A/N: Without further ado, I present to you the long-awaited Chapter 9.

A light, tinkling laugh carried down the hall, filtering through the serenity that blanketed her in a false sense of security. The feminine sound hovered curiously in her hazy mind for only a split second, and then her eye snapped open. Ripped from her quiet snooze before she even had the chance to dream. At first, she laid deathly still, listening intently. Hastily refocusing on the world around her like a startled animal unsure of whether to fight or flee. The scent of sweat engulfed her, reminding her of why she was there, and what caused her to doze off in the first place. A salty, potent mix of pheromones and something intoxicating, masculine. Smothering her, and all of the blankets and pillows surrounding.

"Itachi?" She whispered sharply, and rolled onto her back to look around. Silence and darkness. The tidy room was a cocoon of shadows with the door closed, and the messy, sex-stained bed she was laying in was otherwise empty.


Alarmed and confused, the switch of self-preservation flicked on instantly, and she flew from the tangled mess of fabric and to the door, pressing an ear to it to assess the number of voices in the house, and their proximity. In the process, she hurled herself over a small, neatly rolled scroll that was overlooked and now lost within the bed by her quick, oblivious movements. The yukata hung from one arm while she concentrated, the cherry red obi unraveled and hanging off the side of the bed behind her.

A voice reached her after some straining, just as light and cheerful as the laugh that woke her. It had to be Mikoto. Then, a man's voice...but she couldn't make out who it belonged to. They were both too far away, and too muffled. How long was she sleeping? She never planned to fall asleep in the first place. Why didn't Itachi wake up her?!

Sakura turned around and scanned the room helplessly, scrambling to reassemble her clothes. Careful not to make more noise than necessary. Images of someone opening the door unexpectedly and discovering her half naked made her hands a shaky, hurried mess as she clumsily adjusted and tied her clothes back together. She didn't have a clue how Mikoto or Fugaku would react if they stumbled upon her, but Sasuke... There would be no escaping that bomb of awkwardness. No weaseling her way to safety when caught red-handed. There was probably a slim chance of anyone opening the door now, if Itachi was out there with them, but she wasn't in the mood to gamble something like that. She needed to slip out as soon as possible, without anyone seeing her.

Clothes in place, though a little haphazardly, she looked up at the closed window across from her and willed herself to breathe steadily. "No one knows you're here. Just relax, and sneak out, and..." And then...what? Her eyes glazed as she contemplated. Run home as fast as possible, change clothes, run back, and apologize for being late? All sweaty? No. "Uh... Damnit, Sakura, what the hell are you supposed to do now?" She hissed and closed her eyes, hitting a mental block. There's no way she could slip around to the front door as she currently was, and pretend all was well. The signs were everywhere. Too obvious to overlook. Her hair was a mess, and there was plenty of evidence of...stuff...on her clothes. Not to mention, they were wrinkled now. And the smell...that had to be noticeable.

She began chewing on her bottom lip vigorously, and glanced at the door over her shoulder. Wait for Itachi to come back in? It's not like she could wear any of his clothes without rousing some serious suspicion. Unless he could magically pull a dress out of his ass, she was in trouble no matter what. Waiting around was wasting time, and too risky. Geeze. She was so good at staying out of trouble, before she got mixed up with him. Now life seemed like an endless roller-coaster of emotions and subterfuge. Rather, attempted subterfuge. She didn't know how much longer she could pull the wool over Sasuke's eyes. He picked up on things fast, and by now she was sure he suspected something weird, whatever it was.

"Screw it." The window slid open quietly, and she peaked out into the garden. Good, it was empty. She climbed out, and landed in a crouch on the porch, cringing slightly as her feet made a louder noise than she meant for them to. All the doors and windows leading to the enclosed paradise were shut, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Creeping to the edge, she eyed the roof above and nibbled some more on her lip, paying no mind to how sore it was getting. She hopped up, snatching onto the ledge, and pulled herself up with a grunt. With any luck, everyone would stay on the other end of the house, and she could pull off being the stealthy ninja she was supposed to be, and drop down the other side without anyone noticing.

A few seconds later, she emerged onto the main road from around the side of the sprawling home. Only half the battle was over, but she already felt a little better as she fidgeted her yukata, trying to make it lay a little nicer. "This has got to stop." She muttered to herself, grateful that no one was giving her any strange or worried looks yet, as she walked with as much calm and confidence as she could fake down the road. There had been too many close calls for her, and she was tired of being stressed out. Damn Uchihas... Life was so much simpler without them, and yet she had to admit, much less exciting.

Now she was left to decide her next step. Rush home and back, and make up some lame excuse for being late—but she didn't like that one, because she would be too late. Obnoxiously late—or possibly run to the nearest clothing shop and buy something real quick. Were any of the stores still open, though? Gah, probably not. It was almost six-thirty already. Maybe she'd get lucky, though.

Either way, she was going to be late now, and possibly end up canceling on them as a last resort. There had to be some kind of excuse she could make up that they would forgive. But now she felt bad... There was no way she could avoid being rude and inconveniencing everyone at this point.

"Uhg!" Her rushed pace slowed as her hands smacked over her eyes. Distraught. Guilty. Perplexed. She was always confused now, and it was getting old. This sucked. How did Itachi make life so hard for her all of a sudden?! Or was she just being a dramatic baby...? She couldn't blame him for everything. That wouldn't be fair. Yet there was a definite pattern here, and she was desperate to break free.

"...a-ahhh...mm..." The faintest noise caught her attention. One she almost ignored, except it was so close to her, and sounded rather awkward. Sakura moved her hands to look up, and her feet halted so fast she almost fell over herself.

Shisui was in front of her, with a very telling look of dismay, as his wide eyes met hers. So many things tumbled over her at once. Her mouth fell open, and she gaped at him, as if he were the spectacle, while her insides tossed around cold confetti. Certain places suddenly felt more clammy than they were a moment ago, which made her even more gross. What she wouldn't give for a shower.

She thought she was safe...she really did... Oh Kami. This was going to be interesting. At least Sasuke wasn't anywhere in sight. Should've known better than to drop her guard until after she was out of the land of Uchihas.

"Wha...uhm...what are you...doing here?" A frail voice, managing to break just above a whisper, asked him tentatively. Cold and mildly sticky hands bunched into the fabric at her sides. This was it. The cat was out of the bag. She had nothing...nothing at all... No possible explanation for why she was headed out of the Uchiha compound, when she was supposed to be arriving at their doorstep, looking like a walking disaster. Even if there was a story she could throw at him, a hidden jewel that would make everything snap into a believable scenario to cover her ass, she was in no state of mind to sum it up. The moment she looked up and saw his face, her brain all but dissolved into a useless soup within her skull.

Shisui was still gaping right back at her quietly, though unlike her, his mind revved into overdrive, while his mouth parted in wonder. No useless soup there. The distracted look of his was a product of just how fast he was thinking now.

No response.

Did she look as bad as the expression on his face implied she did? Sakura fidgeted nervously, and looked away in shame. "...Uhmm... I had a...I...there was..." Brain-soup, come on! Be useful! Dire circumstances need your urgent assistance!

A hand darted out to grab her wrist, and when she looked up, she was already twirling in a half-circle and being led at a jog down the street. "Uh...Shisui?" He was moving with a purpose, and still said nothing. Sakura looked around at the houses they passed, and then he turned abruptly to pull her down a shortcut in between two of them.

"Where are we going?"

"Stay here." He ordered, and Sakura watched him curiously as he left her in the shade of the side of an unknown house...more of a small alleyway. There was enough cover there that she wasn't so exposed, which was nice. Her chaperone disappeared around the corner ahead, presumably to the front of the house, and she heard a knock on a door. The voices were soft, and it was hard for her to hear the exchange, but it sounded like a woman answered. She kept her back against the cool wall, awaiting her fate as the seconds stretched on. Was this his house? Wait...would he have to knock on the door to his own house? Maybe not. Where were they?!

Someone was laughing. Both of them? Whatever their conversation was, it sounded light-hearted and...well, quite frankly like it had nothing to do with her. But, she waited...and waited...aaand waited. There was nowhere else to go. Her hands busied themselves with her nails, picking at them and cracking her knuckles. Occasionally, she pressed her ear to the wall to see if she could hear any better, but the words were lost. Too many obstacles between them.

They paused. Dull thumps of movement through the house. Then a girly voice again, and another laugh. The door shut finally, and Shisui returned with a wad of fabric folded neatly in his hands, walking more slowly this time. The pale blush on his face made her pause, and she eyed him apprehensively. "So...uh...what was that?"

He sighed quietly, gave her a sharp look for a second, and then plopped the clothes in her hands. "I don't normally keep track of favors, Sakura...but let's just say, you owe me." A suspiciously polite smile flashed at her, and she wasn't sure if it was forced or not. She looked down in surprise, and unraveled the layers he had given her, revealing a simple but stylish short-sleeved dress in dark green.

"Hurry up and change, we're already late." He turned his back to her, arms folding across his chest. She had to admit, she wasn't expecting this...and though she was a bit stunned, she kind of wanted to hug him to death. But he was right, they were late.

A wary gaze checked both exits of the alley, ensuring no one was watching them from a distance, and then glanced at his back. He fell silent again, and she sensed this was just as awkward for him as it was for her, and that she needed to pick up the pace before it got even more awkward. But it couldn't be nearly as bad as trying to sit through a family dinner in what she was currently wearing.

The spoiled yukata and obi were shed quickly, and she pulled the clean dress over her head before anyone could walk by and spot them. Trying not to think about it too much, so she wouldn't turn into a steaming tomato in the process. It was a little loose in a couple places, but not so much that it looked unkempt on her. Good enough to get her through the evening. Too bad she didn't have time to shower somewhere, but this was the web of karma she had woven.

Then a thought struck her, and she looked at the mass of short ruffled hair next to her. "How did you convince some girl to give you her clothes?"

"Don't be nosy...and she's my neighbor." He chided lightly, and she began to pick up that his discomfort was a result of the conversation he had, and not because he was annoyed with her. Hopefully...

"Heh...s-sorry. …...You know...this...isn't what it...looks like." Adding even more quietly, she inspected the hem of her new dress, and debated whether or not it would be safe to bend forward for any reason while wearing it. Her underwear was gone, thanks to Itachi. Left behind in his bedsheets somewhere, torn and worthless. The end of the dress reached her knees though, so she should be safe as long as she didn't do any crazy acrobatics.

"Please don't insult me." He countered softly. Stern, yet there was no real hint of anger. "You can lie to Sasuke if you want, but I'm not stupid, Sakura."

She didn't know what to say. It was so cliché, wasn't it... How could she expect him to believe something that dumb? Obviously, it was exactly what it looked like. On the one hand, she felt like a scolded, ignorant child embarrassed for being caught. On the other, there was strangely relief. A lot of relief. Like, hoisting an elephant off your shoulders kind of relief. If he knew without a doubt what was going on, then he was one less person she had to lie to, and it was so liberating. She hated lying, and hated trying to be sneaky...and honestly, she just wasn't that good at it anyway.

"...Oh...so...okay, uhm...what do you know?" Hesitant eyes crept over him. He took her chattiness and lack of rustling fabric as a sign that she was finished, and turned around to face her. They watched one another, and he thought for a moment to himself, before smiling. This one was a real smile—an embarrassed one—and it appeared against his will, as he recalled something he truly didn't want to think about at the moment. It snuck up on him before he could smack it away, and now that bumbling he exchange he just had with his neighbor was topped with pictures of Sakura and his best friend in vulgar positions.

"I know enough."

"What does that mean?" She grilled him, though as soon as the words came out of her mouth, she decided she didn't want to know.

Stubborn lips squirmed slightly when she pried him, and he prayed his face wasn't turning red. His cheeks were prickling though...of course they were turning red. "We don't have time for this. Come on." He slipped past her, and she adjusted her shoes before trotting up behind him.

"Right, sorry... Hey, thanks for doing this. I...I have no idea what I would've done if you hadn't shown up."

"Yeah, where were you going anyway? Were you just going to walk home without saying anything to them?"

"What was I supposed to do? Walk out of his room and say, 'Oh hi, Mrs. Uchiha! Yeah I'm already here. Hey, can I use your shower? I'm kind of messy because your son ruined my clothes.' "

"No, but you don't stand up an entire family that's throwing together a dinner in your honor. You might as well slap them all in the face."

Sakura sighed loudly as they walked down the road towards the house she just escaped from, keeping their conversation hushed every time they passed someone. Way to make her feel worse. "I know! But...I didn't know what to do!"

"I have a date because of you." He threw at her.

"Wait, what? How did I get you a date?"

"That dress..."

Sakura gawked at him, and then tried to stifle a laugh. "What? You exchanged a date to borrow this dress?"

"I avoided her advances tactfully for three years, before this happened. It wasn't easy." He emphasized, like this was entirely her fault.

Sakura's failing attempt at hiding a giggle ceased altogether, and she blinked. "Oh... Really? Crap...I'm sorry. Uh—"

"Don't worry. You owe me, remember?" He peaked over his shoulder at her, a sliver of an eye that was almost scheming.

She sighed, slumping her shoulders. "Alright, alright. I get it. I owe you. I'm a terrible person."

"No you're not. You just make bad decisions sometimes."

"Bad decisions?!"

"Don't act offended. You could have easily avoided sleeping with him right before his entire family arrived to cook you dinner. Think, Sakura. You've already proven to be smart and capable. You should know better."

She sucked in her breath and fumed. Annoyed that he was right, and she could think of no argument to toss back in his face. She did make bad decisions sometimes. She never used to. This was a whole new territory, and she was having trouble dealing with it. He couldn't give her a little slack?

"How long have you been dating?"

"W-what? We're not d— I mean... Well, we just kinda... I dunno..."

Their game of follow the leader stopped in the middle of the road when he turned around. She found him leveling an inquisitive and suspicious look down at her, and she fumbled to slam closed her book of muddled emotions written all over her face before he could read into her too much, but something told her it didn't matter. It was too late. He looked disbelieving, but was distracted before he could speak, and she watched his eyes travel up to the top of her head.


A hand reached for her cautiously, and hovered in the air between them unsure. She pat herself on the head, trying to feel whatever it was he was inspecting so closely.

"You should fix your hair a little before we knock on the door." He muttered, and touched a few strands delicately, as if he wanted to help, but he wasn't sure where to begin. A gentle breeze whisked by, fanning her dress and hair in his direction, and suddenly he took a step back and twitched his head to the side, like he'd been struck.

She paused in the middle of running her fingers through the disheveled locks, and stared at him. "Okay seriously, what is it?"

"Nothing." He insisted quickly, and turned his back on her.

She couldn't help but roll her eyes in frustration. "Shisui...I'd prefer you tell me, than finding out the hard way." Inwardly she was cringing in anticipation, but she had to know. If he was noticing something, others were bound to notice, too.

He considered her for a minute, licking his lips in contemplation, and then he turned and hesitantly leaned closer to whisper. "You smell like..." She waited, though there was no need to. His reaction, and inability to finish his own sentence, spoke volumes. Already dying inside, this couldn't be that much worse. It was something she was aware of...but it was distressing hearing someone else bring it to light.

"Is it...that noticeable?"

"Only when it's windy. Or when you're close to someone." Then he straightened his back and took another step away, exhaling audibly. "Ask to use the bathroom as soon as they let us in. You can wash up enough in the sink. It's not a bad smell, it's just...mm...his...mm...his parents would know...what it is." He faltered quietly. This had to be one of the most embarrassing conversations of his life, and he was having it was some girl he barely knew.

He started walking again, and ran his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. What a fiasco. This wasn't something he ever pictured himself getting involved in, and it was more than a little weird. There were things he wanted to say, and things he wanted to ask her...things that might ease some of the tension, but this was the wrong place and wrong time. There was also the question of how much more involved he wanted to get in the first place. He didn't know Itachi was seeing anyone until now. His friend could be secretive, but this wasn't something Shisui expected to be left in the dark about.

He glanced behind him, realizing he didn't hear her footsteps anymore. Sakura was still trailing along, but several paces away, brushing through her hair some more, and shuffling with the enthusiasm of a prisoner toward the gallows.


She looked up just as he set a hand on her shoulder.

"Relax. Act natural, be friendly, don't touch anyone until you hit the sink, and you'll be fine. We're sitting down and eating dinner. It's no big deal."

"Yeah..." She peeped and looked away. Hearing him, but having a difficult time believing him, and it was clear on her face she still thought something was going to go wrong.

"I mean it. Take it from me...life could throw a hell of a lot more complications at you. This will be a piece of cake. Consider it a different kind of training, and learn from it." His knees bent enough that he was eye-level with her, and dipped his head to get her attention, and she glanced back at him.

"I know... I just feel so unprepared. I have no idea what's going on between us...and now his parents, who just happen to be head of your clan, are thanking me and inviting me to dinner and they don't even know...and...it's intimidating...and...I can't get my head on straight...and...what if Sasuke finds out?" The riptide of worries she spent months drowning in all by herself were spilled on him. She was being more honest than she was comfortable with, since he was sort of a stranger, but it was uncontrollable. She did something right though, because she felt that invisible burden on her shoulders getting even lighter.

He was analyzing her again with his dark eyes, just like Itachi did, just like Sasuke did, only she didn't mind this time. She was tired of everything, and even more tired of trying to battle through it alone. "What makes you think Sasuke doesn't already know?"

Sakura blanched, and opened her mouth in a panic, but he cut her off.

"I'm not saying he does. Maybe...maybe not. But say he does know. What makes you think he even cares? You're worrying more than you need to. Take a deep breath, and just let it go. Live life one day at a time. And even if Sasuke cares, he'll get over it. They're brothers, Sakura. They're not married. Unless he's upset because he's attracted to you, then that's a little different, but it's still not your problem. "

His speech gave her some food for thought, and she visibly relaxed while she considered everything.

"You know what I think?"

"What do you think, Dr. Shisui?"

He continued, ignoring her jab, though he was beginning to feel like something of a psychologist. "I think this has nothing to do with Sasuke, or anyone else. I think you're afraid of your own feelings, and you're using him as a crutch. Stop being afraid. Fear and hesitation get you missed opportunities in life, and an early grave on a mission. Don't worry about their parents, either. You think they're going to be upset about you dating their son, after you saved his life?"

Her arms folded over her chest, and she gazed thoughtfully at him. "Why does everything you say make sense..." Now, that didn't account for the fact that she was not an Uchiha. That could be a problem. But there was too much for her to keep track of right now, and so it slipped her mind.

He shrugged.

Sakura smiled at him suddenly, her spirits much higher than they've been in a long time. Even if she chose not to regard some of his comments...like her fear of her feelings, and using Sasuke as a crutch. There was more to it than that, in her mind. Shisui knew so little about their situation, and she had to remember that. Though something told her he was aware of more than she thought he was. He did make her think, though. She had to wonder what reason Sasuke could possibly have for caring about her seeing his brother. In the end, maybe he would be happy, since she wouldn't be so focused on him anymore. Obviously he wasn't going to care because he was attracted to...he made it pretty clear she just annoyed him with her constant attention. Then her eyes lit up.

"Whoa... But I never said that Itachi and I were dating. I don't know what's going to happen. I haven't had a chance to really...talk about it, I guess. I don't even know if—"

"That's not something I can help you with right now. We've wasted enough time as it is."

"Right." She sighed, shaking her head to try to clear her mind, and then whisked past him to take the lead. More confident, and ready to get this over with.

Her new friend, as she was prepared to call him now, let her hop up the steps to the house first, and knock on the door with renewed ease. It was his turn to hide in the gloomy shadows, as he withdrew into himself. There was some guilt gnawing at him, of all things. Part of him wanted to tell Sakura that Sasuke already knew, and that judging by his uncharacteristic reaction to finding them rolling in the hay, he did care...though Shisui didn't know why. But again, how much did he want to get involved? He was already deeper than he preferred. This could be risky for him, if he wasn't careful. Drama and romance weren't his forte, especially when you combined the two. He would rather stand in the corner and quietly wait for the storm to blow over, taking minimal damage. But at the rate things were going, he might have to buckle down for the ride, and just deal with it.

When the door slid open, Sasuke stood in front of her. The overworked heart hiding in her chest skipped a beat, and she looked more surprised than she meant to when they made eye contact. Of course he would be home. He lived there, he was going eating with them, yet seeing him suddenly made her feel...funny. Not a good funny, either.

"Hey!" Chirping as friendly as she could and smiling, she tried to be the Sakura he was used to, and not arouse any suspicion.

"Hn." Was his overjoyed response. An uninviting statue that blocked their entrance, and gave no sign that he was going to let them in. That smile began melting slowly down her face when he left it at that, and his eyes swept over her deep emerald dress critically.

"Sorry, I'm probably late, huh? I hope your mom isn't mad. But Shisui's here too!" Shifting to the side, she revealed the older Uchiha standing on the last step leading up to the porch behind her. He and Sasuke looked at one another silently, and a moment passed between them that she couldn't define. Something electric and heavy hung in the air amidst the three, and she wondered if she missed something important.

"Yeah, you're late." He stated blandly, expressionless, and continued staring at the other man.

"...Is everything alright? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be late. Things just...happened." Sakura laughed lightly, persistent in keeping the mood elevated. Maybe he was just annoyed since this was the second time. Being twenty minutes late to their lunch a week ago wasn't very nice of her. She was starting to adopt Kakashi's habit, and she needed to fix that before she became known for it.

Pale lips smirked, and he cocked his head slightly, giving her a look. One she wasn't familiar with. It wasn't outright hostile, but there was something dark about it, and she unconsciously swallowed. "It's fine. Come in. Mom's still cooking anyway." The door snapped sharply as he shoved it the rest of the way open, making her jump. He glanced at it briefly, surprising even himself. Back leaning against the frame and folding his arms, he let her pass.

"Is that a new perfume?" He asked in a low tone when that musky scent wafted over him at her close proximity.

She froze in fear, and slowly looked at him over her shoulder as she slipped out of her shoes. Perfume? Perfume? Was he serious? "Uh...I'm not wearing any per—" Shit. What was she supposed to say to that? They were both staring at her expectantly, and the mildly alarmed expression on Shisui's face didn't help her in the slightest. She was on her own.

"Actually, can I use your bathroom real quick?"

Sasuke's smirk was still aimed at her when he nodded, and she took off down the hall and around the corner, being sure to avoid the kitchen so their mom wouldn't stop her. Luckily, she didn't run into Fugaku either, and Itachi wasn't found in her short journey.

Shisui stepped through after she disappeared, and stood at his side as the door closed behind him.

"I found her walking home. She looked terrible. I borrowed a dress from a friend so she would come back with me."

A sigh filtered through Sasuke's nose, and it was hard to tell whether it was an agitated or amused one.

"What was wrong with her yukata?"

"Sasuke, don't."

"Don't what?" The younger man watched him with false innocence, and Shisui shook his head knowingly.

"I know what you're doing. Leave it alone for tonight. She's worked up enough as it is, and you don't need to get your whole family involved."

"I bet she is worked up..."


A strict glare was exchanged between them, before he added. "I don't want to get dragged into this, either."

"Hn...You watched what happened. You got her a change of clothes. I'm sure you also got her to admit what was going on, since she had to face you like that. It's too late to back out now."

Shisui sighed, his frustration breaking through for the first time. A firm grip dropped onto Sasuke's shoulder, and held him for a moment as if to sink in a point. "Be respectful. If you're really that upset about her fucking your brother, then deal with it later, when there's no one around but the two of you. Let's also not forget the fact that she brought him back from the dead...understand?" Frustration even more evident in the language he used. "Why do you care so much?"

Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "I don't care."

"Don't lie to me." His voice lowered as he grew serious. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it's when someone tried to lie to him...or even bend the truth. Probably because he was so good at seeing through the average person's deceit, and it drove him a little crazy at times.

Sasuke snorted and pulled his shoulder away. "Whatever. It doesn't matter." He started down the hall, making it clear he had no interest in continuing their conversation now, or ever. Shisui let him go without a fight, and stood for a couple minutes longer by the door to cool down a little, and collect his thoughts.

After at least five minutes of running water, the sink finally shut off, and Sakura emerged from the bathroom far cleaner than when she entered. It was hard to spot-clean without turning the counter into a miniature water park, but she pulled it off using only one towel to dry things. There. Now no one could possibly comment on her 'perfume'. What a strange question... Is that a new perfume? If that's what Sasuke considered perfume, that was a little creepy. The good news was, he didn't—

"Where did you go?" A familiar voice derailed her train of thought, and a zing of electricity raced through her nerves as she swirled around to look up at Itachi. Long black hair hung around him, free from the ponytail he typically secured it in. He was fully clothed in loose blue pants and the long-sleeved black shirt he meant to put on earlier, before she barged into his bedroom.

"Me? You're the one that left me alone in your room and almost gave me a heart attack when I woke up! I had to climb out your window!" She accused heatedly, keeping her voice hushed in the empty hall.

Itachi looked confused at first, and then closed his eyes with a soft sigh. "Sakura...did you not see the scroll I left for you?"

"...Eh? What scroll?"

When he reopened his eyes, he looked at her a little harder. "There was a scroll next to you on the bed. It had a change of clothes, among other things."

She studied him with large eyes. "...There was? I didn't see anything..." Her voice grew quieter with every word, feeling rather dumb for thinking he would just leave her hanging like that. "But why didn't you wake me up? You just left me there!"

For that, he was guilty, and he glanced sideways as he answered. "You were tired. I didn't want to wake you. As long as I wasn't in the room, no one was going to come in, so I let you sleep for a few minutes."

"Uhhgg..." She groaned, at a loss for what to say. It was a nice enough gesture, so it was hard to be mad at him, but damn if the whole thing wasn't ridiculous...

"Wait, why would you have a change of clothes for a girl?"

"I'm assigned missions with girls, sometimes. You can fit a lot of supplies into scrolls, I'm sure you know. There's no sense leaving space in them."

"Alright fine. I guess I just...freaked out and missed it."

"It's a habit of yours."


"You're a little skittish, Sakura, and you don't always react well under pressure. You need to work on that."

Green eyes glowered at him pointedly, wanting to protest, but feeling he was speaking enough truth.

"Where did you get that dress?"

"Oh... Erm... Shisui got it for me." A light, nervous laugh followed, and she rubbed the back of her neck. Itachi suddenly took a greater interest, as his face visibly lit up, and his lips parted. Then they closed, and he stared thoughtfully as he wondered.

"He's here too, we walked together. I ran into him on the road and...he...well he saved my butt, I guess. He's a really nice guy, you know?"

"Yeah...he is." He sounded a little far away, and that vague look of surprise lingered on him.

"I told him what happened." Admitting finally, she fidgeted more and watched him for a reaction. Unsure of how he might feel at the news.

Ironically, the shamefully handsome man in front of her didn't show the slightest recognition that he even heard her. He was silent. Sakura's fidgeting gradually died down, and she blinked at him. Waiting.

"I see."

Then, he was shifting past her, and wandering down the hall.


"Has my mother seen you yet?"


He made a simple hand gesture for her to follow, and she obeyed, thoroughly confused. What the hell? Did he not even care that she told his best friend? Why did it always feel like she was playing ever-lasting guessing games with these guys? So infuriatingly mysterious.

"Sakura!" The small mother of two beamed when she turned from the stove to see her new favored medic standing in the doorway of the kitchen. "I'm so glad you could make it, I know you're a busy girl...and what a cute dress you're wearing."

She laughed, flattered that Mrs. Uchiha would bother to compliment her. Too bad it wasn't even her dress. She really liked that yukata, too...she'd have to sneak back into that alley later and retrieve it's dirty, crumpled heap, if no one found it and threw it out yet. Hopefully she wouldn't have say goodbye to a second one.

"Thank you! I'm honored that you would ask me to come. Is there anything I can help you with?" Mikoto flashed her a stern look as soon as she took one step into the kitchen, and Sakura's smile faltered. "Absolutely not, young lady. I would not invite you to dinner just to put you to work. You're a guest here. Itachi, won't you make her some tea? Sakura, you sit down and relax. I'll be finished soon."

He emerged from the shadow of the hall and slipped by, headed for the tea kettle without a word, as another voice piped up. "It's my fault we're late. I ran into her on the way here, and we started talking. I lost track of time." Shisui apologized sincerely, perfecting his lie like a true hypocrite...but this was an exception for him. He gave her a formal bow, and Mikoto dropped the long cooking chopsticks she was using to walk over to him.

"Don't be silly, dear. You're not late." She insisted softly, choosing to deny their tardiness for this event. While he was bowed forward, she ruffled his hair lightly, and kissed the top of his head. "Now go enjoy yourselves. If you want to eat, you can't be crowding my kitchen." She huffed, and returned to the stove.

"Yes, ma'am." He straightened and held his arm out, gesturing for Sakura to exit first. As she did, she missed Itachi observing them from under his dark lashes. Shisui gave him a slight nod before drifting out after her, leaving him to his assigned duty.

"Oh, Sakura?"

The medic poked her head back into the kitchen. "Yes?"

"My husband is working late this evening, but he will be home before you have to leave. I hope you won't mind. He's about a busy as you are." Mikoto smiled warmly at her...perhaps the true reason she didn't seem to judge them for being late. Hard to criticize when your family could be just as guilty.

"Oh, not a problem! I understand! I'm sure he has a lot more responsibility than me, actually!" She waved a hand in quick reassurance, and then scurried down the hall after Shisui, who brought them into a room she hadn't been in before. It was a simple, yet comfortable living room. A couple long sofas were positioned in an L shape, with a low table in front of them.

"You're really helping me out a lot tonight...thanks." She murmured as she flopped into the corner of one sofa, the emotional strain of the day showing on her tired face.

"Friends look out for each other." He stated as if it were nothing, and sat down next to her, with a little bit of space between them.

Her head turned to watch him from her lazy slouch. The cushions were nice and soft, and she wasn't about to waste their purpose with an erect, proper posture. Well, unless Mikoto came into the room. Then she would snap up like a soldier.

"Heh...friends?" She asked tentatively, though his words made her smile faintly.

"You mean something to him. Of course I'm going to consider you a friend." He smirked briefly. A little weathered like her, though nothing as close to what she was experiencing.

Something... Yeah... What exactly did she mean to Itachi? She didn't have a clue. But then, she still wasn't completely confident in her feelings toward him. Years had gone by, several years, of being so obsessed with Sasuke that she didn't think she'd ever look twice at another man. No one had ever interested her except him. Not even for a second. Then this happened, and it happened so damn fast, her head was still spinning too rapidly to make sense of it all. A serious talk was in store for their very near future.

Suddenly, she looked like she was going to be sick. Protection... They hadn't use any. That was another serious issue. If this...whatever this was...continued between them, she would have to address that problem. There's no way in hell she was ready to pop out a baby any time soon, regardless of who the father was. Oh man, she would be in so much trouble.

"What's wrong?" Shisui asked, watching her from the corner of his eye while he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.

"Nothing... I'm fine. Just kinda tired." She played it off weakly, and looked at him. His eyes told her that he knew she was lying again, but he kept his mouth shut, and glanced away. Fine. He was lacking the energy to pry at her. If she didn't want to talk about it, so be it.

"Tch. If you two looked any more sad, I'd ask who died." Sasuke quipped as his white t-shirt and blue pants passed to sit on the sofa diagonal to them. Acting as if he didn't have a care in the world.

"It's been a long day." Shisui explained, putting on an act with Sakura in the room. The younger man possessed a heightened awareness of the unique situation they were all trapped in, but he seemed remarkably at ease.

"Yeah, it has." He agreed, letting the thoughts of Sakura and Itachi tangled in sheets and rocking a bed into the wall hit him without any regret. That didn't mean the images didn't bother him, or affect him in any way, but his perspective was a little different now. In the short amount of time he had to mull over the things he witnessed, he was able to digest it all enough to reach a certain conclusion. And oh, had he witnessed a lot... After Shisui abandoned him to his misery, and walked home, something changed inside of him. He snuck back into the house, and mustered the gall to continue watching. Unusually capricious of him...and certainly perverse...but he didn't care anymore. This was her fault, he was convinced. If she hadn't acted like such a wanton whore, this wouldn't have happened.

That was a very disturbing thought to have, and yet it was his...even more disturbing that he was beyond reconsidering his calculation. It was a fact in mind. Perhaps a product of being so shocked, and exposed to something he wasn't ready for...but there it was, in all it's twisted glory. Currently, whether he was correct in his thoughts or not, he judged her as something inferior to the teammate she had always been. And yet, he couldn't comprehend his own hypocrisy, or his glaring double standard. For his brother could never be inferior...no...Itachi could do no wrong. He was always going to be the shining example; the role model for how to behave, how to train; how to be a shinobi worthy of the title, and a man worthy of admiration.

Poor Sakura was disarmed and unassuming as she sat there, enjoying the quiet atmosphere as utensils clinked in the kitchen, and the sound of a whistling kettle carried through the house. Too self-absorbed to pay as much attention to Sasuke, as he was paying to her..for once in her life. That was, until that eerie prickle along the back of her neck warned her that something was amiss. She looked up, and caught him staring her down with a pair of eyes that she swore could have shot lasers through her.

What she didn't notice, was the carefully guarded look Shisui was monitoring him with. Unsuspecting, yet on alert, and ready to intervene should a few choice words be spoken prematurely between the two teenagers. He didn't like the vibe the younger man was seeping. It was curiously extrinsic of him, but his intention was to do nothing more than observe, as long as he was able to. So troublesome.

The front door opened and closed unexpectedly, and the three silent brooders perked up and watched for a new body to appear. Fugaku paused abruptly, spying them as he made his way down the hall. On cue, they all stood, and Shisui immediately bowed. Even though he was family, he always chose to be excessively polite. Sakura followed suit, as she was slightly intimidated by the man for reasons unknown, and wanted to instill a good impression.

"Ah, Sakura." He started with a deep sigh, looking as tired as the rest of them, yet otherwise stoic. "Forgive me, my work often keeps me late." Stiff shoulders, hard eyes, and a mouth set into a rigid line that looked as if it would slump into a frown at any moment. She had an inkling his apology was only a show of courtesy he was accustomed to delivering without any hassle from his peers. And who would object to him? He was the head of their clan, and top dog of the military police. He could probably be late whenever he wanted, and no one would open their mouth. Well okay, maybe not whenever he wanted, but still...

"Oh please, that's not necessary! I completely understand." She beamed as cheerfully as she could, and he nodded gratefully as his eyes moved over her. Taking her in so quickly and precisely, she hardly had time to realize he paid her any attention at all...but he did it. He sized her up, for a purpose she couldn't understand, and then it was over. "Please have a seat in the dining room. Dinner should be ready soon." Then, he made his way into the kitchen. Keeping to himself his surprise that they weren't already in the middle of eating.

"I didn't expect you so early!" They heard Mikoto chime, and his deep voice rumbled words they couldn't make out as they filed into yet another room. So much for tea. Itachi seemed to take the hint, as he never showed up with the pot after the whistling died down.

The rectangle table was empty, and with enough chairs to fit all six of them. She chose a seat on one of the longer sides, and was pleasantly surprised when Shisui chose to sit directly next to her. Sasuke slid in across from him.

"Perfect timing. It's so nice when everything falls into place." Mikoto whisked into the room a moment later, carrying a cluster of steaming dishes in her arms that made Sakura do a double-take. The balance and strength that woman demonstrated almost made her laugh, as she began plopping down small bowls of rice and miso soup in front of everything. Her white apron was impressively clean as well, as if she'd just put it on. As she turned to raid the kitchen for the rest of the food, she ran into Itachi with a big bowl of vegetables as he came up behind her. "Will you sit down and let me do my job?" She scolded unabashedly, and he let her claim the bowl from his hands and set it in the middle of the table. Sakura looked down, pretending not to notice, but she couldn't keep the grin off her face.

Itachi squeezed in between Shisui and Sasuke, putting him at one end of the table, and surveyed the room quietly.

"She can order you to make tea all day, but Kami forbid you set the table." Shisui broke the silence with an inside joke that wasn't entirely lost to Sakura, and the older Uchihas exchanged subtle looks of amusement. He broke the ice, which was the main goal of that comment, and it helped settle the four of them. Even Sasuke took his acidic gaze off the girl who was in more trouble than she thought she was, and looked down at his lap with a smirk.

"I don't know any housewives that take their job as seriously as my mother does." Itachi murmured softly, successfully evading the ears of the proud woman that reentered a second later with a plate of fresh fish. She flitted in and out a couple more times, until everything was in its place, and then finally removed the apron to hang it on a hook in the kitchen. They waited patiently until she took a seat next to Sasuke, and Fugaku ventured out last to take his place at the other end of the table, between his wife and Sakura. The flak jacket was gone, as he had taken a moment to quickly change clothes into something more comfortable, and less...militaristic.

"...This is it? No whale?" He frowned, staring at the undeniably vast array of bowls, glasses, and hot food wafting its curtain of steam between them all. Sakura eyed him shyly, unsure of how to take his reaction. His disappointment was convincing. Mikoto, on the other hand, quickly snapped a look of subdued fury, and nudged him sharply under the table without giving herself away.

"If you want a whale, you go fishing for it."

His frown twitched into a faint smile, and Sakura felt half her muscles unclench in relief. "That won't be necessary. Everything looks perfect the way it is...as always."

Mikoto's barely contained sass melted into something content and harmless again, approving of his response. She looked up at everyone with a satisfied smile.

Sakura took a deep breath. Well, here goes nothing...

A/N: If you are wondering why Sasuke is switching gears, and starting to act like an ass...well, you'll have to read further to understand what he's going through internally. Just know that I'm portraying him this way on purpose. You're not supposed to like him very much right now.

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