(suggested by 3vil-Sakura)
"Eh? Sacchan, you're going home early today?"
"Come on, Sacchan, it's no fun if you're not there."
Kisame dug his pinky into his ear with an exaggerated sigh.
"Man, those freshmen guys are loud," he grumbled. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. Beside him, Sasori glanced up from his handheld game for a minute. The little electric beeps and pings continued on as he kept hitting the buttons.
"Yeah, I wonder who they're talking to. Geez, they're so persistent," Sasori complained too. At this, their gazes flickered to Deidara sitting on top of his desk right next to the window. Hands in his pockets, he gave them a smug look. Deidara jabbed with his thumb toward the windows with his eyebrows raised. Shrugging, Kisame got up from his chair to go peer outside. Sasori hesitated for a moment and then paused his game to stand to Kisame's right. Forearms pressed to the sill and one foot crossed over the other, Sasori stared down.
From the second floor, it was easy to see some students sitting outside during lunch break. There was a group of them lounging around in the grass under a big cherry tree. Someone had thought to spread a blanket down on the ground where the girls were sitting. The guys stretched out on the sun-warmed grass across from them to form a circle. Collars opened, sleeves rolled up- it was easy to see who they were just from the violations in the school dress code.
"Hey, isn't that your brother?" asked Sasori as he looked over his shoulder. Kisame turned too. Itachi was tilted back in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk. With a book placed over his face, it almost looked like he was sleeping. But then he exhaled slowly and sat up straight. The book fell into his lap to reveal a half-dazed expression. Itachi slid out of his seat and stood to sidle up to Sasori's right. Pressing his arm to the wall, he peered down at the lunch scene.
Indeed, it was Sasuke in the middle of the guys. His spiky mess of dark hair stood out against the flower-blanketed ground. The glint of his silver necklaces was easy to spot too. Leaning back on his right hand, Sasuke laughed at something. With him were Naruto and Sai, his best friends since he had been a crybaby still wetting the bed from nightmares. Kiba and Neji were there too. They had formed a tightly-knit group after meeting in middle school and the five had been inseparable ever since. It was their voices Itachi and friends had been hearing through the window. Losing interest quickly, Itachi turned his attention to the girls sitting across from them. He vaguely recognized their faces from around school but then he spotted the one sitting directly across from his brother.
"What? No way! You guys are too lame to hang out with," she laughed.
"Ah! You're terrible, Sacchan!" Naruto chortled.
"Who's that one? The one sitting between Ponytail and Dango?" Itachi inquired. Deidara craned his neck to get a look.
"That's Haruno Sakura. Class 1-B, yeah. Her friends call her Sacchan, though," Deidara proudly informed him. He tapped his temple, as if to needlessly remind them that once he saw someone, he never forgot their face and the name to go along with it. It was his useless talent. Sasori's was to fall asleep at precisely midnight every day. Kisame picked things up with his toes. And Itachi had managed to live 17 years without ever catching a cold.
"Wow. That name's kind of amazing- especially with that head," Sasori remarked while eyeing her hair. It was carnation pink and fell around her face in soft curls. The top button of her shirt was left undone and her skirt was pulled up a little bit higher than school regulations demanded. Her legs were crossed straight in front of her with her lunchbox resting on top of her thighs.
Sasuke grabbed a handful of petals and lobbed it them at her, showering her in bits of white. Squealing with laughter, she threw a bunch back at him. She fussed with her long hair, combing her fingers through.
"Aw, give me a break! This'll never come out," she complained. She reached over to swat at Sasuke's leg. But still they all laughed together and Itachi found that he couldn't really tear his stare away from her. Deidara's eyes were too sharp. He gave Itachi's side a nudge with his elbow and then gestured toward her with his chin. Deidara cupped his hands around his mouth as he leaned out the window.
"Oi! Sacchan!" he called. Still giggling, Sakura raised her head toward the voice.
"What're you doing rolling around in the flowers like that?" Deidara asked. Sakura took a moment to pout toward Sasuke again.
"I wasn't, Deidara-senpai! This bully's been assaulting me!" she yelled back. To prove her point, Sasuke sprinkled the top of her head with more petals.
"Hey, can you come up here for a second? I want to talk to you about Monday's club meeting," Deidara requested.
"She's in the pottery club?" asked Kisame. Sasori shrugged.
"Okay! Be there in a second!" Sakura brightly answered. As she got to her feet, one of her friends lightly tugged on the bottom of her skirt.
"I'm coming too. I need to buy some milk from the vending machine," she said. Sakura offered her hand to pull the girl to her feet. When they turned to leave, Sakura paused for a moment, foot hovering in the air. Then she scooped up a big armful of flowers and threw them on top of Sasuke, completely covering the top of his head.
"HEY!" Sasuke exclaimed. Sniggering, Sakura took her friend's hand and escaped into the building, leaving Sasuke to pick through his hair during the rest of lunch break.
"Deidara, what are you doing?" sighed Itachi.
"Introducing my friend to a cutie. Relax, Itachi, yeah," replied Deidara. With the least subtle wink in the world, Deidara settled back on top of the desk, his legs swinging freely as he waited. A couple minutes later, the classroom door slid open. Sakura walked in, still trying to brush petals out of her hair. Her friend was nowhere to be seen.
"Did you talk to Kakashi about that club trip we wanted to organize for next month?" Deidara asked in a surprisingly serious tone while waving her over. He shoved his feet against his chair, pulling it out from the desk for her to sit.
"Eh? Pirate-sensei said he wanted to see an itinerary first. I thought we should plan that out next week with Nara-kun and you, Senpai," Sakura said as she plopped down on the offered seat. She crossed one leg over the other.
"Good plan. I'll talk to him about the budget too to figure out what we can afford, yeah," concluded Deidara. He rubbed his chin, pretending to be deep in thought. But Itachi caught the sly glance thrown his way an instant before Deidara opened his mouth to speak again. Just then, there was a loud groan from outside.
"Saaaacchaaan! What're you doing? It's so boring now," Kiba yelled up in an exaggerated drawl. Sakura rolled her eyes but didn't bother moving.
"Hey, if we go bowling, will you come, Sacchan?" This time it was Sasuke that spoke. Sakura's lips pursed, like she was considering something carefully. But then she reluctantly got out of her chair and then poked her head out of the window right next to Itachi. One leg in the air, she leaned out far to get a good look.
"Only if we stop by the Akimichi bakery after," she negotiated. There was a brief pause and then Sasuke nodded. A cheer rose from the group, including the girls. When she waggled her fingers at Sasuke in a silly wave, he stared at her for a moment before he stuck his tongue out at her and raised a victory sign with his right hand. Then he flopped down on the ground and stretched lazily to take a nap during the rest of the break.
"Careful, Sacchan. You might fall, yeah," warned Deidara. She twisted around to look at him, elbows resting on the sill and hair flowing out the window.
"You worry too much, Senpai," she said. And her smile, soft and as careless as the warm spring wind, was the reason that people flocked to her. At least, that was what Itachi thought. Their eyes met and for one quiet moment, something strange passed between them.
"Ah, Sacchan, this is Itachi. Uchiha Itachi, yeah," quickly said Deidara.
"Hi," was her short greeting.
"Hello," Itachi replied just as shortly.
"You're Uchiuchi's brother," she said. Itachi blinked quickly.
A thought crossed her face, bounced around inside her head for a bit. And then she was twisting around to look over her shoulder at the courtyard again.
"Hey! Uchiuchi!" Sakura called down. Sasuke cupped his hand behind his right ear to say he was listening.
"Your brother's a lot better-looking than you are," she told him. Deidara let out a snort while Kisame tried to disguise his laugh as clearing his throat. Itachi almost choked on air. She really had no shame. At this, Sasuke flung himself upright, his eyes wildly searching for her face in the windows.
"Shit! Don't use that name in front of him!" Sasuke complained. Fluttering her eyelashes, Sakura drew a question mark into the air with her finger.
"Because it's embarrassing!" he half-shouted in response. With a heavy sigh, Sakura shrugged and then looked back to Itachi who was still a little floored.
"Uchiuchi," Itachi repeated. Hands clasped behind her, Sakura nodded. Even though he was certain that he was staring at this point, Sakura didn't seem to mind. She just offered him another lighthearted smile. The silliness behind the nickname and even behind her grin struck something in him.
To say Cupid shot an arrow would be a huge understatement. The flying, fat little bastard shoved a hundred of them into a cannon and fired them all at once.
Itachi walked home by himself later that day. He lived in the opposite direction from all his friends so that was something that couldn't be helped. The low bustle and chatter of his classmates faded behind him. He stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked, drinking in the quiet of the countryside. By the time he got home half an hour later, all he could think of was taking a quick nap before starting on all his homework.
When he pushed past the front gate, he noticed something sitting in front of the door. He glanced around, remembering that his parents were still away on their annual anniversary vacation. This year, it was Hawaii. Maybe it was a present from a helpful neighbor, then. It wasn't unusual for people to drop off the radishes and leeks just-pulled from the fields. Especially because his father was the only physician in town and his mother was the only dentist, it led to lots of locals offering them gifts this way.
Just then, there was a faint whine from the object.
"Shit," Itachi whispered as he cautiously stepped over to examine it. With hesitant fingers, he carefully pulled the lid of the basket up to reveal a chubby baby with wide black eyes. There was a note left on top of the blue blanket, written in a hurried scrawl.
"Auntie and Uncle, my debts have piled up and now I'm on the run from collectors. Please watch my son until I am able to resolve my situation. His name is Shinichi. He is only three months old. Shisui," Itachi read out loud. He stared blankly at the note for a while and then looked down at the baby who lay babbling happily at him. Crouched next to the child, Itachi wondered what the hell to do next.
He couldn't contact his parents. They had a strict no cellphone policy during the two weeks they took off every spring for their "romantic anniversary". And he felt his parents did deserve that time to themselves. Shisui's own parents were archaeologists who, to the best of Itachi's knowledge, were still working in Peru. The police was not an option. He couldn't dump his cousin's baby on strangers and walk off. That just wouldn't be fair.
Letting out a deep sigh, Itachi pushed his bangs out of his eyes and got to his feet.
"Well, let's get you inside, at least," muttered Itachi. The baby cooed as if agreeing.
"At least you're quiet," Itachi added with a shrug. He grabbed the handle of the basket and stepped into the house. With his foot, he closed the front door behind them and crumpled Shisui's note up in his fist.
When Uchiha Sasuke came home around 11 that night, a wail pierced his eardrums. Fingers jammed into his ears, he tip-toed into the living room to a perplexing scene.
Itachi sat in the middle of the living room with a sobbing, red-faced baby held arm's length away from him. With the eyes of a crazed man, Itachi spotted his younger brother.
"Big bro, what is that, and what're you doing with it?" Sasuke demanded. He pointed a finger at the baby as snot dribbled from its nose.
"Help," was all that left Itachi's mouth.
Half an hour later, Sasuke was standing near the front door. He peered periodically out the windows, anxiously rubbing his hands together whenever he wasn't. Itachi barely noticed this impatience because the baby had not stopped crying for hours. He had walked into the house with it and left it on the couch while he tried dialing Shisui's number. But the call didn't go through and Itachi was left with more questions than answers. The baby had fallen asleep so he had decided to take advantage of the situation and try to at least get his homework done.
At precisely 7:19 pm, the baby had woken and unleashed all hell in the form of sound waves. Itachi had tried bouncing it and even feeding it milk but it had spit everything right back out. All the while, the aggravated screams had only gotten louder and louder. It was sort of a blessing that they lived in the countryside so their neighbors were too far to hear this racket.
Finally, Sasuke jumped. He yanked the front door open and ran barefoot into the street to meet the person pedaling down the street toward the house. She coasted to a stop, rubber soles of her sneakers scraping against the ground to slow her down. She hopped off her bike and then propped it up against the inside of the fence while Sasuke latched the gate.
"What's wrong, Sasuke-kun? It's super-late. You made it sound like you were dying," Sakura inquired as she finally turned to him. Sasuke fixed her with a strangely pained look. She let him pull her inside by the wrist. He barely gave her the chance to slip out of her shoes before practically throwing her into the living room.
"Wha-" The words froze partway up her throat as she stared at the chaos all around her. Hands in the pockets of her sleeveless hoodie, Sakura looked around at the spilled bottles of cooling milk lying on the ground. There were towels strewn about. The laptop sitting on the coffee table had several websites pulled up about taking care of babies. And Itachi sat cross-legged on the floor, still stiffly holding the baby in front of him as if it were a bomb preparing to detonate.
"Please," Itachi uttered in a near-gasp. With the hood still pulled up over her head, Sakura crouched down in front of him and stared the wailing baby directly in the face. She tilted her head to one side and then clicked her tongue.
"Give him here," she sighed. Placing her hands above Itachi's, she lifted the child out of his grasp. Letting the baby rest his chin on her left shoulder, she gently bounced him as she rubbed his back. Her eyes closed as she shushed him in low whispers.
And like some miracle, his screeches quieted to hiccupping. Sakura sniffed delicately, her face scrunching up. Then she carefully patted the baby's bottom and she rolled her eyes.
"You know," she began a couple minutes later. Sasuke had run out on her bike to the nearest convenience store to get some diapers and baby powder. Itachi stood at the kitchen sink washing out the toppled bottles of milk. He turned as he dried one of the bottles off with a clean towel.
"When a baby cries, the first thing you do is check the diaper," Sakura told him. She spoke quietly so as not to disturb the baby who lay in a boneless daze against her shoulder. All the crying had probably worn him out and he simply didn't have the energy to be upset about his dirty diaper anymore. Her cell phone rang from her back pocket and the baby whimpered again. Rubbing his back with her left hand, Sakura swiped her finger across the screen and answered.
"Sacchan, I don't know which size to buy. And what else did you say you needed?" Sasuke said into her ear. He was panting slightly, probably from biking like a madman.
"Get the ones in the blue boxes. Some baby powder- nothing with fragrances…Baby wipes. And some formula- the powdered kind. It should come in a can with a plastic lid," Sakura patiently reminded him. Between items, she listened to him fumbling around and muttering to himself as he read. And then she heard the plop of objects being dropped into the plastic convenience store basket.
"Alright. Is that everything?" he inquired with a huff.
"I think so. Thanks for your help, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said.
"Ah, first baby? I remember my first kid. Good luck with that," she overheard the cashier comment. Stifling a snort of laughter, Sakura hung up and dropped her phone on the sofa.
"He should be back in a few minutes," Sakura told Itachi. Nodding wearily, Itachi finished putting the dishes and cups into the drying rack. He sagged heavily against the counter, watching her with a strange expression.
"Senpai?" Sakura asked as she felt his gaze on her.
"Sorry. It's nothing. Is it alright with you if I take a shower? He spit up on me… a lot," Itachi quickly said. Sakura nodded. She occupied herself stroking the baby's back as she wandered around the living room and connected kitchen. She hummed quietly, hoping that the noise would keep the baby placated until Sasuke returned. To her immense relief, by the time Sasuke stumbled into the house, the baby hadn't launched into another set of screams.
When Itachi emerged from the shower, squeaky clean and happy, a few minutes later, he could hear Sakura's voice, a soft murmur. Sasuke occasionally interjected and the baby's coos mingled with their sounds too. Yanking on a pair of pajama pants and an old t-shirt, he made his way over to the living room where Sakura and Sasuke were crouched.
Sakura had spread a clean towel on the coffee table and laid the baby on top. She was just finishing placing the little adhesive strips on the diaper in place when he entered. Sakura looked up at him with a sympathetic smile.
"Maybe some coffee for Senpai would be a good idea," she remarked as she patted Sasuke's arm. Barely hiding his understanding grimace, Sasuke nodded and went to work the coffee maker. When the baby's face scrunched up, Itachi flinched. Fully expecting another screaming episode, he shot Sakura a frantic look. But as calm as ever, she reached out and lightly tapped her pointer finger on his cheeks and chin.
"Looks like someone's hungry," was all she said. With easy movements, she lifted the baby, resting him on her left hip as she paused to pick up the plastic bag from the grocery store. She went into the kitchen where the smell of coffee grinds was already filling the house.
"Can I help?" Itachi asked as he followed her. She blinked slowly, as if she had forgotten he was there already.
"Could you hold him?" she requested. Sakura turned around and looked pointedly down at the infant. Hesitating only for a moment, Itachi reached out and carefully put his hands under the baby's armpits. It let out an unhappy whine and Sakura immediately turned around again. She reached out to lightly press her palm against the back of its soft head.
"He's still too young to hold his head up so he's uncomfortable. Hold him against you so he has somewhere to rest his head," she explained before turning around again. As she busied herself washing her hands and bumping Sasuke out of the way with her hip, Itachi tried to mimic her pose from before. But after some awkward finagling, he managed to get the baby to rest in the crook of his left arm.
She was right. With his heavy head resting happily against something, the baby stopped making the noises. Instead it stared up at him with dark eyes that were frighteningly similar to his cousin's.
"So I'm going to guess that he's not yours, Uchiha-senpai." Itachi's head snapped up. Sakura had scooped some of the powder into a clean bottle and had pulled the nipple over the top. One hand on her hip, she stood flicking her wrist from side to side to mix the contents of the bottle together. Sasuke sat on the counter next to her, watching in rapt fascination.
"Ah. No. He's our cousin's. I found him outside when I got home from school," Itachi slowly replied. She made a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat as she peered into the bottle. When she reached over to take the baby again, their arms brushed. Her skin was soft, as expected. But then she paused for an instant. She glanced at the baby, up at Itachi, and then at the bottle again. Instead of taking the baby, she left him in Itachi's arms, where he seemed to be quite comfortable. Sakura lifted the bottle to the baby's mouth. As soon as the rubber nipple was in reach, the baby greedily sucked it in. A soft smile, somewhat different from her normal ones, spread her lips.
"You must've had a rough day. Don't worry. You're in good hands," she murmured. A tiny bit of formula dribbled down the baby's round cheeks. As she brushed it away, Itachi felt his chest contract sharply.
The warmth in Sakura's expression was probably the most amazing thing he had seen in his life.
The next day should have been a lazy Saturday. The brothers would wake up a little late, have breakfast, and then spend the day watching TV and flopping around the house in their pajamas.
Instead, Itachi woke to a shrieking wail and he heard Sasuke fall out of his bed with a profound thump in the room next to his. With a heavy sigh, he dragged his weary body out from under the covers. He and Sasuke had managed to drag the old crib down from the attic. There, with Sakura's supervision, they had scrubbed it clean and fitted it with a soft, worn sheet. Covered up in a blanket, Shinichi had fallen into peaceful sleep just before 2 am. Almost on the verge of tears either from gratitude or exhaustion, Itachi had turned to Sakura sleepily rubbing at her eyes.
"Thank you, Haruno-san. I don't know what Sasuke and I would have done without you," he sighed.
"I figured it was an emergency when Sasuke-kun called. But I never thought it would be this serious. Get some rest, Uchiha-senpai. The only time you'll be getting any is when he's sleeping too," she told him. A strange look crossed her face.
"What's his name, by the way?" Sakura queried.
"Shinichi. Uchiha Shinichi."
She pondered carefully.
"That's a good name," she said. Then she blinked a couple times before looking up at the clock.
"I'll walk you home, Sacchan," Sasuke spoke up.
"No way. You go to sleep too, Sasuke-kun. If I bike quickly, I can be home in 20 minutes." And ignoring both their protests, Sakura had gone home by herself. Sasuke stood by the gate like a fretting mother, staring at her silhouette disappearing off into the night.
And now, less than four hours since Sakura had left, Shinichi was awake and making his discomfort perfectly clear. Stumbling over to the crib in the corner of the room, Itachi stared down. With his round face puckered up and bright red, Shinichi whined and squeaked and made generally some of the most unpleasant noises ever. Sasuke tripped over to them about a minute later.
"What's wrong with him?" demanded Sasuke in a half-sleeping slur.
They awkwardly checked his diaper and Sasuke made a gagging noise.
"I'll do it," sighed Itachi. Lifting the fussing infant into his arms, Itachi slouched his way downstairs where they had left all the things from last night. He fumbled through changing the diaper, hoping that his shoddy work would somehow hold together. As the baby let out another series of squeaks, Sasuke trudged over to the kitchen to mix up some formula. It was a lot lumpier than the one Sakura had made but Shinichi drank half of it down so it couldn't have been too terrible. Afterwards, Itachi laid him back down in the crib and crawled back into his bed too. Sasuke slumped in Itachi's spinning desk chair, asleep as soon as his butt was resting on the seat.
But an hour later, Shinichi let out another cry and Itachi wanted to stab himself in the eye. Even though the smell of a dirty diaper wasn't there, he figured that the baby must have soiled himself. He couldn't have been hungry so soon. Itachi wondered if it was normal for a baby to poop this much. Still, he let out a sigh as he carried the Shinichi down the stairs again. As he went to lower Shinichi onto the coffee table, there was a knock on the door. Sasuke was still upstairs so Itachi slung the baby over his shoulder and went to answer.
Sakura blinked at him with wide eyes when the door opened. She stared at him and then at the little wriggling butt and legs on his shoulder. Her forehead puckered.
Depositing the little box of pastries from the bakery into his hand, she lifted the squirming baby.
"Honestly. I'm gone for a few hours and this happens. Have you changed him yet, Senpai?" she said all at once, walking past him into the house. Itachi stood staring at the box of pastries.
He couldn't keep up with her.
"His diaper is fine. Did you burp him after you fed him?" Sakura continued in the same calm tone. His little arms flailed in protest but she didn't seem to have any trouble with that. She began patting his back, rubbing and thumping in a steady pattern. Itachi stared at her, as did Sasuke, who came stumbling down the stairs.
"Are you kneading dough for bread? What're you doing that for?" Sasuke slurred out in greeting. His question was answered a minute later when Shinichi let out a surprisingly loud belch. Eyes popping wide open, as if surprised by his own ability to burp, Shinichi immediately stopped crying. Instead, he let out a gurgle and reached up to pat Sakura's cheeks with chubby palms.
Really couldn't keep up.
Sakura became a regular presence at the Uchiha home. That first weekend with Shinichi was terrifying to the brothers. Had it not been for her calmly changing diapers and wiping drool, Itachi was certain he would have had an emotional breakdown and Sasuke would have flung himself out a window.
"You know, Sacchan's mom runs that daycare across the street from school," Sasuke said one day. Itachi, who had diligently been patting Shinichi's back after his bottle, paused to look at his brother.
'Happy Cradle' was the only daycare in town. When it had first opened 10 years ago, it had been a big relief to the working parents who had previously relied on the generosity of neighbors and relatives. The woman who ran the place was stern-faced but kind. Itachi had completely failed to make the connection between Haruno Mebuki and her daughter. But that explained how Sakura seemed to magically know exactly how to take care of babies.
The weekend passed quickly and when Monday rolled around, Itachi found himself heating up rice for breakfast while Sakura stood shaking up another batch of formula.
"Morning, Sasuke-kun," she cheerfully said when Sasuke trudged out of the bathroom while brushing his teeth. He grunted in response.
"Anyway, I talked to my mom and Shin-chan can stay with her during the day. I explained your situation to her and she says she won't charge you until everything gets sorted out," Sakura went on to explain. Itachi let out a deep sigh of relief.
"What would I do without you, Haruno-san?"
For a moment, there was a little pause that could have stretched on to become awkward. But Sakura easily brushed it off with a laugh.
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Senpai. Isn't that right, Shin-chan?" she said as she looked down at the chubby baby held in her left arm. He gave her a toothless grin and that seemed to be the end of that.
They took Itachi's bike to school because there was an extra seat on the back for her to ride on. With Shinichi strapped to Itachi's back, they went off to school. Sasuke trailed a little ways behind them on his own bike. They dropped Shinichi off at the daycare and then headed across the street to the school.
The downside to Sakura having pink hair was that she was very easy to spot. As soon as Itachi coasted to a stop at the bike racks, there was a loud voice.
"Sacchan! Why've you been ignoring all my texts?" Naruto demanded as he ran up to them. And then his face scrunched up.
"Why're you two coming to school together?" he went on to ask. Sakura and Itachi exchanged looks. Itachi shrugged. A devious smile stretched Sakura's mouth as she looked back to Naruto.
"Secret," she whispered while hopping off the back of the bike. Sending Itachi a wink, Sakura hooked her arm through Naruto's and dragged him off to class.
It had never really occurred to Itachi how often he saw Sakura and her friends during school. Because of her flashy hair, he would have expected to have noticed her a lot earlier. Every time he passed her in the halls, she was surrounded by a group of friends. She laughed with her mouth open and her head thrown back. Sometimes the arms of guys thrown around her made his gut twinge a bit too. In the fuss of all her friends, he expected Sakura to always walk straight past him.
Instead, her eyes, as if by some magic, would always catch sight of him. She would give a little wave or a smile that he knew without a doubt was always reserved for him.
During a short break between classes, Itachi received a text message. It was from a number he didn't recognize but when he opened it up, he felt a strange sense of relief. It was a forwarded picture of Shinichi lying on his back. Underneath, Sakura had added her own message.
'Mom says Shin-chan's doing well. Do you want to go pick him up together after school?'
"Don't smile to yourself like that, Itachi. That's creepy, man."
After a few days, it got out that Sakura and Itachi were seen hanging out with a baby. To avoid gossip and the worst of the rumors, they explained to the teachers and to their classmates that they were taking care of his cousin's kid. They hadn't really known what to expect. But suddenly Sakura's popularity grew even stronger as she gained a reputation for being not only pretty but also kind. Itachi initially had a group of girls in his grade eyeing him with new interest too until he flatly told him that a large part of his new duties included cleaning up vomit and poop. They dispersed quickly.
For the most part, Itachi and Sakura were left alone. A lot of people seemed content to admire Shinichi from afar and to run as soon as a diaper needed to be changed or as soon as he spit up. These times, he was secretly glad that he was the only one around to see Sakura's smiles and the sounds of her coos as she tickled the baby's tummy.
After about a week, Sasuke reached into the mailbox and found a postcard from their parents. Apparently they had won some sort of raffle and the hotel had given them an extra two weeks' stay for free as their prize.
This was secretly a relief to Itachi, who had come to enjoy the afternoons he spent with Sakura while Sasuke was busy with club activities or was out playing with friends. They rode on his bicycle together to get Shinichi his vaccinations in the big hospital the next city over and the other mothers in the waiting room always commented on what a lovely couple they made. Sakura always laughed and never bothered to correct them.
"It's easier to explain that way," she sighed afterwards.
One night, as they sat in the living room, Sasuke passed by and paused to say hello. He crouched down and offered his pinky to Shinichi who grasped it with a gurgle. A smirk appeared on Sasuke's face.
"You know, for a poop monster, you're kind of cute," he relented. Sakura rolled her eyes. She flapped her hands at him to shoo him away. Once Sasuke was gone, Itachi carefully lifted Shinichi up and began patting his back. Sakura reached over to drape a little cloth over Itachi's shoulder in case something other than just a burp came up. His gaze wandered to Sakura who had moved on to cleaning up Shinichi's bottle and the remnants of their dinner too.
"Haruno-san," Itachi called out. She turned with that half-smile already beginning to curl up the corners of her mouth. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and her bangs were falling into her eyes. He stared at her for a long time. And then words just slithered out.
"I'm stupid in love with you. Would you be my girlfriend?"
The bottle slipped out of her grasp. It fell with a dull clunk to the floor. Her gaze went from the bottle and then to him. All the while, Itachi hadn't stopped patting Shinichi's back.
"Uh… I… I mean… I don't really know what to say," she finally stuttered. And at that moment, Shinichi let out a triumphant belch. The awkwardness was dispelled and Sakura was reaching down to pick up the bottle as they both laughed a little shyly.
"Well, I think Shin-chan just answered for me. You know, I'm not nice enough to clean up poop for just any guy's kid," Sakura finally said. This being said, she pressed a light kiss to Itachi's cheek and was off to the kitchen to do dishes. Smiling to himself, Itachi continued to bounce Shinichi up in down until he was sure that the baby was all burped. Holding Shinichi up in front of him, Itachi eyed him seriously.
"Were you just my wingman?" he demanded. Shinichi blew out a bunch of spit bubbles, which Itachi took as a 'yes'.
"You were my baby wingman. Best wingman ever," Itachi sighed as he carried him upstairs to his crib.
When Mikoto and Fugaku finally came back from their vacation, they walked in to find a girl sleeping on the living room floor. Lying on her side with one hand tucked under her cheek, she seemed completely at ease there. Her other arm was stretching out, curling around a baby who was also sleeping contently. From her pink hair, they recognized her as the daughter of the woman who ran the daycare. What was really shocking about this all was their eldest son, Itachi, sleeping on the other side of the baby.
"Ah, welcome home, Mom and Dad," Sasuke whispered as he ducked out of the kitchen on tiptoes. Mikoto stared at the bottle in his hand.
"What's going on here?" Fugaku asked in a low voice.
"Well… let's see. That's Sakura, my friend. She's dating Nii-san now. And that's Shinichi, he's Shisui nii-chan's kid," explained Sasuke in a bored voice as he pointed to each person. Mikoto blinked a few times. She watched as Sasuke stepped around the sleeping people to dig inside the drawer of the coffee table. After a moment, he returned with a wrinkled sheet of paper in his hand.
It was Shisui's note.
Mikoto and Fugaku leaned over to read the message.
"That stupid boy," Fugaku finally sighed.
The three of them stood in the doorway of the living room. Mikoto absently stroked the top of Sasuke's head as she thought.
"Well… I suppose I can try to get in touch with my brother and see if he'll take in his grandkid. If not… we'll work something out," Fugaku slowly said, looking over at his wife to make sure she agreed. Mikoto nodded.
"Awfully cute," Mikoto suddenly commented. Fugaku's expression warmed a little as he looked over Shinichi's chubby cheeks.
"He is. It must be the Uchiha genes," he gruffly agreed. Mikoto laughed a little.
"No. I meant Itachi's girlfriend. I always knew my sons would be popular," she tittered.
"Mom. Gross," groaned Sasuke.
Time went on. Fugaku's brother declined taking in the baby simply because the barren mountains of Peru were no place to raise a child. Shisui disappeared off the face of the earth. And when they had considered finding an alternative situation for Shinichi, Itachi and Sakura had rejected the idea so vehemently that it was never brought up again.
Spring changed to summer and then fall. Shinichi watched the first leaves fall from the trees with wonder sparkling in his eyes. He giggled and tried to catch the snowflakes that scattered down from the sky in the winter. He tottered to his feet, opened his mouth to form words, and went through countless clothes as he grew and grew.
One warm spring day when the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom on the trees outside school, there was a bunch of noise outside as the freshmen ate their lunches. With a sigh, Sakura leaned out the window, a senior now. With her legs crossed and her elbows resting on the sill, she stared out at the sky with a morose expression.
"Cheer up, Sacchan. I'm sure your boyfriend will call soon," Tenten called out from her seat.
"Yeah, I mean he goes to university in the next city over so it's not even that far away. He visits every weekend, right?" Ino added.
"Who would've thought, out of all of us, Sacchan would have a boyfriend all three years of high school? It's so romantic," Tenten laughed. Their chatter was interrupt by a loud slurping noise. They looked up to find Sasuke standing where Sakura had been, a carton of milk in his hand.
"You do realize she's been gone for… most of your conversation, right?" he said. The girls got out of their seats to see what Sasuke was staring at too.
Outside, Sakura was running out of the front doors, her hair flying out behind her in her rush. She could feel the eyes of other students on her as she ran like crazy but she didn't really care.
"Sakura-tan!" She had heard the little voice through the window and bolted out of the classroom. Because in the core of her heart, she would recognize that sound anywhere. As she ran down the stone path, she saw a little figure running toward her. With a wide smile, she dashed the extra few steps and swept up the chubby toddler into her arms.
"Sakura-tan!" Shinichi squealed into her ear as she squeezed him tight.
"Shin-chan, how did you get here? I thought you were with Grandma and Grandpa…" she trailed off when she looked up and saw a man walking toward her too.
"Chi-tan came! We went to the park!" Shinichi exclaimed.
"Is that so? Did you say thank you to Chi-tan?" replied Sakura with a smile as her eyes fell on Shinichi again. Shinichi's eyes widened as he turned back to look at the man.
"Thank you, Chi-tan!" he chimed out with a little flailing wave of his hand. Her heart bubbling over with affection for the boy, Sakura hugged him close again. Shinichi patted her cheek to get her attention, a habit he had picked up very early on.
"Um, um, Sakura-tan…" he tried to explain, struggling with his excitement while trying to remember what he had wanted to say.
"He can say Sa-ku-ra properly but still can't say my name," Itachi sighed into her ear as he snuck up behind her. Pressing a kiss to her temple, Itachi slipped an arm around her waist.
"Well, 'Chi-tan', I think it's cute," she replied with a sniff.
There was a loud squeal as a group of freshmen girls who had been eating outside came over. In all their jostling, they moved in Shinichi's way, blocking his line of sight to Itachi. That was strike one. Then they began crowding around, poking at Shinichi's cheeks and touching his hair. Strike two. His eyes widened and began to water a little. He had never been good with strangers.
"Wow! Haruno-senpai, is this your little brother?" one of them asked. As Shinichi's little hand clenched into the front of her shirt, Sakura tried to pat his back to soothe him.
"No, not exactly," Sakura responded with a little laugh. She tried to take a step back but they just moved in closer.
"Can I hold him? He's so cute!" another exclaimed. As soon as he felt unfamiliar hands close in around him, Shinichi's expression became one of acute panic.
Grabbing onto Sakura's shirt with both hands, he let out a hiccup that turned into a sob.
"No! No! Go away!" Shinichi cried out. Immediately, the girls took a step back, startled.
"My Mama! Mine!" he continued to yell as he shook his head so hard Sakura began to worry he might hurt himself. Laughing a little, Sakura pressed her hand to the back of his head and stroked it to calm him down.
"Hey, Shin-chan, you're getting her uniform dirty," Itachi sighed.
"That's alright. And sorry, girls. He really doesn't like it when people touch him. I should have warned you," Sakura apologized. The girls stared back at her.
"Mama?" one of them repeated with a stunned expression.
"Here comes the snot. Come on, kiddo. Give Mama a break. You're heavier than you think you are," Itachi interrupted as he lifted Shinichi who was still sniffling. Sakura absently glanced down at the damp spot on her blouse and then back at the girls.
"Long story. Ask her if you want all the juicy details," she sighed, pointing up at the school building. Hanging out of the window, Ino waved.
"Come up here with your lunches. It's seriously a long story," Ino called down.
"And how come she's 'Mama' but I'm just 'Chi-tan'? That doesn't seem fair," Itachi continued complaining while wiping Shinichi's tears with his hands.
"What are you doing, Senpai? The both of you are completely hopeless. Did you bring his bag?" Sakura said as she looked around. She caught sight of the messenger bag over Itachi's shoulder and began digging in it, now completely forgetting the freshmen girls still watching them. After a moment, she located a packet of tissues and pulled one out.
"Say 'Papa', Shin-chan," ordered Itachi.
"P-Papa," hiccupped Shinichi.
"Stop bullying him. You're awful," laughed Sakura. She gently patted Shinichi's cheeks dry and then pinched his nose.
"Can you blow your nose for me?" she requested in a soft voice. Shinichi nodded and then let out a tiny honk.
"Good job!" Itachi said, the smile returning to his face.
"Have you eaten lunch yet?" Sakura asked, looking up at Itachi. Shinichi made a grabbing motion toward Sakura so they transferred him over. Sakura rested the boy on her left hip as they continued their conversation. Shinichi didn't seem to mind and nuzzled into her soft hair, as if determined to hide himself there.
"Not yet. I promised him we'd go eat hamburgers today," Itachi replied.
"Okay, well make sure he takes his nap at 4 or he gets really cranky. Are you taking the train? I hope he doesn't get motion sick," she said all at once, her face crinkling as she worried more and more.
"Hey," Itachi interrupted her rambling. When she saw looking into his eyes instead of at Shinichi, Itachi leaned in to kiss her. Another set of squeals drew Shinichi's wary gaze. He saw the girls still standing a little distance away and hid in Sakura's hair again.
"We'll be fine. I am the dependable Chi-tan after all," he assured her.
"I know you're right. Sorry," she relented.
"Be good for Chi-tan, okay?" Sakura said as she stroked Shinichi's cheek. His head perked up to stare at her.
"Sakura-tan not coming?" he asked with such a forlorn look that Sakura felt part of her heart break.
"I'll see you when you wake up from your nap, okay?" promised Sakura. Shinichi didn't pout as she had expected. Instead, he reached up and put his little arms around Sakura's neck in a hug.
"Love you, Sakura-tan," he whispered, as shy as always.
"Love you too," she responded with a kiss for his cheek. Shinichi giggled. He always said her kisses tickled. He let Itachi pick him up, content with the attention he had gotten from Sakura for now.
"What, don't you love me too?" teased Itachi.
"You're absolutely ridiculous," sighed Sakura even as she rose on her tiptoes to kiss him as well. She watched them leave, with Shinichi waving his hand enthusiastically until they left the front gates and she couldn't see them anymore. After a moment of thinking, Sakura turned around to stare up at Sasuke, Ino, and Tenten all looking out the window at her. Sasuke, with a look of absolute boredom, was still sipping at his milk. His teeth clenched around his straw as he flapped a hand at her.
"If you're going to make that face, just skip. We'll tell Sensei you went home with a stomachache," he sighed. Tenten disappeared for a moment and then popped back into view.
"Head's up!" she called before tossing Sakura's bag out the window. With flailing arms, Sakura managed to catch it.
"Thanks, guys!" Sakura yelled, already running for the gates. As she rounded the corner too, she heard a sweet laugh.
"Chi-tan was right! It's Sakura-tan!"
Sakura whirled around and found Itachi leaning against the stone wall running along the front of the school property. She couldn't decide what was better: the smug look on Itachi's face or Shinichi running up to hug her leg.