Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.

Special Thanks: goes out to alanasometimes, Darkrai, PrettyInPink, and rao hyuga 18 for all your wonderful, supportive reviews! Also thanks to those who have added this story to their alerts and favorites, you all are awesome, too!

Author's Note: Sorry I'm so late in updating! I've been sick twice since the last time I updated, and I'm basically just now feeling recovered enough to get this chapter up. Another familiar face shows up in this chapter, along with a lot more Itachi/Temari interaction, and I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading!

*~Chapter VII~*


Friday, April 12, 1912 - 8:00 P.M.

Itachi could not readily identify what, exactly, about Temari had changed since he saw her earlier in the afternoon. But as they settled into their seats across the table from each other in the Parisián, he noted the tension in her expression and shoulders had eased, her eyes were a little brighter, and her smile seemed to come more easily. Evidently she'd made some sort of decision, and he more than halfway hoped it had something to do with him.

The low hum of conversation around them, the candles in the middle of the tables, and the richer, darker colors of the general decór came together to form an intimate setting for his and Temari's meal. While they nibbled on their hors d'oevres and waited for their second course to be served, Itachi repeatedly wiped his hands surreptitiously on his napkin to keep them from getting too sweaty. He couldn't explain exactly why he felt so jittery, except perhaps for the fact he had never dined alone with a woman before, one he admired or otherwise. His uncharacteristic nervousness prevented him from thinking of a single thing to discuss, so they spent most of the first few minutes at the table locked in uncomfortable silence.

Finally, as bowls of cream of barley soup were placed before them, Itachi ventured a topic of conversation he hoped would be comfortable for both of them. "Have you always lived in England, or did you travel there?"

Temari visibly gulped down the genteel mouthful of water she'd just taken and very carefully set down her crystal goblet. She'd politely declined the wine Itachi had ordered and instead requested a glass of the fresh water kept on board. "I was born in England, and lived in London for a while," she said at last. "My relocation to Southampton was more recent." Picking up her spoon, she swirled it through her soup, absently smiling at the patterns she made with the tip of her silverware. "What about you, Itachi? Have you always lived in America?"

"Born and raised," he admitted. "We lived in a very small town in Connecticut when I was a boy. But once my father made his business deals and we - advanced in the world, we moved to New York. He decided being closer to the business pulse of America, as it were, would be advantageous for our family. That, and the fact the social set finds its beginnings and endings in New York. So we left our home and moved away from everything we'd ever known."

Turquoise eyes glowing with sympathy, Temari leaned forward slightly over her soup bowl. "Do I sense some bitterness in your tone, Mr. Uchiha?" she asked gently.

Itachi felt a reluctant smile crack the mask of tenseness tightening his features. "Perhaps a little," he admitted. "I was twelve when Father moved us, Sasuke only eight. My little brother was so caught up in the excitement of moving, discovering new people and new surroundings and such, I don't think all the changes really bothered him very much. I was older, though. I absolutely hated leaving everything I'd ever known, but I played along with his enthusiasm. Please don't misunderstand, I appreciate the opportunity it gave me to go to college and acquire a fine, thorough education; I'm glad my mother is now able to pamper herself with fine things. But still. . ." He shook his head, trying to think of the right words to use to describe his thoughts. "I think my family lost something important during our change in status and location. We all used to be so close. Though I still share that same closeness with Mother and Sasuke, it feels like Father has distanced himself from all of us. He's a completely different man from the one I knew during my boyhood, and I hate that." He forced a smile onto his face while reaching for his wine glass with one slightly shaking, slightly sweaty hand. "But what a horrible topic of dinner conversation! I apologize for ruining the mood with my life story."

Smiling gently, Temari shook her head. "Not at all," she said. "While I regret what it cost you, I'm also glad your family advanced in society. After all, we probably never would have met if you had not. And, no matter what happens, I am infinitely grateful I've had the chance to meet and get to know you." Before Itachi could respond to Temari's equally gratifying and worrisome speech, she continued wistfully, "I do empathize with you. Any sort of major change inevitably wreaks havoc with familial ties, no matter their closeness."

Those words screamed of personal experience, making Itachi bite the tip of his tongue to keep from asking her about it. Short as their acquaintance was, he'd quickly gotten the picture: at any reference to her past she immediately clammed up, refusing to discuss her personal history, period, no exceptions. While her brothers didn't appear to be taboo conversationally, anything having to do with Temari herself was off limits. A shame, really, since he ardently longed to know more about her. "And I'm thankful for our having the chance to get to meet and know each other, as well," he replied simply.

Temari blushed and ducked her head shyly. Before either of them could continue the conversation or change topics, a waiter cleared away their second course and served the third - salmon, mousseline sauce, and cucumber for Temari; sauté of chicken with lyonnaise and creamed carrots for Itachi. For a while they shelved all personal conversation, eating in contented silence except for an occasional admiring comment about the restaurant itself, their wait staff, or the quality and taste of the food. When they eventually reached the dessert course, they agreed they'd just shared their best meal so far on board the ship.

"I'm glad you talked me into accompanying you here," Temari said. She shot a quick glance around, then daintily licked her spoon before sticking it back into her dish of French ice cream.

Itachi quickly swallowed his most recent bite of peaches in chartreuse jelly and pressed his lips together to keep from smiling. Some times Temari came very close to appearing the consummate lady, offset by those occasions when she acted endearingly childlike. That mystifying contradiction, along with so many other things, drew him to her. He yearned with a sudden, fierce desire to know all the facets of her personality, all the little details which came together to form Temari Sabaku.

At one point during their trip, when Itachi admitted to his mother how reluctant he felt about choosing a bride after they returned to America, she had smiled and said, "When walking along the Champs-Elyseés in Paris, imagine yourself accompanied by some lady of your acquaintance, conversing with her and enjoying the sights. The one who just naturally and effortlessly fits into that image will be the right one for you, my son."

Their conversation had taken place in Italy. Once they reached France and he took that stroll along the Champs-Elyseés, Itachi followed his mother's advice. He imagined himself escorting either this lady or that one or yet another from among the many eligible females back home; but none of them possessed that absolute sense of rightness. He knew with unshakeable certainty he would not find the love and happiness his heart and soul craved with any of them; and despite the equal certainty of his father's extreme displeasure, he resolved to refuse committing to a marriage that would be an unending nightmare of regret and misery.

But now, sitting across from Temari, he closed his eyes for a moment. He visualized the Champs-Elyseés, every sight and sound and smell; imagined himself strolling along it again. Only this time, instead of any of the American women he'd pictured before, he thought of himself walking its length with Temari on his arm. It took fewer than half a dozen steps for him to feel the sense of rightness in his chest so woefully lacking in those earlier scenarios. He'd known Temari less than two full days; without question so much still remained a mystery about her. But he knew to the depths of his being what his decision would have been had he known her in Paris: He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, not with any of the shallow, one-dimensional women waiting in America. Though wellbred and as fashionably beautiful as money could make them, they hid only catty comments and flirty smiles behind their fans, leaving his heart cold, his loins unmoved. But Temari sparkled among the dull sameness of society's so-called best like a multi-faceted, living, breathing jewel among lifeless stones. Although she kept so much about herself concealed, the things she had allowed him to glimpse revealed her to be loyal, caring, passionate, loving: the kind of woman he'd be proud to win for his wife.

He only hoped to prove himself worthy of her.

Having come to his decision, he opened his eyes. Far from noticing his drifting off into a reverie, Temari's own eyes were closed as she polished off her dish of ice cream, her lips still sealed around her spoon. His skin tingled when he heard her low moan of satisfaction, just barely audible over the hum of conversation from the other patrons. His hyper awareness of her, every move and sound she made, made him all the more certain they were meant for each other. The present difference in their class and circumstances and life experiences didn't matter. He loved her, unconditionally and unquestioningly. From this moment forward he intended to devote every fiber of his being to doing anything and everything necessary for them to build a life together.

Temari's eyes opened and focused on him. A delicate blush colored her fine cheekbones as she lowered her spoon, quickly licking her lips with the tip of her tongue to get rid of any trace of cream left there. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Am I being rude?"

Feeling even more besotted than even a second ago, Itachi quickly shook his head. "Not at all," he assured her. I'm a fool, he lamented quietly to himself. A lovesick, bumbling idiot. Picking up his own spoon, he dug into his own dessert again, suddenly anxious to finish it so they could leave the restaurant. Even though now slightly soggy from neglect, the fresh peaches still tasted delicious. It didn't take him long to finish eating.

As they left the Parisián, Temari tucked her hand into the crook of Itachi's arm. "Thank you," she said, looking up at him earnestly. "That was, I believe, the best meal I have had in my entire life."

Itachi smiled down at her and squeezed her hand on his arm, wishing he had the freedom to lean over and kiss the side of her head, her smooth cheek, her pink lips... Swiftly shutting that thought down in its tracks, he cleared his throat and nodded. "Thank you again for agreeing to accompany me," he said. "I agree the meal was delicious, but for my part I think it owed most of its pleasantness to the company."

The evening, as all the others they had enjoyed so far on their trip, continued cold but clear. For a moment they paused to enjoy the extravagant abundance of brilliant stars before slipping into the warmth of the ship's interior. It was growing far too chilly to wander the outside decks, although the walls partially enclosing the promenade offered some protection from the wind. Back inside, they leisurely ascended one set of stairs on the second, smaller, Grand Staircase located between the third and fourth funnels. At the end of a short stroll down the hall they found themselves in the lounge, where the band from the dining saloon now played for those gathered in its luxurious surroundings.

Itachi scanned the room from the doorway, relieved when he didn't see his father in the room. He had undoubtedly once again retired to the smoking room further along the hall with other gentleman after the meal. His mother, seated on one of the many couches with the Countess of Rothes and Mrs. Senju, appeared totally involved in what looked to be a lighthearted conversation. Sasuke, Naruto, and another man Itachi didn't recognize occupied chairs in one corner close to the outside wall. Their conversation appeared to be more serious in nature than the women's.

The band finished one song with a flourish, then started in on Bizet's Carmen. Itachi leaned over slightly to speak in Temari's ear. "Where would you like to sit, my dear?" The term of endearment rolled off his tongue before he could stop it, but he refused to take it back.

Temari shivered slightly and gazed about the room, quite obviously avoiding looking in his direction. "Perhaps over there?" She indicated a pair of wing chairs set an angle to each other, a fair distance from the band in an area near the mantlepiece, not too crowded but still respectably filled. Nodding his agreement, Itachi guided her through the room and waited for her to be seated before taking his own chair. While he tapped his foot idly in time to the music, Temari's gaze drifted around the room. Occasionally she remarked on different aspects of the splendid room: the beautiful leaded glass windows; the candelabra-style wall sconces; the statuette on the mantlepiece. "It's so beautiful," she said softly. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I appreciate art when I look at it, but to be honest, I know nothing beyond whether I think it looks good or not."

"It looks Greek," Temari decided. She looked away from the fireplace, her eyes tracing the beautifully carved wooden supports rising from the carpeted floors up to the equally elaborate ceilings. "Everything here is so grand and elegant," she said softly. "Not to say the places in second class are less than adequate, because they aren't, they're more comfortable than I ever imagined them being. But here..." She shook her head, obviously at a loss for words.

He nodded. "I saw the differences yesterday as I looked for you. I noticed the doors to the cabins are much closer together, the dining saloon to be much smaller and less grand." Recalling each image into his mind as he referenced it, he once again mentally noted each subtle but definite difference.

"All this is so much." Temari's lovely eyes shimmered suspiciously as she continued looking around, slowly rubbing the toe of her slipper across the thickly plush carpet beneath their feet. "I don't belong here, I don't deserve to be here, and yet here I am all the same. It's - almost - overwhelming."

Itachi leaned toward her slightly, searching his heart for the right words to reassure her. "I'm glad you're here. So are Mother and Sasuke, as well as many others. I promise you, though, if it were safe for you to remain there, I would be just as happy to come down to second class to be with you."

Temari's eyes shot to his face, wide open and full of vulnerability. "But you're so far above me in social-"

He shook his head firmly, stopping the rest of her sentence. "Please, Temari, remember what I told you of my past during dinner. I didn't start my life at this 'elevated' level. I don't think I'll ever truly consider myself a part of society; to be honest, I'm not sure I want to. What I do want is to keep you safe. And not just for the duration of this voyage. I realize we've known each other for only a couple of days, but I've never felt so comfortable with anyone in my entire life. That's how I know-" he hesitated, studying her expression and gathering his courage before daring to continue "-I want to be with you. For the rest of our lives."

She blinked once, obviously shocked. What little bit of color residing in her cheeks drained away, leaving her looking as white as a sheet of paper and just as frail. Her expression froze into absolute blankness, with something Itachi hoped was not, but feared was, horror darkening her eyes.

That's it, he mourned quietly. I've destroyed everything. I've frightened her. She'll never want to see me or speak to me again. But I've got to protect her-!

Suddenly Temari moved, drawing in a deep breath as she forced herself to assume a polite, bland mask. She lowered her gaze to her lap. Her hands still visibly trembled as she ran them over her skirt, smoothing away nonexistent wrinkles as her lips soundlessly opened and closed several times. Clearly she wasn't as calm as she attempted to appear. After a few tense moments, she drew in another deep breath. A jerky cadence marred what should have been a smooth inhale, and Itachi felt doubly miserable upon hearing it. Congratulations, Uchiha. Aren't you absolutely brilliant? You've made her cry. He opened and closed his mouth just as wordlessly, wanting to say something to comfort her; fearing if he did, it would be the wrong thing and make everything worse.

"Excuse me?"

Itachi turned in his seat, surprised to see a very young man in full evening kit standing at his left elbow. "Yes?"

The unknown man offered a quick, stiff bow. He smiled as he straightened, but Itachi noticed how his extremely pale face and ink-dark eyes lacked any of the warmth associated with the expression. "I am something of an artist," he said, the slightest hint of an unidentifiable accent shading his voice. "I have been traveling with my family, and while I usually am more inclined to draw animals and birds and landscapes, I saw you and your lady from across the lounge. Something about you both struck me, so I made this sketch. I apologize for any mistakes as it is very rough and quickly done. I hope you and your lady will accept it?" Another bow, and as his body dipped forward, he extended his hands. His fingers were long and tapered, quite obviously those of an artist. Smudges of dark color on the fingers of his right hand gave evidence of the charcoal pencil he'd apparently just been using up until a few moments ago.

Temari leaned over the arm of her chair curiously. Allowing his gaze to drop down to the paper held out before him, Itachi drew in a sharp breath of surprise, heard Temari echo it. The sketch was small, drawn on a piece of paper perhaps eight or nine inches square, the background indeed only rough at best, merely hinted outlines denoting the presence of carpet and walls, pillars and windows. The piece focused on the two people in the center and was drawn with such incredible detail one almost expected to see movement or hear speech at any moment. At first the pespective of the drawings puzzled Itachi; rather than being drawn sitting slightly sideways in their chairs with their heads turned toward each other, he and Temari were depicted nearly full-on, as in traditional portraits. It took a moment before he suddenly realized why: the sketch of Temari on the left was clearly meant to be from Itachi's point of view, the right of himself from Temari's. And how vividly he'd captured the emotions as well! - from the wonderment on Temari's face, chin lifted and head slightly turned as she looked around her, to Itachi's look of protective tenderness as he watched her.

Reaching out, Itachi took the page very carefully, not wanting to damage it in any way. "This is - incredible beyond words," he said softly, truly grateful. "Thank you. How may I possibly recompense you?"

Straightening once more, the other man quickly shook his head and held up a restraining hand. "I require no payment. You owe me nothing," he said, smiling his emotionless smile once again. "The beauty of the moment demanded to be preserved. I merely obeyed that command. That you and your lady find it acceptable is payment enough for me." He nodded to Itachi, bowed toward Temari, and started to turn away.

"Wait!" Itachi said urgently. The man halted and turned his head to look over his shoulder, one coal black eyebrow arched questioningly. "May we at least know your name?"

A long pause followed, as if the other wondered whether to divulge it. Finally he pointed to two Oriental-looking characters in the lower righthand corner and said simply, "Sai." He walked off, quite obviously not to be deterred this time.

Itachi leaned closer to Temari. Holding the sketch so she could see it clearly he said with quiet awe, "I visited a great many museums in a great many countries over the duration of our trip, and saw a lot of what the world considers great art. I think we've just been given something very rare and special."

Looking much less pale and anxious, Temari bent to examine it more closely. She unconsciously lifted one hand to press her fingers against her cheek. "I don't know very much about art," she said, her tone just as hushed, "but I think you're right. This is almost like looking into a mirror."

"Yes, it is," Itachi agreed. If Sai considered such a breathtaking exhibition of sheer talent as deserving an apology for its quickness and roughness, what would the young man be capable of producing given sufficient time as well as the proper tools and conditions?

Temari, still studying the sketch intently, suddenly made a soft, quickly stifled sound. She raised her head, her wide, startled eyes darting up and across the room. Itachi followed her gaze across the width of the lounge to where the artist sat talking to a man with large eyes and a kind expression, and a woman with dark eyes and hands like her son's. Sai never looked away from his conversation; but by the way his head tilted ever so slightly in their direction he obviously knew Temari and Itachi were looking at him.

At last Temari let out a long sigh and moved as if to stand. "I'm sorry, Itachi," she said, the faintest hint of a quiver in her voice. "Even though it's been a lovely day, I'm feeling very tired. I think I'd like to go back to my stateroom now."

Itachi tugged out his pocketwatch, glanced at it, then did a double-take. It was close to midnight; they'd been in the lounge much longer than he'd thought. "Of course," he replied. He promptly rose, then handed Temari the drawing before assisting her from her chair. A quick glance across the room showed Mikoto and Tsunade still deep in conversation, though the Countess had retired. Sasuke, Naruto, and the other man had all vanished as well. The band still played, but to a visibly dwindling audience. From the slower tempo of their songs, the musicians were beginning to wind down as well.

Itachi and Temari walked in silence toward the entrance to second class. Her hand in the crook of his elbow maintained some slight physical contact between them, but he felt keenly the lack of closeness of minds they'd shared earlier in the evening. He mourned the sudden distance resulting from his clumsily blurted confession and wondered with some desperation what he might do to repair the damage. As they crossed into second class territory and their time together shortened, he finally gathered enough resolve to speak. "I want to apologize for upsetting you earlier," he said, looking down at the top of her golden head, "and hope I have not offended you beyond forgiveness. I spoke grossly out of turn. I promise I shall not repeat my grave mistake again. Please allow me the privilege of continuing to protect you during the remainder of the journey."

Temari looked up at him with tired eyes, shocking him with how in the short time since they'd left the lounge, dark circles had appeared on the delicate skin beneath her eyes, standing out like bruises against the utter paleness of her face. She appeared completely exhausted. He noticed then how her fingers gripped his arm so tightly he would undoubtedly bear marks on his skin when she let go; she also leaned more heavily on him than before.

"You have done nothing to offend me," she said, her lifeless tone barely above a whisper. "You owe me no apology." Dropping her gaze again she said nothing more until they stood outside her stateroom, where she turned away from him to avoid meeting his eyes. She unlocked the door, but did not open it immediately. Instead, she allowed her hand to linger on the knob as she said softly, "It is I who should apologize to you. But - I don't know how. Good night, Mr. Uchiha." She vanished behind the door, closing and locking it before he could say anything in response.

Swallowing hard, his vision still full of the pain and exhaustion on Temari's face, Itachi took a half-step forward to lay his hand against the door separating him from her. The sound of soft voices speaking in query and response on the other side caught his attention. He took a step closer, pressing his ear against the wood tightly in an effort to hear better, uncaring if anyone saw him, or what they would think if they did. He had to know if she was all right before he left.

From inside the stateroom, he heard Tenten murmur something, then the sound of a sob, muffled and quickly stifled. Itachi immediately drew back his hand to knock on the door; but before he could, he heard Temari speak, her voice ragged and listless. "I don't deserve him, Tenten. I never will. And if I let this go on any longer, I know I'll be the cause of so much trouble and suffering for him, if not even his destruction. But-" another racking sob reached his ears "-so help me, Tenten, I think I love him."

As he heard Tenten try to comfort the weeping Temari, Itachi closed his eyes, allowing his head to roll slightly against the door so his forehead rested against the wood instead of his ear. His fist landed soundlessly against the painted surface, wanting fiercely to beat it down, rush inside, and take her in his arms; knowing he couldn't. Oh, Temari.

Although Itachi refused to listen intently enough to pick up any more words, he stood outside the door until well after midnight, when there finally was only silence from within. He made his way back up to first class, blindly navigating the halls until he somehow, miraculously, made it to his and Sasuke's stateroom.

His brother was still sitting up in bed, reading, when Itachi entered. Sasuke took one look at Itachi's face and immediately tossed the book and blankets away. He stood and came to stand in front of him. "Itachi, what's wrong?"

"Temari," Itachi replied hoarsely. He moved past his brother and headed for his wardrobe, his throat clogged with the intensity of his emotions. Rather than opening it, though, he rested a forearm on it and leaned his forehead against it. "I can protect her from Hidan. But how - how, Sasuke - can I protect her from herself?"

When Itachi turned around, Sasuke still stood right where he'd left him, a somber expression on his narrow face. "You love her, don't you, big brother?"

It didn't even occur to him to try to deny it. Feeling suddenly very old and tired, Itachi nodded once, slowly.

Covering the distance between them in four quick strides, Sasuke stopped in front of Itachi and spoke six serious words he'd not uttered in a very long time. "What can I do to help?"

*~To Be Continued~*

Author's Ending Notes: I've been so excited to introduce Sai, and I'm so glad we've finally gotten to that chapter! I really hope you all liked his part, and this chapter in general. I think Itachi and Temari's interactions in this chapter are some of my favorites in the story thus far, I really enjoyed writing their growing closeness. Thank you so much for reading this chapter, and I hope you enjoyed it!