Just a warning…. the last chapter of the story awaits you :( Crediting Cheza the Flower Maiden here for the great ideas provided, thanks very much! :)
Anko knocked on the door. She waited a few seconds, bouncing on the balls of her feet impatiently, then started rapping on the door loudly and irritatingly.
Konoha's characteristic breeze had died down and now summer was almost tangible in the stiff, heavy air. The sky was bright and orange as the sun started to set, casting a peaceful golden glow upon the village.
Decorations from the latest festival still littered the Uchiha grounds, deflated paper lamps and streamers tangled in the bushes, all reminders of the intense, jubilant celebrations that had been taking place as Uzumaki Naruto was finally named Tsunade's successor.
The buzz of insects thrummed, every flower housing some kind of chirping creature that added to the song of the garden.
Anko heard a burst of children's laughter and grinned to herself as thudding footsteps grew louder.
The door swung open.
Two children stared up at her.
The eldest, Ino, immediately dropped into a tiny bow, nudging the other who complied slowly, giggling.
"Hello Anko-san." Ino said importantly, puffing her small chest out, clearly proud to be the adult of the two of them. She had the same tear troughs as her father, dark hair and big black eyes. She had recently activated her Sharingan, which meant she never stopped talking about it. She was quite tall for a four year old and had the personality of an old woman already. The whole village was buzzing about her mere existence. Sakura had been assured that Uchihas only developed Sharingan while under great emotional distress, so to have her little girl's eyes suddenly turn red whilst throwing a tantrum had been a shock.
Sasuke, the second youngest, gazed at his big sister with a mixture of adoration and awe. He had his father's colouring, dark hair and matching eyes, but his nature was all Sakura. At three years old, he knew more words than Anko did but was too shy to ever say them. Sakura proudly said he was born to be a scholar.
"Hey there brats." Anko beamed down at them. Ino blushed darkly, hiding behind Sasuke.
More footsteps sounded behind them.
Sakura came into view, her expression inquisitive as she saw the scene at the front door. She put a hand on her hip and grinned at Anko, raising her eyebrows.
"My, my…" She said ruefully, shaking her head, "Is that alcohol I see?"
Anko looked innocently at the bottle in her hand, "Huh. So it is."
Sakura rolled her eyes, "You know I can't drink," she pointed at her bulging stomach, "Tsunade-sama says it hurts the baby's development."
"As if that woman doesn't fall asleep with a bottle of sake in her arms!" Anko looked put out, "And you know your boring husband is probably too busy pruning the bushes out back to join me in sharing this!"
Sakura looked cagey, making Anko suspect she had hit the nail rather squarely on the head.
"What do you think, kids? Would you like to see Auntie Anko get drunk and silly?" She waved the bottle at the kids, a mischievous grin on her face.
"I hardly think that appropriate." Ino tried to pout, but the word 'silly' had obviously intrigued her.
"I want to see!" Sasuke squealed suddenly, peeking out from behind his sister, "Show me!"
"Anko, please do not wave alcohol in my children's faces." Itachi said dryly, coming out of the living room, Manami cradled in his arms.
Sakura supressed a laugh and affectionately rested her head on Itachi's shoulder. He planted a kiss on top of her head.
Manami, the newest child, was around a year and some months old. She had a sweet, cherubic face with mischievous green eyes and pink curls. She reached out with her chubby hand and patted her mother's face, quite by accident. Sakura returned the favour, poking her cheek gently. Manami giggled and clapped her hands together.
"Is Kakashi coming over?" Sakura asked, her hand unconsciously rubbing her stomach.
Anko gave a nonchalant shrug, as if she didn't care either way.
"How would I know?" She made a face.
Sakura and Itachi exchanged amused glances.
"Hmm," Sakura pretended to think, "Maybe because the two of you are seeing each other?"
Anko paled instantly, looking caught out, "No!"
"Very well," Itachi smirked, absently bouncing Manami up and down, "As a neutral party, have you any idea if Kakashi is attending or not?"
Anko paused, "Um… yeah, he's coming." She gave in, shrugging, "I suppose it was time you guys found out anyway…"
"Found out?" Sakura repeated, amused, "Anko, we've known ever since it started!"
"What, since the night with the whisky –" Anko started to say, wide-eyed.
"Not in front of the impressionable children," Sakura said quickly, raising her eyebrows meaningfully, "But yes, ever since the night you two got very silly at Naruto and Hinata's wedding."
Anko grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head, "It's not serious."
"We assumed that." Sakura rolled her eyes.
"Hey!" Anko knocked her fist against Sakura's head lightly, ignoring Ino's gasp and Sasuke's giggle, "Are you saying I am incapable of commitment?"
Sakura pretended to think, rubbing her head, "Hmm… Yes."
"Humph," Anko scowled, pouting, "Well, we can't all stay at home and churn out babies."
Sakura shot her a dangerous look, "You would be a terrifying mother."
"Aw, you think so? Hey kids, who wants to hear about the time I escaped from a bunch of bandits by disguising myself as a prostitute and seducing my way into a –"
"Anko." Itachi said, his mild expression belied by his severe tone, "No wild stories."
"I can't promise anything once we break this out," Anko declared, holding the bottle aloft, "But OK, buzz-kill, no fun in this house, I get it, I get it."
Itachi sighed, rolling his eyes. He left the room still holding Manami, Sasuke following him happily asking, "Daddy, what's a prostitute?"
Ino regarded Anko with suspicion, then sniffed disdainfully.
"Anko, I'd really appreciate it if you didn't poison the children's minds too much." Sakura said mock-sternly, spoiling the effect by grinning.
"Are you kidding?" Anko seized Ino and tossed her in the air with one hand, catching her with unnatural ease, "I plan to steal this one and raise her as my own."
Ino squealed with laughter, for once acting like the kid she really was, not the solemn old woman she tried to be.
"Right, Ino-chan, would you mind taking Auntie Anko's present into the kitchen for me?" Sakura bent down and smiled at her daughter.
She wriggled out of Anko's arms and held a chubby hand out expectantly. Anko made a tuh sound of disapproval, but handed it over without complaint.
She held it up to her chest carefully and waddled off, looking important.
Sakura winked at Anko, "So, you and Kakashi, huh?"
Anko glared at her, "I never judged you when you started dating Mr Grumpy and everyone else was freaking out over it!"
"Yeah, but that was different," Sakura said mischievously, "An S-rank missing nin is nothing compared to legendary lech that is Hatake Kakashi."
"I think I preferred you when you were angsty and brooding." Anko scowled.
"Well, that's motherhood for you." Sakura said lightly, holding out her arms to indicate her swollen stomach, "Suddenly your world shrinks to almost nothing but babies and finances, your job and food. And this little one makes me crave chocolate, so how could I brood when I'm on a diet of sweets?"
Sakura and Itachi had been reduced to this disgusting display of domesticity, Anko thought sourly. Where was her friend who used to come watch her get shit-faced as a gesture of solidarity whenever she got dumped? Nowadays she just made a face and was either too busy at the hospital or one of the kids needed to be dropped off somewhere and Itachi was busy and – argh, Anko was lonely, dammit! Kakashi was hardly around and when he was it was usually a matter of, "Oh God, how can someone lose that much blood and still be alive?"
So yeah, maybe she and Kakashi had gotten a little domestic together as well, cleaning each other's wounds, sharpening their weapons together, even sparring occasionally. So what? It didn't make her a tamed wildcat like Sakura, a woman content with her boring, peaceful life as a nurse despite her ability to shatter mountains. Or worse, a whipped dog like Itachi who, frankly, would do anything for his family to an embarrassing degree.
"But you are gonna go back to being a shinobi one day, right?" Anko asked, worried, "I mean, after the brats are all grown up."
"No," Sakura said with a smile, "I don't think so. And we've had this conversation before."
"Yeah, but you keep saying no." Anko said sharply, "I'm starting to think you mean it."
Sakura sighed, still smiling. She smoothed her hands over her stomach, "Really? Good. I don't know if you've somehow forgotten already, but I didn't have the best time as a shinobi. I didn't like being a shinobi. I don't ever want to go back to that. I'm unbelievably happy as a nurse, you have no idea how happy. I don't want to be a shinobi again because that would mean killing people again. I don't want to go off on a mission one day and never come home again. I don't want my kids to go without me, or my husband to have to cope on his own."
"He could come back too. He's such a valuable asset –"
"No," Sakura said coldly, "He's my husband. He's not a weapon for Konoha to pick up and wield when they like. He's been fighting since he was an infant, and he never truly wanted to. He's finally living as he always dreamed, in peace. If anyone has a problem with that then they can take it up with me. Neither of us are going to return, I've already refused Naruto's offer."
Anko remembered the day Sakura had informed her she was pregnant with Ino. Well, sort of.
"Anko?" Sakura passed her another bottle of sake with a nervous, twitching smile, "You like Itachi now, right?"
Anko paused in her drinking to eye Itachi menacingly where he was sitting next to Sakura at the bar, "…'S'alright," She admitted, slurring, "Fuckin' stick in the mud, though…"
"Great! So if I said I'm pregnant with his child, you would be happy for me, right?" Sakura said brightly.
Anko's hand halted in mid-air, about to tip the bottle up to pour more sake down her throat. She stayed like that for ten seconds, frozen, before she apparently roared and knocked the bar down in her attempt to murder Itachi.
Anko looked as though she was going to argue for a moment, then sighed, "I just miss you, that's all. I'll be in the kitchen getting a drink, OK?"
Sakura pulled her into a hug, "Thanks for always being there for me when no one else was, Anko."
Anko hugged her back, harder, "No problem, kiddo. I ain't going anywhere."
Then she coughed and pulled away, looking horribly awkward, "Yeah… I'll be in the kitchen."
Sakura laughed, watching her go with fond look.
A lazy rap at the door made her grin knowingly and she ran to answer it.
Kakashi stood at the door, leaning against the porch wall, looking immensely casual.
"Yo." He greeted her, a bottle of wine under his arm.
"Why did you bring two bottles?" Sakura asked him, relieving him of his burden with a mournful look. Not being able to drink or walk around too much or eat certain foods was driving her crazy.
"I didn't." Kakashi raised his eyebrow.
"Don't you and Anko count as a collective unit now?" Sakura gave him a mock-confused look, inwardly smirking, "She's already here, she brought white wine."
Kakashi went very still.
"…I see." He said finally, "You know, then?"
"You were very, very obvious about it. Now do I get a hug or not?"
He eyed her stomach warily and sort of eased into an awkward, one-armed embrace, clearly not wanting to squash the baby.
Sakura could still remember the day she'd told him about being pregnant for the first time.
"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura fidgeted nervously, biting her lip. He just looked back at her blankly until she made flapping motions towards her stomach and said, "I'm sort of pregnant…"
"Sort of." He had replied in tones of absolute horror, "Pregnant."
Then his gaze had drifted from her stomach, to the red-faced, humiliated Itachi and back until he shook his head rapidly, "Oh! No, I don't want to think about it! Urgh! Mental images!"
Ino's grave was beautiful. Her mother had carried so many flowers at the funeral procession that her face was almost completely covered by blossom, white carnations dripping over the sides of the bouquet, a clinging green plant winding around the stems, lilies dominating the bunch. Now, Ino's gravestone was marble, polished daily, standing out from the duller, forgotten graves surrounding it. Her parents brought down fresh flowers just at the right time, their expertise telling them just when the last batch had begun to droop. It was a good thing they did as to Sakura, there was nothing sadder than the sight of neglected, wilting flowers littering a graveside.
"Hi, Ino," She greeted the stone cheerfully. She heard Ino's voice say in the back of her mind, quite clearly, why are you talking to a grave, you freak? You look weird, people will call you the crazy girl with the forehead for the rest of your life. Of course, it was just her imagination, but she welcomed it all the same.
"I missed you again," Sakura admitted, "You and Sasuke. Hope you're giving him hell, wherever the two of you are. So yeah," She gave an embarrassed laugh, "I'm pregnant again. I know. Ha, sorry I've not been down to see you for a while, life's been getting pretty hectic. I'm just a little bit worried about Itachi. He insisted he wanted to be a househusband, stay at home and look after the baby, but recently... he's been getting fidgety. It can't be easy for him, to go from being an S-ranked ninja to not fighting at all. I've had an easier time of it, I've still got friends to train with to keep my skills sharp and I love my job at the hospital, but he's not been near a kunai since we retired."
She bent down and placed her own bouquet down, unwrapping it from the plastic and beginning to cut the stems neatly so the flowers were all the same size. Even if she hadn't had Ino's parents to show her how to do it, she was sure she would still be an expert at arranging flowers at a grave because she'd brought so many bunches down over the years. She even had her own vase to use.
Life had been so, so hard at first. Itachi wasn't evil, she knew that, he was getting used to the idea and a handful of people had just been told the truth, but to everyone else, he was murdering scum, a traitor to his own kind, likely to turn around and massacre the whole village if left unchecked.
Sakura had just given birth to Ino (no other name seemed more appropriate than that of her late best friend) when a woman came up to her on the street, clutched her arm and stared at her fearfully.
"You need to escape," She had said, looking terrified, "Take the little one and run."
Sakura had been appalled and bewildered, asking the old woman what was wrong over and over, but the woman had just shaken her head and repeated her warning until eventually she broke, still looking afraid.
"You poor thing… you've been abused by that monster all your life, and now he's got a child on you, and forced you to marry him as well… You know what he thinks of family, Sakura-san. Get out before he turns on you as he did his own clan. One day that little one will develop her Sharingan, and he'll see her as a threat, just like his poor, grieving brother."
Sakura had stared at the woman, speechless with outrage, and ripped her arm away, running home holding Ino tightly the whole way.
It had taken a full year after that and an official, public pardon from Tsunade, until the people Konoha finally began to realise Itachi's true nature and Sakura stopped receiving sympathetic or horrified looks on the street.
Before that, Itachi had simply stayed at home, claiming to be content in just her company and taking care of Ino while her mother worked. But after leaving the house a few times with Sakura, going out for a meal or taking a walk, he eventually settled into living a normal life with her, able to exchange pleasantries with the neighbours, and smile at strangers without them wetting themselves in fright.
Itachi and Sakura received presents on their birthday every year from an unknown, foreign messenger, often with a card that complimented one of the children's latest accomplishments. When Itachi had shaken his head and muttered, "Kisame," Sakura had been prepared to go out on a mission to bring him down, expecting him to want revenge, but Itachi had calmed her down, telling her that Kisame was not a friend or an enemy. He was something in between.
Since then, Sakura accepted the cards and presents with a wry, regretful smile, and Itachi carefully kept everything he sent to them in a box under their bed.
They did not live in the Uchiha Compound. Sakura understood perfectly why Itachi could never hope to build a new life there. It was filled with the ghosts of his tragic past. Some houses still bore the stains of his gruesome task.
Naruto had been talking about knocking the whole Compound down and building a shrine to the Uchiha's honour, but Itachi had requested that if this was to come to pass, that it not happen until his death. He couldn't bear for everything of his past to be completely wiped out.
Sakura had been prepared to rent a small flat with her savings from her chuunin career. She had not expected Tsunade to release the entirety of the Uchiha clan's wealth to Itachi, as he was the last remaining member, or for him to buy them a house right next to the Nara Forest.
"Um, hi." Iruka said, popping up from nowhere, standing a respectful distance away, a bouquet of flowers in his hand.
"Iruka, how are you?" Sakura asked somewhat awkwardly. She had never been as close to Iruka as Naruto, and had considered him somewhat inferior to Itachi in terms of teaching.
"I'm very well, thank you." He smiled gently at her. He'd once confessed to Naruto that he felt he had failed Sakura, not noticing she appeared to have an outside source of knowledge she ought not to, and had agonized over his mistake when the 'truth' was revealed. Sakura knew this – Naruto was terrible at keeping secrets, except for the one contained in his stomach – and wished she could take away his guilt, apparently still evident even after the real truth had come out.
"I'm guessing you didn't die of pride after all?" Sakura teased him.
He looked surprised, then flushed darkly, "Um, well…"
When Naruto had been announced as the next Hokage, Iruka had openly sobbed with happiness and gotten drunk with Kakashi, then burst into the Hokage tower and declared to all present that Naruto would be the best Hokage that ever lived, much to Naruto's embarrassment and joy.
"I wasn't going to say this, not here anyway, I was going to visit you in your house… but I have a proposition for you." Iruka said abruptly, shifting about, his flowers shaking in the wind.
"I'm a married woman!" Sakura gasped, feigning outrage.
Iruka's blush turned purple and he nearly fell over in his shock, "No – n-no way, that isn't at all what I was – um… You're joking, aren't you? Right. Of course you are." His fingers rubbed across the bridge of his nose, his blush receding, "I was going to suggest that Itachi… begin training to become a teacher in the Academy."
Sakura, who had been about to savagely defend her husband's right to remain retired, was left feeling confused, "What?"
Iruka seemed to gain confidence, "I know he taught you very well. Naruto was hoping he'd go back to being a jounin, join the Anbu maybe, but I thought, if he's got some spare time, perhaps he'd be better suited to teaching genin… We do need new teachers for all kinds of new subjects that Naruto is implementing, and I think he would do well in taijutsu, or well, genjutsu, or specialised classes for students with kekkei genkai, or perhaps –"
Sakura tuned out Iruka's excited babbling, clutching the flowers she'd been trimming, thinking this is it!
And Ino said distinctly and in tones of exasperation in the back of Sakura's mind: duh.
After searching the house from top to bottom and finding both Itachi and Manami missing, Sakura had extended her search to the park, the training grounds, the Hokage's office and finally…
"I thought I might find you here." Sakura said triumphantly, trying not to sound too worn out after her long trek around Konoha.
Itachi stood holding Manami, facing the memorial stone. He turned to smile at his wife, "Did you really?"
It was a cloudy, grey day with a hint of the coming rain on the wind, the atmosphere around them damp and cold.
Sakura had enlisted the children's help in finding their daddy, and now Sasuke was jumping up and down on the spot excitedly and Ino was beaming at him (eternally a daddy's girl).
"Iruka has a proposition for you." She informed him.
Itachi's interest perked up, "Oh really?"
"How would you like to be a teacher at the Academy?" Sakura asked.
Itachi's smile fell. He bounced Manami up and down in his arms softly, making her giggle delightedly.
He took his time replying.
"The last time I taught someone, it didn't turn out very well."
"I'll pretend that wasn't a thinly-veiled slight against my education," Sakura sniffed, "I've just been to see Naruto in his office. He's been working on some reforms, and he wants to create some new subjects for the Academy students to learn. One of them is going to be called 'Morals & Philosophy,' and he wondered if you would be interested in making sure the future generation of Konoha's shinobi are the best yet."
Itachi paused, clearly thinking.
"I wouldn't be teaching them how to kill?"
Ino looked bemused by the whole conversation, but little Sasuke was just trying to get his dad's attention, beaming at him.
"Nope. How to think."
Itachi ruffled Manami's hair, absently murmuring something to her. Sakura gripped Sasuke's hand, hoping and praying that Itachi would see this was best for him…
"What about the kids?"
"Anko's free to babysit anytime. I'm joking, don't look at me like that! My mother would love to look after them if we're both working the same days." Sakura replied, pushing Sasuke's hand away from his nose.
Itachi gazed at her, looking conflicted, "Do you think I could teach children about morality?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes," Sakura said firmly, "You are probably the most moral person I've ever met," then she thought about it and added, "Except for Lee."
But Itachi was looking at the ground, his lips tightening into a hard line. He wouldn't meet her eyes when he said, "I don't have the right to teach anyone."
Sakura made a noise of disgust and let go of Ino's hand to lightly poke his forehead. He looked up, startled. Manami let out a gurgle of surprise.
"Remember?" She asked, smiling.
Itachi stared at her, wide-eyed, "The first time we met?"
She nodded, "Everyone teased me about my forehead. You just poked it and made me feel better about myself with just a few words. Who knows, I might have fallen in love with you all those years ago, when I was a silly six year old with an intelligent, kind, secret sensei in the forest."
"Don't tell anyone," Sakura said in a low voice, "but you were the best sensei I ever had."
Itachi buried his face in his arm, looking away, Manami on his hip.
Sakura moved closer, touching his arm, "You did more for me than anyone else. You taught me to keep me safe, you fought for me and you saved me. And I saved you back. I could never think of you of anything but the best sensei, Itachi. Please, at least consider this. I really think you would be great."
Itachi reached out to touch the memorial stone, his hand hovering over Sasuke's engraved name, "Morality," He whispered bitterly, "I'm hardly an ideal preacher of ethics."
"Look at me," Sakura demanded. He turned around, surprised. She gave him a sweet smile, "I'm not a fool, am I? And I know you. I know how you think, why you did what you did. I'm telling you, you would be the best teacher those kids could ever hope for, and I know from experience."
Itachi sighed, closing his eyes. Then he looked up at her with a smile of his own and said, "Well, I made a point of marrying the smartest woman in the village for a reason, didn't I?"
"Damn straight." Sakura winked at him.
Itachi's shoulders relaxed, the tension from his body disappearing in an instant.
He finally noticed his son trying and failing to gain his attention, and swooped upon him, grabbing him with his free arm, juggling the two youngest kids, much to their delight.
Ino's bottom lip quivered when she realised she was being left out, but Sakura quickly scooped her up and blew a raspberry on her little stomach, making her shriek.
Itachi glanced at the memorial stone, then at his children. He smiled, his gaze softening, and he made to walk down the path to home.
Sakura allowed Ino to climb onto her shoulders in order to read the names on the memorial starting at the top, her mother holding on tight to her small legs.
She found Sasuke's name on the list and touched it carefully, smiling sadly.
"Uchiha Sas… um, Sas-uke." Ino sounded out the name, stumbling over the pronunciation.
"Sasuke," Sakura corrected gently, "Do you remember who that is?"
"Yeah!" Ino said proudly, "Daddy's little brother!"
"That's right!" Sakura grinned upwards at her daughter, "My little genius. That's Uncle Sasuke. But he wasn't just Daddy's little brother, Ino-chan, he was one of my best friends."
"Like the Kage." Ino chimed in knowledgably.
"Hokage, yes, just like Naruto. When you're older, sweetheart, I'll tell you all about Uncle Sasuke, OK?"
"Sure!" Ino agreed, just as she did when asked any question at all.
Sakura looked down the path, where Itachi held her other children and a small, private smile just for her, and felt her heart swell with happiness.
She felt truly content for the first time since she was twelve.
I hope you don't mind all of this, Sasuke, she thought, me being with Itachi, everything. I hope you understand, wherever you are.
Ino looked intently at the memorial stone, "Look Mummy!" She gasped, "Daddy's reflection!"
Sakura looked at the marble quickly, but saw nothing but neat rows of names of lost heroes.
"Gone." Ino frowned.
"Never mind, Ino-chan… tell you what, how about we go over my medical textbooks tonight seeing as I have the night off for a change?" Sakura suggested, giving Itachi a little wave to keep him patiently waiting.
"Yeah!" Ino cheered.
See you later, Sasuke.
Sakura sped up to join her family, Ino giggling on her shoulders.
The wind blew a little harder. The sunlight streaked through the leaves in a dappled pattern, rippling over the memorial stone's shiny surface, playing over the carved names.
PHEWWWWWWWWWWW, finally done.
Why did this take so freaking long? I was stuck on that first scene with Anko for about a month, complete writer's block.
If there's anything I forgot to add, please let me know! :)
I hope you all liked the epilogue! :D
Itachi's quest for atonement has finally ended, not because he achieved his goal, but because he forgave himself, finally.
OK, so my little idea. Not a sequel, or a prequel.
There's a pivotal moment in this story, a decision that changes Sakura and Itachi's lives forever. Itachi asks Sakura to leave Konoha with him, and she refuses.
I wondered, how different would the story be if she had said yes?
So I'm thinking about doing a few chapters of an AU of this story in which Sakura does indeed leave with Itachi, and everything changes… for one, you get to see Konoha without Sakura, and some big things do change.. a lot. Some changes are negative, some not. I don't know how long it would be, but I do know I can't write it alone.
So I was hoping you guys would tell me some of your ideas.
Say, Sakura and Itachi are on the road together. What would you like to happen, little moments between them, drama, romance, action, anything :)
Plus, I'll need a title for the story…
Quick poll for assistance: What should the title of the AU story be?
No suggestions, but it'd be cool if it started with A Curious Kind of… or even just A Curious… :)