Once every two weeks, Itachi, Sakura, Sasuke, and Karin get together for dinner. This is kind of a sequel to That Awkward Conversation in that it is set in the same AU – a post-Shinobi Fourth War scenario where Itachi breaks free of Kabuto's control, helps Konoha win the war, and goes on an expedition with Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi to slay Madara and return Sasuke to Konoha, after which Itachi and Sasuke establish permanent residence in the village. This piece contains little references to That Awkward Conversation, but it can be read alone. It is basically a series of vignettes that focuses on Sakura, Karin, Sasuke, and Itachi, and the family they become.

It started on the second day they had been back in Konoha. It was five weeks after the end of the Fourth Shinobi War; two weeks since Madara Uchiha had been slain and a repentant Sasuke Uchiha dragged back to Konoha. Sakura had been looking forward to talking with her mentor, the Godaime Hokage, again – it had been weeks since they had seen one another, after all, and she had missed her shishou.

But then, not even ten minutes into their afternoon tea, Tsunade-shishou had dropped a rather unpleasant bombshell. The Hokage had assigned to her – her, of all people, when Shizune and Tsunade herself were even more capable of the job – the task of returning Itachi Uchiha to full health and normal body function, after the unnatural circumstances (to say the least) of Kabuto's resurrection ninjutsu. "It will be a very challenging endeavor," Tsunade-shishou said, with a straight face. Understatement of the century, Sakura thought snarkily. This had only been done once previously in recorded history, after all. And for the kami's sake, this was Itachi. Her countenance had gone from glowing to glowering in about thirty seconds flat, and it had been made even worse when Tsunade-shishou had informed her that refusal, or foisting the duty off to somebody else, wasn't an option.

"Oh, and also," Tsunade continued blithely now, while Sakura resentfully sipped her mint green tea, "by the way, I spoke to Karin earlier. Since she has decided to stay in Konoha permanently, I have decided that you and Shizune should begin formally training her as a medic-nin. We do have a terrible shortage, after all, and her skill set is suited for work as a medic-nin as well as mission assignments, just like yours is. So you and Karin will be sharing your lab now. I gave her a key and told her she should get established by noon."

Sakura went very still, momentarily convinced that her auditory cortex had just completely turned traitor on her, and she was experiencing a terrible delusion. After a brief internal direction of chakra confirmed that this wasn't the case, shock set in, and she spat her mouthful of tea all over the Hokage's desk. "What?" she gasped, blind to Tsunade's revolted look. "No – tell me you're joking! Please!"

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Tsunade asked grimly, as she delicately mopped up the tea. "Really, Sakura, you've been spending too much time with Naruto. He's done this so many times I can't even offer him anything to drink whenever he comes in. After he completely wasted a glass of my best vintage sake…well, it was all I could do not to throw the brat out of the window."

"Shishou," Sakura began, beyond caring that she sounded dangerously close to whining. "It's Karin. I can't."

"Nonsense, you and Shizune are the most qualified medic-nin we have, and Shizune can't train Karin all by herself." Tsunade peered at Sakura over the rim of her shot glass, quite unaffected by her student's suddenly pale, sickly pallor and the pleading look in her eyes. "Don't be so melodramatic, Sakura. This is the problem, when young shinobi remain confined to their village for their entire life and never take the time to travel the world and meet new people. Their social circle is restricted to the other shinobi in their village, and that isn't good. You need to broaden your horizons and open your mind. Who knows, you might end up making a new friend." She paused, remembering the Uchiha. "Or two new friends."

"Or you might be suffering from a rare form of early-onset senile dementia that terribly impacts judgment," Sakura muttered under her breath.

"…What was that, Sakura?"

"…Nothing, shishou."

After they had finished their tea, Sakura left the Hokage's office, proceeding back to the hospital with the air of one walking to her own funeral. She ran into Ino on the way, and her best friend gave her one look, before recoiling. "What's wrong, Forehead Girl? You look even worse than when you came back from that date with Lee!"

Sakura spilled out the whole sordid tale without further ado, before clutching at her hair, uncaring of how demented she looked, if the frightened glances of the genin team passing on the other side of the hallway was any indication. "My life is over!"

"No, no, surely it isn't as bad as all that," Ino consoled, putting an arm around her shoulder. "After all, all other things aside, Itachi is pretty hot. Who knows, we could finally get you a boyfriend out of this! Hmm, I should send Tsunade-sama flowers and a thank you letter…"

Sakura stopped dead, mortified. "What?"

Ino gave her a nonplussed look. "Well, you two are going to be spending a lot of time together now. And as you nurse him back to health – or, uh, not being a corpse anymore, whatever – a beautiful bond will probably form between you two! You will be one of the very few people he comes to trust and open up to, and I'm sure he will eventually grow on you as you realize how noble and self-sacrificing he has been throughout his life, and then there will be mutual affection, and after you both dance around the issue and struggle to not give in to your impulses, you guys will end up—"

"Oh, god, Ino, shut up. Right now. That is so cliché I don't even have words to describe it. Really? You need to stop reading those romance novels."

"Really," Ino sulked. "Just watch."

"Yeah. Sure. If that's what happens, you can have the hugest shopping spree ever, all on me. And what about…the whole Karin thing? She's just…she's so…" Unable to find words adequate to express her feelings, Sakura just grimaced, shrugging helplessly.

Ino winced as well. "Sorry, even I and my perpetually sunshiny optimism can't help you put a positive spin on that one. At least once she gets trained, there will be less of a demand on you and Shizune's time and skills, and maybe you could actually, oh, I don't know – have a social life. Hey! It'll free up time for your hot dates with Itachi!"

"Very funny, Ino-pig."

They parted ways, and Sakura walked in the direction of her office slash lab, deep in thought. There was a grain of truth in what Ino had said. It would be nice to have another medic-nin around, someone with a shared passion for the medical arts, and perhaps Karin wasn't as insufferable as everything she had heard from Ibiki, Inoichi, and Ino while they had been tasked with interrogating her; now that she had been cleared and decided to stay, and everything. Maybe Tsunade-shishou had been right, and she needed to keep an open mind.

Sakura rounded the corner and walked down the hallway, feeling slightly more optimistic. She resolved to start over mentally, dismiss her prejudices, and come into this experience with a more positive attitude.

And then she looked up at her office door, her hand stretching out toward the doorknob. And all of those thoughts promptly flew out the window.

"Oh, for the love of—"

As Ino had gone already, the pink-haired kunoichi could do nothing more than struggle against the urge to smack herself on the forehead out of sheer exasperation. On the polished wooden door, right above her shiny, elegant golden name plate (the one that she had spent hours gazing at lovingly when it had first been mounted), somebody had taken a large cut of white masking tape, traced the name Karin onto it with offensively ornate handwriting and black permanent marker, and stuck it right above her name plate. It was an aesthetic atrocity. It undermined her authority. It would ruin the varnish of the door. And worst of all, it would never bloody come off, because it was ANBU-issue masking tape. Never.

Sakura took a deep breath, trying to control the wave of homicidal rage that swept over her. Her heartbeat sounded like the drums of war. Inside the confines of her mind, Inner Sakura was doing a violent war dance, shaking various weapons, and screaming for Karin's blood. She forced herself to breathe in again, before storming into the office. Karin had already made herself comfortable on the left half. Somebody had dragged in a spare desk, and she busily arranged several hideously ugly framed photographs of frolicking kittens on every inch of available surface. "Hey, Pinky," she said, without sparing a glance in Sakura's direction. "So, when are we going to get started?"

Sakura felt her eyebrow twitch out of sheer irritation. "We should start with observations first," she replied, with a calm she didn't feel. "You can watch me doing my rounds, which should take the next couple of hours. After that, I'll assess the degree of your chakra control, so I can determine what level of healing techniques you can start on."

Karin waltzed up to her, looking quite carefree. "Oh, there's no need to wait, we can do that right now. See, my chakra control is pretty precise. I can heal external stab or slash wounds, fix broken arm and leg bones, and…"

Karin trailed off, staring at her and frowning. Disconcerted, Sakura wondered if she had something in her teeth. She was just about to take a step back, when Karin reached forward and touched a chakra-covered finger to her forehead. The contact caused a sharp pain, and Sakura slapped Karin's arm away, agitated, as she quickly tried to determine whether that had been some sort of ninjutsu designed to decimate brain cells or something similarly gruesome. "What the hell?"

Karin drew back, regarding her finger distastefully. "…And I can get rid of skin abnormalities caused by bacterial contamination and infection. Just like that absolutely red, oozing, massive, disgusting zit on your forehead. It's gone now, by the way." She leaned back, surveying the disbelieving Sakura superciliously. "Seriously, do you even look in mirrors before you leave the house? Trust me, Pinky – I don't know if anybody's ever told you this before, but that forehead of yours is disproportionately large compared to the rest of your face. You don't need anything more to draw attention to it."

There were a few heartbeats of silence. Sakura looked into Karin's blood-red eyes and flawless porcelain complexion and debated whether it would be unethical to claw her new apprentice's stupid eyes out and then repair them with her chakra only after a few hours had passed, just to teach her a lesson. A statistic that Shizune had one mentioned began to repeat on an endless loop in Sakura's head. It took almost two years of training to achieve proficiency as a medic-nin. Eight out of ten shinobi dropped out after the first two months. Unfortunately, Karin was past that introductory stage.

…One thing was for sure. It would be a long two years.

It turned out that Tsunade-shishou ended up being right on one count.

It didn't take long for her and Itachi to become friends. Within a few months, to her surprise, Sakura even came to consider him a best friend, like Naruto; except about one hundred and fifty times more logical and sane. It took almost a year for her to realize that over time, Itachi's feelings for her had slowly developed into something more than platonic, but when they finally started dating, it was more wonderful than she could have ever imagined. Even after Tsunade's smug little I-told-you-so's, and the fact that she lost the entirety of two weeks' paycheck on the shopping spree that Ino gleefully collected on.

But as for Karin? Well…some things never changed.

"Congratulations, by the way," Karin commented around a mouthful of her granola bar, as they met on the top floor of the hospital, outside of the intensive care unit, to begin their morning rounds. "I heard about you and Itachi."

Sakura swallowed her coffee abruptly, scalding her throat. She wasn't surprised that Karin had found out – though she and Itachi had just started going out a couple of days ago, news in Konoha spread like wildfire. The rapid spread of information had been aided and abetted by the fact that Naruto's voice was very loud. After judging that her ears had not failed her, and determining that the look on her fellow medic-nin's face seemed quite sincere, she nodded awkwardly. "Thanks."

"Yeah, I'm really happy for you, even though it did mean I ended up losing big in the office pool," Karin continued offhandedly, seemingly blind to the way Sakura stopped in her tracks.

"Office pool? What…office pool?"

"Oh, you know," Karin replied, waving her hand blithely. "The one where we were debating whether you would end up a virgin spinster for eternity because of your workaholic habits…or end up hooking up with Shigeru, that creepy male tech, because of mutual desperation."

Sakura found that she had lost the capacity for speech. Her jaw had actually fallen open out of sheer shock and horror. All of these years, she thought that only happened in novels and manga—

"All in good fun, of course!" Karin assured her offhandedly. "Although how you, of all people, managed to hook somebody so attractive, I'll never know," the red-haired kunoichi went on, looking her up and down. "I mean…really."

Sakura remained dangerously silent, the vein in her forehead visibly throbbing throughout the rest of their rounds. After they finished and Shizune mercifully took Karin for the rest of the day, she returned to her office – with the still blighted door, regardless of the fact that four of the custodial staff had tried their very hardest to scrape the offending piece of masking tape off the wood, all with no luck – and drew another neat x on her calendar. One year until Karin's apprenticeship with her was over. One year until she could finally strike back.

It dismayed her, how little true understanding she had of other people's awful work situations until this entire…Karin ordeal. She and Shizune always had been like sisters to one another, so there was none of the workplace rivalry that other shinobi in Konoha had to deal with. She had laughed at the stories Ino had told her about her fellow interrogators-in-training, who all suffered from various degrees of paranoia and psychosis and were constantly trying to do one another in so that they could ascend to the coveted top spot of future Head Interrogator. Poor Ino had to deal with an assassination attempt every week. She had also teased Itachi when he had told her about his struggles with Shikamaru. Itachi's second-in-command and office-mate despised him with an absolute passion surprising from one who frequently commented that excess emotion was troublesome.

She understood now, though, that workplace rivalry was nothing to be amused about whatsoever. It was serious business.

The months passed.

For the midwinter festival, Karin got Sakura a gift certificate to one of Konoha's lingerie boutiques. I heard this place has stuff that can work wonders! Who knows, they might even have some lingerie that could give you the illusion of actually having a womanly figure. Check it out as soon as possible, Pinky, your boyfriend will thank you. xoxo, Karin.

That night, when Sakura finally opened the gift and read the note, it took all of Itachi's super-human speed and strength to prevent his enraged girlfriend from pelting furniture at the walls in fury. Then he had to bodily restrain her from hunting Karin down, armed with a small armory worth of weapons.

In return, the next day, after she had calmed down somewhat, Sakura bought Karin several books full of dieting and weight-loss advice, wrapped them beautifully, and tucked a card on top. Dearest Karin, I chose these specifically for you in hopes that they will help you find love here in Konoha. xoxo, Sakura.

(Sakura giggled for about five minutes straight after she exited the office to leave for her mission, and heard Karin's screech of rage right through the solid oak door.)

Sakura and Karin's rivalry became well-known throughout Konoha, and it only heightened once Karin finished her apprenticeship and became a medic-nin in her own right. It was a rivalry that surpassed all others in memory – including Naruto and Sasuke, a fact which secretly caused the two of them no end of annoyance. It caused everybody who ever came into the hospital and was treated by either, or both, of the kunoichi mingled amusement and fear. One thing that everybody agreed on was that it frightening to behold.

"So much passive-aggressiveness," Shikamaru confessed to Ino and Chouji one day over lunch. "I've actually started taking notes. Maybe I can wear the Uchiha down if I channel a little bit of what those two troublesome women are always going on about."

"Shouldn't you give Karin her own office, now that she's completed her apprenticeship?" Shizune suggested to Tsunade, one day when they were both working late. "There's a spare room, since we lost Matsu in the exchange to Sand. It'll get her out of Sakura's hair. I'm afraid the poor girl is going to have a heart attack someday soon."

Tsunade shook her head, after considering it for a few minutes. "That won't work, I promised it to the people down in Foreign Affairs."

Shizune glared at her mentor. "You just enjoy making people suffer, don't you?"

Tsunade shrugged defensively. "They bring out the best in each other! No, don't look at me like that, Shizune – I'm not going crazy. Perhaps I should have said that they both drive one another to be the absolute best they can be, one hundred percent of the time. Besides, they're both very intelligent, and work together extremely well when they aren't bickering like children. They actually formulated a heart medication that can treat atrial fibrillation. We're going to be putting it out to the civilian market soon, and the village is going to make a fortune out of it…the fees for almost a year's worth of S-class missions combined, if you can believe it. I believe they've started work on a senile dementia medication as well. They're going to make us the wealthiest hidden village in the world within the decade."

Shizune eyed her dubiously. "Still, if Sakura ever finds out that you could have freed her of…oh, what is it that she said the other day? That's right, the malignant cancer upon her life, and you chose not to – she'll break in here and water down all of your best vintage sake."

Tsunade paled slightly. She was familiar with her younger apprentice's hot temper, which was so similar to her own. "You're right. But she won't find out, will she?"

"…No, shishou."

It was a beautiful early spring night. Itachi had opened the windows in the apartment that he and Sasuke shared, and a light, balmy breeze floated inside, ruffling the gauzy purple curtains – Sakura's contribution to their interior décor – and filling the kitchen with the scent of jasmine. The radio was on softly, playing the old music that Itachi liked, and the peaceful quiet that had fallen over the room's three occupants was suddenly broken by the pop of the cork as Sasuke finally opened the bottle of sake he had been struggling with.

Sakura giggled at the expression on his face, and Itachi looked faintly amused as well. Sasuke glowered at them as he proceeded to the cabinet and pulled out a glass. "Just for that, you two don't get any."

"Do I ever drink, Sasuke?" Itachi asked dryly. Sakura left her spot at his side and took two more glasses from the cabinet, one for herself and one for Itachi. She stopped at the refrigerator and poured him a glass of chilled peach tea, before pressing it into his hand with a softly affectionate kiss on the cheek. Itachi blushed, Sasuke glared, and Sakura smirked as she measured herself a shot of sake as well.

The three of them drank in comfortable silence for a while, before Sasuke put his glass down and gave a long sigh. "Can't believe I have to leave on that mission tomorrow," he mumbled. "Two weeks in the middle of nowhere, with Sai of all people. I'd rather have the dumbass than him."

Sakura scowled at him. "Sai's really not that bad, Sasuke, and don't call Naruto a dumbass. And besides, you don't have any room to talk about irritating teammates. I hate you, you know that? For making her part of your team and even worse, for making it so that she had to come back here…"

Itachi took another sip of tea to keep his features completely calm and expressionless. Sakura and Karin had been feuding over who had the better bedside manner today, and Sakura had come home feeling particularly irate. "Oh, come off it, Sakura," Sasuke replied grumpily. "Don't you think it's about time that you two made peace or something?"

Foolish little brother, Itachi thought to himself, amused, as Sakura's gaze snapped up and she fixed him with a look that shot daggers. "No."

"I don't know why you guys don't get along," Sasuke continued, looking taciturn. "You're talented, ambitious, independent kunoichi. You even have very similar temperaments. You have similar interests as well. You should be friends. You have more in common with her than you do with Ino."

Itachi's amusement transformed to alarm as he watched all the color begin to flood out of Sakura's face at the words you even have very similar temperaments. But instead of the angry outburst he expected – something along the lines of If I told you that you had a very similar temperament to Sai and were just as socially retarded as him, how would you feel? – Sakura's eyes narrowed, and when she spoke, her voice was eerily calm and composed. "…Why do you care, Sasuke?"

Sasuke froze like a deer in the headlights. Itachi looked between his girlfriend and younger brother like an onlooker at a tennis match, fascinated by the unexpected turn the conversation had taken. "…What?" Sasuke croaked. "I don't…care. I don't care at all."

"Yes, you do," Sakura replied, still sounding unnaturally controlled. "Why would you have brought it up otherwise? Normally you don't make any comments on my personal life whatsoever. Even when Itachi and I told you we were together, you just rolled your eyes and gave us this really snarky look. And now you're talking to me about how I should be friends with Karin?"

Itachi realized, startled, that Sakura was right. His poor little brother seemed to be shrinking beneath his eyes. He hadn't seen Sasuke look this nervous since they had first seen each other after Kabuto had brought him back from the dead. "I…"

Their gazes met, and Itachi suddenly knew exactly what was on Sasuke's mind. The first thing he felt was happiness for his little brother, closely followed by a deep, pervasive fear for his continued personal safety.

It was as if looking at Itachi (who Sasuke secretly admired more than anybody, not that he would ever tell him that) had suddenly given the younger Uchiha an infusion of much-needed courage. He met Sakura's gaze evenly. "When I get back from this mission, I am going to ask Karin to accept my offer of courtship," he said tonelessly. "Things have changed. I am not the person that I once was, and neither is she. Over the past couple of years…I have realized…that I have feelings for her."

Itachi, who very much doubted he would ever hear these words come out of Sasuke's mouth and had always fervently wished for his younger brother to find the kind of happiness he had experienced since meeting Sakura, felt like jumping for joy. Beside him, however, Sakura seemed to have turned to stone. She closed her eyes and appeared to not be breathing anymore. Both brothers turned to face her somewhat apprehensively. Sasuke, who seemed to be preparing himself for a violent onslaught unlike anything he had ever experienced before, cleared his throat tentatively. "…Sakura?"

She opened her eyes, finally, and he flinched back. Then she launched herself at him, and Sasuke flailed defensively, begging with his eyes for Itachi to intercede – but it wasn't some sort of fatal attack, like he had expected. Sakura fastened her arms in a death grip around his neck and she sounded like she was sobbing. "No, Sasuke-kun, not her, please, anybody but her, you can't fall into her evil clutches, there are some really nice girls I can introduce you to at work—"

It went on like that for quite some time, until – after Sasuke remained adamant – Sakura flung herself off him in disgust, told him that he had terrible taste, and stalked off to her apartment.

It was where she lay now, in her bed, Itachi next to her. She curled against him, resting her head on his chest and feeling him rub gentle circles against her back, as they looked at her ceiling. "I am happy for Sasuke, Sakura," Itachi told her quietly. "It is time that he found somebody."

Sakura made a soft sort of snarling sound. "There's always the possibility it won't work out."

"No," Itachi replied, smiling slightly, as he smoothed his fingers through her tangled hair. "Uchiha generally do not even make an initial overture until they know they have found the one they are truly intended to be with. I am sure this has been on Sasuke's mind for quite some time."

Sakura sniffled. "But she is the devil, Itachi."

"That may be, but she did care for Sasuke very much, and was highly devoted and loyal to him, even when he did not deserve that much. You told me that yourself, when we first returned to Konoha."

Sakura sighed, defeated. "…I did. Ugh." She covered her face with her hands, distressed, and then turned her face against the soft material of his shirt. "You realize that I can't marry you, if there's a risk that Karin might someday be my sister-in-law?"

Itachi rose a few inches off the bed, a shadow of panic flitting through his charcoal-gray eyes as he realized he might have underestimated the sheer degree of hatred that Sakura held for her fellow medic-nin. It was the same kicked-puppy, beaten-over-the-head-with-a-frying-pan look he'd had the time she had told him that he needed to improve his kissing technique, so long ago, and Sakura giggled, embracing him tightly. "All right. Maybe I was exaggerating a little."

All the breath left Itachi's body in a long sigh and he gave her a reproachful look, although he kissed the top of her head nevertheless. They lay back down, snuggling up together, and after several minutes, Sakura spoke up again, her voice muffled by the blankets. "…However, it does mean that we have to cut off all contact with them, and pretend that you don't have a brother at all."

Itachi kissed her ear, trying to distract her. "Just go to sleep, Sakura."

In the weeks and months that followed Sasuke's return from his mission, Sakura developed a serious gum-chewing habit. Whenever Karin opened her mouth and the usual torrent of evil spewed forth, when she was tempted to react, she just chewed her gum with increased ferocity. It worked. Most of the time.

"Hey, Sakura, you heard that Sasuke-kun and I are dating now, right?" Karin asked flippantly one morning as she swept into their office, setting her bag down at the foot of her desk. Despite her pronouncing that she was over Sasuke, after the fiasco of Sasuke's battle with Danzou, and never pursuing him once he had returned to Konoha as well, Sakura had long suspected that the red-haired kunoichi still held feelings for her old teammate. Right now, she was practically glowing.

"I did," Sakura replied grudgingly. It was true, what Itachi had said. Karin may have been a wicked troll who was born for the sole purpose of raising her blood pressure and bringing misery into the lives of everybody she touched, but even she couldn't doubt that Karin genuinely cared for Sasuke. How he was blind to her horrid personality, she didn't know. Perhaps because he was a snarky little bastard himself. She could just envision the two of them plotting over bitchy, scathing, sarcastic remarks together, coming up with a new victim to vex every day – with her and Naruto the first on their respective lists, of course. "Congratulations."

"I'm very happy, of course," Karin acknowledged, sitting down at her desk and sweeping her long hair over her shoulder. She directed a look at her fellow medic-nin. "It's funny how it worked out, huh?"

"What?" Sakura asked, momentarily thrown for a loop.

"The fact that you trained me, and we're both medic-nin, and we're both dating brothers, duh," Karin replied, showcasing her astonishing level of maturity once again. She sat back, surveying her violet manicure with an air of superiority. "I mean…all things considered, it is appropriate, though, that I got the better-looking and overall better one."

Sakura closed her desk drawer on her fingers. "What?" she asked incredulously, not even caring how her voice went up about three octaves. "Are you joking?" She loved Sasuke; had adopted him as the moody and aggravating little brother she'd never had, but seriously, now she was wondering whether Karin was smoking crack in her spare time or something.

"Uh, no. Sasuke-kun is so much more masculine. Have you seen his hair? He's also more expressive than Itachi. Nobody even knew that Itachi could talk until like six months after he'd been back in Konoha – everybody assumed that the resurrection ninjutsu just didn't work properly on his tongue. And Sasuke-kun has got this amazing sense of humor, so witty and deadpan—"

"Karin. I am going to vomit on your desk in about five seconds."

Karin gave her a wicked look. "So you're not even going to defend your boyfriend? Secretly, you acknowledge defeat?"

Sakura glowered at her office-mate. "Oh, hell no. I could counter every single stupid, inane point that you just made and list the ways that Itachi is definitely the better of the two…" she smirked. "But then we'd be here for the rest of the day and through the night. And the next day after that as well."

"Cop-out," Karin sang, in an obnoxiously high-pitched tone, before pulling out an oversized framed photograph of herself and Sasuke and placing it on her desk. After a few moments of consideration, she angled it precisely so that it was directly in Sakura's line of sight. "Isn't this just the sweetest gift? Sasuke-kun presented it to me, with a dozen roses, after I accepted his offer of courtship." She made a point of leaning over and observing Sakura's desk, which was more or less bare of anything non-work-related, pointedly. "Oh, that's right – didn't Itachi get you combat arm guards for your last anniversary?"

"Yes, because he values my safety and would rather that I not shatter my humerus, radia, or ulna while deflecting an attack, you obnoxious troll," Sakura snarled in response, her patience having been thoroughly exhausted. She began to catalogue the number of ways she would have to take revenge on Sasuke for subjecting her to this. Each one was more gruesome than the last.

Karin just gave her a poisonously sweet smile and turned back to her work. "Sure."

Sakura could do nothing more than stare at the photograph, revolted. Karin and Sasuke smirked back at her, cuddling in a photo booth. For the rest of the hour, as she tried to review the reports she had received regarding a mysterious new strain of the flu in the Earth Country, as hard as she tried, she couldn't concentrate. Besides, she was fairly sure that Karin was aware of her discomfort, despite how she feigned attention to her own reports – she was taking notes with an unusually cheerful disposition. For the kami's sake, those arm guards were reinforced with steel! They were an incredibly useful and practical gift, since she went on missions at least once every two weeks. Stupid Karin, of course she wouldn't understand. In short order, Inner Sakura started up with the war drums again, and Sakura initialed the last page of the report with such force that her pen almost ripped through the paper, directing a venomous glare at Karin out of the corner of her eye as she imagined that the paper was Karin's spleen. Oh, it was so on.

It took three weeks of careful research for Sakura to discover that Karin was allergic to sunflowers.

"…You wish for flowers to be delivered along with your birthday gift?"

Itachi stared at her as if she had just announced that she was switching her sexuality or something, obviously bemused at what she would want with something so short-lived and impractical (undoubtedly, he had already put in an order for some sort of deadly weapon or a rare manuscript on ancient, lethal medical ninjutsu), and Sakura shrugged defensively. "Yes! They're…pretty."

"And they must be…sunflowers," Itachi pronounced deliberately.

"They have to be! Ino will give them to you free, since she knows they're for me, we already talked it over. And I, um, kind of want you to have them delivered to me at work, not, um, at my apartment…"

Sakura trailed off, squirming guiltily underneath the gaze that Itachi leveled on her. He finally sighed deeply. "Sakura, this is yet another episode of your ridiculous feud."

"No! No, it's not! I just want them to brighten up my workspace!"

Itachi eyed her, unaffected by her refusal and animated hand gestures. "You are lying."

Realizing she had no other choice, Sakura tackled him onto her sofa, holding on to him pleadingly. "Please, 'Tachi-kun? Please please please?"

"I refuse to propagate this insanity," Itachi replied disapprovingly, his voice muffled by her hair.

Sakura looked up at him beseechingly, loading her gaze with pathos. Itachi might have been a champion at feigning a stoic heart of stone, but over the years, she had come to realize that he was in fact highly susceptible to puppy eyes, especially those delivered by her, Sasuke, Naruto – and, disturbingly enough, Kakashi. "But I love you!"

One, two, three seconds of silence. She literally felt Itachi melt as he sighed, holding her close. "Very well," he acknowledged darkly. "You owe me, Sakura."

She beamed, kissing his neck. "I know."

For the entire two weeks that followed her birthday, while the bright, beautiful, oversized sunflowers sat proudly on her desk, Sakura happily basked in their glow, and in Karin's sulky demeanor and perpetual sniffling and sneezing. Her sinuses were too clogged for her to say anything intelligible, and for the first time in way too long, Sakura enjoyed the silence, humming merrily to herself as she formulated poisons and studied various microbes and pathogens underneath her microscope.

"I'll get back at you for this, Pinky," Karin told her balefully, one evening as they left. "Just you wait."

Under regular circumstances, this would have been frightening, coupled with the downright malevolent look that the other kunoichi shot her, but considering that Karin's voice was horrendously nasal due to the allergic reaction…well, the threat was almost enough to make Sakura collapse in tears of laughter.

One fine day in July of the same year, Sakura walked into the lab. She was in such a good mood that the defiled door, with the stupid ANBU-issue masking tape emblazoned with her archrival's name, didn't even bother her. She was practically floating. She couldn't even remember the last time she had felt this content with life. Her heart was so full of joy that she could have burst with it.

Karin stood on the other side of the lab, already analyzing mutating specimens of the new flu strain from the Earth Country, and she spared a glance at Sakura. "So," she greeted, sounding grudgingly pleasant. "…Engaged, huh?"

Sakura inclined her head happily, reaching up and unconsciously brushing her fingers against the necklace that Itachi had placed around her neck the night before. "Just last night. Sasuke mentioned it?"

"Yeah, Itachi's been planning it forever," Karin replied, rolling her eyes. "Sasuke told him to get a move on it so that you can at least have the joy of not having any fine lines on your wedding day. Oh, okay, well, Sasuke told Itachi to hurry up, I added the thing about fine lines."

Sakura raised an eyebrow, startled by the fact that Karin hadn't somehow gotten in a cutting remark about how all of the time she spent in the sun during missions and training hadn't already resulted in numerous wrinkles and other facial imperfections. "I have a few years to go, I just turned twenty-two. And, what, you don't have anything snarky to say about all of this?"

Karin looked at her out of the corner of her eye. "No, not really. It's actually pretty romantic."

Sakura nearly knocked a petri dish full of flesh-eating bacteria to the ground in her shock.

"…You know, how you and Itachi, who are both pretty odd and have limited social skills, somehow managed to find each other and end up together. This could be turned into a children's book, to encourage all the disproportionate, social reject children and the psychopath, mass-murderer teenagers out there that they can find love too, just like everybody else!"

"Very funny, Karin. I knew this was all too good to be true."

It was two weeks before the wedding, and Itachi, Sakura, Sasuke, and Karin sat at Ichiraku's together. This was supposed to be a meeting to make sure absolutely everything was in place for the ceremony – as Tsunade had told them, the wedding was going to be the event of the year, as much for the personal significance of Itachi and Sakura's marriage as for everything that it stood for symbolically. For a very long time, Konoha had resigned itself to the permanent loss of the Uchiha clan. It had been a terrible, bloody end to the most respected bloodline in Konoha…but now, like a baby phoenix rising from the ashes, this was a new beginning that nobody had ever anticipated. The clan was being reborn with true honor and loyalty, as it never had in the past. Itachi and Sakura were about to become the leaders of the new dynasty, and Konoha as a whole was excited at the rebirth; even more so because it looked like Sasuke and Karin were soon to follow as well.

(But not too soon, everybody maintained, because Sakura would likely dismember Karin if she tried to steal her thunder by announcing an engagement to Sasuke three days after the wedding.)

In any case, this was supposed to be a meeting to make sure everything was in place for the ceremony. And yet, nobody had spoken yet, because everybody was all too aware that this was the first time, the first time ever, that all four of them had been together at the same time. The brothers had always carefully coordinated things (with a spreadsheet taped to the bathroom mirror, no less) so that Itachi had always spent the night at Sakura's on the nights that Sasuke brought Karin back to their place, and vice versa, just to avoid situations like this. Neither of them could bear to contemplate the horror that would ensue if both women ran into each other in the morning. Even my reunion with Itachi was less awkward than this, Sasuke thought desperately to himself, wiping his sweaty palms on his pants.

Naruto chose that moment to step in for his dinner, calling his customary cheerful greeting to everybody in the ramen stand. After his gaze lit on the somber table in the corner, though, his smile disappeared faster than a fox down a hole. "Wha – who died?"

"Nobody," Sasuke mumbled, rising and joining him under the guise of refilling his drink. He nodded toward Sakura and Karin, both with their arms crossed and their noses in the air. Itachi looked highly uncomfortable.

Naruto sighed, shaking his head, bemused. "I don't get it," he whispered. "If you and Itachi can be cool after everything that's happened, nobody else has an excuse."

"…Do you want to tell them that, Naruto? Here, why don't I pull up a chair for you and you can explain—"

Naruto laughed nervously, beads of sweat forming on his forehead as Sakura and Karin both turned to him curiously. "Ah, I'll pass! Actually, ramen doesn't sound so good right now – I'll go get some barbecued pork. See you later, Sasuke! Remind Itachi that we're training together tomorrow morning!"

He turned tail and fled, and Sasuke watched, amazed, before he turned back to his girlfriend and older-sister-to-be. They had done the impossible and put Naruto off his ramen. If only they would join forces, he thought gloomily. Singlehandedly, they could bring the clan back to glory.

It was eight months after Itachi and Sakura's wedding that Sasuke and Karin announced their engagement.

Sakura had prior warning. Last month, Sasuke had come over to the small house on the outskirts of Konoha that she and Itachi shared, and delivered the news quite unceremoniously over dinner. I'm going to propose to Karin next month on the fifteenth. Aniki, come ring shopping with me tomorrow. It had been a miracle that she hadn't choked on her fish. But still, even though she knew what to prepare herself for and had even worn black in mourning for the occasion (although Itachi accused her of being overdramatic, she still hadn't forgiven Karin for calling her wedding kimono ugly about one minute after the ceremony was over), that didn't make the sight of Karin sweeping into the lab on the morning of the sixteenth any less…odious.

As a matter of fact, Sakura had to stare. How Karin's hand wasn't being dragged down to the ground by the weight of the absolutely massive diamond-and-ruby ring…well, it was beyond her. She unstuck her throat and offered the appropriate congratulations, since her – oh, kami, her future sister-in-law; her nightmares were finally coming true – looked as though she was about to burst with glee. Sakura toyed with the highly entertaining mental image of a malevolent balloon Karin getting stuck with a needle for several moments. Pop goes the Karin. Oh, she shouldn't get her hopes up.

Karin flopped down in her chair, thrusting her hand out so that her engagement ring caught the light. Sakura was nearly blinded by the aggressive glitter of the precious stones. "Isn't it absolutely gorgeous?" she sighed, obviously smitten.

"Yes, yes, lovely," Sakura muttered sourly, hoping this would assuage the other kunoichi's ego so that she could get back to her work as soon as possible.

Karin brought her hand back to herself, directing a suspiciously caring look at her fellow medic-nin. "How impolite of me. I shouldn't flaunt it, of course. You must be consumed with jealousy enough as it is. I mean, just look at this stunning, magnificent, flawless piece of jewelry. It's timeless! It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! And all you got was that sad old thing," she added, with a pointed glance at Sakura's necklace. "How embarrassing."

Sakura took a deep breath, massaging her temples as she tried to keep control of her temper. Only the thought of how depressed Itachi would be if she killed their younger brother's fiancée mere months before their wedding prevented her from punching the other kunoichi straight through the window. "…Karin, you brainless nimrod, this is an Uchiha family heirloom – the only one that survived. It's been in the clan for countless generations, always passed from the heir of the clan to his future bride."

Karin snorted, utterly unaffected by her words. "Yeah, well, it looks about two hundred years old. I mean…polished metal? A few dull, fake rubies? How passé. And it's a hand-me-down. Doesn't Itachi even make enough to afford a real engagement gift? I would never accept it."

"You have all the maturity of a mentally delayed two-year-old."

"And you're a jealous cow. With poor taste as well. I still remember how hideous that kimono was."

The two kunoichi glared at each other for several long moments, before Sakura sniffed imperiously and turned back to her work. A spectacular idea immediately materialized in her mind, but she waited until Karin had done the same, eating her yogurt while she read reports, to speak. "You do realize that you're going to have to address me as your respected older sister after the wedding, correct?" she asked silkily. "The Uchiha are a very tradition-minded clan, and I'm older than both you and Sasuke by a few months. I believe that both of you might even be kneeling and bowing to me – I am the lady of the clan, of course – to receive my blessing during the wedding." She gave Karin (who was now staring at her in shock, her spoon dangling out of the side of her mouth) a withering look. "Traditionally, of course, the lady gives her blessing – but Itachi told me that there was an incident three decades ago where she refused, and her younger brother's intended bride was unceremoniously thrown out of the temple. They had to leave Konoha and get married at a roadside temple in the middle of nowhere." Sakura blinked angelically. "Terribly humiliating, of course."

Karin gagged on her yogurt, and Sakura went back to her work with a smile.

Once every two weeks, Itachi, Sakura, Sasuke, and Karin got together for dinner.

It sounded like every simple, straightforward gathering of family members. Except…it wasn't. Itachi and Sasuke had difficulty initially establishing the routine because both of their wives at first adamantly refused to eat the other's cooking. It was exhausting, being married to women who despised one another and would compete over the littlest thing. Although Naruto found it a great source of amusement, the only time that it had ever been all right was when Sakura and Karin had a massive argument over who was better in bed and whose husband had the higher rate of marital satisfaction. That had resulted in a happy – well, even happier than usual – two weeks for Itachi and Sasuke.

In any case, Itachi suggested they go out to eat once every two weeks, as this would eliminate Sakura and Karin's fights over which one of them had the better, cleaner, more beautifully decorated house – but Sasuke didn't like restaurants. Sasuke offered to cook, but Itachi went mysteriously deaf every time the topic was brought up, unwilling to tell his beloved younger brother that his many talents did not extend to the culinary arts, and that he mangled everything he touched. It was a headache, but after much convincing on both brothers' parts, they had made it work. Sakura missed Sasuke, and for all that Karin taunted Sakura about Itachi being inferior to Sasuke in every way, she had secretly come to see Itachi as kind of an older brother – she never had any siblings growing up, after all.

This wasn't to say that these gatherings were warm and peaceful and normal, however; though they weren't acrimonious, either. They were nothing like the family dinners that Itachi remembered from his childhood. For one, he was pleased to say that both he and Sasuke were better conversationalists than his father had been, and they never talked politics at the table – no hatching plots to take over Konoha this time, thank you very much, Naruto was welcome to it. And Sakura and Karin were, for lack of a better word…fun, even when they would exchange the usual sarcastic comments back and forth. They were talkative, bright, animated, and fiercely intelligent; both as far as one could imagine from the quiet, submissive females of the Uchiha clan of old. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation he would catch Sasuke's eye and know both of them were thinking the same thing, and they would smirk at one another.

"Dinner was delicious, Sakura," Sasuke complimented, during a lull in the conversation, after they had all fallen into a scarred sort of silence in the aftermath of their discussion regarding the Icha Icha spinoff that Kakashi had recently authored. Itachi nodded his assent, and although Karin rolled her eyes, she did it without any snorts of derision or insults, which meant she had enjoyed it as well.

She did, however, glance around the table expectantly. "So, where's dessert? We've been done for the past forty-five minutes. Not the best hostess, are you, Sakura?" Karin batted her eyelashes. "I'm sure you remember that the last dinner, at our house, I had dessert all prepared and ready to go the second we ate dinner—"

In defense of his wife, Itachi felt obligated to point out that it had been sweet caramelized tomato chunks, and it had hardened into a leather-like consistency five minutes after Karin had put it on their plates. Underneath the table, Sakura rubbed her bare foot against his leg approvingly, Karin scowled at him, at him, and Sasuke cleared his throat. "I thought they were very enjoyable," he muttered dutifully.

Sakura raised an eyebrow at Karin coolly. "I had all the ingredients for tiramisu set out and ready to go before you sent me a message saying that I shouldn't make any dessert with chocolate or coffee in it because it would lower Sasuke's sperm count."

Itachi choked on his drink, while Sasuke turned a brilliant shade of tomato-red. "Karin," he managed, his voice strangled.

Karin gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry, Sasucakes," she whispered.

Meanwhile, Sakura wondered if she would have to do a fluid extraction from her husband's lungs at some point before the night was over. Feeling rather happy with the baleful expression on her sister-in-law's face, she rose from the table. "…So, I decided that we could stick with a fruit parfait, but I didn't finish the steak in time. Here, come help me cut the fruit and prepare everything."

Karin shot a pleading glance at Sasuke, but he determinedly ignored her, obviously still miffed at the sperm count comment. Sighing, she got up and joined Sakura in the kitchen, and they quickly began slicing the strawberries, mangos, kiwi, and pineapple that Sakura had washed earlier, working with the speed and proficiency born out of over a decade of shinobi training. "Kami, Sakura," Karin muttered at last, viciously peeling a mango. "And you say that Ino is Konoha's biggest gossip! Last time I checked, she didn't spill inappropriate information out for everybody to hear over dinner—"

"Well, you said it," Sakura replied, straight-faced. "After all…the point you brought up in your message was the last thing on my mind. You see, I've never had to worry about Itachi's sperm count."

Karin slammed a kiwi down on the cutting board with terminal force. "Quality over quantity!"

…On the other side of the thin wall separating the kitchen from the dining room, upon hearing the exclamation, Itachi and Sasuke ceased their conversation, looking at the wall curiously.

Sakura gave her an incredulous look. "Karin, that doesn't even make sense! Besides, you aren't even qualified to use the 'quality' argument."

The brothers found that if they maintained utter silence, they could hear every word. Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the wall resentfully.

"Am too," Karin retorted. "Sasuke-kun is the stronger shinobi."

Sakura snorted unceremoniously. "Yeah, sure, maybe in a parallel universe where Kakashi is morally opposed to pornography, Naruto never wanted the responsibility of being Hokage, and Shikamaru is the most active and motivated person in the village."

"He's head of the Konoha Police Force! Itachi has, what, a desk job?"

"Itachi is Konoha's head tactician, and he's the most brilliant person in the entire village! We would probably all have died in another shinobi world war by now if it wasn't for him!"

"Yeah, whatever." Karin narrowed her eyes vindictively. "You're just trying to overcompensate for the fact that Sasuke-kun is still more attractive, and you're worried that your kids are going to be born weird-looking, with senior-citizen-like premature lines on their baby faces!"

Sasuke directed an apologetic look at Itachi, who shrugged philosophically, accepting that it was a valid concern.

Sakura's jaw dropped. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you that Sasuke is not more attractive! Karin, seriously, when was the last time you looked at his hair? You do know there's a reason Sai calls him Duck Butt, right?" She scowled. "But actually…you're obviously not the best judge when it comes to hairstyles. I bet the two of you get together in the bathroom, close your eyes, and then take turns chopping haphazardly at one another's hair. And for the last time, I think Itachi's facial lines make him look sexy and mature, so you can just go stuff it!"

"Sexy?" Karin crowed, before pointing a piece of chopped pineapple at Sakura. "Oh, please! At least I'm not nailing a reanimated corpse every night! That is the antithesis of sexy!"

"You dumbass, he hasn't been a corpse for years!" Sakura yelled back. "I should know! I de-corpsed him myself! And we certainly didn't do anything until everything had been restored to proper, living, working order! Not all of us are as depraved in the bedroom as you are, you freak!"

Karin gave her a deadly glare. "Funny you should mention the bedroom, Sakura. After all, my husband never had to watch Icha Icha Tactics with his bloodline limit activated to learn how to please me physically!"

Itachi sunk down several inches in his chair, feeling his face start to heat up. It had been years ago, but somehow, nobody ever forgot the incident. Even now, Sasuke, the traitorous child that he was, coughed to mask his laughter. Kakashi, damn him, had spilled the story to all of Konoha, even after he had taken pains to try and buy his silence by paying for every drink and meal the man ate for the next several months.

"Oh no, you did not just go there—"

"Yes I did! Let me assure you, Sakura, Sasuke-kun is a natural at kissing and everything else, and I never have to think about the fact that he learned his moves from the creepy series that perverted Kakashi-sensei adores so much—"

Sakura grabbed a butter knife and pointed it at Karin. "Well, it was just Icha Icha, at least it wasn't any detailed hands-on practical instruction from a freakish, half-human-half-snake pedophile – oh wait, that was your husband, wasn't it?"

Itachi looked like he was having a silent heart attack, and Sasuke shook his head frantically, trying to dispel his older brother's fears, even as he held a hand up for silence.

Karin gasped in indignation. "Don't malign Sasuke-kun like that, you horrid little midget! He was so brave…"

"No more than Itachi," Sakura retorted. "And there was nothing brave about deserting Konoha!"

"Sasuke-kun did what he had to get stronger! Remaining in your village was too painful, after Itachi killed their parents—"

"Don't even!" Sakura howled. "He did it for a cause! Itachi is the kindest and most decent human being that I know!"

"No way! He spent years and years pretending to be some kind of psychopath! Sasuke-kun has always been the noble avenging type—"

"Karin, you moron, Itachi and I met when he did something only one other human being in the course of history has ever done, and broke free of a freaking reanimation ninjutsu, so he could help Konoha win the war and kill Madara! He saved all of us…from Sasuke and Madara!"

Sasuke fidgeted in his chair, abashed. Taking pity, Itachi patted him on the hand gently.

"Sasuke-kun saved me from a bear once," Karin said inconsequentially, but Sakura continued, now officially fed up, and she advanced on Karin, holding a parfait glass menacingly.

"From the moment we met, Itachi has never once raised his voice to me or treated me with anything less than the utmost gentleness, care, and consideration. Sasuke tried to kill you once, to sacrifice you to get to Danzou, after you had given him so much loyalty and devotion! He told you that you were useless and disposable to him and then he stabbed you in the stomach with a katana! And then he tried to do the same to me!"

For several long moments, there was nothing but silence in the kitchen.

…And the words echoed in the dining room. Sasuke froze immediately as he noticed all of Itachi's muscles tensing up. Oh, shit, he thought, panic flooding through his veins. Shit, shit, shit—

"What was that, Sasuke?" Itachi asked, so softly that it was barely audible. Naruto had made jokes about how funny it was that when Sakura got mad, her voice reached maximum levels of amplitude and a pitch so high only bats could hear her…whereas Itachi just got dangerously, dangerously quiet. All the better for his victims to get the full experience of their lives flashing before their eyes. Sasuke had never fully appreciated how terrifying his demure, gentle older brother could be when he put his mind to it. The thing was, considering his personality, one tended to forget that when Itachi was upset, the mere sight of him was enough to make anybody in his path want to kill themselves immediately, just to get it over with. Right now, with that gaze fixed on him, Sasuke found that he could do little more than utter a strange sort of croaking sound, the kind that pathetic creatures made in their last moments on earth before being devoured by ravenous predatory beasts.

When Itachi moved, Sasuke flinched – even though it was only to pick up one of his chopsticks and point it at him, and Sasuke wilted under the weight of the condemnation and accusation in Itachi's glare. "You willingly sacrificed Karin's life, although she had always been nothing but devoted and loyal to you. And…you tried to kill Sakura."

Sasuke was now in such a state of quivering fear that he seriously contemplated hiding beneath the dining room table just to escape the look on Itachi's face. Sobbing and begging for mercy also crossed his mind, but he knew that it would be no use. Itachi shook his head now, his anger melting into sorrow. "You have disappointed me, little brother."

The cold statement felt like a slap to the face, and Sasuke's entire face wobbled. Itachi remained unmoved. He stood, reaching a hand out to him. "Come."

Sasuke regarded the hand with suspicion. If Itachi was going to take him out to the front yard and engage him in some sort of mortal death match or something – well, he didn't stand a chance, and he couldn't leave Karin. "Why?"

Itachi sighed deeply. "In light of these disturbing recent revelations about your character, it is necessary for you and I to have a serious discussion on how to treat others. Especially women."

"But," Sasuke protested desperately. "It was years ago, and I know that I was wrong, and I – I love Karin, and Sakura too, and…"


Realizing that there was no point in arguing, Sasuke stood up and followed Itachi, painstakingly shuffling along in his older brother's footsteps.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, in the instant after her diatribe, Karin took a step back, as if slapped. Although Sakura realized that she might have gone too far when Karin's mouth opened and no smartass retort came out…the shock really hit her when she saw tears well up in the other kunoichi's eyes for the very first time, in all the years they had known one another.

"Oh, no," Sakura stammered, at a loss for the first time in recent memory. She set the parfait glass down and took a step forward, reaching toward her. "Karin, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have, I—"

She rubbed Karin's back as soothingly as she could while her sister-in-law bawled. It went on for what felt like an agonizingly long time, although according to the clock on the wall, it was just a few minutes. Finally, Karin's tears subsided. "Oh, whatever, Pinky," she sniffled. "It was a long time ago. Things are different now. We all know the truth about Itachi, Sasuke-kun is a better person than he was, I'm more sensible myself, since I didn't fully forgive him for a long time, not until I was absolutely sure that things had changed, and you…"

She trailed off, and Sakura nudged her playfully. "What about me?"

Karin glanced at her, a shadow of the usual smirk on her face. "You. Well…you've just gotten fat."

Sakura sighed deeply, relieved by the fact – she never thought she would ever have occasion to say this – that Karin was back to being her usual snarky, insufferable self. "…Karin. You do realize that I am eight months pregnant?"

"Excuses, excuses."

"Watch it, Four-Eyes. This time next year, it's going to be you."

Their gazes met, and something very unusual happened. They laughed, genuinely, not at one another but with one another. The parfaits came together quickly, considering that both of them had chopped the fruit with furious speed while screaming insults at one another. Holding two parfait glasses in each hand, both kunoichi entered the dining room again—

And looked around the empty room, confused. Itachi and Sasuke's places were empty.

"Huh," Karin commented, setting the glasses down and pushing her own glasses up on her nose. She stood on the tips of her toes, craning her neck to peer out of the window in Itachi and Sakura's sitting room. "The two of them are sitting out there and conversing quite seriously. I wonder why – it's cold."

"Maybe they got bored waiting or something," Sakura suggested, before twining her fingers around the long stem of the glass. She eyed Itachi and Sasuke curiously. Upon further inspection, Sasuke looked miserable. She would have to ask Itachi what was up with that later. "Oh, well. More for us."

"You know, sometimes – just sometimes – I like the way you think."

They toasted one another and dug in.

When Itachi and Sasuke finally returned inside, Sasuke looking suitably chastened, they had to share a parfait. Since all four of them had work tomorrow, they bid farewell shortly afterwards, and both Itachi and Sasuke stared, unabashed, as Sakura and Karin exchanged a brief hug.

Two weeks later, when Karin arrived at the lab, instead of charging inside as she usually did, for some reason, she found herself glancing up at the door first. There seemed to be something different about it.

And then she stopped dead, staring at the name plates – the name plates, plural – on the door. There was no trace of yellowing masking tape on the solid oak. The plates were brand-new, golden and glimmering, mounted side by side. Sakura Uchiha. Karin Uchiha.

Karin took it in for a long time, shocked. Finally, she stepped inside and stared at Sakura, who was taking her white coat off the hook. She was scheduled to perform three organ reconstruction surgeries today. "You—"

"It was time for a change," Sakura replied, shrugging the coat on. "Tsunade-shishou won big at the slot machines a week ago. She gave me the money and told me to go for it."

Karin swallowed over her suddenly dry throat, unable to keep herself from feeling emotional. It was strange, but she had never felt as accepted as a loyal kunoichi of Konoha – as somebody who belonged – not even at her and Sasuke's wedding – as she did now. "I…I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of love you, you hag. But just right now, at this instant, and I'm blaming it on the chemical fumes. Although I did notice that you had to put yourself first, even though K precedes S alphabetically."

Sakura smiled back, amused. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of love you too, you cow. But just right now, at this instant, and I'm blaming it on the chemical fumes. And of course I had to, considering my infinitely greater talent and intellect."

"I'll see you at dinner tonight, Sakura."

"See you, Karin." The pink-haired kunoichi paused on her way out. "And oh, by the way – remember to add salt to the food this time. That generally makes it taste better."

"Very funny. I'll do that…and I'll make some sweet caramelized tomatoes just for you."

Sakura had a smile on her face all the way to the operation theater.

the end

While writing That Awkward Conversation, I kind of fell in love with the family dynamic between Itachi and Sasuke. Sakura was already beginning to be a part of it in that fic, and I just wanted to see it expand. It was sweet to envision Itachi and Sasuke being married, and I could definitely see how Sakura and Karin could be the funniest sisters-in-law ever. Can't you just imagine them, about a year from now, competing incessantly over which couple has the cuter or more talented children? :P

Just a note – the next chapter of Bluebird will be up within the next few days. As always, any and all feedback would be very much appreciated. :)