"Her hair shines as bright as twenty-seven suuuuuuns! She is the only one! Although she doesn't have a clan, she's my SAKURA-SAAAAANNNN!"

The shower of rose petals Lee threw in the air to celebrate the end of another tuneless ballad irritated Karin's nose and she struggled not to sneeze. She wouldn't give the green-clad idiot the satisfac—


"Karin-san! Sneezing twice means someone is criticizing you!"

I wonder who could be doing that? Karin thought caustically as she rubbed a finger under her runny nose.

Lee thrust red roses in her face and wiggled them furiously. "Sneeze again and you'll be admired!"

She scoffed at his ridiculous intensity and rabid belief in old wives' tales, but found herself sniffing hard, trying to instigate even a small tickle in her nose…but nothing would come.

"That just figures," she sighed. Every step she took alongside her teammate made her dream of the day she would get back to Konoha—she'd wring Naruto's scheming, little neck.

She should've known something was up when Tsunade smirked strangely after Karin asked to be assigned to the long-term, two-man mission that was leaving the next day. Hoping it would bump her to the top of the list, she told the Hokage that Naruto personally referred her for the job. She'd squealed, thinking of spending six whole months alone with her Sasuke-kun—Naruto was sad that he couldn't go and there was no way Karin was going to let him recommend Sakura for the post.

When she showed up at the Main Gate the next morning, her hair styled perfectly and a brand new bento—fashioned to look like herself in an uchiwa-print wedding dress—packed safely in her bag, she was stunned to see the bowl-headed weirdo waiting there.

"Where's Sas—"

"Karin-san! I have never had the honor of teaming with you before! We must spend the next six months scrutinizing each other's skills and honing our teamwork to a fine point! Let's begin our journey with a race to the next teahouse! On our hands!"

Since then, Lee had challenged her to curry eating, mountain climbing, goat catching, snowball throwing, and various distance races covering a vast assortment of terrain. Through it all, she'd also put up with his poetry, songs, artwork, and interpretive dances all dedicated to and about one subject—Haruno Sakura.

Grinding her teeth as Lee began reciting his latest ode to Sakura's charming forehead, Karin vowed that when she got back to Konoha, she would mutilate Naruto for tricking her then destroy Sakura for daring to touch her Sasuke-kun.


"YOSH! Karin-san, that's the largest pile of panda poop I've ever seen! You are amazing for discovering it!"

Small animals in a ten-mile radius cowered in fear from the screeching wail.

Sasuke shuffled the thick hanafuda cards expertly—the thumb-worn deck slipping easily through his fingers. Glancing at Itachi's hands as he totaled up their scores, Sasuke noticed that the Root squad's ink stains were fading. He smiled, knowing his brother was finally free from the pain of his binding seal.

"Gokou again, Sasuke? You're become a Koi-Koi expert. I think you're going to have to give me lessons," Itachi said, chuckling.

"Lesson one is to look underneath the underneath."

Sasuke smirked, knowing now that this was the way his brother had led Sakura to the truth about Karin—and, in turn, helped Sakura keep Sasuke from making one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

Itachi grinned widely as he rubbed his chin. "Now, where have I heard that before?" Clacking the cards on the table, Sasuke made to deal a new round before his brother laid a hand over his. "Don't you have a mission to get to?"

After a quick look at the clock, he said, "I don't have to leave for another hour. We have time."

Itachi pulled the deck from his hand. "Don't you have somewhere else to be? And someone else to be with?" he said slyly.

Heat raced up Sasuke's neck, singed his face, and peaked at his ears. "…don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled, crossing his arms uncomfortably and turning his face to the side.

A swift, strong tug lifted him to his feet. "Go on. Out!" Itachi ordered. Sasuke was surprised and pleased to see that his strength was returning—soon, his brother would be his old self again.

His old self.

Sasuke gripped Itachi's arm tightly as an inexplicable panic lanced him. He didn't want to leave. He needed to stay, to make sure Itachi would be okay, to make sure…

"Sasuke," he said, patting his back consolingly. "I'll be here when you get back. I promise."

Knots unlaced in Sasuke's gut as he squeezed Itachi's arm firmly.

"Now, go on. Don't make her wait." Sasuke flushed immediately and turned toward the door—a vise grip clamped around his upper arm before he could take a step.

"And don't make me wait either, Sasuke." Itachi smirked. "I need to hear Itachi-ojisan soon." He sighed ostentatiously. "I don't think there's ever been an Uchiha with pink hair before, but I suppose there's a first for everything."

Huffing with annoyance at his brother's humiliating laughter, Sasuke stomped to the doorway of the hospital room.

"Later, Sasuke."

He stumbled as those two words made his chest and eyes burn with unbridled happiness. Sasuke would see his brother…later. His throat too choked with emotion, Sasuke lifted a hand in acknowledgement.

Outside the hospital, his feet turned down familiar streets, his clouded mind not focused on the path. A blur flashed in front of him and his step stuttered, his attention suddenly roused.

"Watch where you're going, Uchiha! That slow reaction time won't cut it on my mission."

"Idiot," Sasuke said, his lip curling in a half-hearted sneer. "Just because you somehow convinced Tsunade to make you captain on this mission, doesn't give you the right to order me around."

Naruto's face split into a wide, evil grin. "Oh, I think it does, Sasu-chan. And I think you meant to call me Taichou. Meet me at the gate in exactly forty-eight minutes! And no stopping for smooches!" commanded Naruto as he made obscene kissing noises.

"Yes, Idiot-taichou," Sasuke growled.

"Just move it, or I'll report you for frater-fater-frat…umm…you know…with a teammate!"

Sasuke made a rude gesture and continued walking. Moron. Just because he and Sakura had—he flushed just thinking about it—kissed, didn't mean there was anything more to this…right? His step slowed as he thought about Sakura—was there more to this? The thought of not having her in his life made his stomach lurch uncomfortably. No, he didn't want that. But…this…what they had now…was this what he wanted? Thoughts of Sakura in his arms—her head pressed against his chest, his face in her hair—made his lips lift into a peaceful smile.

Arms lassoed his neck and Sasuke had to brace himself to keep from falling. How many times would he be ambushed today, he wondered, shaking his head clear.

"What's that smile about?" Sakura asked, beaming as she pinched his cheek.

"Hm," he huffed uncomfortably as he turned his pink face away.

Sakura slipped her hand in his. "Walk with me?"

He nodded stiffly. His stomach seemed suddenly full of writhing snakes—all he could think about was how soft her hand was. Sasuke didn't even notice where Sakura had led him until she stopped. Looking around, he recognized the arching stone ribs that encased rows of trees.

"Do you remember this place?" Sakura asked, squeezing his hand gently.

"Of course." It immediately called to mind a much younger version of himself and the newly-formed Team Seven introducing themselves to their lazy sensei. The innocence of his boyish self made Sasuke nostalgic. "I'd never told anyone about my goals before…" His voice trailed off as he sank into the past.

Sakura let go of his hand and hid behind the trunk of a towering maple. "I can't believe what I said then…how…mortifying!"

Sasuke poked his head around the tree to find her hands covering her face. Pulling back a few fingers to expose one green eye, he teased, "Not much has changed since then, has it?"

Her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water as she turned bright red. "Well, I guess not," she admitted with an embarrassed smile. "Although, a lot has changed for you," Sakura said, the end of her sentence curving up into a tentative question.

Sasuke nodded, caught her wrist, and pressed her against the tree. Brushing his lips against her ear, he whispered, "My name is Uchiha Sasuke. There are lots of things I dislike, but only one thing…only one person that I…" Heat burned his cheeks as he ducked his face into her neck.

Sakura's arms snaked around his waist and she lifted her head to his ear. "My name is Haruno Sakura and the thing I like, well, the person I like—" she pulled back to face him "—is Uchiha Sasuke. And my dream for the future is…is…" She laughed nervously, unable to complete her thought.

The future...

Sasuke felt courage rise in him like a tsunami. He cupped her chin and said, "I can't really call what I have a dream—it's an ambition." Sakura seemed to know what he meant to say next—his goal of restoring his clan to their former glory—so she smiled proudly at him. Sasuke cocked a brow and smirked salaciously, hoping to convey another meaning and her eyes flew open wide and her hand covered the oh of her mouth. "But I'll need some help. Will you…help me, Sakura?" he asked, brushing his fingers along her jaw, curling them around her neck. She nodded silently, her cheeks burning pink charcoal, her eyes never leaving his. The need to kiss her was becoming unbearable, so he pressed his tingling mouth against hers—his heart pounding when her tongue flicked across his lower lip.

"Hey! Didn't I say to be at the gates at oh-twenty-nine-hundred hours?"

Sasuke glared at Naruto as he hung upside-down from a tree limb above them. "That's not even a time, you moron."

"And what did I say about stopping for this kind of activity, Uchiha? That's it! I'm writing you up!" Naruto whipped a notepad and pencil out of his pouch and started writing, his tongue curled against his lip.

Sakura giggled, but didn't let go of Sasuke. "So sorry, Naruto-taichou. I can assure you, we'll be on our best behavior for the duration of Team Uzumaki's very important mission." She finished with a mocking salute.

"Well…" Naruto softened and put the pad away. "See that you are. And there better not be any more of that—HEY! WHAT'D I JUST SAY?"

And so ends Look Underneath. I had so much fun working through my very first chaptered fic, but I would still be flailing around, reworking Chapter One without the help of Unicorn Paige. PAIGE! I DID IT! IT'S ALL DONE! NOW IT'S TIME FOR CAKE! You are the best...I wouldn't have the nerve to tackle this enormous project without you. THANKS, PAIGE!

And also thanks to all of you who read, reviewed, alerted, and favorited LU. Your support made this scary journey so much easier. I hope you stick with me in the future! I have so much learning and writing to do!

And don't forget SasuSaku Month! The new posting directions are up and the prompts will be released on March 28th...just in time for Sakura's birthday! Please come by...we'll be hosting a birthday drabble party for our favorite kunoichi! Links and info are on my profile page.

Thanks again, everyone!