rear, sending him stumbling into the dark street.

"Sorry about that. Kiba's very…. Affectionate with everyone," Sakura sighed as she rubbed the edge of her sleeve across her forehead. Itachi didn't know how to respond to that.

"What would you like to eat?" Ayame asked, leaning across the counter to reveal her cleavage. There was a little purr to the end of the sentence that let him (and anyone else in the vicinity) know that she wasn't offering just food. She had a habit of doing that around any single man her age but him especially. Itachi politely looked her in the eyes as he asked for a miso ramen. Sakura let out a stifled snort as Ayame went back into the kitchen with a disappointed look etched across her face. Itachi turned to her.

"And another girl joins the 'Heartbroken by Uchiha Itachi' club," she announced in a dramatic voice. Unimpressed, Itachi stared at her and she responded by fluttering her eyelashes at him. After taking another sip of sake, she set the cup down on the bar between them, wrinkling her nose.

"Oh come on, Itachi-san. You're got women throwing themselves at you, right?" she continued to tease him. He arched his eyebrow at her.

"When Konoha's very own heartthrob finally settles down, all single women in Konoha will wear black and weep throughout the ceremony," Sakura said, pretending to dab her eyes with an invisible handkerchief. Itachi refused to dignify her with a response but that only made her laugh harder. She was leaning a little closer to him than was necessary, probably from the sake. But he didn't mind. Her hair was slightly damp and smelled strongly of the sweet shampoo. A gust of cold wind swept through the street and she shivered a little, rubbing at her arms. She poured herself some more sake and drained the cup to drive out the cold.

"You're not wearing a jacket, Sakura-san," he observed. Sakura glanced down at her clothing and she smiled ruefully.

"I had just walked into the hospital for my shift the other day. Some Chunin stumbles into the ER, right into my arms and throws up blood all over my coat," she explained, propping her chin up in her hand. She scowled up at the ceiling.

"Sasuke-kun and Naruto and Kakashi-senpai all chipped in to buy me that coat last year," she grumbled mostly to herself. Ayame wedged herself between them to deliver Itachi's meal. She gave him one last coy smile before going off to serve another customer. Sakura watched him as he snapped his chopsticks apart, clearly trying her best not to laugh.

"She didn't seem so heartbroken to me," he quietly remarked before bringing a mouthful of noodles to his lips. Sakura's eyes grew wide for a moment, as if she couldn't believe that he had made a joke, before she burst into laughter. When she finally settled down, Itachi turned to look at her.

"So is the coat getting cleaned?" Itachi asked.

"No. The guy had a viral infection so the blood was considered hazardous waste. They had to toss it in the incinerator," Sakura sighed as she rubbed at her arm again.

"That's rather unfortunate," he replied and Sakura nodded sullenly. Sakura fell silent after that and he had the foresight to see that she didn't seem to be in the mood for talking anymore. Instead, she sat, staring into her cup and occasionally sighing, shaking her head like she was trying to clear out an unwanted thought. Seeing this, Ayame hovered around him, occasionally trying to make small talk until she grew impatient and huffed loudly as she moved away. Sakura had a couple more drinks, her cheeks growing a little bit pinker, while Itachi finished his bowl. When she placed her money on the counter and stood, Itachi did the same.

"Would you like me to escort you home?" he inquired and Sakura started, as if she had just come out of a reverie. She blinked at him a few times. She was about half a foot shorter than him so she had to look up. Her nose had already grown a little red from the cold. After a moment, her lips spread into a wide smile that made the inside of his chest tingle strangely.

"I'll be fine. Good night, Itachi-san," she replied as she picked up the white muffler sitting on the counter and wound it around her neck. As she turned and began to walk down the street, Itachi stared blankly after her. She hunched her shoulders and huddled into the thick, wool muffler as she broke into a brisk jog when another cold wind swept through the street. He could hear her muttering curses as she hurried along. His first source had been correct.

She was almost unacceptably adorable.

A few weeks later, Itachi visited the hospital again for one last check-up before he could be cleared for missions again. He half-expected Sakura to be the doctor assigned to him. But when a nervous intern appeared with his files, Itachi berated himself for thinking that such a thing could happen. Itachi had never really paid attention to village gossip before. But when he inclined an ear in that direction, he was surprised by how well-known the pink-haired medic was. Apparently, her skills were on par with that of legendary Tsunade. As a result, it was no surprise that it was Sakura running the hospital. He almost felt a little foolish for not knowing that during his initial visit. But then again, he was Uchiha Itachi. He never felt foolish.

"Everything looks fine, Uchiha-san. I'll just have Haruno-sensei sign your forms and you should be good to go," the intern informed him just as a loud shout echoed down the hall. Itachi and the intern both approached the door and peered out. A streak of gold blurred past them with an IV bag trailing after him on the floor.

"I'M SORRY, SAKURA-CHAN!" Naruto's familiar voice howled. After a moment, Sakura came sprinting down the hallway, her expression livid. She skidded to a halt, grabbed an empty metal tray from one of the frozen nurses and flung it at the blonde. The tray spun through the air like a Frisbee and smacked into the back of Naruto's skull, sending him toppling. He lay groaning while the tray bounced across the tiled floor in a series of metallic clangs. Sakura stomped over to him to lift him by the back of his shirt.

"I specifically said that you're not allowed to leave until I say so!" Sakura lectured as she dragged the limp blond back to his room. She paused by the small exam room when she saw Itachi looking at her. He wasn't sure how to respond when her near-demonic glare turned into a pleasantly surprised expression.

"Itachi-san, are you here for your check-up?" she inquired. Itachi just nodded. The intern held out the clipboard to her, his hand shaking just a little. Naruto dangled unhappily from Sakura's tight grip as she quickly signed the papers.

"Have a nice day," she greeted him with a smile before she pulled Naruto like a slaughtered animal through the hospital. Itachi stared at her retreating back. His second source had been correct too.

Haruno Sakura was terrifying.

It was at the annual holiday party that Itachi realized just why Shisui always seemed so happy to attend. Although he usually refused to attend social events such as this, when Shisui had nagged him in front of a certain pink-haired doctor, she had pleaded him to go too. He promptly decided that it should be a crime to be able to pout so effectively. But after some struggling, he had agreed.

So Itachi stood in Shiranui Genma's apartment. Shisui had shoved a beer into his hands before disappearing into the ground. He took a sip of the drink and promptly dumped out the rest on a potted plant while no one else was looking. There was loud music thumping from the stereo and the lights were dim. Nara Shikamaru, looking positively miserable, lifted a hand in greeting as his blonde girlfriend dragged him past.

"There you are!" Shisui shouted into his ear. Itachi arched an eyebrow when his cousin took him by the arm and pulled him further into the living room. Before he could ask what was going on, Shisui spun him around.

"This is what you're missing every year, cousin," Shisui laughed. But Itachi barely heard him. Wearing a sleeveless red dress with white fur trim was Dr. Haruno Sakura. The hem went down to the middle of her thigh, which wasn't that short. He had seen some kunoichi wearing shorter dresses for their everyday attire. And it wasn't like her neckline was so ridiculously low-cut. Overall, it was a nice dress that hugged her curves rather well.

It was her knee-high boots paired with her dress that made his mouth go dry.

Her eyes were closed and she moved in time to the music. The way her hips swayed from side to side forced Itachi to close his eyes and take a deep breath. He opened them again when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Itachi-san, you made it!" Sakura exclaimed. The sweet smell of alcohol lingered on her breath as she spoke. Itachi nodded mutely. His gaze lingered on the way her bright red mouth was curved into a smile.

"You look miserable," she laughed as she observed his expression. She grabbed a beer from Naruto as he walked past carrying a new case. Her fingertips glowed with the faintest hint of green as she easily pulled the top off. After she took a sip, she gave him a curious smile.

'Follow me,' she mouthed, holding her hand out to him. Itachi resisted for a moment. But when he saw the Inuzuka boy wandering through the crowd towards them, he let his fingers close around hers. The tug of her body-flicker technique pulled him from the crowded living room. In the next instant, he was standing on the roof of the apartment building. Sakura took another swig of beer as she leaned over to peer down at the street below. There were still people milling around the front step, probably getting air or stopping to have a smoke.

"This is usually my secret hideout," she explained as she turned to face him.

"Hideout? But you seemed to be enjoying yourself," Itachi inquired as she sat on the raised stone ledge that ran along the edge of the flat roof. She crossed one leg over the other, revealing part of her smooth thighs. Itachi cleared his throat as he focused on her face instead. She rolled her eyes as she leaned back on her hands.

"A little dancing and chatting is fun. But around now, people start pairing up and…" she trailed off, making a face.

"It doesn't get pretty," she finished. After a moment, she patted the spot next to her and Itachi sat down. He set his empty bottle down next to hers. Sakura's head was thrown back as she looked up at the stars. He copied her, looking up at the billions of glittering points of light dotting the black sky.

"Why don't you find someone too, Sakura-san?" he asked after a moment.

"What?" she laughed, as if that was the most ridiculous idea ever. But he was serious.

"You seemed to get along well with Inuzuka. And I know several men who are interested in you," Itachi continued, keeping his voice light. This time, Sakura snorted. It was such an unladylike noise that Itachi glanced over at her.

"Really? Several men? Itachi-san, I don't get anything on Valentine's Day except a coupon for free ramen from Naruto and a free foot massage voucher from Kakashi-senpai," she replied. There was a hint of sadness in her voice that made him drop the subject. They sat watching the sky for a while. One by one, the buildings around them grew dark as people turned in for the night. Eventually, it was just Genma's windows that glowed with the faintest hint of golden light. Itachi took a breath of cold air. It tasted like winter against his tongue.

"You know, Itachi-san," Sakura began in an almost-whisper. Itachi turned his head in her direction. Sakura's eyes were closed, as if she were making a wish. The breaths from her mouth curled like smoke around her lips.

"We should be friends," she declared, opening her eyes.

"Friends?" he repeated, arching his eyebrow at her.

"Yeah. Friends. Like friends who sometimes have drinks together or friends who spar together," she said with a completely serious expression. Itachi chuckled a little and her lips twisted into a frown. She thought he was making fun of her.

"I'm a little hurt, Sakura-san. I was under the impression that we already were friends," he replied. To his surprise, Sakura lightly knocked her shoulder against his, like she frequently did to his younger brother.

"Good," she giggled before she leaned over to pick up her beer. They chatted for a few hours about everything from about local gossip to their recent missions. Although, the latter ended up being mostly Sakura talking since most of his missions were classified. Itachi loved the way her eyes lit up as she tried to describe the process of finding the antidote for something or the story of how she had healed someone on the battlefield. Since they had agreed to be friends, she didn't seem to find a problem with lightly shoving him whenever he made a jibe about someone. And she laughed a lot. Not the polite sort of giggle that women often gave him or the fake sound that his clansmen used around him. The pleasant sound rang in his ears long after she gave him a light hug and headed home. With the faint fragrance of her shampoo burned into his memory, Itachi sat on the roof for a little while longer and admired the stars.

Itachi was learning not to doubt his sources.

The day after Christmas, Itachi woke to complete silence in the house. It wasn't unusual since he was used to leaving for missions early and coming home late. And since Sasuke had moved out of the compound and into his own apartment the year before, the house seemed strangely empty. He sat up and nudged the curtain aside. The street outside was covered in a thick blanket of untouched snow and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon.

He dressed silently and grabbed an apple from the kitchen before he slipped out of the house. Outside, the entire Uchiha district was still asleep. Even the steady click of the wind chimes was missing. It felt a little hollow. He took one look at the frozen landscape and decided to climb up the wall to walk on the roof. It somehow felt wrong to break the pristine surface of the fresh snow. His light footsteps broke through the frigid air as he made his way towards the Hokage tower standing proudly just in front of the stone monument. Maybe there would be a short mission for him to carry out today. Halfway there, he noticed a set of footsteps marring the snow. Curious as to who was awake so early, Itachi deviated from his path and instead jumped across the street to follow the tracks. After a few blocks, he recognized the white hospital standing proudly under a thick blanket of snow. There were a few chakra signatures milling around inside, mostly low-rank nurses or interns. But on the third floor was a pinpoint that flared so brilliantly that it was impossible for him not to recognize. He considered going through the front doors, but that seemed so… impersonal. After all, it had been Sakura who had first suggested that they be friends.

Itachi lightly landed on the edge of the roof. Focusing chakra to his fingertips, he glided down the wall, stopping at the window where he felt Sakura's presence. He reached out and found that the window was left unlocked. As he pushed the pane open, he was hit with the sweet smell of coffee.

"You and your brother seem to be incapable of using doors," Sakura good-humoredly remarked as he sat on the windowsill. She spun around in her black office chair, nibbling on a muffin. Itachi simply sat, watching as she slowly continued to spin. She didn't seem to mind at all, easily setting down her mug of coffee during one of her revolutions.

"Coffee?" she offered, pointing to the coffeemaker sitting on one of her file cabinets. Itachi gladly swung his legs into the warm office and shut the window behind him. There were two mugs sitting by the machine along with powdered creamer and a little porcelain bowl filled with sugar cubes. Itachi huffed with amusement as he poured himself a generous cup and dropped in three little squares. Behind an old encyclopedia, he spotted a box of granola bars. It was almost like she lived there.

"What?" Sakura demanded as she spun around to face him. She curled her legs up to her chest. As usual, her white coat was abandoned, tossed over the back of the chair. Instead, she was wearing a pair of black pants identical to his and a formfitting black shirt. He lifted an eyebrow at her attire. Sakura glanced down at herself as she took another bite of her muffin. She nodded as she chewed and swallowed.

"Just got back from a mission," she explained when her mouth wasn't full.

"On Christmas?" he asked. The Hokage was rarely cruel enough to send shinobi on missions during the holidays unless it was absolutely necessary. And from what he knew, Tsunade was very fond of her apprentice. He sat on the edge of her sturdy mahogany desk as he took a sip of coffee.

"There was an old, corrupt, perverted businessman hosting a big banquet last night. Plenty of drinking," she explained in a tone full of exasperation. He understood. There were several rich, corrupted, fat men in Fire Country alone. The requests for assassinations poured in every day. But something still didn't quite add up. Why would Sakura be sent instead of someone from ANBU?

"The problem was," Sakura continued with a suspicious glint in her eye, "This guy was a friend of the Daimyo. And we can't upset the dearest Daimyo, can we?" She took another big gulp of coffee before she spoke again.

"We needed to make it look….natural. So, as of 2:37 this morning, that businessman suffered a sudden heart attack," Sakura announced with a shrug. Fascinated, Itachi set his mug down and leaned closer.

"How is that possible? Can't jutsu be traced back during an autopsy?" he inquired. While Sakura drank more coffee, he broke off a piece of her muffin and popped it in his mouth. She didn't seem to mind and the sweet taste of blueberry made him reach out for another morsel. Sakura eyed him with a mischievous smile for a moment. She set her empty mug of coffee on the desk and held out both her hands to him.

"Hand, please," she requested. Slightly confused, Itachi offered her his right hand. She sandwiched his hand between hers. As he watched, she gathered chakra to her fingertips and lightly applied pressure. A quick pain pricked the muscle in his right arm. He resisted the urge to pull away when a knowing smile stretched her lips.

"Right bicep, right?" Sakura said and Itachi nodded.

"The body uses chemicals that charge electric signals in nerves. That's how it conveys sensations, triggers movement and tells organs how to function," she explained. Itachi watched, fascinated as Sakura gathered chakra to her fingers again and his left arm involuntarily rose from his lap. It felt strange, having her chakra running through his body, like there were invisible strings running through his flesh and pulling on him. She released his hand and his left arm dropped back to his lap.

"So technically, it was the businessman's own body telling his heart to give out," he surmised and Sakura looked pleased that he caught on so quickly.

"I just redirected some signals. His nerves did all the work," Sakura replied. It was amazing how she made such a complex task sound so simple.

"So why are you here instead of resting at home?" Itachi asked. A cheerful grin spread across Sakura's face.

"Well, I was going to take a day off since it was so cold outside," she began in a mockingly innocent tone as she looked towards the coat rack sitting by the door, "But when I got home, someone just happened to have left me a nice present on my doorstep." Itachi followed her line of sight and found a red pea coat with black buttons hung with great care. He didn't say anything.

"I was just thinking that Santa Claus must have stopped by," Sakura continued with a teasing smile. Itachi stole the last bit of her muffin. She glanced down, baffled as to when he had eaten all of her breakfast.

"He must have," Itachi agreed. After a little pause, Sakura sighed helplessly.

"It's strange that he would bring me a coat right after I mention to you that my favorite one was destroyed. I really wish I could thank him for it," she said, pretending to look forlorn.

"If only you could," he agreed as he got to his feet. Sakura leaned back in her chair and put her bare feet up on her desk. Her short hair was pulled into a messy bun with a pencil jabbed through it to keep it in place. At the moment, she didn't look anything like someone capable of stopping his heart with a jolt of chakra. Somehow, it made her all the more appealing.

"Have a nice day, Sakura-san," he greeted her as he opened the window again.

"Door?" she asked with a laugh.

"Santa Claus doesn't use doors, Sakura-san," he replied before he slipped outside.

"Does Santa Claus do dinner?" Sakura called as she popped her head out the window. She started a little when she found Itachi comfortably crouching on the wall. He smirked.

"I'm assuming he does," was his response. Sakura's face lit up in a smile.

"This is all hypothetical, of course. But I believe Santa Claus enjoys nabe," Itachi added after a moment and Sakura looked thoughtful.

"Well, if Santa Claus hypothetically came to my place, there might be some nabe cooking," Sakura slowly said.

"Then I'll earnestly hope that Santa shows up tomorrow night at 7," Itachi responded and he watched Sakura's cheeks turn a little pink as she smiled again.

"If Santa brings dessert, it'll be a date."

"Then, hypothetically, you'll have yourself a date, Sakura-san," Itachi said with a serious expression. Sakura was practically beaming as he walked up the wall and onto the roof. When he arrived in the Hokage's office a few minutes later, Tsunade eyed him with concern.

"Uchiha…. Are you smiling?" she demanded.

"Santa Claus makes everyone smile, Hokage-sama."