Disclaimer - I don't own Naruto. It is the sole property of Kishimoto-san and those who have purchased the rights.
After two and a half years I'm finally back with a bit of closure for The One. I'm sorry it took so long. To be honest I wasn't going to continue The One since I'm rather fond of it as the oneshot it is but then I realized that there are a lot of people out there who wanted an ending so I decided to go ahead. I know this isn't the chapter fic most of you wanted, but even now I'm still not feeling it so I give you this instead...
Summary - Nine months into Itachi and Sakura's fictional courtship Akatsuki make their move and Sakura's mother forces the pair into a corner, leaving Itachi no choice but to make a decision or risk losing Sakura completely.
A Lifetime It Is
Tsunade knew before she even crossed the threshold of her office that today was going to be one of those days. If she was lucky Shizune had replenished her stash of sake because she was sure she would need it by the time the sun hit midday.
The streets of Konoha were abuzz this morning with news of the first major attack Akatsuki had made against their ally Sunagakure a handful of days ago. The very same battle that her own Team Seven had unintentionally been drawn into. News of Sakura's involvement in the battle with the S-class missing-nin Akasuna no Sasori was on everyone's tongue which meant that a certain redheaded mother must have also heard.
And Haruno Akane would no doubt be arriving any moment now to once again demand her daughter's release from duty and from her courtship with the Uchiha heir.
Tsunade sighed as she entered her office and crossed the polished wood floor, a quick search of her desk showed that Shizune had done as she'd hoped. Two full bottles of sake awaited her pleasure. Satisfied, she turned her chair to face the window overlooking Konoha and took a seat.
She now understood where Sakura had gotten her stubbornness and quick temper from. The woman had come five times already since Itachi's announcement of his intentions towards her daughter demanding she dissolve it.
But what Haruno-san didn't seem to understand is that while Tsunade could remove Sakura from active duty, she could not break the agreement Sakura had entered into with the Uchiha heir. Not without alienating one of the most respected clans in Konoha and she had no intention of doing that. After much debate the Uchiha clan elders had reluctantly approved the courtship and she had no right to interfere. Only Sakura herself could ask to be released and Tsunade knew there was no chance of that until she turned eighteen, ten months from now.
A faint smile briefly touched the Godaime's lips. She was one of the few who actually knew the truth behind the pair's scheme. She had even helped Itachi convince his father to send the letter to the Lord and had also spoken in favor of Sakura when the Uchiha elders had inquired about her skills.
A soft tap at her partially closed door broke into her thoughts and with a sigh Tsunade turned back to the desk filled with awaiting paperwork as the door opened.
"Good morning," Shizune greeted with a smile as she silently made her way to the desk and offered her a single sheet of paper. "Naruto, Sasuke and their ANBU escort arrived safely last night and according to Itachi-san's report their trip was uneventful. Akatsuki made no move to capture Naruto."
"Good. The last thing we need is for them to get their hands on the nine-tails." Tsunade replied as she accepted the report. Scanning it briefly, she dropped it onto the smallest pile. "Summon Itachi for me, I have a feeling I'm going to need his help taming the shrew this morning."
Shizune smiled knowingly before she shook her head. "I can't. Itachi-san left immediately after delivering his report last night to return to Suna. He asked me to tell you that while he trusts Kakashi-san to bring Sakura home safely he would rather do it himself."
Tsunade snorted. It seemed the Uchiha heir was putting his all into the sham. "Fine, I'll deal with - "
"Tsunade-sama! I need to speak with you right now!"
Tsunade went rigid at the shriek and scowled as she slid her eyes to the still open doorway that was now filled with one angry redheaded mother. Why exactly did she have ANBU guards when they couldn't even keep one irate civilian from crashing her office. Nailing the woman with a glare that made most shinobi cringe she replied, "I am busy Haruno-san. And please refrain from calling me by my name, to you I am Hokage-sama."
Unaffected by the glare, Akane's dark green eyes flashed dangerously and she stormed into the office uninvited. "You are not too busy to explain to me why my chuunin level daughter faced off with an S-class criminal!"
Out of the corner of her eye Tsunade saw Shizune wince at the retort before she fled for the door, closing it soundly behind her. Traitor.
"As you know, Sakura is more than capable of taking care of herself." Tsunade stated icily. "And I'm sure you have also heard that she was not alone in facing Akasuna no Sasori. The battle was not planned but she and her partner have done us a great favor by eliminating one of our enemies." Tsunade leaned forward and was pleased when the woman stumbled back a step. "Her father would be proud."
Akane's face reddened at the implied insult. "Yes, but her father is dead, and she will be too if she continues as a kunoichi. I will not allow this village to steal both of them from me!"
Tsunade's eyes narrowed. "We have gone over this before Haruno-san, I will not release Sakura unless she wishes it herself. And neither will the Uchiha." She added driving home the point again.
Akane continued to glare at her for a moment more before a faint smile touched her lips. "We'll see about that." And with that she spun on her heel and left, slamming the door behind her.
For a long moment Tsunade glared at the closed door pondering Akane's final words. What exactly had she meant by that? With a frown she wrenched open one of the drawers holding sake, grabbed the bottle and took a long draw as Shizune reentered to begin the day's business.
Ten months. They only had to hold out for ten more months.
Three days later, just as the sun was about to dip behind the trees shielding Konoha, Sakura, Kakashi and Itachi passed through the gates, all three of them relieved to be home.
With a single wave in farewell Kakashi took to the rooftops and vanished. Sakura smirked. Typical. She couldn't fault him though, after their trip to Sunagakure she was more than ready for some serious rest and relaxation too.
Sakura tried to ignore the fluttering Itachi's use of her name still caused even after all these months and glanced to the dark haired ANBU captain.
"I would see you home but I need to report to Hokage-sama."
Sakura smiled. "I know. You weren't supposed to come back, Shishou's probably livid by now."
Itachi gave her one of his elusive smiles. "I would do the same again without hesitation. You are my responsibility."
Sakura's eyes narrowed and her eyebrow twitched. Responsibility? Did he still think she couldn't take care of herself? Even after Sasori!
Itachi must have read her thoughts because he closed the space between them with two strides and smoothed the crease in her brow with his thumb. "I do not mean you are incapable of taking care of yourself. However, I will not leave your safety to another unless I have to."
Sakura felt her cheeks pink slightly at the touch as Itachi stepped back. At least she'd learned how to control her outward reactions to him over the last several months. But inside the warmth of his touch still lingered all the same.
"I must go report. We will meet for breakfast tomorrow morning at Ichima."
Sakura dipped her head and watched as Itachi took to the rooftops and disappeared. Nine months and she still couldn't get used to him being so... attentive. Snorting softly at herself, she started down the road towards the northeast section of Konoha where she and her mother lived in a small civilian community.
Maybe it was because this so called 'courtship' wasn't turning out like she had expected it to. To be honest she really hadn't known what to expect when she'd agreed, but Itachi actually going out of his way to spend time with her was definitely not it. She had figured, at best, the stoic Uchiha would find the absolute minimum time they needed to be seen together to make the courtship plausible and adhere to it. Everyone in Konoha knew he was not a sociable person so it would have been easy for him to see her at most once or twice a week and still make everyone believe they were serious.
But that's not how it had turned out. The first month or so had been somewhat like that because of the Uchiha elders initial refusal but as soon as they had given their approval to the courtship Itachi had taken to seeing her at least three or four times a week, usually for a meal, unless one of them was on a mission.
And then about four months ago he'd begun searching her out almost daily when they were both in Konoha, to either play shogi, which he had been surprised she played and played well at that thanks to Shikamaru. Or to train which was even more strange because he was ANBU class for kami's sake, although he did teach her quite a bit during those times. In the end she had chalked that time up to his supposed desire to get to know her better as a kunoichi.
But the strangest of all was when he had started searching her out just to sit under a tree somewhere and talk. That had caught her completely off guard and at first she'd been so intimidated by his intelligence that she'd barely talked, giving him one word answers to his questions and never daring to ask her own. They'd only had a couple of those outings though when he'd suddenly stopped asking for that time and it had taken their loss for her to finally realize just what he'd been hoping for from her. Intelligent conversation. Someone who could understand what he was talking about and if she didn't would ask without hesitation. To not be intimidated by what he was, but see him as a person. He had seen her as an equal, at least mind-wise.
It was that epiphany that had made what she felt for him go from a simple crush to something far more that she still refused to fully acknowledge. And that had also been the turning point for her. The very next day she'd dug up every last bit of courage she could muster and had gone to search him out instead. A faint smile touched her lips at the memory. She would never forget the look of surprise on his face when she'd apologized for her spinelessness, nor the pleased glint in his dark eyes when she'd asked if they could try it again. He'd agreed of course and thanks to that she had come to know a whole other side of the Uchiha heir that she never knew existed. A side that was the true man behind the title and one she had a feeling very few had the privilege to know. She cherished that time with him more than he would ever know.
A child's playful shriek broke into Sakura's reminiscing and she shook her head. If she kept thinking about that their inevitable break up was going to kill her. She had no illusions, she knew that even if Itachi enjoyed talking with her he still wasn't going to want to take it to the next level. He had shown nothing but familiar camaraderie with her. Never anything that would make her believe he might actually feel anything for her beyond friendship.
That truth was enough to make her chest clench painfully and she set the thoughts aside as she turned onto the small lane leading to her house. Picking out her single story home in the deepening gloom she was surprised to see a carriage out front with a team of horses hitched.
Who could that be?
Quickening her tired feet, she stopped beside the white stallions as a sense of foreboding swam through her mind. The carriage bore the Fire Country emblem emblazoned across the door panel.
The Lord. Or someone very close to him.
Sakura swallowed down the fist of fear lodged in her throat and shot for the entrance to her house. With shaking hands she wrenched the door open and stumbled over the threshold. Two voices, one undeniably male came from the small livingroom and she knew before she even saw him who exactly her mother was entertaining.
Sakura scowled blackly at the betrayal and stormed to the doorway. "Mother! You can't - "
"Ah, Sakura, welcome home." Akane remarked cutting her off. "I'd like you to meet Fujimoto-san, your fiancé."
Sakura's eyes narrowed dangerously and she glanced to the clean cut, ordinary looking man sitting across from her mother. His hair and eyes were both dark, and if she wasn't mistaken he was in his late twenties to early thirties, older than she had previously been told.
Sakura's face darkened even more and she nailed her mother with a glare. "You know as well as I do that I am in a relationship with the heir of the Uchiha clan."
Akane scoffed softly. "You mean the fake courtship you and that Uchiha have going on."
Sakura's blood turned to ice. How? No, it didn't matter how. Right now she couldn't give her mother any hint that it was true. "It isn't fake, Mother, and you know it. Neither Itachi-san nor I would agree to something like that."
Akane gave her a smile that chilled her blood all over again. "It doesn't matter. It has been nine months. If Uchiha Itachi wanted to marry you he would have done so by now."
Sakura snorted and tried to ignore the touch of panic her mother's words created. "Itachi-san is not one to jump into something as life changing as marriage." She stated as calmly as she could. Before her mother could reply Sakura turned her attention to the man silently watching their exchange. "I'm sorry, your trip has been a waste Fujimoto-san."
And with that she turned and was just about to head to her room for some much needed sleep when a deep voice replied, "It hasn't been wasted, Sakura-san."
Sakura froze at the unwanted familiarity and glanced over her shoulder. The faint, confident smile adorning her supposed intended's face made her chest seize with panic again.
"The Lord has also grown tired of waiting and has asked me to inform both you and your... companion that you have one day to make the decision. If the answer is no then you are to return with me and fulfill the agreement your mother has made."
Sakura felt the floor fall out from underneath her feet and she grabbed the wall for support. "One day! We can't make that decision in one day!"
"Then it's obvious you do not love him, or he you. It would be better for you to come with me." Fujimoto-san replied calmly.
Sakura's temper flared to life again and she spun back around to face him. "You know nothing about me or Itachi!" she snarled angrily. "You have no right to say we don't love each other! I love him, nothing and no one is going to change that! I will never marry you!"
Not bothering to wait for an answer she spun on her heel again as her mother called out her name and raced out the front door back into the darkened streets of Konoha. This could not be happening again! Her mother had no right to do this to her! But it really didn't matter did it? As soon as Itachi heard he'd end the courtship and she'd have no choice anyway.
The quiet streets passed by unnoticed in her misery and it was several minutes before Sakura finally realized just where she had run to. Coming back to her senses she stumbled to a stop several feet away from the small gate leading to the Uchiha compound and simply stared at the polished wood. She had to tell Itachi but...
Turning back around she decided to head to the training grounds to vent some of her frustration first before facing the heartbreak she knew was coming. She'd only managed to take two steps away from the gate though when a familiar voice suddenly called out her name.
Sakura stopped mid stride and groaned. Sasuke. There was no way she was getting away now. Slowly turning to face her teammate she tried to dig up a smile. "Sasuke-kun! What are you doing out here?"
Her expressionless best friend eyed her in silence for a moment before he replied, "Aniki asked me to find you and bring you here. He and Father are closed up in his office." His dark eyes narrowed suspiciously, "Why are you here?"
Sakura swallowed. "Um... I was... just... walking by, that's all," she lied weakly.
Sasuke snorted and grabbed her wrist. "You were never good at lying. Come on, Aniki wants to see you."
Sakura scowled. She was tempted to use her chakra enhanced strength and dig in her heels but decided against it and followed him through the partially open gates. There was no use fighting, Sasuke would likely trap her in a genjutsu and drag her there anyway. It was weird how well Sasuke had taken the courtship once he'd gotten over his initial horrified disgust. At first he'd been stunned and just a little bit sick that his brother had chosen his teammate of all people but after the first couple of months of seeing them together he'd slowly come to accept it and even became one of their biggest supporters. A part of her felt guilty about that since it wasn't going to last but there was nothing she could do.
"Do you know what Itachi-san and your father are talking about?" She asked as he led her deeper into the compound.
Sasuke shook his head. "He came home and asked me to go get you and told me not to let anyone stop me, then asked to speak with Father in private. Do you know what's going on?"
Sakura swallowed. So Itachi already knew and was dissolving their courtship. "No idea." she replied as evenly as she could. Sasuke was right, she couldn't lie.
Sasuke slid a piercing look at her out of the corner of his eye, the very same one he knew she always caved to. "Then why did he tell me not to let anyone get in my way?"
Sakura scowled and yanked her wrist out of his hand. "I don't know!" she snipped to keep from spilling the truth. Much to her relief his family home came into view and she picked up her pace. Might as well get this over with. At least she hadn't fallen completely in love with Itachi, the pain of their break up was going to be bad enough as it is. A handful of steps later she stepped up onto the low front porch that ran the length of the two story house and Sasuke edged around her to let her in.
Sakura felt the tension as soon as she stepped though the door and she steeled herself as best she could for what was to come. Uchiha Mikoto, Itachi and Sasuke's mother, came out from the family room and greeted her with a wide smile.
"Sakura-chan. It's so good to see you safe after your trip to Sunagakure."
Sakura tried to smile but instead felt tears sting her eyes. This was the kind of mother she wished her own could be like. She loved her mother, she really did but at least Mikoto-san had faith in her children and their abilities, and even Sakura herself.
Sakura nearly jumped out of her skin when Itachi's smooth baritone filled the hallway. Shifting her eyes to her fictional intended who was now standing behind his mother, she swallowed thickly.
"Would you please wait for me in my room? I won't be long."
Sakura dipped her head.
"Itachi, there is no need for Sakura to hide in your room. She's almost family as it is."
Itachi's dark eyes settled on his mother for a brief moment before he glanced back to her and murmured, "My room would be better for her at the moment."
"He's right, Mikoto-san." Sakura chimed in, desperately trying to keep the tears at bay. "I'll wait for him there." Without another word, she made her way around Mikoto and slid passed Itachi then fled up the stairs to his room. This was turning out to be far harder than she thought it would be.
Itachi watched with hooded eyes as Sakura's slumped shoulders vanished from sight before he turned back to his mother and brother. However before he could say anything to either one his mother stepped up to him and murmured low enough so only he could hear, "You once told me that Sakura may be 'The One'. Have you decided whether she is or not?"
A faint smile touched Itachi's lips. That was one thing he no longer doubted, she was his match in more ways than he thought possible. He had simply been waiting for some sign that she felt the same before revealing his desire to keep her for himself. But he couldn't afford to wait any longer. Sakura returning his feelings had now become secondary to his promise to shield her from her mother and the Lord.
"She is," he stated firmly. "But Father is reluctant to allow us to progress to the next step so soon, even with the ultimatum."
Mikoto smiled knowingly. "Leave him to me. You go tell Sakura-chan she has nothing to worry about so she'll stop crying."
Itachi eyed her for a moment not sure what she could do, then finally dipped his head, "Thank you, Mother."
Mikoto patted his cheek gently. "No need for thanks, Itachi-kun. I love her as much as you do."
Itachi smirked at that then glanced to Sasuke and said, "Thank you little brother."
Sasuke shrugged and jammed his hands into his pockets. "She was already here when I found her."
Somewhat surprised, Itachi inwardly smiled as he turned and started up the stairs to his room. She had been comfortable enough to run to him, maybe this wasn't as one-sided as he'd thought.
"Sasuke-kun would you please go fetch..."
Itachi didn't hear who his mother had called for because at that moment he stepped onto the second story landing and headed for the lone, partially open door on the left. He could feel Sakura trying to gather herself beyond the door. Her chakra spiked for a brief moment and he knew that she had sensed him coming.
A handful of steps later he gently eased his door open and smiled when Sakura jumped to her feet, his desk chair nearly tumbling over in her haste to rise. He could understand her unease though. She'd only been in his room once before a couple of months ago when his mother had sent her up to call him for dinner. Usually they saw each other outside of either one of their homes.
"Sit," he murmured as he closed the door behind him and took a seat on his bed. Sakura dropped back down into the chair and stared at the floor.
"I'm sorry, Itachi-san."
Surprised, Itachi eyed her bowed head. "For what?"
Sakura glanced at him, her usually bright green eyes dulled with resignation. "For my mother ruining the plan. Now you'll be forced to look for a wife again."
Itachi smiled to himself. "The plan may be ruined," he replied smoothly. "But I have no intention of searching for another wife. Unless you wish to be married to this Fujimoto Masao?"
That seemed to catch Sakura completely off guard and her eyes rounded into saucers. "What are you saying?" She breathed.
"I'm saying that I do not wish for our courtship to end unless it is to announce our engagement and impending marriage."
Itachi nearly chuckled when Sakura's mouth dropped open, closed and then opened again to mutter, "You can't be serious..."
Itachi did silently laugh at that. He seemed to remember her saying the exact same thing the day he'd broached the courtship in the demolished glade.
"Yes, Haruno-san, I am." He assured her, mirroring his reply from that day.
For a long moment Sakura simply stared at him before she burst out laughing, the sound ringing hollowly in his ears. Itachi eyed her with concern and waited for her to explain her reaction.
"I can't expect you to do that, Itachi-san." She finally said once she'd calmed down again. "I know we've become friends over the last few months but you don't love me. I never really expected you to. It's true that I had hoped," she admitted weakly, "but I'm not naive enough to think you'd actually see me as anything more than a friend. You don't want to tie yourself to someone you don't love."
Itachi's eyes widened slightly at her admission, and then he exhaled silently in relief. She had hoped. That was all he had been waiting for. Reaching over he tugged the chair over to him until her knees were brushing his. The surprised look she gave him almost made him smile.
"What - ?" She exclaimed.
"I have one question for you, Sakura," he said cutting her off. "How do you know when I'm near even when I mask my chakra?"
Sakura's eyes flew wide and then as he had anticipated she suddenly went pale as if she really didn't want to say. But this time he wasn't going to let her off the hook. In the months they had been together he'd been forced to dismiss the only theory he'd been able to come up with when she had shown no signs of attraction towards him. But now, with her unexpected admission, his theory that she knew when he was near because they were somehow meant for each other suddenly became far more plausible.
"I... ah..." she muttered clearly ill at ease. She attempted to drop her eyes but he held her gaze firmly, not allowing the dodge she so desperately wanted. Her eyes narrowed angrily and she scowled but Itachi patiently waited her out. He would have the answer tonight whether she wanted to give it or not, she had hidden the truth long enough.
Several more moments passed in silence before Sakura growled softly and snapped, "Because I like you, okay! I have for a long time and ever since I realized that it seems I always know when you're around. It drives me crazy!"
"So you only 'like' me then?" Itachi pressed softly, still holding her attention against her will. He knew it had to be more than that for her to sense him as easily as she did. Sakura's scowl returned and Itachi saw the last of her unease vanish under her spitfire temper.
Roughly shoving the chair back out of his hands, she shot to her feet as if she needed the height it gave her over him to continue. "No, damn it! I love you! There, I admit it!" She shouted, her frustration with the entire situation clearly written on her face. "But I guess that really doesn't matter now does it. We're done, I will not marry someone who doesn't love me back unless I'm forced to!"
Itachi smiled to himself in satisfaction and rose. Sakura attempted to stumble back but he caught her before she could escape and tugged her towards him, and with the same fluid motion leaned in to capture her lips in a soft yet passion filled kiss. Sakura went rigid under his hands and she gasped in surprise, giving him access that he immediately took advantage of. For a brief moment he felt her give her entire self to the kiss, a softening to his touch that led to a sigh and answering enthusiasm. Her hands clenched in the front of his shirt where they were trapped between them as they both deepened the kiss. And for the very first time in his life Itachi felt truly complete.
However the moment was cut short when Sakura suddenly shoved him back with chakra enhanced hands so hard that he nearly tumbled backwards onto his bed.
"What the hell was that?" She demanded hoarsely.
Catching his balance, Itachi quickly gathered himself and inwardly smiled at the healthy flush tinting her cheeks. Angry or not she had enjoyed it just as much as he had.
"It was a kiss, Sakura."
Sakura's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I know that!" She spat viciously. "What I don't get is why!"
Itachi smirked. "I would think that it's obvious but I will say it anyway." Moving towards her, he was pleased when she stood her ground and he continued until he had captured her full attention again. "I have, over the course of the last few months, fallen in love with you too."
The glare faded away as Sakura's eyes slowly widened and she simply stared at him in stunned silence, the look on her face nearly making him laugh. And then she shook her head and muttered, "Impossible."
Itachi smiled. Reaching out he smoothed a lock of hair back behind her ear. "Why is it impossible? Because I'm heir to the Uchiha clan?"
Sakura shook her head slowly as his fingers moved away. "No. Because you're... you... "
Itachi scoffed, "That doesn't make any sense. I am a man just like the rest and I have found the one I wish to spend the rest of my life with. You."
Sakura continued to stare at him blankly for a long moment before a small glimmer of hope began to shine in her eyes. "Do you really mean that?"
"I do not say what I do not mean, Sakura." Itachi murmured softly.
A single knock on his door startled them both before it opened to reveal his mother. "Have you told her?"
Itachi sighed. "Yes. However she does not believe me."
Mikoto smiled. "Give her time, Itachi-kun, she'll have the entire engagement to get use to the idea that you love her."
A sharp intake of breath came from Sakura as Itachi's eyes widened. "Did Father agree?"
"Of course," His mother replied off-handedly before she turned her entire attention to his pink-haired fiancée. "As did your mother, Sakura-chan. She's downstairs if you'd like to see her."
"My mother's here?" Sakura asked weakly. When his mother nodded, Sakura shot passed her and out the door.
Itachi followed behind more slowly. "Thank you, Mother."
Mikoto waved a hand at him dismissively. "Your father has a hard time saying no to me, especially when my argument is sound. But don't tell him I told you that." She admonished with a grin.
Itachi smirked, "A useful tactic. Will I have the same problem?"
Her grin widened slightly before she turned and started down the hallway. "Probably."
Closing the door soundly behind him, Itachi smiled to himself as he followed his mother. For some reason he couldn't find it in him to care that if Sakura asked him for the impossible he would do his absolute best to make it happen no matter what the cost.
Because she was worth it.
And there you have it. I know it isn't quite up to par quality-wise with 'The One' but I do hope you still enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.