That Awkward Conversation
Sakura and Itachi have a rather embarrassing problem. Post-Fourth War AU. Humor.
It was an issue that Sakura had never experienced before. It was something that she thought would never happen to her, considering the kind of men she knew; it was a mortifying sort of quandary that was reserved solely for the unfortunate civilian women who wrote in to the advice columnists in Ino's favorite magazines. It had never happened to any of the women she knew in person, not at all.
And the thing was, she couldn't even tell anybody about it. She didn't know where to start. It seemed inconceivable. The first several times it had happened, afterwards, she had retreated into her bedroom and sat on her bed, staring blankly at the wall, in a state of utter confusion. After all – no matter how wary and guarded the rest of Konoha seemed, after the resurrected Itachi Uchiha had broken free of Kabuto's reanimation jutsu and joined their side in the war, even after he had helped them win it and killed Madara Uchiha and succeeded in bringing a repentant Sasuke back to Konoha… Well, regardless of the general distrust that the vast majority of people still held toward him, after she and Itachi had started dating a few months ago, all of her kunoichi friends had secretly congratulated her – because despite their misgivings and all that, Itachi was still, after all, very good looking, as Tenten had pointed out, while Sakura had been healing one of her fractured ribs after she had returned from a mission.
Ino had been less discreet, of course. She had screamed "Score!" at the top of her lungs, for the entirety of Hokage Tower's cafeteria to hear, after Sakura had quietly filled her in on the news over a cup of coffee. Then, to make matters worse, she had gone on to loudly demand the exact details of how she, the workaholic Billboard Brow, could have hooked somebody so hot. Even the blushing Hinata had mumbled something about how she was very happy for Sakura, and that she was a very lucky girl, before running off with her team. During the remainder of the day, as word got around, Sakura had to endure a number of surreptitious winks, nudges, and thumbs-up's from Karin, Kurenai, Anko, Shizune, and even – mortifyingly – Tsunade-shishou.
The men in her life had been slightly less overjoyed with the new development, with the exception of Naruto, who had effectively adopted Itachi as an adored older brother over the past several months – but that was another story. The point was, in the rest of Konoha's eyes, she was dating arguably one of the most attractive shinobi in the entire village – and therefore, he had to be…good, right? She had definitely experienced quite a few suggestive comments and significant eyebrow-raises along those lines already, even though she and Itachi had only been together for three months. Sakura had never dared to contradict such statements. Even weakly laughing them off and trying to brush them aside did no good, as then, people – Ino – just assumed she was being coy, and oh, why oh why can't we be as lucky as you, Sakura?
Except that wasn't the case. The horrible truth, the one that it had taken her a good several weeks to come to terms with – the truth that had caused her countless nights of agitation, was that…
Well, ultimately, it didn't change anything, she knew that. Itachi was a brave, honorable, and courageous man; one of the most noble and self-sacrificing she knew. He was also the kindest and most gentle person she had ever met, and he treated her with unfailing, unparalleled care and consideration. And – he loved her, Sakura could see, even through that reserved, withdrawn, almost-shy demeanor of his. She had come to love him just as much.
And yet, despite everything…the truth was that Itachi was a really awful kisser.
Contrary to popular belief, they hadn't progressed beyond that. To be honest, the thought made Sakura's palms feel a little clammy. It didn't bear thinking about.
And she wasn't being melodramatic, either, not at all. As a matter of fact, she could easily acknowledge that it could be much worse – it was not like Itachi's breath smelled or he was inappropriately hands-y or anything completely intolerable. Not at all. For a long time, though, Sakura couldn't even isolate the reason why the experience was so uncomfortable, but eventually she figured out that it was just that…whenever they kissed for more than a few seconds, especially when they were making out or something…it was just…excessively moist. It crossed the threshold of acceptable moistness. And Itachi couldn't angle his head and neck properly, and sometimes he leaned in too much because he was taller than her, which hurt her neck, and because he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands, he always just held hers in his, squished awkwardly between their chests. This made both their palms get damp and kind of slippery after a while, not to mention making her arms and shoulders get stiff because of the position.
It was uncomfortable. It was frustrating. It was downright weird. It happened all the time, even though she tried to readjust their positioning or place her arms around Itachi's neck before he could get to her hands.
And whenever Itachi went for her neck…that was just too unpleasant to even talk about, even think about, within the privacy of her own mind. So much…so much dampness… Sakura lifted her hand and rubbed the side of her neck unconsciously, reassuringly.
This entire situation was definitely troublesome, to borrow Shikamaru's favorite vocabulary word. It hadn't in any way affected her feelings for Itachi, or her physical attraction to him. In the larger scheme of things, rationally, Sakura understood that something so trivial shouldn't be an issue – but still, it was…problematic. She should enjoy it, right? That was the normal thing to do.
That was exactly why she couldn't confess this to anybody that she knew, let alone ask for advice. Not only would it be a hideously embarrassing experience, but they wouldn't believe her if they heard it. The shock would be too complete. The idea that the best shinobi of their generation, who was all but undefeatable in combat; the man who had broken free of the control of a powerful reanimation jutsu, and then slain the most powerful and evil shinobi in the world – couldn't kiss? It just seemed incongruous and illogical somehow – the thought that Itachi, of all people, wouldn't be a prodigy at everything.
It seemed silly in reflection, but that was what she had believed at first as well.
Sakura sighed, frustrated, before flopping down onto her bed and staring at the ceiling contemplatively. Now that she thought about it, though, her original assumption – everybody's current assumption – seemed pretty unreasonable. From the beginning, it had been clear that Itachi wasn't exactly a people person. Not that he was unfriendly at all, he was just unused to interacting with others after so long of keeping to himself, and the open way that people expressed their emotions and their way of speaking was foreign to him. Like everybody else, she had been uneasy around Itachi at first, even after Naruto let slip the truth about the circumstances behind the Uchiha massacre. Still, the two of them had eventually become friends during their expedition with Naruto and Kakashi, as they worked together to find Sasuke and return him to Konoha, while neutralizing Madara in the process. Later, after the war had ended and they returned to Konoha, they had become even closer companions after Tsunade-shishou had made her Itachi's personal medic, tasked with returning his internal organ systems and eyesight to full strength, in the aftermath of the unnatural circumstances of Kabuto's reanimation jutsu.
It had taken her close to a year to pick up on the fact that Itachi's feelings for her had slowly deepened into something more than platonic, perhaps because his signs were so very subtle. But they were happy together now, and Sakura felt her lips curve into a small smile as she turned to the side, opening one of the drawers of her nightstand and pulling out an armful of Ino's favorite magazines. She remembered a conversation they'd had shortly after they started dating. They had been lying on their backs in the grassy meadows near the banks of the Nakano River, watching the sun set, while they took turns asking one another questions. What color was your parents' hair? Itachi had asked seriously, after much thought. …I have wondered about that several times since I first saw you – whether the color is inherited or the result of a random genetic mutation.
Sakura giggled, amused. You would. It's a family trait, almost all of the women on my mother's side of the family have had it, going back…seven generations, I think. Anyway, now it's my turn! Itachi looked somewhat apprehensive, and she gave him a wicked smile. So, have you ever kissed a girl, Uchiha?
To her surprise, Itachi actually blushed faintly, but it seemed like it was a happy memory for him – and she was glad, because he didn't have many of those. Yes. Once. It was during the New Year's festival, and I was thirteen.
Sakura stared, astonished, as she did some math. She was eighteen now, meaning that he was twenty-three. That's…quite the interval there.
Yes, Itachi acknowledged calmly, seeming unruffled by the fact. There wasn't time for such selfish indulgences afterward, and my priorities had changed.
Hmm, Sakura had replied thoughtfully, trying not to let her heart ache at the thought of the life he had lived for so long, after leaving Konoha. Well, how about now?
And then she had gotten up on her hands and knees, ran her fingers through Itachi's long, thick hair, and planted one on him.
So she had known since then that Itachi wasn't very experienced at all. It wasn't a problem for her at all – neither was she, anyway. Sakura flipped through the pages of the magazines absentmindedly. It seemed clear that what was plaguing them now was just…well, it was just a lack of technique caused by inexperience, but practice hadn't made it perfect yet. If anything, as the months went on and their affection continued to increase, things were just getting more moist, Itachi's grip on her hands grew more fervently loving (and numbing), and the crick in her neck was threatening to become permanent.
Sakura stopped at one page, noticing the brightly colored, large-print words that blared from the top of a page with a risqué photograph of a couple in bed together, clutching bedsheets to their chest. Communicate Your Needs! Have Better Sex Tonight! The pink-haired kunoichi flinched. The stories that followed were predictable and horrifyingly humiliating enough. The moral seemed to be that unless one had that exceedingly awkward conversation with their partners – open, honest communication, as the columnist emphasized – the relationship would ultimately be doomed.
Great, Sakura thought moodily, lying back down and placing the magazine over her face, breathing in the comforting paper smell. She was in such desperate straits, at such a loss on how to deal with her problem, that she had resorted to taking advice from trashy guilty-pleasure women's magazines with outrageously unbelievable sex advice. Fifty new ways to please your man, indeed. Once Ino had shown that article to Shikamaru and he had snorted sake up his nose from laughter.
Sakura lifted the magazine back up and squinted dubiously at one of the possible scripts for beginning The Conversation with one's partner. Honey, I think we need to have a talk about the best way to ensure mutual pleasure in the bedroom by meeting both of our needs equally…
Oh, dear god. The pink-haired kunoichi flung the magazine back into the nightstand drawer with an ill-tempered huff, before lifting the back of her hand up to feel her face. Flushed and hot. Yes, that sounded about right. The thought of talking to Itachi about this…
Well, what are your options? Inner Sakura spoke up, trying to be sensible for once. Either you have The Awkward Conversation or you shut up and deal with the overly moist, neck-spraining, hand-numbing kisses forever.
Sakura groaned, feeling a headache coming on. She turned to the side, burying her head in her pillow. The thing was…ultimately, she didn't know if she could bring herself to speak to Itachi about this, not because she was embarrassed around him – but because…she didn't want to hurt his feelings. No matter how gently she tried to word it, he was a smart person, and he would pick up on the gist of it being Itachi, you're a terrible kisser and we can't go on like this, and he would be like…like a kicked puppy, or something. She shuddered to think of it.
It wasn't his fault, really. It was actually pretty sweet that she was his first real relationship, just as he was hers. They were learning everything together. It was just obvious that Itachi didn't see that there was anything wrong with what they had going on right now, and she had never given any indication for him to think so, because she didn't have the heart to. Every time they wished each other goodnight and returned to their separate apartments – while she secretly longed for a neck and hand massage, and a hairdryer to erase the moist feeling from her whole face and neck area, and a hot compress for her stiff arms – Itachi always looked so quietly content and happy that it made her feel practically nauseous with guilt. How many times had Sasuke made snide comments the next morning about how he walks around the place with a bounce in his step and he even hums while he brushes his teeth and irons the clothes and makes breakfast, and today I caught him just standing there and smiling while he washed the dishes, and…it's very unseemly behavior for an Uchiha, really. You'd expect better from the head of the clan.
It's because he's in love, Naruto would sing then, drawing the last word out obnoxiously, until it lasted about six syllables. In love with our Sakura-chan! It's cute! It's inspiring!
But it was true. Itachi's kisses were moist and his grip over-fervent because of love. She could feel the purity of his emotion even through all of that, as ridiculous as it sounded.
"Ugh," Sakura mumbled to herself, getting up and turning her lamp off. She caught sight of the open planner on her bedside table – after shift at the hospital and genjutsu training with Kurenai she had added dinner with Itachi in bright pink gel pen, before circling the words with several smiley-faced hearts. She flopped back down into the bed, deep in thought, and it took several minutes for her to make up her mind. She couldn't make a decision now; she would see how things went tomorrow, and play it by ear. And hopefully – hopefully – there would be no need to have any sort of uncomfortable conversation with him.
Sakura spent the rest of the night wishing that there was something known as a Good-Kissing Jutsu that she could secretly attack Itachi with tomorrow morning, while his back was turned.
Dinner had been a disaster.
First of all, Sasuke gave them terrible directions to the restaurant, so they ended up wandering and lost for quite some time in the civilian Fire Country town half an hour outside Konoha. Secondly, the food was overly spicy, and although Sakura had specially ordered their dish to be made without the peanut sauce, to accommodate her mild allergy…they delivered it with the peanut sauce anyway, which resulted in her sinuses overacting, along with an attack of chest tightness. Afterwards, when the reaction had subsided and they had tried to climb one of the nearby mountains together to stargaze, they found that one of the caves immediately off the path they were traveling was occupied by an angry and very territorial mother bear and her cubs. It had certainly been an eventful night, and Itachi meant that in the worst way possible.
"Is Sasuke here?" Sakura whispered, as they quietly slipped into the apartment that Itachi and Sasuke shared – exactly three floors above her own, in the same complex. Itachi extended his chakra, doing a quick search of the apartment, before shaking his head. Good. Every time he brought Sakura back here and Sasuke was lurking in his room, he could practically hear his little brother's snarky thoughts radiating outward toward them.
"Good," Sakura replied, returning to her normal volume, before proceeding directly to the sofa and collapsing on it. "Because I think he's secretly trying to kill us both. I hope you lock your door when you sleep."
Itachi joined her, looking amused. "I think that you are just being melodramatic, Sakura, and I am offended that you think that I am vulnerable to Sasuke, even while asleep."
"I am never melodramatic! I'm just saying, I think Sasuke's just a little bit jealous of the fact that Naruto seems to have adopted you as his older brother too, and that now you train with Naruto after you get off work, and you guys eat dinner together sometimes… Why else do you think Sasuke's been so sulky lately?"
Itachi considered denying it, but then a small smile touched the corner of his lips. He tried to marshal his expression back into neutrality, but it was too late. Sakura poked him playfully. "The fact that you're happy that he's jealous doesn't make you a bad person, Itachi. I think Sasuke does love you, in his own way, but after so long – considering everything that's happened – it's hard for him to show it."
Itachi closed his eyes for a moment, basking in the words that he never thought he would live to hear. He had Sasuke's forgiveness, and it was more than he could have ever hoped for. He opened his eyes to see Sakura looking at him seriously. "But…"
Sakura stuck her feet underneath his legs, warming them up, before reaching out and taking his ponytail in one hand, gently tugging him toward her, and she gave him a mischievous look. "Guess who loves you more?"
Sakura pulled him forward then, into a ridiculously wonderful kiss that drove all thought from Itachi's mind. After a few minutes, though, he became aware that his hands were resting uselessly on the sofa cushion, and without breaking the contact, he gently shrugged Sakura's hands off his shoulders, before taking them in his own, and he leaned her back against the sofa cushions in the hope that it would be more comfortable for her.
They stayed like that for what felt like hours. As it always did, all concept of time seemed to fade away, being replaced with bliss somehow comparable to how Itachi felt when he was a child and his mother made homemade sweet, hot dango for him as a surprise when he returned from missions…when he could return to the peace and safety of the warm, sunlight kitchen, with baby Sasuke making happy little sounds and pounding his fists on the high chair, and sit beside him, and savor the taste of the sweet in his mouth. That special kind of happiness, which had been reserved for nothing else until now.
Finally, though, Itachi vaguely registered the sound of the large clock near Hokage Tower chiming out the hour – midnight – and he and Sakura slowly pulled away from each other. Her skin was flushed, her hair sticking to one side of her face, and he couldn't help but smile a little, reaching forward and gently running his fingers through it, smoothing it away from her face. Sakura smiled at him too – a little nervously, he thought – and she took his hand in hers then, tracing the tips of her fingers along his calloused palms. "I wanted to talk to you about something before I go," she said, in a rush, before looking up at him, a very strange expression on her face.
Itachi frowned slightly, worried by her sudden change in demeanor. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, yes," Sakura replied hastily. "It's just…I…" she hesitated, before steeling herself, struggling to remember all the key words that she had highlighted in the magazine article this morning – because really, had there ever been a chance that Itachi could somehow refine his kissing technique in a twenty-four hour time span? What had the article said? Be sensitive but direct, avoid casting blame, use we instead of you— "I think we should work on improving this," she managed, gesturing awkwardly, feeling her face radiate heat more and more with every further word out of her mouth.
Unfortunately, Itachi looked slightly confused, as he watched her hand gestures. "…The sofa? I apologize if it is uncomfortable – the furniture came with the apartment. However, Tsunade-sama recently unlocked the clan's assets, so we can redecorate—"
"No!" Sakura almost yelled, fighting the urge to cover her face out of mortification. This was even worse than she had imagined. She would rather endure another half an hour of moistness and neck cramps and sweaty hands than carry on with this, but now it was too late; she had to finish what she had started. "…I meant…that I think it would be a good idea for us to work on improving our technique. When we…you know." Good. Us, our, we – she had remembered to use the proper language.
It took a few moments for Itachi to understand Sakura's meaning. When she said technique he thought of the new genjutsu they had been discussing and whether it was in his capacity to create with his bloodline limit, but then…then it sunk in.
And he felt all the color begin to drain from his face.
"Oh," was all Itachi could manage, once he successfully unstuck his throat. Not his most articulate moment by any means.
Sakura nodded furiously at the coffee table. "Right. That." Then a look of panic briefly crossed her eyes, and she reached out to him. "I don't mean to say that—"
"I understand," Itachi replied quickly, searching for a proper response. "As a matter of fact…I was thinking the same thing."
The lie was horrendously obvious, and as a matter of fact, Sakura actually looked at him with pity. Thankfully, she went along with his attempt to save face. "Well, I'm glad that we're on the same page, then," she said, getting up immediately and brushing off a few nonexistent dust specks from her skirt, as she tried to smile. "Anyway, I should probably get back. I've got a mission tomorrow."
"Yes," Itachi acquiesced faintly, before walking her to the door. Instinct told him to kiss her goodnight but then – then he remembered – and he held out his arms awkwardly. Sakura embraced him, lingering reassuringly for a few extra moments, before fleeing down the hallway and down the stairs in record time.
Itachi watched her go, before letting the door fall shut. Bypassing the living room and feeling very numb, he made his way directly to his bedroom and lay down flat on the bed, staring at the ceiling blankly. The past few minutes had taken on a surreal, nightmarish quality unlike anything he had experienced in years.
Sakura had said they should work on improving their technique when it came to that. And one thing was for sure. When she had said we…
There was nothing wrong with Sakura's technique. Nothing lacking, nothing less than desirable. It was nothing less than perfect. Whenever Sakura saw it fit to back him against a wall in a deserted hallway of Hokage Tower or corner him when the tactician's office was empty or – wherever – and kiss him…the bliss, the joy, the rapture, even…was remarkable. Just as overwhelming as dying and passing on to the afterlife. And unlike other men, when he said that, it actually meant something.
Her statement meant only one thing, which Sakura had been too gentle to say aloud. It was his technique that was lacking. And he'd had no idea. And all this time…she had been suffering in silence…
Itachi fought the sudden and uncharacteristic urge to scream into his pillow. For the first time since returning to Konoha, he actually felt slightly panicked. Focus! an inner voice snapped. Calm yourself. Think through this with a clear head, like a rational individual.
It was quite difficult. Most people wouldn't guess it from looking at him, but Itachi had a rampantly overactive imagination, which often jumped to worst-case scenarios – and those, right now, consisted of Sakura being repulsed by him. This overactive imagination had served him well as an ANBU Captain, a double agent, and now, in his position as Konoha's head tactician…but it was not the best asset in one's personal life.
He would never admit it, but he had been worried about this, at the beginning, just a little. But Sakura had never given him any sign that whatever he was doing was…undesirable or incorrect in any way, and so he had continued. Until now.
Itachi lay still until the weight of his thoughts continued to crush him, before he dragged himself up and over to the bathroom across the hall, flicking the light on and staring at himself in the mirror critically, without quite taking anything in. How terrible was he? What was the issue, precisely? Was he exacting too much pressure with his lips, or not enough? Was he kissing her too deeply or too shallowly? Had they not gotten over the nose-bumping problem that had occurred in the early days? Had he inadvertently done something unfortunate with his teeth?
It was – a quandary. He did not intend to appear conceited, but he wasn't used to being incorrect or even slightly less than perfect, at whatever he tried. When he had made occasional mistakes as a young child, in the execution of the clan's jutsu, his father would give him a detailed description of where exactly he had gone wrong and how he must improve next time. And he did. But with this… Part of him longed, now, to run to Sakura and ask her to give him a precise report on his tactical shortcomings, so that he could work to correct them and then give her satisfactory results. Except that facing her would be far too humiliating.
Itachi stared at the mirror, lost in thought, lost in worry, lost in near-crippling anxiety and shock, just lost, before…
He turned to find Sasuke staring at him, as if he had just sprouted antlers or turned green or some other such nonsense. "Hello, Sasuke," Itachi replied automatically, because he was always a polite older brother, even when his entire world had just been turned upside down. "Did you just get in?"
"Yeah, I was out with Naruto. I figured Sakura would have left by now." Sasuke shoved his hands in his pockets, giving him another odd look. "What are you doing?"
Sasuke gave him another skeptical once-over, before reaching over and turning off the bathroom light. "Go to bed, aniki. You have work tomorrow."
Underneath Sasuke's watchful gaze, Itachi shuffled back to his room. Finally, Sasuke raised his voice, calling out to him. "Itachi?"
He turned back, to see Sasuke still looking at him carefully. "Is everything all right?"
Itachi looked at his little brother – really looked at him, dressed casually in black pants tucked into shin-high black boots, wearing a long-sleeved navy blue shirt with the Uchiha fan sewn onto the back, his shoulder-length hair pulled into a messy ponytail, his hands in his pockets, his unmistakably cool posture – and really, when did baby Sasuke turn into this? This suave, poised, ultra-confident young adult? The horrifying thought crossed his mind, then, that maybe Sasuke wouldn't have the same problem that he was having now; maybe Sasuke had never had this problem, despite the fact that he was five years younger; maybe if Sakura was kissing Sasuke instead she would have no complaints about technique, and—
Sasuke blinked as Itachi suddenly, inexplicably, turned as red as a tomato, and then fled into his room, veritably slamming the door behind him. He stared for a few moments, shrugged and dismissed it, and then headed back into his room. Whatever. Maybe Itachi would feel better in the morning; maybe he just needed some sleep.
Itachi did not feel better in the morning, perhaps because he got no sleep. As a matter of fact, he felt worse.
"Are you coming down with something?" Sasuke asked matter-of-factly, through a mouthful of scrambled eggs, as he watched Itachi stare at his orange juice with the same strangely helpless, confused, wounded, lost-puppy look he'd had last night. His brother's eyes were red from lack of sleep and the stress lines on his face seemed more pronounced. It was a marked departure from his usual demeanor. "Ask Sakura to fix it."
"No," Itachi finally mumbled, taking a sip of orange juice and seeming somewhat dazed. "I'm not sick."
Sasuke rolled his eyes imperceptibly, buttering another slice of bread. "Right."
Itachi covertly watched Sasuke eat, thinking too rapidly to do more than poke halfheartedly at his waffles. Sasuke had asked him, last night, whether anything was wrong. Sasuke cared, and regardless of the terribly dire circumstances that had bought the inquiry about, he couldn't help but feel rather warm and happy inside at the thought. Sasuke, also, perhaps, had advice to give him. Furthermore, Sasuke was also the only person in the world he could even consider asking about this. Honor and the bonds between clan members dictated that he could trust his brother with this sensitive matter and know that it would stay only between them, if he did choose to speak to him about it.
Itachi warred with himself for several moments. To do it, or not to do it? Sasuke had finished his eggs, his toast, and was now halfway done with a bowl of cereal. It was now or never. He would be gone in a few minutes.
Itachi opened his mouth, his mind made up – but closed it in the next second, changing his mind just as abruptly. No, he could not allow his desperation to let him make unwise choices. He could not ask Sasuke about this. It would lessen his image in his little brother's eyes; perhaps he may even run the risk of making himself look pathetic and pitiable. Sasuke may no longer be proud of him or look up to him if he knew the truth (the sad, sad truth). And, to be completely honest, the possibility always lurked that even if Sasuke did not react like that…and if he did have advice…he would then develop some sort of awful superiority complex, and turn into even more of a snarky little—
Kind thoughts, Itachi reminded himself sternly, feeling rather unsettled at where his train of thought had drifted. Had he really been about to refer to his beloved little brother as a snarky little bastard? He was spending far too much time with Naruto.
Sasuke finished up his breakfast, told him he hoped that he felt better, and then headed out the door. Itachi finished at a more sedate pace, and then plodded along to Hokage Tower, feeling even more downtrodden. A mountain of paperwork awaited him at his desk, in the office that he shared with Shikamaru Nara – who greeted him with a poisonous glare and a positively toxic mumble, as usual. He had made several friendly overtures to his second-in-command and office-mate over the past several months, all of which were turned down, and Itachi had now lost count of how many times he had been called troublesome or some variant thereof. Sakura had once explained to him that the reason for Shikamaru's mortal grudge was that, with his brilliant mind, he had been virtually guaranteed the position of Konoha's head tactician…until Itachi came along.
Sakura. Itachi winced to himself. And though he dutifully read documents and initialed paperwork and reviewed reports, feeling Shikamaru's glare burning a hole into the back of his head all the while, his thoughts were a million miles away.
How could he possibly solve this problem? Because the problem had to be solved as soon as possible. The damage had been done over the past three months – he had probably already ninety percent repelled and disgusted Sakura with his sheer incompetence, and she was just sticking around out of pity because that was the kind of considerate, kind person she was. But that would only last so long until somebody else came around and swept her into his arms (an image of Sasuke came to mind, and Itachi initialed a report with such force that his pen almost ripped through the paper).
The dilemma was…how could a person get better at kissing? It was one of the very few things that did not come naturally to him, apparently. Practice seemed to have done him no good thus far. Perhaps he would have to take Sakura, kiss her in three-minute intervals, and ask her to give him extensive verbal feedback after each kiss, letting him know what was good about it and what needed improvement.
Itachi frowned at one of the documents slightly, considering it. Though it sounded acceptable at first, perhaps not; he did not want to inflict himself upon her until he had rectified all of his deficiencies. Besides, it sounded even more horribly awkward than…the initial conversation. A worrying thought occurred to him, and his hand stilled as he reached for a stamp with Konoha's insignia on it.
Had there been anything enjoyable about it, for Sakura? Had she ever given him any physical responses that indicated pleasure?
…She had moaned once, he remembered. But then Itachi recalled that it had only been because he had leaned in too closely to her while he had been kissing her neck, and Sakura had tilted her head back, and bumped it hard against the nearby lamp.
He had to fight the urge to lay his head down on his office desk and give a sigh of abject despair and defeat.
He would have to look for another way to gain expertise. Kissing Sakura would not be possible. Kissing other people was absolutely, completely out of the question. Clearly, practical application was not an option. Then what remained? The archives and library in Hokage Tower were remarkably vast, but he doubted that he could find any manuals on how to improve kissing proficiency. Undoubtedly it was a skill that most people possessed naturally.
The hours passed, Itachi's scowl getting more and more intense, and his sense of hopelessness and desperation and paranoia growing. At one point, Sakura's friend Ino came in to deliver some paperwork to Shikamaru and chat with him over lunch, and he could have sworn that she gave him a sad, pitying sort of look on her way in. She and Shikamaru then began a hushed conversation, and Itachi heardShikamaru's muffled exclamation of you're kidding, right? shortly afterward. It was obvious what they were discussing. Clearly Sakura would have called Ino right after she returned to her apartment the previous night and confessed all the sordid details that she had been keeping locked inside for so long.
Itachi's suspicions were confirmed when, later, while they had been reviewing a potential peace treaty with Cloud together, Shikamaru kept smirking at him. Oh, yes, he noticed. Two people knew already, and in Konoha, gossip spread like wildfire. Soon word would get around that he was not an adequate partner for Sakura – and he had noticed, from the high volume of dirty looks and angry mutters that had been directed his way after they had first started seeing one another, that Sakura was quite highly desired and admired amongst the population of Konoha's young, male, active duty shinobi. Who were all likely, as luck would have it, far superior kissers than himself.
It was in a fairly high state of agitation that Itachi stalked out of the office at the end of the day. He headed straight to the cafeteria, because it was Sasuke's turn to cook tonight, and though he loved his little brother and knew he was a very talented shinobi in many ways…that talent did not extend to his culinary skills. He mangled everything that he touched.
And that was how Itachi came to be standing in line stiffly, holding a bowl of beef soba, behind three male jounin. They were speaking at an excessively loud volume, their exuberance a dramatic counterpoint to his own state of mind, and though he had absolutely no interest in their conversation and wasn't an eavesdropper, anyway – considering the circumstances, he had no choice but to listen in.
"Hey, man, you know the newest Icha Icha movie is coming out tonight at midnight?"
"No way! I thought that was a couple of months from now!"
"Yeah, but you know…since Jiraiya-sama is gone now…they pushed the release date up in honor of his birthday next week."
All three men hung their heads in sorrow, and behind them, Itachi felt his mouth turn downward and his chest constrict a little, although for entirely different reasons.
"…But anyway, yeah, are you guys going tonight or are you going to wait until the weekend?"
"I'm going tonight! Wild horses couldn't keep me away! I've only been looking forward to it for three years!"
"…You're going? I thought Yuki didn't approve of you watching this stuff? Didn't she freak out when she found all of your magazines?"
The jounin smirked, winking at his friends. "That was in the early days. She doesn't mind me watching the movies now – she says it helps me pick up tips and be better to her in many ways."
All three men laughed appreciatively. Itachi went completely still. Very well. Now he was listening.
"I should tell Saiko that! She's all mad that I canceled dinner with her tonight to go see the midnight showing…I bet she won't be any more, once I let her know that it's all about refining my technique, and she'll get to experience all the benefits…"
The group of friends laughed again, before they reached the cashier and paid for their food. Itachi did the same, before taking his bowl to an empty table in the corner and sitting down, utterly preoccupied. His mind had kicked into overdrive, having derived inspiration from the unlikeliest source. Icha Icha? Yes, he seemed to recall Kakashi and Naruto talking excitedly about the upcoming movie release some time ago. For the second time in as many minutes, he felt a sudden wave of sadness, as he remembered Kisame's fondness for the series. Although Kisame possessed the entire collection, he personally had never read any of the books. They were hardly…great literature. Itachi still remembered, like it was yesterday, the afternoon ten years ago that his mother had sat him and Shisui down at the kitchen table and sternly informed them that they were never to read that filth, and if she or anybody else ever caught them with those magazines, there would be hell to pay. So the thought of seeing the movie had never even crossed his mind, despite Naruto's efforts to recruit a large group of shinobi in their year to go see it together.
Itachi chewed his noodles thoughtfully, considering the words of the group of jounin. Now that he thought of it, the thought of video instruction did seem like the perfect modus operandi. It was surprising that he hadn't considered it earlier. It had worked for others, apparently, to the satisfaction of their partners. And they had developed their skills just by observation with the naked eye. He had an asset they did not.
For the first time that day, Itachi felt his spirits lift somewhat. He had never been so thankful for Sakura's work in restoring his bloodline limit.
I apologize, mother, he thought, as he finished his soba, rose, and walked out of the cafeteria, a plan already unfolding in his mind. But it is for a good cause, after all.
At ten-thirty that night, in his apartment, convinced that Sasuke had gone to bed, tired after a long mission, Itachi engaged a genjutsu, flawlessly assuming the appearance of a nondescript brown-eyed, brown-haired man. He walked the ten minutes to the cinema, and rather uncomfortably joined the long line of overjoyed, slightly drunk, and downright ridiculous men who were waiting to buy tickets and get in. He stood awkwardly off by himself while they gathered together and showed one another pages from their favorite Icha Icha books, giggling the entire time.
The things I do for love, Itachi thought sourly, stepping aside in order to avoid a particularly spirited group who was now reenacting some sort of fight between the two male protagonists, in which they battled to win the love of their desired female. If Sakura could see him now…she would either crack a rib from laughing, or be outraged that he was buying into the "disgusting perversion"that was the Icha Icha franchise.
After a wait that was slightly more agonizing than the process of being resurrected from the dead, Itachi finally found himself proceeding into the darkened movie theater. While the vast majority of men began to fight over seats in the front row, presumably in order to have close proximity to the lead actress's boundless cleavage, or whatever the teenage chunin behind him had gushing about for the past thirty minutes, he promptly found himself a spot in the very back row and settled down, glancing around nervously. When he judged it to be safe – when it was a minute away from midnight and the theater was packed to capacity – Itachi dispelled the genjutsu with a sigh, returning to his normal appearance. And in the next instant, when the rest of the lights dimmed and all the men in the theater began to scream like little girls out of pure excitement, his eyes bled from their original charcoal-gray color into the blood red of the Sharingan. He felt a little apprehensive. His fingers were digging into the armrest of the chair so hard that his knuckles were white. What had he gotten himself into? From his mother's lectures and Kisame's frequent nosebleeds and the many overheard comments in line about the shower scene and the hot springs scene and the office desk scene and all the rest, he was now starting to wonder whether this movie would offer more…in-depth, advanced…instruction than what he had come for. And for the kami's sake, while the rest of this theater already appeared to be well-established deviants, he was not ready to be assaulted by hardcore pornography in less than thirty seconds.
But it was too late. The doors were closed. The opening credits were rolling. This was his only chance to learn anything before Sakura returned from her mission tomorrow evening, and hopefully try to undo some of the damage his traitorous mouth had incurred over the past three months.
Itachi braced himself, opening his Sharingan-laced eyes wider, as the entire theater seemed to inhale at the same moment out of sheer anticipation. Let the instruction begin.
Two hours and ten minutes, more accurately. It took a good ten minutes after the movie ended for half the theater to stop crying over the emotional reunion of the hero and heroine and finally head on out. For his part, Itachi just sat numbly, staring at the now blank screen, attempting to process everything – all the new information – that he had just taken in over the past two hours. It would take a while, of that he was sure. But his misgivings, as he had handed over the money for the exorbitantly expensive opening night tickets, had been unfounded. He had learned. He had learned…a great deal. He realized all of his errors now – all of his terrible, unforgivable errors – and understood exactly how to correct them for optimum results.
Itachi finally stood up, somewhat dazed, stretching his stiff muscles. He turned to head out of his row, and—
Itachi froze, upon hearing the familiar voice. Contemplated making a run for it. Using the full extent of his speed, he could be out of the theater and a street away in about one second. But…it was too late. The theater was quiet and more or less empty now; he couldn't pretend that he hadn't heard. Itachi cursed himself. He should have known this would happen, he should have anticipated this. He had been careless. He should have assumed his genjutsu the second the movie ended.
But then again…he would have assumed this particular individual would have been in the very front row, salivating over every steamy scene like the pervert Sakura frequently accused him of being.
Itachi turned slowly, with difficulty. He found himself faced with Kakashi Hatake, the Copy-Nin himself – holding an empty, over-large bucket of popcorn, two bags of candy, and a large soda. From the tear tracks that ran from his visible eye to the edge of his mask, it was obvious that Kakashi had been one of the shinobi who had stayed in his seat for several minutes after the movie ended, reduced to tears by the poignant emotion of it all. He would be.
Blind to his discomfort, Kakashi smiled, his eye crinkling up into its signature half-moon shape. "Yo, Itachi. You should have let me know you were coming tonight. I always get a lot of free snacks from the very pleasant young woman who works at the concession stand; there was enough to share…"
Evidently, the false assumption that Itachi was a closet Icha Icha fan was enough to overcome the typical aloofness Kakashi directed at the man who was seeing his only female student. "…I was not planning on it. It happened…on impulse."
Kakashi peered at him curiously. "I didn't know you were a fan. Naruto said you had never read any of the issues, and that you refused to borrow any of his."
Kakashi's brow creased a little out of confusion. "Then what are you doing…?"
And that was when his eyes locked squarely on Itachi's crimson-tinted gaze. Being an intelligent, innovative man, who often thought outside of the box (and who had probably used his borrowed Sharingan for similar endeavors, Itachi thought darkly), Kakashi put two and two together. Itachi could literally see the comprehension dawn in his eyes.
It occurred to him, briefly, that he should consider running now. Naruto had made several comments about how protective Kakashi was of Sakura. And it was true that for a short, chilling moment, he couldn't read the expression on Kakashi's face.
That was precisely when the Copy-Nin burst out laughing. It started out as little, stifled giggles and then evolved into full-force gales of hysterical laughter. Eventually he plopped his empty popcorn and candy and soda containers onto the floor and collapsed into one of the nearby chairs because he could no longer stand up while laughing so hard. His howls of mirth attracted the attention of a couple of the teenaged ushers busy cleaning up the lower level of the theater; they directed frightened looks up at the top row.
Itachi stood stiffly, his arms crossed, his expression unreadable, as he waited for Kakashi's fits to subside. Finally, after he seemed to have calmed somewhat, and was delicately wiping tears away from the corners of his eyes, Itachi spoke, his cool tone layered with disapproval. "Is it really that amusing?"
He shouldn't have asked. Kakashi directed one look at him, nodded, and then started giggling uncontrollably once again.
Cursing to himself, Itachi turned around and swept out of the theater, ignoring the ushers' pleas to please take the other guy with him.
Throughout the day, Itachi counted down the hours until Sakura's arrival from her mission. Despite the fact that he'd only had four hours of sleep that night, he felt keyed up and full of positive energy and optimism. He even dared to give Shikamaru a smile and friendly greeting in the morning.
The hours ticked by slowly, and it seemed like it took forever for the clock to hit five. Itachi excused himself precisely at that second, instead of staying half an hour late to get a head start on the next day's work, like he usually did. It was five-fifteen by the time he made his way to Sakura's apartment, where he waited patiently outside the door.
It was five-thirty when a weary Sakura finished trudging up the two flights of stairs up to her apartment – but the second she cleared the staircase, she got a surprise that made her exhaustion the last thing on her mind, and her face lit up with a smile. "Itachi!"
He hugged her tightly then, and the pink-haired kunoichi buried her head in his chest happily. This was the first time they had seen each other since…that dreadful, dreadful conversation…and Sakura was glad that he didn't seem to be upset, or anything. He had looked so stunned and hurt that night – like she had just whacked him on the head with a frying pan without provocation – that she had been worried. "How was your mission?" Itachi asked quietly, running his hands down her back, and she shivered and pressed herself closer to him.
"Humanitarian missions always seem to be more strenuous than combat, ironically enough," she replied dryly. "It's more emotionally draining. Here, let's go inside."
Sakura unlocked the door and tugged him inside her apartment, heading straight for the couch. She sighed with pure relief as she sank down on the soft cushions, her legs getting a brief respite from all the travel. Itachi joined her, and he unzipped her knee-high boots, setting them aside, and stretching her legs out across his lap, before taking her feet in his hands and gently squeezing the sore muscles. Sakura gave a long sigh, relaxing against him and pressing her head against his shoulder. The first time Itachi had offered to give her a foot massage was when they had been searching for Sasuke, after they had first met. She had just stared blankly at him for several moments until Naruto, from across their campsite, had called out to her. He's good, Sakura-chan! He really helped me after I cracked that bone in my heel! Then Naruto had flashed her a double thumbs-up and an exceptionally winning grin, and she really had no choice to accept.
Sakura smiled at the memory, before reaching up and caressing Itachi's temple affectionately. When it came down to it – so what if Itachi was a bad kisser? There were a million other things to love about him. And given time, even the moistness and fervent hand grips could become endearing. Maybe. Perhaps.
"I missed you, Itachi," she said softly. Even your moist, awkward kisses at the end of the day.
Itachi moved his hand from her feet to run up and down the bare skin on top of her shinbone. "I missed you too, Sakura."
He leaned forward then, and Sakura had just enough time to brace herself for the onslaught before suddenly noticing that his hand was now gently holding her waist, and then their lips were pressing together, softly, warmly, for several tentative moments, and then, slowly, Itachi deepened the contact, pulling her closer to him as she tucked her legs to the side and stretched up, wrapping her arms around his neck, and—
If Sakura had been standing, her knees probably would have given out.
The word perfection came to mind, shortly before she suspended her constant, never-ceasing, ever-logical hundred-mile-an-hour thought process for the very first time in her life. And speaking of time…time seemed to fade from existence. It could have been a minute or fifteen, an hour, or enough time for the world's best symphony orchestra to privately serenade her, or even possibly several sunlit days…
Then Itachi finally pulled back a fraction of an inch, perhaps having detected her dangerously rapid heartbeat and sensing the need for a brief respite, and he couldn't help but smile slightly. He hadn't seen Sakura look this astonished since Sasuke agreed to repent for his crimes and return to Konoha after throwing only the smallest of temper tantrums. Her bright eyes had widened almost to the size of saucers, and it seemed to take her several moments to even regain the capacity for speech. "I – what – how…?" she managed, stunned.
Itachi smirked a little, beginning to enjoy himself. "What, Sakura?"
She slid her hands from his shoulders to twine her fingers in the collar of his shirt, staring up at him beseechingly. "How did you…how did that just happen…what did you do?"
"I am not sure that I know what you're referring to."
Sakura scowled up at Itachi mock-fiercely, before tackling him against the sofa, climbing into his lap, and poking her finger into his chest. "Don't be coy, Uchiha, just admit it. I have to know. Now, tell me the truth. Did you make out with your pillow?"
Itachi blinked, startled. The idea had never crossed his mind, but now that it had, his tongue tingled with disgust at the thought. "Most definitely not."
Sakura frowned at him, perplexed, before a peculiar expression crossed her face – as if she was suddenly quite sure that she had arrived at the correct conclusion. "You created a bunshin and practiced on it, didn't you? Did you have to do that after I had left for my mission?"
Itachi stared, aghast, momentarily lost for words. "What – who does that?"
Sakura sighed ruefully, shaking her head. "Naruto, Kiba, about one in five of the male shinobi in Konoha? It's more common than you'd think."
"I see. But…no."
Sakura scowled at him again. Itachi remained implacably silent. Then, just like that, all the fight went out of her face and her lower lip quivered, her eyes filling with sorrow. "You went and kissed other girls, didn't you? And they gave you feedback and constructive criticism, and now…and now…" she sniffled, the tears threatening to overflow.
"No!" Itachi protested, his voice rising somewhat out of sheer panic, in a dramatic contrast to his usually inexpressive tone. He couldn't even remember the last time he had allowed his inflection to change like this. He lifted his arm quickly, using his sleeve to pat rather ineffectively at Sakura's eyes. "I most definitely did not do that."
He was so concerned that he failed to notice the way Sakura regained her composure with miraculous speed. "Then what?"
Underneath her insistent gaze, Itachi dropped his head slightly. "I…I attended the midnight premiere of the latest Icha Icha movie. I watched the entire feature with my bloodline limit engaged."
It took a few moments for the words to register, as Itachi was practically mumbling. Sakura released her grip on his shirt. "You did what?"
Itachi took a deep breath, preparing to repeat himself, while trying to judge whether her words held any outrage evident beneath the incredulousness – but that was when Sakura pressed a hand to her mouth, obviously trying to stifle her giggles. He blinked, experiencing an unpleasant flashback to the Kakashi Incident at the theater. Not this again. But then, instead of laughing again, Sakura hugged him tightly, burying her head against his neck. He felt her lips curve into a smile, before she pulled back, looking into his eyes earnestly. "You didn't have to do that for me, Itachi. Really."
Itachi reached out, brushing the back of his hand against her cheekbone in a feather-light touch, and the slightly uncertain expression in his eyes made Sakura melt a little. "I wanted you to be happy."
Sakura took his hand, pressing a kiss to the inside of his palm. "You do realize that I was never unhappy?" she asked carefully. "That those minor inconveniences never mattered, in the larger scheme of things? You do realize that I could never be unhappy, as long as I'm with you?"
Itachi's expression softened considerably, tension releasing from his shoulders. He visibly struggled with himself for a little while, looking unsure how to formulate his reply. "…Oh."
Sakura nudged him in the ribs playfully. "Yeah, oh. What did you think, that I was going to leave you or something? You're not really very bright, are you, Itachi?"
"Not at all," he replied seriously, before leaning forward, gripping her neck gently, and kissing her again. When they finally pulled apart, they rested their foreheads together, and Itachi intertwined his fingers with Sakura's. "…But you still do enjoy this improvement, correct?"
Sakura laughed, curling more securely against him. "Oh, do I ever."
They lapsed into comfortable silence for a few minutes, Sakura closing her eyes thoughtfully and snuggling against Itachi's chest. Watching Icha Icha with the aid of the Sharingan…she would have never imagined it. Well, there was a reason they called Itachi a prodigy, after all…
A thought occurred to her suddenly, and Sakura felt her muscles stiffen. Wait a minute. Itachi had watched the movie adaptation of Icha Icha Tactics. For the past two months, she had heard Naruto and Kakashi-sensei go on and on about this book and how they were looking forward to the movie adaptation in order to get the full visual impact of…many scenes of a certain nature… They had gushed, in particular, about the hot springs scene, and the shower scene, and the office desk scene, and how the production team for this movie was ensuring that it was going to be "one thousand times hotter!" than even the previous Icha Icha film, which had pushed all the limits…
Sakura swallowed over her suddenly dry throat. And Itachi had watched the whole thing with his bloodline limit engaged. Which meant, theoretically – whether he realized the implications of it right now or not – that he would have learned and memorized a vast array of things beyond proper kissing technique…
Way beyond just proper kissing technique.
Itachi poked her in the forehead curiously. "Sakura? Why are you smiling like that?"
"…Um, no reason, Itachi. It's absolutely nothing at all."
I have to apologize to you guys – I know that a lot of you were probably hoping and expecting the next chapter of Bluebird out by this time. But it was getting pretty heavy halfway through the chapter, and Itachi and Sakura completely stopped cooperating and wanted to do something happy and fluffy instead. This idea literally grabbed hold of me, put me in a chokehold, and would not let me go. It's the first crack-slash-humorous ItaSaku idea that I've had since Age of Consent in January of 2009, and I really hope that you all enjoyed it. :)
As always, any and all feedback would be very much appreciated. :)