. . .

THE electric clock next to the register had just hit 11:53 when the four boys walked in. They shared some remarkably striking features, jet black hair and sooty grey eyes, and for a moment Yumi wondered wistfully if they hadn't come to duke it out for her hand, which would be hot in a bodice ripper kind of way. (Nightshifts were soul-killing and you had to make your own fun.)

But the group split up as soon as they entered the store and merged into the aisles without once glancing in her direction, so she decided they weren't so hot after all—in fact, one had a lazy eye and another was sort of hare-lipped and yet another was just really, really bland. The fourth and shortest, who had stayed behind and looked slightly uncomfortable to be standing in a NinjaMart at seven to midnight, was actually the most promising in the looks department, but he was also wearing an ANBU uniform and those could easily make 6's look like 10's to the untrained eye.

While Yumi was still pondering this, Wonky Eye, Hare Lip, and Boring walked up to the counter and dumped a small mountain of merchandise in front of her: all the unsold Valentine chocolates in the store.

Yumi stared at them, horrified. "You guys want to buy all these?"

"Oh, no, no," Hare Lip replied, eyes huge. "Uchiha-taichouis the one buying." He nudged the shortest of the group forward. "Isn't that right, taichou?"

Pretty Face made a vaguely assenting noise, looking deeply martyred. He seemed moments away from disengaging from the proceedings by knocking himself soundly about the head.

"You know how it is," Hare Lip went on, gratingly smug. "Some people just have no luck with these kinds of things." Wonky Eye and Boring began to snigger, and Yumi was just about to launch into a tirade about there being nothing wrong with not having luck on Valentine's and who the hell cared about this stupid day anyway when a petite silhouette zipped through the door.

"Hold it right there!"

The person who skidded to a halt in front of the quartet turned out to be an enviably pretty girl in a frilly pink dress. She had one hand held up in front of her like a crossing guard. Her long hair fanned out dramatically behind her when a wind of undetermined origin swept through the store.

"Itachi-sempai!" the girl cried, fiery with determination. "I am so glad to run into you here. I looked all over for you and I was really, really, reallyafraid I wouldn't be able to find you in time but here you are!"

She said all of this in one supernaturally long breath. Yumi worried about asphyxiation.

Pretty Fa—Itachi seemed to share some of her concern. "I'm sorry, but have we..?"

"Shinobu Mizuko, second-year Genin!" the girl supplied, tucking a sleek strand of hair behind her ear. "I was a year below you at the Academy."

"I don't seem to recall—"

"That is because Itachi-sempai is so amazing," Mizuko gushed. "I just know someone as awesome as he would never even notice my existence, but I just can't deny these feelings." She stared into his face with rapt passion and shoved an enormous heart-shaped box in his hands. There was a pale pink note on delicate lace-edged stationery tucked into the elaborate curls of gold ribbons.

"I have loved you madly and unquestioningly for a long, long time," Mizuko declared, eyes blazing and cheeks luminous. "Please accept these clumsy homemade treats." Then she squeaked, bowed deeply, and ran away.

Nobody said anything for a very long time.

"Well," Itachi said, turning to Yumi with a serene expression. "It seems like my sempai—" he indicated his slack-jawed companions "—will be taking care of this purchase after all. I beg you goodnight, oneesan."

It's totally not just the uniform, Yumi thought, awed, while in the background the genetically inferior trio could be heard muttering, "Who the fuck was that anyway?" and, "I thought I told you to take care of it," and, "Damn it, she was pretty cute," as they grudgingly drew out their wallets and doled out a pathetic pile of coins.

Quietly, the clock jumped to 12:01.


ITACHI paused for a moment when he stepped out on the curb. Then he turned a corner, walked two blocks, and stopped at the intersection. He flicked his eyes carefully to his left, then right, and finally said, "You can come out now."

A faint snort was his only response. 'Shinobu Mizuko' stepped out from behind a power pole and performed a delicate curtsy, batting her artfully curled lashes. "Does sempai not enjoy his gift?" she asked sweetly.

"I'm getting some very mixed signals." He held up the pink note. It simply said IDIOT. Bolded, and underlined. Five times.

"What about my acting skills?"

Itachi waited patiently for the smoke from the Henge to clear. "You really didn't have to do that."

"I had to save you from the crushing moronism of your actions," Shisui said imperiously. "Are you mad? Playing punishment games? How old are we now?"

Itachi's chin longed to jut itself forward. "Perhaps you should ask your colleagues."

"I intend to," Shisui said, cracking his knuckles with a worrisome gleam in his eyes. "They were blocking girls from approaching you all day, did you know?"

"Yes, I was aware of that."

"And yet you still—"

"I already agreed to the terms of the bet. A certain amount of sabotage was to be expected."

"God, what did they do to you?" Shisui said, frowning. "Was blackmail involved? Did anyone say anything, I don't know, mean?"

Itachi failed to produce a response.


"No, Shisui, nobody said anything mean," he said with biting emphasis. "They seemed to be under the impression that I was… monopolizing your time. A minor misunderstanding, that's all."

"They thought—" Shisui's face had the disbelieving gape-mouthed look of a fish stranded on land who, dying, found the experience profoundly and utterly perplexing. "Oi, what kind of warped logic is that? Every one of those imbeciles is doing paperwork until they cry for their mommies, you just wait and see."

"You weren't promoted so you can abuse your authority frivolously," Itachi reminded him. "Besides—" he curled his mouth in distaste "—they are your friends."

"And so are you," Shisui argued. "And I like you way more than them anyway. You think I'd cross-dress just for anyone?"

It wasn't until he heard the cellophane crackling that Itachi realized he was passionately gripping the chocolate box. "Well, I supposed you'll want these back," he muttered, not-at-all reluctant.

"You can keep them," Shisui said. "They actually arehomemade, at least according to Hana. Though maybe you shouldn't actually eat them. They might have doggie treats inside."

Itachi did not throw the box at Shisui's head, and he wasn't sure if that was because he was genuinely fond of his friend, or because he had always been taught not to waste food. "You gave me chocolates given to you by someone else?" Perhaps Sasuke could be persuaded to consume them on his behalf. His teeth weren't permanent anyway.

"Don't worry, I got tons more where those came from," Shisui said loftily, like that was going to make anyone feel better about receiving his sloppy seconds. "Just get me something nice for White Day and we'll call it even."

"Shisui, we're both boys."

"Moooou, sempai is so stingy. Not cute at all, so unworthy of my love."

"Just take these back then."

Shisui stopped dead in his track. He gasped and looked utterly heartbroken, because they raised children wrong in the Uchiha clan. "You don't want my chocolates? My love has been rebuffed?"

Why did he knowsomeone like Shisui?

"If I'm ruined for marriage forever because of this rejection, Itachi-sempai must take responsibility."

"…and responsibility is," Itachi said with a sinking feeling.

"To take care of me for the rest of my life, of course," Shisui said earnestly, laying one hand over his chest. "A pure maiden's heart is a beautiful and fragile thing."

"I," Itachi said, and exhaled. "Thank you for your—" he fished around for a word "—love."

"Ah, my love," Shisui laughed, so very delighted with his perceived cleverness. "My love is but a drop in the ocean." He flicked Itachi's bangs playfully, fingertips brushing the skin of his forehead. "So don't forget about White Day. I'm not really into chocolate but I'll take a batch of mommy's sakuramochi if you can spare it."

Itachi calmly reflected on his predicament, watching the white puffs of Shisui's breath disappear into the pale spill of streetlight. Sure, his mother would probably find his request for cooking lessons somewhat bizarre, but such oddities were common occurrences in their household and he was certain she would get over it. And if by some freak chance he grabbed a bottle of rat poison while reaching for the vanilla extract, he'd just have to chalk it up to a simple novice's mistake.

. . .