Title: "Ready, Steady, Go!"

Author: paws_bells

Characters/Pairing: Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Itachi

Type: One-shot (Complete)

Genre: Romance/Humor

Word Count: 8832

Theme: LJ Community, 50-shinobi theme #09, "Ready, Steady, Go!"

Rating: T (Contains content not suitable for children)

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto-san.

Summary: Ramen-verse Non-Massacre AU. Mikoto was a woman on a mission. Really, with sons like hers, it was going to take a miracle before she and Fugaku finally get to have some grandbabies to bounce on their knees.

Created on: 07/01/09

Completed on: 04/02/09

Chapter Last Revised on: 20/01/12

If anyone was to ask Itachi what he thought of his current situation, it would have been unlikely that the Uchiha would admit that he had no idea how he had ended up looking after an entire passel of his relatives' children. He would, however, be staring blankly at the question until upon which the asker gave up and changed the subject, or his acute senses quickly detected that little Karei-chan was once again trying to asphyxiate herself with a piece of floor cushion and he had to use his lightning speed to prevent the toddler from unintentionally committing suicide.

For an exceptionally skilled ex-ANBU captain, looking after a small herd of untrained kids (three to be exact) was theoretically one of simplest mission to be accomplished, especially now that he was a Jounin sensei and somewhat more acquainted with the exasperating antics of the younger generation. Unfortunately, the reality about young children was that they were more often than not even more unpredictable (and unreasonable) than the bloodiest of missing-nin, and they weren't all too shy about trying newfound methods of death on themselves either—all the time.

When Itachi agreed on behalf of his mother to look after the young children of his aunt's for a day, he didn't quite expect to be chasing after a trio of inexhaustible mini terrors in and out of his relatives' house for the entire morning and halfway into the afternoon. None of the children were over six years of age, but like all youngsters, they were hyperactive, mischievous, and Itachi didn't quite remember being so enthusiastic when he was at that age. As it was, he was barely preventing the kids from tumbling headlong into danger, as well as ensuring that they themselves would not become a menace to each other. He had already been forced to break up two fights and a petty squabble in the past hour alone, and since brute force, as well as the liberal use of nin arts and/or killing intent on one's own young cousins were generally frowned upon, there was no choice but for him to attempt to reason with the children.

Unfortunately for the poor, stoic Uchiha, logic didn't quite work on young children as well as it clearly did on adults.

"Itachi nii-san no hidoi!" four year old Uchiha Onjou screamed as he rolled on the ground angrily, his face red and his voice shrill, clearly in the throes of a large tantrum brought on by the fact that his older cousin had taken the side of his three year old sister, Karei, and had deftly retrieved the little girl's beloved doll from the mischievous boy before returning it to her. Meanwhile, the oldest sibling, five year old Uchiha Ichirou, only continued to stoke his little brother's temper by pulling all sorts of taunting faces right in front of the screeching child.

The fact that this wasn't the first time this particular serious of events had happened inwardly dismayed the ex-ANBU.

The fact that he was beginning to develop a pounding headache only added to his silent misery.

…Sasuke must have been quite the accomplished babysitter, to be able to successfully deal with the antics of their much younger cousins on so many separate occasions. It appeared that he would have to request some pointers from his younger brother the next time he had to handle such a situation. Even better yet, he made a mental note to himself to be excused from such familial duties in the near and far future.

Truly, he had never been required to handle such troubling tasks in the past before. Hailed as the greatest genius to ever be born from the Uchiha clan, there had never been the need to concern himself with such matters. Or rather, as clan heir, he had never been requested to share in the more domestic aspects of his clan. All he was asked to focus on was to hone his skills as a shinobi as well as establish a higher rank within the ANBU Black Ops, and by the time he had achieved that particular status, he was already so powerful at such a young age that he had completely intimidated most of his relatives and fellow clan members. Unwillingly so, he had become distant and detached from his kin, and as the years went by, the gap between himself and his family slowly but surely widened.

That was, until two years ago.

Incidentally, it was also around the same time Sakura had made that abrupt declaration inside the ramen stand, fearlessly proclaiming to all her strong affection for him. He hadn't believed her at first, but to her credit, she hadn't faltered in the least in the face of his less than receptive behavior, slowly but determinedly reaching out to him in her own sweet, special way, never giving up on him no matter how coolly he was behaving towards her. It had taken a near death experience and her abrupt, complete, withdrawal from his life for him to realize just how important she had become to him in the few short months that she had integrated herself into his daily routine, and thankfully enough, he had enough sense to attempt to rectify his mistake. Never one to display any sort of feminine wiles or false theatrics when it came to her important people, she had given him a genuine, heartfelt smile, graciously accepted his silent apology, and agreed to spend time with him again, just like she had always done.

And so they had embarked on a tentative relationship, slowly but surely getting to know each other better, and through all the false starts and blind fumbling and sudden realizations, gradually grew from being mere 'acquaintances,' to 'a little more than friends,' and then, finally, 'lovers.'

It wasn't obvious at first, but things started to change once the pink-haired kunoichi bravely included herself in his life. She had been like the pebble that caused the ripple effect in the still waters that was his quiet life. With her sunny, open nature, a side effect that he was sure had developed as a result of her medic-nin occupation, she was able to reach across to people with such ridiculous ease that he was almost in envy of her natural skill. However, sweet-natured and unpretentious as she was, her terrifyingly effective chakra control and taijutsu skills quickly guaranteed her of her rightful place within the heavily offensive and destructive demolition Team Seven.

Therefore, it wasn't a surprise that when she talked, people listened—one way or another. And to his chagrin, she was also most determined to do her part as his other half, which quickly ensured that no one was allowed to badmouth or speak of him (and his distant nature) in a derogatory manner within her hearing distance or they better be prepared to face the consequences. It was still a surprise to him that his normally gentle and cheerful lover could easily turn as vicious and as bad-tempered as a cornered pit viper when those closest to her came under attack, be it physically or verbally, and very soon, almost everyone in Konoha was aware of how truly 'nice and affable Itachi really was, if only a little shy.'

"He's not shy," Sasuke had often protested with indignation, embarrassed on behalf of his mild-mannered, unflappable sibling. "Uchiha are not shy, damn it. My aniki is introverted; there is a huge difference."

Still, one way or another, the fact that the man in question had done nothing to curb the overprotective tendencies of the pink-haired kunoichi who was being spotted more and more around him made those who knew him, be it family or associates, question if the stoic Uchiha was really as Sakura had seen him to be; just a misunderstood genius? It wasn't long before some began to put the theory to the test, and soon, one thing led to another, and gradually, he began to notice the change of behavior—perception—in the people around him. They grew more genial, tentatively so at first, and even though he responded with his usual stoicism and quiet, detached demeanor, it was the fact that she was with him this time around that made all the difference.

She easily blew past all the awkward silences, expertly tackled the sudden lull in conversations, and cheerfully interpreted his more challenging, if not sometimes downright unsociable, stances and replies. Before long, including the incredulous amount of people whom he had gotten to know through Sakura by extension, he had more acquaintances than he knew what to do with, though his beautiful, sunny lover had only laughed at his bewildered demeanor and told him to get used to it; she certainly had no intention of giving up her friends just to be antisocial with him, not to mention how he really ought to find more things to do other than training and work.

Sasuke was only too glad to help 'rehabilitate' his stoic older brother, and had 'generously' allowed his brilliant, if not somewhat socially exclusive (and that was taking in context of the younger Uchiha's own sterling, chipper temperament) sibling to undertake some of the less glamorous and rather unpopular clan duties that he, as a younger sibling (and thus always left with the short end of the proverbial stick), was sometimes unfortunate enough to be stuck with.

Looking after three mischievous cousins when their parents were off on an important mission just happened to be one of those unfortunate but necessary tasks, and that was how Itachi found himself watching over the trio of inexhaustible bundles of energies at the request of his mother.

"Onjou-kun," Itachi remarked levelly at last after letting the boy yell and shout for awhile, his sedate tone betraying none of his growing disapproval over the youngster's inappropriate behavior. "If you continue to behave thusly, I will be forced to report this particular incident to your parents when they return home tonight."

Fortunately enough, that not-so-subtle, and oh so very calmly spoken threat, no, promise, was enough to cow the boy into submission. Onjou could not claim to know much about Itachi nii-san, but still, he knew enough that his solemn, older cousin was a very powerful, well-respected figure in and out of the clan, which meant that it would not be wise to get on the wrong side of his temper.

Now that he thought of it, hadn't Sasuke nii-san told them more than once how Itachi nii-san was an ANBU captain—the terrifying Black Ops that Kaa-san always said would steal away naughty little boys and girls who misbehaved?


Miraculously, the boy ceased his tantrum immediately, and Itachi was rather astonished that his remark had worked. That expression of surprise didn't quite make it to his stoic features, unfortunately for Onjou, but the matter was no longer on the little boy's mind anyway.

No, Onjou had now proceeded to tussling with his older brother Ichirou, having been irritated by how his other stupid sibling aka accomplice-in-crime was mocking him, the two shouting and screaming away as they proceeded to yell out all sorts of ludicrous 'jutsu' and hand signs that made no sense whatsoever at each other. It wasn't the first time Itachi had witnessed such play fights amongst the two, and so he merely watched over them with a careful eye to ensure that they would not inadvertently hurt each other.

A small tug on his pants quickly brought his attention to the smallest of his cousins—little Karei-chan.

Like both her older brothers, Karei possessed the features of an Uchiha—a full head of raven-black hair and large, dark eyes that gave her a very adorable appearance that most little girls had in abundance. Karei's cheeks were still slightly damp from all the crying that she had done when Onjou had snatched her precious dolly away, but she was now smiling shyly at her newfound hero even as she clutched her dearest toy to her chest.

"Thank you, 'Tachi-nii," the three year old whispered bashfully even as she stuck close to her cousin's pant leg. Itachi stared at the little girl for a brief moment, wondered what he should do to dislodge the child from his proximity for a bit, before he realized that after Sakura, it no longer bothered him as much to have another person so near him, even more so when the person in question was only a little toddler.

And so he opted not to remove himself from the little girl; only nodding once to her instead.

"You are welcome, Karei."

Unbeknownst to the Uchiha heir, he had just won himself a loyal supporter for life, no matter how small.

The unlikely pair stood side by side for the rest of the dwindling daylight and watched the two boisterous siblings play.

When Sakura arrived at the Uchiha compound that evening, the sight that she was treated to had been priceless.

It was also ridiculously adorable.

There was her beloved, stoic lover who had somehow gotten himself surrounded by three children, none of whom appeared to be over the age of six, all having dinner in the Uchiha Main House. The two older kids seemed to be holding an eating competition with each other, whereas Itachi appeared to be feeding the youngest child, a dark haired little toddler girl who happily allowed herself to be waited on hand and foot by one of the most powerful shinobi in Konoha.

Sakura thought that Itachi was doing a pretty good job with the little one; patiently listening to the youngster's chatter between bites even as his meticulous, careful nature ensured that he divided small, precise portions of food for the obliging little girl. He must also have been pretty concentrated on his delicate task, for even though she was certain that he was aware of her presence, he failed to give any indication of having detected her partially concealed by the hallway of the traditional dining room. Sakura didn't mind; here was the gentle side of him that she hadn't quite seen displayed so prominently before, and naturally, she was only too happy to watch him interact with the children.

Emerald eyes softened slightly with great affection; it really was such a cute scenario that she had half a mind to take some photos for keepsake, but knowing Itachi, he would have been embarrassed (even if his usual level expression would indicate no such thing) to see her wave those pictures in his face, not to mention how she had no such need to 'blackmail' her lover to do things for her. Under that stoic, seemingly impassive facade hid a thoughtful, conscientious man who knew her better than she did herself sometimes, and like the gentleman he was brought up to be, he was usually more than willing to take care of matters for her, no matter she needed it or not, unlike most men whose names she could mention (Team Seven included). As such, it was no surprise that his actions spoke louder than words, which were just as well, since he seldom said much on the subject of their relationship, though she was always assured of his quiet, steadfast devotion.

"My son is something special, isn't he?"

The soft murmur right beside her ear did nothing to startle Sakura. Having sensed the other's presence just awhile earlier, the pink-haired kunoichi merely turned her head slightly to smile at Itachi's mother. Uchiha Mikoto came to a stop beside this beautiful, accomplished, young woman who had caught her eldest's favor so completely, and together, the two watched unobtrusively at the utterly domestic scene before them.

Filial as ever, Itachi lifted his gaze from the children whom he was tending to and nodded once to his parent, before acknowledging Sakura with a slightly longer look. That usual deadpan expression he always donned did not fool her, and in return, she merely lifted a brow and smirked slightly in quiet amusement over his current predicament. If possible, his expression became even more blank, and the soft chuckle that escaped Mikoto only made Sakura's mischievous little smile widen.

"I think you must be the only one who'd dare to tease him thusly, Sakura," the Lady Uchiha spoke after awhile, as she delicately dabbed tears of mirth from the corner of her eyes. The fond tone in her genteel voice was unmistakable, and Sakura gave the older woman a good-natured grin in return.

"Oh Mikoto-san, we both know that Itachi is getting too stuffy as it is," the pink-haired medic-nin announced gaily even as Mikoto smothered another laugh behind her hand. "He needs some amusement in that boring, monotonous life of his, and I daresay that he secretly relishes in having his authority challenged every now and then."

"But only from you, my dear," the graceful Uchiha matriarch replied with a smile. "I don't quite see Itachi responding favorably to anyone else who would dare attempt such a thing."

This time around, Sakura's answer was a confident, saucy grin.

Looking at this vivacious, pink-haired beauty at her teasing best, her attention catching eyes with those sparkling emerald hues and vivid, unpretentious demeanor, it was easy to see why her eldest son had fallen so hard for this sweet young woman. Though, of course, according to the local grapevines, it was the plucky kunoichi who had boldly made the first move, something that Mikoto was most thankful for; god only knew how long her socially withdrawn son would have taken just to admit to himself that he had taken a liking to Sakura. With that thought in mind, it really was a good thing that Sakura had fallen in love with Itachi first, and her eldest had at least the good luck to attract such a wonderful young lady who loved him so unconditionally, who loved him for his sometimes awkwardness and stoic determination, who loved him for his loyalty and unflinching sense of duty, who loved him for all that he was.

And now that she had caught Sakura watching Itachi's interaction with the children with such a gentle, unguarded expression on her face, something told the delighted Lady Uchiha that this accomplished and well-respected kunoichi would certainly not mind starting a family with her eldest son—now if only Itachi would have the good sense to stop dallying about with this 'cohabitating' nonsense and start persuading Sakura to join the family already. It was about time he made an honest woman out of Sakura-chan; hadn't they been together for over two years already?

Really, did he really want his old, doddering mother to do everything for him? Not that Mikoto really thought of herself as 'old and doddering;' Fugaku had never failed to assure her that she still looked the same as she did the first time they met, not to mention how there was still the problem of yet another reluctant son to see to, but if all it took was a nudge or twenty from her to point her firstborn in the right direction down the road of marital bliss and some grandbabies for her and Fugaku to bounce on their knees, she certainly had no qualms playing the overanxious, matchmaking Mama from Hell.

"Shall we proceed, Mikoto-san?" Sakura enquired then, almost as if confirming the matriarch's thoughts when she was only courteously asking if they should join Itachi and the children in the dining room. "Any longer and I'm afraid that Itachi is going to wonder just what we are whispering about out here."

Mikoto merely smiled at her amused future-daughter-in-law-to-be, even if Sakura didn't quite know it yet. She would, though, later.

The Lady Uchiha easily concealed the plotting glint in her eyes with an innocent nod of confirmation.

"By all means, my dear, let us proceed. This is going to be an interesting experience, don't you think?"

Unfortunately for Mikoto, her simple, straightforward plan to get herself a daughter-in-law (sit the couple together, pose a few embarrassing questions as well as drop two or thirty pointblank, not-so-subtle hints as to how it's well past time for Itachi to start making the Uchiha clan proud) didn't quite go the way that she wanted it to.

First of all, there was the fact that it wasn't exactly the most conducive moment to conduct such an interrogation, no, enquiry, especially in the presence of three young children, but beggars could not be choosers, after all. It wasn't often that Fugaku wasn't around for dinner; both her husband and her youngest son had to attend to some matters pertaining to the Konoha Military Police this evening, and therefore this had been the perfect chance for the meddling mother to pry into the love life of her eldest, the eager, almost destructive curiosity of his lady wife something that the current patriarch of the clan had clearly disapproved of.

But that was no matter for now, seeing that her stern husband was not available for comment, after all. The more important matter now was to get Sakura beside Itachi; it never failed to warm her heart to watch how her stoic son (like father, like child) reacted whenever the love of his life was nearby. The way his impassive, unyielding mannerisms would change imperceptibly, soften, towards the pink-haired kunoichi was something that always delighted Mikoto whenever she got the chance to see it; finally, her Itachi had someone who loved him enough for him to exhibit such welcoming changes, and as his mother, the Lady Uchiha was only too happy for this all too serious son whom she had often worried so much about.

Sakura had been bemused when Mikoto-san carefully led her by the arm and directed her towards Itachi. The kind Uchiha matriarch had always been so thoughtful and hospitable towards her and her teammates even prior to her involvement with Itachi. Of course, Sakura was also not blind to the fact that Mikoto had even hoped at the beginning that there would be a fledgling romance blossoming between herself and Sasuke, and had often tried her best to prod her clearly reluctant Uchiha teammate in her direction. Not so surprisingly, all that had stopped abruptly the moment a chagrinned Mikoto realized that she had been trying to match Sakura to the wrong brother. The mortification at her mistake didn't last long, though. Mikoto had been absolutely thrilled that Itachi was finally in a relationship, and from thereon, Sakura had only received even more favor from her lover's mother, if not for being the only woman who had managed to catch Itachi's attention so, then for her relentless, determined courtship of her son.

"Itachi, for goodness' sake, don't just sit there and stare," Mikoto chided in a brisk, no-nonsense manner, almost as if her eldest child was still a little kid and not the formidable ex-ANBU that he was. "Move aside a bit so that Sakura-chan can sit beside you."

Itachi frowned slightly in reaction, once again noting this strange phenomena of his mother fawning unabashedly over Sakura, the blatant show of favoritism something not even Sasuke was entitled to. Sakura, on her part, seemed to be enjoying the attention (and the sight of Mikoto haranguing her stoic son), if the way her eyes danced with laughter was to be of any indication. Even though the table was large enough and Sakura could very well find a seat elsewhere, Itachi heeded his mother's request dutifully like the filial son he was, moving slightly towards Karei-chan so that his pink-haired lover could squeeze herself to his side of the table.

"I see that you are becoming quite the capable babysitter, Itachi." Sakura spoke, the teasing lilt in her soft drawl evident even as she settled onto the tatami cushion. At the same time, hidden from view under the table, the pretty kunoichi rested her hand briefly on her lover's knee in a quiet, intimate gesture of greeting that he accepted with little fuss. It had taken both of them awhile to get to this point of their relationship; she was always such a touchy feely person, whereas his aversion to social interaction almost bordered on the verge of him being people phobic. Sakura still remembered the first time she had laid her hand on his leg during one of his family dinners, and he had been so startled by her action that he had jerked and rapped his knee sharply against the underside of the table, much to his family's curiosity and her amusement. Their interaction with each other had gotten a lot better now, though there were still the occasional false starts and crossed signals that made living with him so much more interesting.

The fact that he had remained staunchly with her throughout all the ruckus and upheaval in his used-to-be normal, orderly life spoke more about his feelings for her than anything else he might say, and it really wasn't a secret by now how very openly in love she was with this dear, wonderful man who was often too solemn for his own good.

Mikoto watched the young couple's unspoken interaction with something akin to unholy glee in her eyes, though that faded away quickly to be replaced by bland amusement when her suspicious firstborn directed his quiet stare at her. Before Itachi could wonder just what his mother was up to, however, little Karei-chan quickly decided that she had enough of waiting and wanted her next mouthful of food.

"The little one's waiting," Sakura probed her raven-haired lover, tilting her head slightly over the tabletop so as to see the adorable little girl on his other side better, an easy, friendly smile on her face as she introduced herself to young toddler.

"My name's Karei," the little girl replied shyly to the pretty lady in between bites. "You have pink hair!"

The child sounded utterly thrilled as she pointed at Sakura's unique, natural hair color. Somehow, the kunoichi was not surprised that she had now captured the little girl's complete attention. Most people, be it young or old, had the most perfunctory interest—and curiosity about her unusual hair. Sakura was used to it though, and her smile widened slightly.

"Wanna play with it later?" she offered the toddler quite cheerfully. "I will braid your hair if you braid mine."

To say that Karei's reaction was enthusiastic would be an understatement. Not that the little girl could be blamed; having only two older brothers as playmates usually meant that she seldom got to choose what to play, and the boys most certainly were not interested in hair ribbons and other 'girly' stuff.

As if on cue, both Onjou and Ichirou pretended to look disgusted by what they had just heard, whereas Karei appeared so very hopeful with those large, puppy eyes of hers.

"Really, Sakura-san?" Sakura had to smother a laugh. She nodded.

"Of course! But you must listen to your Itachi-nii and finish all of your dinner first." Well used to the antics of children in the pediatric ward, the pink-haired kunoichi bargained shrewdly.

"I will listen to 'Tachi-nii! I will!"

The youngster's sudden interest in her food quickly helped Itachi clear her bowl swiftly, though it certainly did not escape him how it had taken nearly half a day before he earned Karei's trust, whereas all Sakura needed was less than a minute to win over the little girl completely. Itachi was so nonplussed by her ability that Sakura could only shake her head and give him a small grin.

"Call it a blessing and a curse," she told him in a rich murmur. "Unless you want to dye your hair a pretty, pretty pink and play make up with Karei-chan?"

At the saucy question, Mikoto quickly masked her startled laugh behind a cough. Itachi didn't look like he was buying any of it, unfortunately. Still, the stoic male persevered on, quietly acknowledging Sakura's point even though he did not completely agree with her words. She claimed to be able to get along with Karei-chan only due to her physical appearance but Itachi knew the truth; it was her cheerful, open personality that never failed to attract people to her in veritable droves, and even though she was just too modest to admit to any such thing, he had no such compulsion to conceal the truth.

His lover was possibly one of the most influential individual within Konoha, even though she didn't quite know it. Itachi wondered briefly if he would still be so enchanted by her if her personality wasn't so.

Somehow, he very much doubted it.

On the other side of the table, sitting with the rest of her sister's children, Mikoto smiled serenely as she watched her son muddle his way through the complicated emotion also known as love. Contrary to popular belief, Itachi was the one who worried her the most out of her two children. Outside the rigid structures of the clan, Sasuke still had the ever loyal Team Seven to fall back upon, to watch his back for him no matter what happened. It was Itachi, the child prodigy and the pride of the Uchiha, the undefeatable genius, the distant, powerful ANBU captain, whom his mother fretted the most for. He was always the cautious loner, the painstakingly clinically logical one, always from the outside looking in no matter how hard she tried to get him to open up more. It was a fact that she was beginning to despair over her firstborn's appalling lack of a social life when the saving star in the form of one Haruno Sakura-chan walked into her son's life.

The results after Sakura had taken Itachi 'under her wings' had been shockingly spectacular. Slowly but surely, her reticent son had started to change. It wasn't the most abrupt or over the top transformation of his quiet personality, of course, but he was becoming a little more…sociable, a little less people wary, and Mikoto had no doubt that credit should all go to Sakura. Thank the heavens for this kunoichi's stubborn will and tenacity!

Mikoto would never have expected Itachi to quit ANBU and actually volunteer to become a Jounin instructor; god only knew that the Itachi of the past would never have even considered such a possibility, whereas the present had not only stuck firmly to his decision, but was also beginning to show the entire village just how good a teacher he was, if Team Sixteen's impressive mission logs were to be of any indication.

It was just yet another testament to how much her son had changed in the past two years, and it was as the sages had said; love truly does brings out the very best in people.

Perhaps her husband was right after all; perhaps there was really no need for her to interfere in the blossoming love life of her son. Thanks to Sakura, she no longer had to worry so much for Itachi now. Was it any wonder that she was in such a hurry to have the wonderful kunoichi join the clan officially?

Hmm…perhaps she won't interfere all that much…just a bit of needling here and there would suffice, to prod her son into some sort of action. After all, it wouldn't do at all if dear Sakura-chan was stolen away by some dastardly rake whereas Itachi was still dallying about, dragging his feet about the inevitable matter and generally wasting time.

Yes, she would be the mother who was 'just looking out for her son's interest.'

And so it begins…

"Oh, Sakura-chan," the Lady Uchiha started in a sweet, pleasant lilt that had Itachi watching his mother rather warily. Mikoto ignored her son's expression, and instead focused upon Sakura's expectant one. "I cannot believe that I have never asked you this before, but what are your feelings towards children?"

Itachi paused in the act of delivering a spoonful of rice into Karei's waiting mouth, immediately aware of the topic that his mother was not-so-subtly attempting to broach. Unfortunately, Sakura didn't quite understand the question still.

"Children?" the younger kunoichi questioned almost curiously, even as her lover now turned his full attention on her.

"Well, I do like children. Only when they are well behaved, though," Sakura added as an afterthought, wrinkling her brow slightly with disapproval. "There are some parents who spoil their kids too much, and they end up being nuisances to other people's children. I will never allow my own kids to bully others, or to be bullied."

She sounded so very fervent about the subject at hand, but Itachi was not too surprised. She had mentioned to him before how often she had been bullied during her childhood for her rare pink hair and high forehead, at least until her Yamanaka best friend had taught her to stand up for herself. Looking at her affable, bubbly personality now, it was hard to reconcile this spirited, vibrant woman with the scared, tearful little girl that she had painted herself to be in the past, but he knew that she must be speaking the truth. For every now and then, he would glimpse of that small hint of vulnerability in her eyes, gone as quickly as it had appeared, and it told him that although she was born far from perfect, the sheer amount of constant effort that she had put in to change herself, to become strong for her friends and closed ones, was something not just anyone could accomplish. But she still did it day to day, and he had no doubt that in the process, she had helped change the lives of others as well, often for the better.

Mikoto nodded, looking rather satisfied with the kunoichi's answer. "It's true that there are more and more nasty kids out there nowadays, but tell me, dear, how many children are you planning to have when you get married?"

By now, Itachi was so still that he could have been mistaken for a block of statue. Sakura's eyes widened at the rather…telling question. She turned her gaze to her lover, but unfortunately, Itachi didn't look like much help. Sakura shifted her attention slowly back to an eager-looking Mikoto-san.


The Lady Uchiha frowned imperceptibly. "You are planning to have children in the future, aren't you?"

Sakura nodded. "Yes…" she hesitated, once again looking towards Itachi for any cues. Judging by how the Uchiha in question now looked at if his face was completely wiped clean of emotion, she was on her own, that irresponsible, unhelpful man. "But first, I suppose I'd have to take in consideration the financial capabilities of myself and my future husband before making such a decision, don't you think, Mikoto-san?"

It was clear that Sakura was hedging, at the same time racking her brains for something that would distract the Uchiha matriarch from this particular line of questioning that she herself had hesitated to even consider whenever the topic came up. Unfortunately for her, Mikoto was rather determined to have some answers, hypothetical or no.

"Don't you worry about that, Sakura-chan! I'm sure that your husband's clan, I mean, family, background will certainly be conducive enough for you to have as many children as you wish. So what say you, child?"

It quickly became quite obvious that Mikoto was really eager to have an answer, and so Sakura glanced at her unresponsive lover one last time, gave a mental shrug when he continued to give her no clues on how to deal with his mother, and proceeded to give a reply that would take the focus off her.

"Well, last but not least, my decision will also depend on my husband himself." Now growing a little amused over what she was about to do, Sakura continued in a purposefully even tone. "After all, the responsibility of childrearing falls not only on me; I'd expect my mate to be able to take care of any preexisting kids that we have before even considering to have more. It's a rather reasonable thing to expect, don't you agree?"

Her ploy worked, and soon, Mikoto was eyeing her son in a rather speculative light. Sure, her Itachi was one of the most powerful shinobi amongst the Five Great Countries, but she very much doubted that he could boast the same in the childcare department. Sakura-chan was so very smart; to have already considered such important, relevant details. Mikoto quickly took this as a positive indicator that Sakura was genuinely serious about a long term relationship with her son and not just desperately trying to give out excuses to change the subject.

"Well? You heard her, Itachi." Mikoto spoke happily to her stoic firstborn. "I suppose this means that you are going to have to learn to be more adept at handling children. Sakura-chan won't want anything to do with you until you show some signs of being at least partially domesticated, so if you wish to marry a wonderful young woman like her, you should know what to do, son."

Sakura blushed slightly at Mikoto-san's rather frank, outspoken words, thoroughly embarrassed by how the older woman had taken for granted that she would be wedded to Itachi one way or another. It was a bit presumptuous, since not once had the son in question alluded to any such thing. Knowing Itachi, he was probably rather content with their current arrangement of living together and wouldn't appreciate making any unnecessary changes to his now finally routine-again lifestyle, not to mention that she had no intention whatsoever of 'pressuring' him to get married. Like him, she found herself already satisfied just to have him by her side; life was perfect at the moment, and she shouldn't be so greedy, expecting more form their relationship than he was willing to give at the moment.

Imagine Sakura's surprise when her lover nodded in agreement with his parent's comment. "I will keep that in mind, Mother," he replied calmly.

Mikoto appeared momentarily satisfied with her son's prompt answer. "You should. Because I don't know what you are going to do if dear Sakura-chan decides that you are not worth the wait and goes off to fall in love with another man."

Slightly disconcerted by the previously unconsidered possibility, Itachi fixed his attention on his lover. Mikoto had meant her comment as a joke, of course, but clearly enough, her son did not seem to appreciate the humor. Neither did Sakura, it seemed. The kunoichi had her arms before her and was waving them rather vigorously, shaking her head in clear denial of the Lady Uchiha's teasing words.

"Mikoto-san! I'd never do that to Itachi!" the pink-haired kunoichi sounded dismayed, then quickly caught the Uchiha matriarch's amused expression. That gave Sakura some pause, and having caught on by now, the younger woman relaxed slightly. "Well, hypothetically speaking, that is."

"…hypothetically speaking?" Itachi questioned almost immediately, a small frown gathering between his brows at her less than satisfactory reply.

Now fully aware that she was only teasing this all-too-somber lover of hers, Sakura shrugged slightly, though the light in her eyes quickly told him that she wasn't serious.

"I don't know; you are the first and only person whom I have had a relationship with. Don't you think it's possible that there may come a day where it'd be better for us to see other people for awhile instead?"

To say that Itachi did not like to hear what his lover was saying would be an understatement. The handsome, raven-haired male stiffened even as his eyes narrowed slightly. Combined with his now completely still aura, he would have appeared quite intimidating if not for the fact that he was still midway in the act of delivering a spoonful of rice to Karei-chan's waiting mouth. Without skipping a beat, Itachi proceeded to feed the child before shifting his attention to Sakura again.

"No, I don't foresee any such possibility in the near or far future," he stated in a deceptively level tone at last, his words sure and resolute, much to her stunned surprise. Looking at her calmly, he continued with blunt honesty. "There is but only one woman whom I am interested in spending my life with, and she is you."

It would have been downright romantic if he wasn't speaking in his usual deadpan, forthright manner, almost as if matter-of-factly, that it was the most logical conclusion for him to make.

Sakura didn't seem to mind, though, judging by the radiant smile on her face. "If I knew that all I had to do to get you to say such nice things to me was to tell a little lie, I'd have done so a long time ago," she teased, even though the softness in her expressive emerald eyes told him exactly how affected she was by his declaration. Itachi was inwardly taken aback by her pleased reaction; it had never occurred to him that she would want to hear some sort of verbal assurances from him, at least occasionally. She had certainly never requested such platitudes from him before, but then again, she had never asked much of him in the first place.

It really was amazing how after two years of closely interacting with this beautiful pink-haired woman, he was still barely scratching at the surface that was her, the many facades that he could never seem to fully discover no matter how hard he tried. He wondered if he ever would, but somehow doubted it. It wasn't easy to admit, but Sakura was probably one of the most perplexing, contradicting being that he had ever met.

But be that as it may, she was still his lover, the one whom he would not trade for any other, and therefore it made perfect sense for him to ensure her comfort and contentment, to provide her with everything that she would ever need—a slightly difficult problem sometimes since she wasn't like most women who made demands all the time. For someone who simply loved to chatter and socialize with just about anyone, he had learned quickly that she was stubbornly closemouthed when it came to personal problems or injustices dealt to herself, preferring to solve the matter alone and to not trouble others. As a result, he often had to study and read her different actions and mannerisms to predict what she would never say, and it was a good thing that he was exceptionally well trained to read 'underneath the underneath.'

And so, if his assurances were that important to her, then he certainly had no problems giving them to her as often as she wanted it.

"There is no need to lie," he merely replied in his usual quiet, dulcet tone. "You will provide me with a list of all the 'nice things' that you would like to hear on a regular basis, and I will keep in mind to tell them to you occasionally."

Sakura didn't know whether he was joking or not at first, but one look at her lover's solemn expression, and she was immediately reminded that this was Itachi. He wasn't really into joking, not all that much, at least—or most.

But it was the steady look in his eyes that told her what he truly meant, that utter sincerity and willingness to do just about anything to make her happy that touched her like nothing else could. In his eyes was a wordless pledge more precious than any verbal promises that she had ever heard from anyone else, and was it any wonder that she was so very in love with this wonderful, adorably stoic man?

Forget about seeing other people; he was going to have to beat her off with a stick if he really wanted her gone from his life. Fortunately enough, that was about the last thing he would want.

Sakura nodded, and in view of the place and situation they were in, barely refrained from tackling her lover and planting an appreciative kiss on his person.

"I will draw up that list later then," she agreed in a serious voice, even though her bright eyes danced with laughter and joy. Mikoto wasn't even attempting to hide that small grin on her face, and judging by her pleased expression, was rather proud of her son's progress with the love of his life, whether he would admit it or not. It seemed that the wedding bells really were tolling around the corner!

Little Karei-chan looked up from her bowl then, and glanced curiously from 'Tachi-nii to the pretty Sakura-san. She turned to Mikoto oba-chan at last.

"Is 'Tachi-nii gonna marry Sakura-san?" the child asked curiously. Mikoto beamed at the perceptive little girl. What a clever niece she had! The Uchiha matriarch nodded quite happily.

"But of course! Your Itachi-nii and his Sakura-chan are deeply in love with each other. Don't you think that they should be together?"

Unfortunately for Mikoto, little Karei-chan, who had taken quite a shine to her handsome, older cousin, did not agree. The child mulled the facts over for a little while before it finally occurred to her what was going on. Then, she screwed up her face with great displeasure, opened her mouth, and immediately let out a shrill bellow that made both her brothers wince.

"No! Sakura-san cannot marry 'Tachi-nii! Only I can marry 'Tachi-nii!"

It took awhile to get the situation back in hand after Karei's unexpected declaration, but evidently, the little girl was very taken with Itachi and was somehow under the misconception that marriage was a game and when played with someone, cannot be played with any other.

In a strange, abstract sort of way, that was the truth, but when Karei-chan put two and two together and ended up with the conclusion that her Itachi-nii would marry Sakura-san and not play with her any longer, all hell broke loose.

It took bit of wild guessing on the adults' part to understand what had upset the wailing young girl so, and by the time the truth came out, Sakura was hard pressed not to burst into laughter (only the fact that she might hurt the child's feelings kept her from doing so), though Itachi's genuinely perplexed expression was not helping much. Mikoto, too, was smiling, and after excusing Onjou and Ichirou from the dining table to play in the living room instead, the Lady Uchiha patiently explained to the crying child the real definition of marriage, and that no, Sakura-san was not trying to steal Itachi-nii away and Itachi-nii was unlikely to start ignoring the little girl even when he became married.

Still, the young child had appeared suspicious even after multiple assurances from her aunt, but subsided at last when her beloved 'Tachi-nii stoically promised the same thing. The little girl still refused to have anything to do with Sakura, however, and not even that fascinating mass of pretty pink hair could convince the toddler otherwise. 'Tachi-nii must really like pink hair to be together with Sakura-san, and so, the little one resolved to grow her hair pink as soon as possible and she even informed everyone of her plans, too.

The women were particularly amused by the young girl's determined expression throughout dinner, though Sakura was made even more so by her lover's somewhat nonplussed aura, almost as if he didn't quite understand how he had somehow acquired such a young admirer without even realizing it. Sakura certainly didn't mind the spotlight being shone on little Karei-chan; at the very least, it had taken Mikoto's attention off them both, something the pink-haired kunoichi was rather relieved for. She respected and rather liked the Lady Uchiha, but Mikoto-san was so very anxious to see Itachi and herself committed to each other that it was getting a little unnerving for her to be with the older female for prolonged periods of time.

Therefore, it was quite a relief when Mikoto, easily sensing, or rather, hoping, for the young couple's need for some privacy, decided to take over the task of babysitting after dinner.

"It'd be good for me to get in some practice," the Uchiha matriarch had announced not-so-subtly as she smiled expectantly at her son and his other half even as she shooed them both out the door. "I will take good care of Karei and the boys. Enjoy the rest of your evening!"

It took a little longer to convince little Karei that her 'Tachi-nii would drop by once in awhile to visit her, and even so, the bewildered Uchiha heir had to verbally reiterate his promise, upon which he was quickly rewarded with an affectionate peck from the young child and the tightest hug the little one could manage, at least until Mikoto oba-san had gently pried her off the now stiffened form of her son.

Smiling with amusement and quite a bit of unconcealed delight over her lover's downright adorable predicament, Sakura waved goodbye on behalf of herself and her suddenly speechless beloved before tugging him out of the Uchiha property.

"That was quite fun, wasn't it?" she enquired gaily, her voice light with laughter as she glanced over to her stoic partner as they both walked down the busy night streets of Konoha. "I believe this was the first time I saw you in 'action.' Your youngest fangirl ever probably didn't even know what hit her."


Sakura grinned as she regarded the raven-haired Uchiha, hardly fazed by his usual lack of comments. "You are just too popular," she told him with unapologetic cheer. "I swear; every man wants to be like you and almost every woman wants a piece of you! I almost have to beat them off with a stick! And it seems that once again, I have another rival, albeit a very adorable one. Should I feel threatened?"

Her serious lover had an immediate answer to that.

"I have no interest in any other except for you."

It wasn't meant to be an assurance, but nevertheless, his words did not fail to leave a warm feeling in the vicinity of her chest. Sakura certainly appreciated his prompt reply.

It was no longer as fun to tease him, though; he used to be so bewildered by her lighthearted ribbings in the past, so adorably unsure of how to react to her friendly and carefree comments and remarks, but it was evident now that he was getting more and more used to her good natured antics, not to mention had also discovered the most effective method to keep her teasing at bay—just be himself. He was so much more than he allowed himself to be, and she was so very glad that slowly, he was beginning to come out from behind that mask he had been hiding all this time, revealing to the world the gentle, caring man that he truly was.

Emerald eyes gentled with genuine, unconcealed affection; yes, this was definitely the quiet, utterly somber man whom she was madly, passionately in love with.

"You are also one of my most important people, you know that too, right?" she admitted, her voice slightly softer than usual, almost as if his frank admission had made her a little shy in return as well. Her confession was no big surprise to him, however; this was, after all, the same woman who had loudly declared her love for him in the middle of a ramen stand, of all the places to do so. He had absolute confidence in her unfailing affection, and perhaps his mother was right.

Two years had certainly been a long enough courtship period, and he really had no doubt that Sakura would make a most worthy Lady Uchiha; an important, precious jewel nestled within the protective walls of his powerful clan, patiently and lovingly nurturing the future of his family.

No doubt she would become a wonderful mother, and those beautiful, dark eyes of his warmed slightly at the mental image of her pregnant and radiant with his offspring, something within his gut tightening reflexively with undiluted masculine pleasure. Suddenly, it wasn't all that hard to imagine her being surrounded by little dark-haired children with her eyes and happy nature.

A vision of the future.

And all he had to do was to reach out and grab hold of it and never let go.

Itachi looked at this dainty, petite woman who had somehow become very important to him as well; this beautiful kunoichi whom he was now more and more certain was the one he would gladly spend his whole life with. It had taken him awhile to come to this conclusion, one she had evidently realized two years earlier, and she had always been patiently waiting for him all this while.

He was indeed lucky; to have her as his mate, the missing half of himself.

The quiet Uchiha watched his lover with a stunningly gentle gaze.

"I know."

You are also my most precious person.


Questions That I Would Like To Answer Before You Ask:

As already mentioned in the summary, this is my latest sequel to the Ramen-verse non-massacre series, hope you guys enjoyed it. For now, this is probably going to be the last installment for this particular collection until my muse comes to bug me about it some more, since I'd be focusing on CP-verse until further notice.


For the new readers who are confused by my various one shot collections, please look up my profile page for the chronological sequence of the different 'verses.'


Uchiha Ichirou, Onjou and Karei are all my OCs. No worries if you have never heard of them before in canon Naruto. You shouldn't!


If Sakura sounds a bit like Itachi's Public Relations Officer, that is purely unintentional! Well, somewhat, at least, since we all know that Ramen-verse!Itachi needs all the help he can get when it comes to interacting with people outside of his usual comfort zone. In hindsight, I think it is a good thing that his significant other is quite the amicable social butterfly!


Mikoto was a joy to write in this installment. I know some of you have been looking forward to a meet-the-parents session since 'potato chips,' so hopefully this meets your expectations.


Since the rest of this chapter is more or less self-explanatory, I will end my A/N here.

Last but not least, a heads up to all readers; my next update will tentatively be a fortnight from now in light of the fact that I'd be busy with Chinese New Year celebrations (CNY starts on next Monday). Between all the festive family gatherings, meeting up with relatives, cousins and friends, I'd hardly have any time left to myself, let alone find a quiet place to write.

I hope for all of your understanding; have a great weekend, you guys!


Your reviews fuel my passion for writing. So please leave a comment if you like this fic!