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Entwinement

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“Look Sakura, we’re here! You know this is where you were born and raised until we moved to Tea.” 

Sakura looked up from the dirt road she had her eyes fixed upon to stare upon the highest and most impressive gates she could remember seeing. Konoha, the village hidden in the leaves, where she was born and where she was now returning, years after her birth. While her parents had been excited to return to Konoha and take over the family business, Sakura did not share their excitement. They had memories and friends here, but all her memories and her friends were now behind her. Keeping pace with her mother, Sakura looked around, not really paying attention to anecdotes that were being sent her way. 

As a big ninja village, Konoha was drastically different than their small farming village in Tea. As they walked down the main road leading from the gate, Sakura saw all manner of different people, but she was fascinated by the ninja. They stood out from everyone else, most of them wearing a dark green jacket with a red symbol. They came in all shapes and sizes, and for Sakura, who had never seen a ninja before, they were all different from what she had thought they’d be.

“And this is your aunt’s flower shop, we’re stopping here first.” Haruno Mebuki, drew her daughter’s attention away from her surroundings. Sakura blushed at being caught, and looked at the shop in front of them, named Yamanaka Flowers. The front of the shop was filled with a rainbow of different shapes and sizes, and Sakura found herself fascinated by the bright colors. Flowers were rare in Tea, and the ones they did have had been a shade of white that Sakura never quite liked.

“I didn’t know I had an aunt that was a florist.” Sakura spoke. She thought her mother didn’t have any close family left. Sakura followed her mom inside the shop, where even more colorful flowers resided. The two women stopped by an arrangement of several different red flowers. 

“Oh no, she’s an old friend of mine. We were really close, so she’s your godmother too. We always hoped you and her daughter, Ino would be close.” Mebuki explained with a smile. She hadn’t wanted to leave Konoha with baby Sakura, but when Kizashi’s father had asked them to take over the family’s farm, they had no choice but to leave Konoha. At first Mebuki had resisted the idea, but she eventually relented.

“How can I help you?” A tall blonde woman, approached them with a smile. Sakura eyed her in surprise, thinking that she was the most beautiful young woman she had ever seen. 

“Are you perhaps… Ino?” Her mother seemed to recognize the young woman, who looked at the two of them in surprise. 

“Yes, that’s me…” Ino nodded. Sakura looked at her mother in surprise. She had wanted the two of them to be friends? Sakura was sure her mom was crazy, she would have had nothing in common with this girl. “And who might you be?” Ino asked, her smile lessening a little and her posture tightening.

“I’m Haruno Mebuki, your mother should be expecting me.” 

“Oh, of course! She’s in the back!” Ino’s whole demeanor changed again, Sakura noticed. She went from polite, to tense to friendly so fast that she almost wondered if the young woman in front of her was crazy.

“I still remember where that is, so I’ll head there. In the meantime, do you think you could show my own daughter, Sakura, around the village?” Mebuki smiled, pushing Sakura towards Ino. Neither girl seemed happy with this and with nigh identical fake smiles, they nodded towards the older woman.

Sakura followed Ino outside the flower shop, and as soon as they were outside, Ino seemed to undergo another change. Her politeness was completely gone, replaced by a self-assured attitude. Flicking her long ponytail back, she eyed Sakura skeptically. Sakura didn’t care for her attitude, crossing her own arms in response. The two of them stared each other down for a while, before eventually Ino cracked a grin.

“For a civilian girl you sure have guts, staring down a ninja like me.” Ino’s voice was filled with a kind of warmth that surprised Sakura. 

“You’re a ninja?” Sakura asked, shocked. She looked over Ino again. Her slim curvaceous body and good looks did not seem to be very ninja-like, but Sakura could see where it would be advantageous to be so pretty.

“Yeah, I’m from the prestigious Yamanaka Clan. C’mon Sakura, I’ll show you all the best spots for a young girl.” 

Ino took Sakura through the shopping district, telling Sakura all the things she considered important for her to know. Sakura made sure to pay attention this time, knowing this was precious information. Ino told her about the best escape routes, clothing shops, hair stylists, weapons stores, and about her teammates, who she claimed Sakura could always go to when she needed help. Eventually she switched from talking to asking, wanting to know everything about Sakura’s own life, and was impressed with Sakura’s extensive knowledge of herbs and tea.

“That’s what my clan does. We’re tea-makers. Dad was taking care of the farm, but since grandpa died, we came here to take over the shop. Now the farm is in the hands of Dad’s third cousin, Arashi.” Sakura explained while Ino nodded.

“I’m guessing your mother wants to set up a deal with mine in regards to supplies?” Ino asked, and Sakura agreed, further explaining how it had been her idea to get in touch with a local florist to set them up with special blooms that they didn’t grow themselves. 

That was Sakura’s biggest issue. Her father was absolutely clueless when it came to anything business-related. He was an excellent brewer and farmer, but had zero capacity to deal with anything related to numbers, supplies, or any other decisions. Sakura had always enjoyed reading and learning, and it had been Mebuki, her mother who had nurtured Sakura’s desire for knowledge, and the young girl had since taken over the business side of things. It was why she had to leave Tea with them, knowing there was no way her father would be able to handle a shop without her.

“And we’re back.” Ino interrupted Sakura’s explanation to show that they were already back at Yamanaka Flowers. Mebuki and an older woman that Sakura assumed was Ino’s own mother had been standing in front of the shop. “Don’t forget to stop by the shop I told you about, Konoha is pretty warm so you’ll want to stop wearing those heavy clothes.” Ino gave Sakura a last advice before the two of them separated. Sakura nodded with a smile.

“Did you like Ino-chan?” Mebuki asked her daughter with a knowing smile. Sakura nodded, deciding that she should stop questioning her mother’s wisdom. The two of them headed to a different area of Konoha, heading to the Tea Shop to meet with Haruno Kizashi.  Sakura noticed that the tea shop was located in a quieter area, seemingly residential, and she wondered why that was its location. The answer came to her when she learned the tea shop was also their new home. It was a two story building, the tea shop occupying the bottom floor, while the top floor was residential, and would be where Sakura’s family would make their home.

Haruno Kizashi greeted them happily, as he had moved a month earlier than the two women, to make sure everything was set up perfectly for his two girls. He welcomed them to their new home, where everything was already furnished and organized.  He showed them around the house, the living room, the kitchen and their bedrooms. Sakura noticed that hers was smaller than what she was used to in Tea, but it had a small patio that she could stand on and look outside. The view wasn’t amazing, but the warm breeze was very welcome, and Sakura smiled, knowing that she could get used to it.

Their first dinner in Konoha was filled with Kizashi filling them in on everything he had done the first month, and while Sakura missed the people she left behind in Tea, she knew she could never leave behind her family.

The next day, Sakura opened the tea shop with her father. He told her that they didn’t have many customers, but the ones they did were frequent and dedicated ones. Sakura frowned at this, hoping that they didn’t suddenly inherit a trap of a tea shop, but chose to reserve her judgement until she could get her hands on her grandfather’s notes.

“I’ll be in the back, sorting and storing all the herbs you brought, can you watch the shop for me?” Kizashi asked his daughter, who nodded, looking around. 

The front of the shop wasn’t very large, a few tables scattered randomly around the floor. There was a counter that separated the front from the back area, and Sakura noticed a couple worn stools behind it. She smiled, knowing that this was likely where her grandparents had spent most of their time. Behind the balcony there were several tall bookshelves that served as a wall separating the front from the back, where her father was working. Overall, Sakura enjoyed the feel of the shop, as it came across as understated yet welcoming. She took to organizing the dishes that were scattered on the shelves. It looked like they were all placed randomly there, and Sakura wondered who would have been able to find what among that chaos.

She heard her father speak to their dessert supplier in the back, and sighed, knowing this would be yet another thing she’d have to look into. She hoped they sold enough sweets to justify whatever her father was paying the man. After she had finished organizing the shelves neatly, she found three old-looking notebooks containing her grandfather’s bookkeeping and placed them atop the counter, intent on having a good look at them.

She had just sat down when two men entered the shop, absorbed in a conversation. They walked straight to a table on the right, and Sakura wondered why they didn’t pick one by the windows. Grabbing two menus, she walked over to them. They didn’t seem to notice her at first, and she patiently stood, waiting for them to finish what they were saying. Eventually the youngest one looked up at her, as if noticing her for the first time.

“What would you two like to have?” She smiled at the two, handing them the menus. They didn’t take them, choosing to stare at her, and Sakura’s smile twitched in annoyance.

“You must be Kizashi-san’s daughter.” The older male spoke. 

“Yes, I am Haruno Sakura.” She introduced herself to them. The whole situation was extremely awkward and Sakura wanted nothing more than to run away and hide her face in a book.

“I’ll have the green tea with today’s dango, and he’ll have the black tea” The younger male ordered. She looked at him for a second, surprised at the smooth voice he had. Nodding at them, Sakura turned away, heading for the kitchen to relay their request to her father. Returning to her position at the counter, Sakura pulled out one of the stools, and opened one of her grandfather’s notebooks. Before she could even understand what was written, her father called out to her. Sakura took their orders to their table, gently placing the correct items in front of each male, and with a small bow she returned to the book she had been itching to get her hands on.

Before she started reading, her mother entered the shop, stopping by to talk to Sakura. Mebuki wanted to buy some clothes for herself and Sakura told her about the shops Ino had recommended. Nodding, Mebuki turned around to look at the only occupied table.

“Wow, we have some handsome customers.” She smiled. Sakura also looked at the table, shocked by her mother’s bold statement. Sure, the one with the smooth voice also had a tall, lean physique and silky black hair that complimented his pale skin and his deep black eyes, but Sakura wasn’t about to start ogling the few customers they had.

“I suppose he is handsome, and I like the ponytail, it looks nice, flowing downwards like that, but seriously mom, what if dad hears you.” Sakura chastised her mother, who simply laughed.

“I wasn’t talking about the young one. I meant the other one, with the scars on his face. I like a rugged, wild look like that.” Mebuki smiled at Sakura, who was gaping at her bold mother. Before the young woman could recover, Mebuki left with a wave. Sakura looked at the two men who were still talking hoping they hadn’t heard anything, but their small smiles told a different story.

Groaning, Sakura allowed her head to fall upon the book with a silent thump, cursing her parents. After a couple seconds of wallowing in self-pity, Sakura rose again with a sigh, deciding to get to work. Nothing like numbers to make her forget people, she thought.

Deciphering her grandfather’s notes was more challenging than Sakura expected. His notebook was a mixture of diary and financial bookkeeping that was clumsily made. There were months without a single entry, and months where he would record the same thing twice. Feeling a headache beginning to form, Sakura stretched. She looked forward, and was surprised to see the young man standing on the other side of the counter. Not expecting his presence there, Sakura almost fell from the stool, gripping the counter for dear life. 

“What?” She asked him breathlessly, her heart still racing from her almost fall.

“The bill.” He extended a perfect hand towards her, and Sakura met him halfway with her own trembling one. He gently placed the money on her hand, and she noticed even his fingernails were perfectly trimmed. Looking upwards to meet his eyes, she pulled her hand back.

“Thank you.” She remembered to smile at him, hoping he’d come again. With a small nod, he turned to leave, making no sound as he walked past all the tables. She watched him disappear as soon as he stepped outside and realized that he was probably a ninja. Realizing that as a ninja, he very likely had heard exactly what she and her mother said, Sakura was yet again filled with deep embarrassment.

Before she could wallow in her own self-pity further, her mother returned with lunch. The two of them ate together, Sakura listening to her mother’s retelling of her shopping adventures. The two of them agreed to have Mebuki take care of the shop during the afternoon, to allow Sakura to find some new clothes for herself. 

It was a happy Sakura that headed out in the sunny Konoha afternoon to find herself an outfit. She went straight to the shop Ino told her about, and was pleased by what she found there. Tasteful dresses in bright colors filled the shop, in different shapes, sizes and styles. She walked towards the qipao dresses, her eyes falling to a sleeveless red one that reached her mid-thigh. It had slits on the sides, which Sakura eyed suspiciously. 

“That’s a ninja dress.” Another customer, a young woman with chestnut hair in two buns smiled at Sakura. “Not that a civilian like you can’t wear it of course! I’d just recommend pairing it with some pants, or something. I hope I didn’t offend you, my name’s Tenten, and I’m a ninja.” Sakura couldn’t feel any ill-intentions coming from Tenten, just awkwardness. She could tell that Tenten hadn’t meant to potentially offend her, and Sakura found herself smiling. 

“What would you recommend?” Sakura asked. Tenten looked around the store thoughtfully. She grabbed the red dress and Sakura, pulling her towards a section filled with pants and shorts. The two women looked around thoughtfully, before Tenten smirked.

“Aha! What about these pants? They match the white trimming on the dress.” Tenten pointed to white pants that would probably go to Sakura’s knees. She liked them and nodded, grabbing them. “And since you’re not a ninja…” Tenten continued, walking towards the shoes section. “You can wear these sandals with heels. They’re very comfortable, even Tsunade-sama wears them.” Tenten picked a pair of black sandals with low heels. “They’ll make you look a little taller, which is always good.” She smiled.

Tenten directed Sakura towards an area where she could try the outfit on, and once she did, Sakura stepped out, to show her impromptu friend the full look. Tenten analyzed her critically. She told Sakura to wait for a minute and ran off. She quickly returned with a black obi that she placed around Sakura’s waist and grinned. 

“There! That’s perfect!” 

Sakura looked at herself in the mirror and gasped. She felt that she looked beautiful. Her long pink hair complimented the red dress perfectly, falling to about the length of the obi, which helped show off her slim figure. The white pants highlighted Sakura’s toned legs, and the black sandals matched the obi, while also giving Sakura a couple of inches. 

“Wow, Tenten I look… amazing!” Sakura exclaimed, turning around to look at the proud-looking brunette. She had never felt so pretty before. Choosing to leave her old, baggy clothes behind, Sakura went straight to the register, choosing to wear her new outfit immediately.

“By the way, you never told me your name.” Tenten spoke, as Sakura and her walked outside the shop. Sakura blushed in embarrassment and quickly rectified her mistake. “Sakura, huh. Your parents weren’t very creative, huh?” She spoke, taking notice of Sakura’s petal-pink hair.

“Yeah, you should see their shop. It’s literally called Tea Shop.” Sakura rolled her eyes. Tenten laughed, and the two of them started walking towards the aforementioned place. Sakura liked walking around in her new garments, finally feeling that Konoha wasn’t too warm. As they got closer, to the shop, Tenten looked around in surprised recognition.

“Wait, is it that tea shop in the residential district? I thought it was an old man that ran it.” Tenten asked, and Sakura raised her eyebrows, surprised that she knew about the shop.

“He passed away recently. He was my grandfather. Now, my father and I are taking care of it.” Sakura explained and Tenten nodded. “Are you a frequent customer?” Sakura asked.

“Well, I go there sometimes, but I’m not frequent. It’s my teammate, Neji that really likes the shop. He says the tea is the best he’s had.” Tenten explained and Sakura felt a small pang of pride at knowing that their efforts were recognized. The two of them entered the shop and Sakura noticed a new customer she didn’t know. He had long brown hair and pale, pearly eyes. “Speak of the devil, Neji!” Tenten walked up to him with a smile.

He nodded at both of them, his eyes lingering on Sakura for an extra second. She felt uncomfortable to see those odd eyes staring at her. 

“Tenten. We are not scheduled to meet for another hour.” He spoke in a low tone. Sakura wondered if he was also a ninja, as he was in the same team as Tenten, who was a ninja. Then she wondered if it was a trend for males to be long-haired. 

“Oh you’re right. I met Sakura here in a shop, and we became friends, then I learned that she is the granddaughter of the old owner of the shop who died and now she and her dad are taking over.” Tenten briefly explained. Sakura bowed politely, knowing from the brown-haired girl that Neji was a frequent customer. He looked at his tea thoughtfully.

“The quality has not decreased.” He noted in a quiet tone. Sakura smiled.

“Our clan is proud of its classic tea-making techniques. My father learned his craft from his father and so on. I promise you that you will never be disappointed.” Sakura spoke up pridefully. Neji rose an elegant eyebrow at her and nodded. Deciding to leave the two teammates alone, Sakura returned to her mother, who was writing a letter at the counter. 

“Oh you’re back!” Sakura smiled to her mother, who stared at her daughter for a second. "Kizashi! Come out here!" Mebuki called Sakura’s father, who came out in a hurry, wondering what was going on. The two of them stared at their daughter intently, and Sakura began to doubt herself under their gaze. 

"Mebuki. I'm going to have to start saving up for a wedding." Kizashi spoke soberly and Mebuki nodded. Confused, Sakura wondered what they were talking about. "Our young flower has blossomed into a beautiful woman. I'm sure there will be a line of gentlemen seeking her affection." Kizashi continued in a tearful way. 

"Don't be like that! I don't really know anyone here, and besides, I'll be too busy with the shop to go find a boyfriend." Sakura smiled at them. 

"Oh no, if you find a boy you like, you should absolutely go spend time with him. Your father used to ditch the shop all the time when we were young!" Mebuki laughed. Sakura found herself joining her mother's laughter as Kizashi protested.  Once their antics were over, Kizashi headed back to the kitchen, and Mebuki headed upstairs to get a head start on preparing dinner, leaving Sakura to tend to the shop by herself. She returned to analyzing her grandfather's notes, and quickly decided they were useless to her, and she'd have to start the bookkeeping fresh. 

Neji and Tenten bid her warm goodbyes on their way out and Sakura was glad to see them leave. She quickly took advantage of the empty shop to step outside and quickly buy a new notebook where she could start writing down expenses and sales. When she returned there was a man waiting by the counter, with gravity defying grey hair. He was obviously a ninja, with the blade strapped to his back and the pouch on his thigh clear indications for Sakura. 

"Hello, can I help you?" She asked him, wondering why he was standing by the counter instead of taking a table. He turned around to face her and she was surprised to find half his face covered by a mask. 

"Ah just waiting on an order." He replied amicably. Sakura nodded, placing her parcel on the counter and going into the kitchen to ask her father for the man's order. 

"Sakura, just in time. Please hand this to Kakashi-san who is probably waiting outside." Kizashi handed Sakura a warm thermos, and she nodded, taking it outside. 

She handed it to Kakashi, who thanked and paid her before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Writing down the order and the amount paid in her new notebook, Sakura made a note of the client's name too. 

"I didn't know we sold tea to go." She told her father as they were closing the shop. 

"I didn't either until I got here. Kakashi and Itachi both stop sometimes before their missions. I didn't want to deny them something they were used to, as they even had their own thermos!" Kizashi explained and Sakura nodded, understanding the situation rapidly. 

Small yet dedicated clientele indeed, she noted to herself. 

Chapter Text

It took Sakura a week to match everyone's name to their faces and memorize their favorite orders. Uchiha Itachi was the first man she had seen, with his long onyx ponytail, and deep black eyes. He had a sweet tooth as he always ordered something sweet with his tea, which was either green or something sweet with a floral base. Nara Shikaku was the other dark haired male, the one with the scars on his face, and his preferred tea was black. He had yet to order something else, but he always liked to sample different snacks to go with his tea. Hyuuga Neji was the third ponytailed male of the bunch, and his tea tastes were predictable as he always ordered something different. Lastly there was Hatake Kakashi, who liked the alternate between green and fruit based teas. He always had a mask on, and although Sakura had tried to peek at him while he drank, she had never seen his mask off, and his cup would always somehow end up empty. 

Those four men were their core audience, with a few more sparse goers here and there, mostly elderly couples that liked to sometimes stop by on their way home.  Sakura liked all of their customers equally, as they all paid on time and were quiet and discreet, usually keeping to themselves. She noticed that none of the shinobi sat by windows, and they all had their preferred tables. None of them used each other's table and Sakura wondered how they knew, as besides that one time Shikaku and Itachi had come together, they were never there at the same time. 

Sakura smiled as she saw Kakashi enter, with his face buried in the book he always carried along with him. 

"Kakashi-san, today we have a special apple-based brew, would you like to try some? I recommend having the daifuku with it!" Sakura spoke out from her place at the counter. At first she used to always head to their tables and hand out menus that were always refused. Now she was content to just talk to them from her place at the counter. 

"That sounds good, thanks Sakura-chan." Kakashi answered. Sakura nodded, relaying the order to her father. She returned to her book. The best thing about Konoha was its extensive library, filled to the brim with books that Sakura could only dream about. She made it her personal mission to get through as many of them as she could, and she was now devouring a tome on special medical herbs and its uses by one Tsunade Senju. 

A few minutes later, Sakura heard the telltale clink of dishes, as her father placed Kakashi's order for Sakura to pick up. Getting up from her spot, she made her way over to Kakashi's table. She had just placed down the dishes when a sharp swooshing sound happened and a blonde male materialized himself out of thin air next to Kakashi, scaring Sakura, who yelped. She stumbled over her feet in her attempt to put distance between herself and the sudden newcomer and tripped. Before she could hit the ground, the blonde male was holding her steadily, preventing the fall.

He was smiling at her, with kind blue eyes that showed many wrinkles, a product of someone who smiled a lot. She briefly noticed that they were similar to her father's, who also had those same markings of a happy man. 

"T-Thank you…" Sakura stuttered out. He let her re-establish her balance and let her go. "I'm sorry." She apologized for her clumsiness, bowing slightly. 

"No, no, I should apologize for appearing so suddenly like this!" The blonde man laughed and Sakura felt herself at ease. There was something incredibly reassuring in him, and she couldn’t help but smile back.

"Sensei, what are you doing here?" Kakashi spoke out, sounding mildly disgruntled. Sakura stared at the blond man curiously. He didn't look old enough to come across as a mentor to Sakura. 

"Why I'm here to get some tea with my favorite student, of course! I'll have a green tea, please." He turned to Sakura, who nodded and made her way to the kitchen. This was the first time she had ever seen him, but somehow his features didn't seem wholly unfamiliar. 

When she returned with his order, he and Kakashi were already deep in conversation, and Sakura quietly placed down the cup in front of the blonde man, who had taken the seat across from Kakashi while she had been gone.  Sakura turned around to leave when her departure was interrupted by the blond man calling her back. 

"Excuse me, miss. You're a young girl so maybe you can help me. I have a son, about your age, who is a massive troublemaker. I was wondering if there was a way to get him to be more serious about life in general, as his behavior is upsetting his mother quite a bit." He asked Sakura, who found herself staring at him in surprise. He looked much too young to have a son her age. 

"Sakura-chan here is a studious girl so I don't think she can help you." Kakashi answered, prompting Sakura to turn her surprise towards him. How did he know my habits, she asked herself. 

"That's because my father is frankly kind of useless insofar as books and numbers go, so someone had to do it. I always liked reading and mom always thought that was a good thing, so I tended to naturally study a lot to help my father and gain praise from my mother." Sakura replied honestly, thinking about her own childhood. "Perhaps if you reward him for being responsible…?" Sakura offered hesitantly. 

"Naruto is a lost cause, sensei." Kakashi shook his head.

"I wish my son had met a studious young woman like you to teach him some manners… Between myself and Kushina…" The blond man sighed, burying his head in his arms. 

Sakura smiled at the compliment, but internally she found herself thankful she didn't know whoever this Naruto person was. Personally she didn't have much patience towards idiots, and she was sure that if they were friends, they'd end up arguing a lot. Deciding she could take her leave from the odd man, Sakura returned to her book, thankful to lose herself in its pages. 

It was the second book by Tsunade Senju that she was reading, and Sakura liked her style. It was direct, informative and very pragmatic. It could only be a wise, studious woman, that had written a book like this, Sakura believed. Perhaps one day I'll write a book about tea, Sakura thought to herself with a smile. 

When Kakashi came to pay, she noticed that the blond man was no longer around, and that Kakashi was paying for both of them. Sakura accepted the money with a smile, which turned into an inquisitive stare when Kakashi didn't immediately head to the door. 

"I'm sorry about uh Yondaime's behavior." He apologized quickly and turned around, heading for the door. Before he reached it, the door opened, revealing Uchiha Itachi. The two of them stared at each other for a second before continuing on their paths.

Sakura watched the interaction curiously, as that was the first time she had ever seen Kakashi and Itachi together. It was clear they knew each other, but it seemed like they didn't care for one another. Sakura smiled at Itachi. 

"Good afternoon Itachi-san. What would you like to have today?" Sakura asked him. He took a moment to think before answering. 

When Sakura took his order to him, he was staring at Kakashi's table, specifically the place where the blonde man was sitting. Sakura found herself repeating the name of the man. "Yondaime." She thought it was an odd name to give to a person. Who calls their child fourth, she asked herself.

"Excuse me?" Itachi asked, startling the pensive Sakura. 

"Ah I'm sorry Itachi-san. There was this odd man today that appeared out of nowhere while Kakashi-san was here. I think his name is Yondaime? At least that's what Kakashi-san called him. I was thinking that it was a weird name." Sakura smiled, hoping she didn't come across as weird. Itachi’s face revealed a small amount of amusement at her, and she wondered if she had said something funny. 

"Yondaime isn't his name, it's his title. He's the fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato." Itachi spoke in a low tone. 

Sakura' s first reaction was to realize that the familiarity with him was due to his giant face being carved in Hokage mountain. Her second reaction was to blush to the roots of her hair, coloring her face a bright pink. She had acted so casually with the leader of Konoha! Had presumed to give him advice on how to deal with his son! Her embarrassment knew no end, and she found herself groaning.  Itachi was staring at her in interest and when she met his gaze, she blushed even harder, embarrassed of her own embarrassment. Deciding that her best option was a quick escape, Sakura ran to the kitchen, telling her dad that a quick break was required. She made a beeline to her room, ignoring the confused questions her mother sent her way and quickly locking the door as soon as she entered, wanting to die.

Not only had she not recognized him, she had been incredibly casual, mildly dismissive and even had considered him weird and his son stupid! Way to go, Sakura. I bet now he and Kakashi-san both hate you, she thought to herself.

Much to Sakura’s great relief, it seemed her treatment of the Hokage didn’t affect her relationship with Kakashi at all, and if anything, he was more talkative and friendly than before. Now he frequently gave her smiles and would greet her with a happy “Yo” whenever he entered the shop. One day when Sakura was particularly bored, she chose to engage him in conversation.

“Can I sit here?” She asked, pointing to the seat across from him. He looked mildly surprised, but nodded all the same, and Sakura took the seat gracefully. “I finished my latest batch of books, and I can’t go to the library until mom gets back from Yamanaka-san’s” Sakura explained her unusual behavior to him.

“You’re a pretty avid reader, huh. Have you finished all of Tsunade-sama’s books already?” Kakashi asked with a crinkle in his eye.

“How did you know I was…? Have you also read Tsunade-sama’s books?” Sakura asked, wondering how he knew what books she had been reading and if he had read any of her favorite writer’s things.

“I haven’t, I just saw their covers once.” He replied with a small laugh. Sakura deflated somewhat, upon realizing she hadn’t just found someone to talk them over with. “You really do read a lot, Sakura-chan. Is it just herbs and other tea-related things?” Kakashi asked and Sakura shook her head.

“Oh no, I read everything. To be honest… If my parents hadn’t left Konoha when I was younger, I probably would have tried to become a ninja. I bet I would be the smartest one around.” Sakura smirked proudly. “I tried to rent out a book on chakra and ninjutsu, but they wouldn’t let me as I was only a civilian.” Sakura pouted. She had no expectations that she’d be able to become a ninja now, but she hoped to at least understand them more. “Actually, can I ask you a few questions about that?” She wondered if Kakashi could answer some of her doubts.

“Well, there’s certain things I can’t tell you, but I’ll do my best. You remind me of an old friend of mine, actually. She was also very studious.” Kakashi smiled kindly. 

“Oh! Well, my first question is about ninja ranks…” 

Sakura didn’t realize, but she ended up spending all afternoon talking to Kakashi about Konoha’s ninja system, and when she realized what she had done, she apologized profusely, and as a gesture of thankfulness, allowed his tea to go unpaid. After talking to him, she had a better understanding oh how shinobi ranks worked, what was chakra, how ninjutsu worked, and the different types and elements they were made of. Mulling everything over in her mind, Sakura decided to close shop a little earlier, as it looked like it could rain at any time, and she still wanted to go to the library.

Just as she started piling chairs on top of tables, the door opened with its usual welcoming jingle. Sakura turned around and saw a young man in a white porcelain mask. He also had a sword strapped to his back, and for a second she thought it was Kakashi again, as he was dressed almost identically to how Kakashi had been when she first met him, but a second look told her that it was not Kakashi but Itachi.

“Itachi-san, have you come to pick up some tea before your mission?” Sakura asked. She knew her father was probably upstairs, and took his thermos to the kitchen herself. For missions, Itachi always took green tea, and Sakura set up the water to heat. While she waited for the water to heat up, she returned to the counter, to place all the books she would be returning to the library in a bag for easier transportation. Itachi had removed his mask and was looking at her books curiously.

“I didn’t know you also liked Tsunade-sama’s books.” He noted in his usual low yet polite way. Sakura smiled at him.

“Have you read Tsunade-sama’s books, Itachi-san?" She asked excitedly. "Oh that’s amazing, next time you come around we should talk about them, don’t you think her view on how to take moon herbs to distill their essence is brilliant?  I never thought of doing something like that!” Sakura quickly launched into an excited monologue about her favorite sections of the books. 

“Sakura-san. The water.” Itachi interrupted her. Sakura blinked at him and looked to the kitchen. “I believe it’s about to boil.” He added to his sentence, and right as he did, she heard the first noises of boiling water. Raising her eyebrows at him, Sakura returned to the kitchen to finish making his tea. She chose to add superhuman hearing to the list of things a ninja must do.

When she finished, she returned the thermos to him, and he paid her. “Good luck on your mission, Itachi-san.” Sakura smiled at him. He nodded and placed his mask back on. She looked at it thoughtfully, thinking that it reminded her of a weasel.

“Sakura-san, if you meet a shinobi wearing this mask, even if you know their name, you shouldn’t call them by it.” He noted. Sakura looked at him in surprise.

“What should I call you then?” Sakura asked earnestly, not wanting to potentially cause him any troubles.

“ANBU should be fine.” He supplied her with a final nod and disappeared in front of her eyes. 

As Sakura finished setting all the chairs up and closing the shop, she wondered at how weird all their usual customers were. Yet she was fond of them all in her own way, and even if they were impossible to fully understand, she’d do her best to learn more about the ninja world, so she could better comprehend their actions. In a way, she started to see them all as friends.

On her way to the library it started to rain, and Sakura dashed to it, hoping none of the books were wet. They were a little humid, which caused the librarian great displeasure, but overall intact. Staring at the pouring rain outside, Sakura wished she could disappear like Itachi and Kakashi did, so she could take her books with her safely. Deciding her bag wasn’t impervious enough, Sakura returned home with empty hands and a sad heart, promising herself she’d wake up early the next morning to visit the library. Her promise was not fulfilled as Sakura was not a morning person, and quickly returned to sleep once her alarm rang. By the time she finally managed to leave the sweet embrace of her warm bed, it was past opening time, and she rushed downstairs to help her father out. She found her mother tending to the shop, serving an old couple. On the counter, were three books, one on chakra, one on ninjutsu and one on genjutsu. Sakura stared at them open-mouthed, wondering how they were there.

“Ah, that silver-haired one, Kakashi left them here for you.” Mebuki told her daughter. She hadn’t quite liked that the ninja had been dropping off ninja books to Sakura, but she had to respect that her daughter was now an adult, and if she wanted to study ninja things, Mebuki had to respect her wishes, despite how much she hated all things ninja-related.

“I’ll have to thank him again later.” Sakura smiled, placing a hand on top of one of the books. 

Sakura started reading the chakra book first, surprised to learn all the different applications and use of chakra. She wondered if she also had chakra and if she could mold it like the book explained. She also studied all the different formulas depicted in the book. They were all mathematical in nature and Sakura liked numbers, so she spent extra time to fully learn and understand all of them. She had just gone over the formula for pooling chakra on one’s feet to stand atop water when she was interrupted by a cough. Looking up, Sakura found herself staring at a face that was simultaneously very familiar and different. The young man in front of her looked extremely similar to Nara Shikaku.

“Welcome, can I help you?” Sakura asked him. He looked uncomfortable and out of place, as if he wasn’t sure what to do.

“Uh yeah, I want some tea…” He answered, looking around. Sakura was sure he muttered something else, but she couldn’t catch it. Quickly realizing it was probably his first time here, she smiled at him.

“If you want to sit at a table, you can pick whichever one you like and I’ll bring you our menu.” Sakura gestured to all the empty tables, and got off from her own stool, picking up one of the rarely ever used menus. She followed the new customer to the table Shikaku always used and internally laughed. As she handed him the menu, she couldn’t help her curiosity and asked: “Are you perhaps related to Nara Shikaku-san?”

The young man looked at her in surprise and nodded.

“Yeah, my father recommended me this place.” He answered further. Sakura’s smile widened, like father like son, she told herself.

“This is Shikaku-san’s favorite table too.” Sakura noticed with mirth. The young man seemed to share in her amusement, as he smiled back at her. Returning the menu, he ordered black tea and a dessert, which Sakura quickly relayed to her father. She helped with the dessert arrangement and told her father how Shikaku-san’s son was there. Kizashi craned his neck to try and get a look, but Sakura quickly stopped him, chastising his behaviour.

Returning to the young man’s table with the order, Sakura decided to introduce herself, and learned that he was Nara Shikamaru, an only child, they were the same age, and that he was a shinobi like his father. Sakura also told him that he should feel comfortable to order however he wanted to. Shikamaru nodded thankfully and Sakura left him alone with his dessert to return to her book.

From that moment onward, Shikamaru also became a frequent goer to the shop. Sometimes he showed up with his father, but he most often appeared by himself, and Sakura quickly recruited him for ninja tutoring sessions. Shikamaru explained things in a different way than Kakashi had, giving her different points of view, and Sakura was quickly learning how the shinobi world worked, even if she herself was not one. Sakura had tried molding her own chakra several times, but as Kakashi had explained to her, without training since a young age, it was almost unheard of for an adult to be able to mold chakra. Shikamaru further elaborated by saying that civilians simply lost crucial chakra pathways that would close due to disuse, and Sakura's attempts at chakra usage all resulted in failure.

While that news had greatly upset Sakura, who wanted to be able to at least perform basic chakra tasks, she did now allow herself to be sad for long, as now both Shikamaru and Kakashi brought her books from the library, and Sakura was quickly gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of different jutsu. She knew she'd never be able to perform any of them, but she was certain she'd be able to recognize them if she saw someone using one. On a particular Saturday, Sakura decided to use the money her parents had given her for working the month to buy a set of ninja weapons. Even if she couldn’t use her chakra, she could at least use weapons and hand to hand combat. Sakura didn’t know anything about hand to hand combat, so she chose that buying a small set of kunai and throwing them at something would have to do for now.

The previous Friday Sakura had visited Ino, to both spend time with her friend and also to ask for a refresher on the name of the weapon shop she had recommended during their first meeting. Ino had grilled Sakura on why she suddenly wanted to buy a weapon, but Sakura quickly deflected the question, answering that it was a gift for a shinobi friend. Ino seemed unconvinced, but relented. Sakura knew Ino wouldn’t have allowed Sakura to try and practice with weapons unsupervised. However, she was sure that Ino now believed Sakura to be in love with a shinobi, which brought its own set of problems. But those were problems she could deal with later, Sakura thought. Now it’s time to get myself my own set of kunai.

Sakura walked into the shop with confidence, but immediately wanted to turn around and walk away. Unexpectedly, Uchiha Itachi had also been at that same shop, and they had made eye contact. Deciding that it would be too weird for her to simply turn around and leave, Sakura chose to acknowledge his presence with a quick nod and turned to look around in what she hoped was an aimless manner. Sakura knew Itachi liked to keep to himself and he rarely engaged in conversation beyond what was necessary, so she hoped he’d leave her be, finish his purchase and exit the shop, allowing her the freedom of anonymity. However, he did the exact opposite.

“Sakura-san, what brings you here?” It seemed that contrary to Sakura’s belief, he chose to make a straight line to her and talk to her. She cursed him in her thoughts.

“Huh? Oh, I’m just looking around.” She smiled, hoping she came across as casual and uninterested. 

“Are you looking for something specific? I come here quite often so perhaps I may assist you.” Itachi offered. Sakura found herself narrowing her eyes at him, wondering if he knew of her intentions. His face betrayed nothing, settled in his usual polite yet distant small smile.

“I came here to buy a set of kunai…” Sakura pouted. She had heard enough street gossip to know Uchiha Itachi was regarded as one of Konoha’s top shinobi, a genius among geniuses, so she knew better than to insult him by lying to him. She’d never been a good liar, and he’d probably be able to sniff her deceit immediately.

“And Kakashi-san allowed you to?” Itachi asked and Sakura’s narrowed eyes turned into a glare and a frown.

“Allowed? What do you think I am? Some child that requires permission? I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions, Itachi-san.” Sakura spoke coldly, crossing her arms at him. She was not impressed with his implication that she needed someone to make her decisions for her. Turning around to leave him behind, Sakura decided to visit the other weapon shop she had seen on her path to this one.

Before she could take two steps, Itachi firmly grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. Sakura tried to pull her arm free, but his grip was firm and unyielding. She fixated her glare at him yet again and found that he looked disconcerted.

“My apologies, Sakura-san. I did not wish to offend you. I am simply concerned for your own safety, as improperly handling weapons such as these may cause you harm, which I sincerely do not wish it so.” He spoke in a low tone. It was the most he had ever spoken to her on a topic that didn't involve a book, and Sakura was mollified by the sincere concern that slipped through his eyes. 

“Then what do you recommend, Itachi-san?” Sakura quickly forgave him. If he had only been worried about her safety, it was hard for her to stay angry. Itachi released her arm, and Sakura stood her ground, staring at him.  He looked around the shop once, as if considering something.

“I have a set of blunt weapons that I was considering having them sharpened. They should be good enough for you to practice without risking losing any limbs or fingers.” Itachi spoke thoughtfully. “I can bring them to you tomorrow.” He offered. 

Sakura considered his proposal carefully. While she appreciated his offer greatly, part of her was looking forward to owning her own set of sharp weapons, if only for the mild thrill the thought gave her. However, her own self-preservation won out in the end, as she conceded that losing fingers or even a limb would be the worst possible scenario.

“Alright. When would you like to meet up? The shop isn’t open tomorrow.” Sakura asked. They didn’t open the shop on Sundays to allow her father time to rest. 

“That’s alright. There’s a training ground near your shop, we can meet there after lunch?” Itachi offered and Sakura accepted his offer. She knew the general direction of where the training ground was, and agreed to meet him there at 1pm the following day.

The next day, Sakura arrived at Training Ground 11 ten minutes before the agreed time. She had hastily eaten her meal and gotten dressed, surprising her parents, who were used to Sakura lazing about the house all Sunday. She told them she was off to meet some friends and headed out. She had seen Neji exiting the training grounds and purposely ducked behind a tree to avoid being seen. She didn’t want all of her patrons to know she was trying to practice ninja skills.

Itachi arrived at precisely 1, carrying a small box and a circular target. The target was full of dents and scrapes, looking like it had seen extensive usage. Sakura wasn’t expecting Itachi to stick around after delivering the weapons, but he took the time to show her the shuriken, kunai and senbon, and set up the target.

“This is the proper way of holding a kunai for throwing. The circle is there to help you cycle between a throw grip and a melee grip.” Itachi began his lesson. While Sakura had read about all of this in a book, experiencing it first hand was quite different. She took a while to spin the weapon properly, and it constantly bumped her arm, making her realize that Itachi’s concern had been extremely valid, as if she had been using a real, sharp weapon, she would have been filled with cuts if not worse. It turned out that Sakura had much better aim than she expected, as on her fifth try she hit the target, and by the end of the hour, she was consistently hitting it. 

“Did you see that, Itachi-san? I got the center!” Sakura exclaimed happily. While initially spinning the weapon between the different grips had been hard, throwing them came to her easily. Itachi nodded at Sakura. She retrieved the kunai that had been embedded in the target and returned to her position.

“I should go soon, I promised my brother to train with him today.” Itachi noted and Sakura nodded. She hadn’t even expected him to teach her at all, and she was more than grateful that he had taken the time.

“Before you go, I have something for you! I should have given these to you earlier, but you stuck around…” Sakura ran to her bag, which had been left under a tree. Reaching inside she pulled a pink thermos and box. Blushing slightly, she handed them to Itachi. “It’s green tea and dango. As a thank you, for your thoughtfulness and your weapons. I’m sorry that the boxes are pink, mom had used all the sensible ones so these were the only ones left…”

Itachi smiled slightly at her, and for the first time, Sakura thought he actually looked happy. Unlike the other smiles he showed, this one was a little smaller, just a small movement of the lips, but his eyes finally shined a little, with a small crinkle. He should smile like this more often, Sakura thought, as she found herself happy to see him like that.

Chapter Text

In that particular morning, Sakura was the first one to be up at her house. While she hated mornings more than anything else in the world, today she was going on a trip to Tea. Sakura had been given the task to visit the farm they had left in the care of their cousin and procure special herbs for tea. She would also get a chance to visit the friends she left behind, which made her extremely happy.  Quickly putting on her usual clothes and grabbing the cloak and bag she had prepared the previous night, Sakura set off bright and early. She would be traveling with a merchant caravan through half of the way to snow, and they had agreed to meet at Konoha's gates. However in Sakura’s excitement she arrived before everyone else, and was forced to wait around for the meeting time to arrive. She thought that at such an early time there would be no one around, but instead there were several people coming and going, starting their journeys early. 

Sakura watched all the different ninja and civilians that were milling about until a small group drew her attention. She recognized the two silky ponytails from afar, but as they were wearing masks, Sakura didn't know if she should or even could talk to them.  Uchiha Itachi and Hyuuga Neji were standing with another man, that had short brown hair. Sakura recognized Itachi’s mask and hair, and while she had never seen Neji wear a mask like that, the long hair tied at the end had to be him. It was too distinctive. If they're supposed to be hard to identify, these shinobi surely like having distinctive traits, Sakura thought to herself, allowing a small chuckle to pass through her lips. Although I can't judge them, considering my own pink hair, she considered, holding a strand with her fingers. 

Sakura's distinct pink hair has always been long and smooth, as her mother had always praised and enjoyed grooming Sakura’s hair when she was a child. The habit stayed with her into adulthood, although due to Konoha's warmth, she had taken to braiding it. As she was headed to Tea, Sakura had not done her usual braid, allowing it to flow freely. She diverted her attention from her hair to the group of ninja she had been observing. Besides their distinct hairstyles, they all wore the same uniform, bore the same sword and used white masks. The masks themselves were distinct, and Sakura committed their patterns to memory. 

As she was staring, Itachi turned his face towards her. While she couldn't tell for sure if he was looking at her, she knew he probably was. Unsure of what to do, Sakura wiggled the fingers of her raised hand, in a small greeting. He didn't react to her motion at all, maintaining his still, stiff stance. Soon, Neji and the other guy also turned their heads towards her and Sakura felt embarrassed. If they were going to stare at her like that, perhaps it'd only be fair if she were allowed to go greet them.  The staring contest was interrupted when a fourth member joined their group, and Sakura raised an eyebrow when she too could identify him. The gravity-defying silver hair marked him as Kakashi. If they were all on the same team, Sakura thought, why don't they ever come together? Why do they seem to purposely take turns as to not be there when the others are? She asked herself. It was obvious that the three of them knew each other well enough to make a team, so their purposeful avoidance was weird. 

The four shinobi stood around for an additional minute. She continued to stare at them, and gasped when three of them disappeared. Itachi was the only one left, who gave her a small nod before disappearing himself. It all happened so fast that Sakura couldn't even believe it had actually happened. Just as she was contemplating how weird shinobi could be, the members of the merchant caravan she'd be traveling with arrived, and Sakura decided to join them, instead of dwelling on whether or not Itachi had thrown her a stealthy nod before leaving on his mission. 

The merchant caravan she was traveling with was headed to Kumogakure, in the Land of Lightning. They all had originated from there, and Sakura spent almost all of her time hearing about all the different things that made Kumo superior to Konoha. She thought that they were perhaps a bit exaggerated and that it was a little weird to brag about Cloud so much to a Leaf villager, but they were kind enough to allow her to travel with them free of cost, so she couldn't complain.  She walked with them almost all day, parting during sunset. She stayed at the town while they kept their journey. Sakura was too tired to keep traveling through the night, and had decided to stay at the town and sleep at an inn. She went to the same place she and her mother had stayed in during their trip from Tea to Fire, and the innkeeper still remembered her from that time, citing her pink hair as unforgettable. She was treated kindly and given a good room, which Sakura was grateful for, after all, she knew that she was a young woman traveling alone, and her mother and Ino had both spent plenty of time educating her on all the dangers that could bring. 

However, Sakura wanted to be able to travel by herself. After all one day her parents would become too old to run the business and it would fall to her to do all these things herself. And in Sakura’s opinion, if she would have to inevitably do something, it was better to start early than late. She'd make sure to tip well and stop here on the way home so that she could become a regular at this place, for future journeys. 

Her night at the inn was without incident, and Sakura found herself waking up early the following day. She had fallen asleep almost immediately after dinner, which reflected on her rising with the sun. Her hosts had just finished setting up breakfast at the downstairs common area. She picked an assortment of fruit and bread for her meal and chose the table by the window, to stare at the mostly empty road. It was probably too early for there to be many people around, Sakura thought to herself, appreciating the peaceful silence that only an early morning could provide. 

As she neared the end of her meal, the other guests began to filter in and serve themselves, filling the room with the low murmur of conversation. The three men on the table nearest to her were carpenters from the Land of Waves, discussing their upcoming job. She listened to their conversation with interest, realizing they were a long way from home. Sakura wondered how many people out there made this their lives, constantly traveling, looking for work wherever it may be found, seeing the world and all its corners. A part of Sakura felt jealous. As a child she had wanted to be a ninja and go on adventures all over, but now, Sakura wasn't sure if that's exactly what she wanted for herself. 

Deciding to set off on her journey early, Sakura checked out of her room and set off towards Tea. She knew walking there would take her two more days, and she wanted to make sure she'd be able to make it to the next town before the end of the day. Sakura expected the trip to be simple, but she was quickly disillusioned. Walking on the road, surrounded by same-looking trees everywhere without anyone to talk to made it all seem endless, and Sakura was soon tired. Her legs began to complain, the heat made her sweat, and the lack of anything interesting to do drove her crazy. 

Deciding to take a break, Sakura stopped under the shade of a tree. She pulled out her water canteen and drank from it, satisfying her thirst. She wondered what time it was, but she couldn't see the precise position of the sun due to the canopy of trees. Sighing to herself, Sakura felt discouraged. She thought to the ninja who had to spend so much time traveling outside the village and wondered how they did it. Perhaps that's why they have teams, she told herself. When she had made the same journey with her mother, it had been much easier. Realizing that she couldn't dwell for too long, Sakura pulled herself up and continued on her path. She began to repeat to herself all of the herbs listed in Tsunade’s books and their uses to pass the time. Once she was done with that, she began to do the same thing for the different ninjutsu she had read about. 

Sakura had just finished going over all the ninjutsu theory she knew when she spotted the town that would be her second stop. By then the sun was much lower and a cool breeze shook the leaves, signaling how she was slowly getting closer to Tea. Smiling at the sight of her goal, Sakura felt invigorated, and picked up the pace to arrive faster. Once she finally made it to the inside of the town she was greeted by guards. They stopped her and questioned her before allowing her inside. 

"I'm Haruno Sakura, from Konoha and I'm going to Kawakami for business in the Land of Tea." Sakura answered their questions, handing them her identification papers. "I came by this road just a few months ago and there weren't any guards, what's going on?" She asked them.

"There's been significant bandit activity around lately. You're lucky to have made it here alive, especially if you were traveling alone." One of them answered, returning her papers and allowing her passage. 

Bandits? Sakura thought fearfully. She hadn't heard of such news before setting out, and she still had a full day's worth of walking before she made it to Kawakami, their old village. Well, if I travel during the day and keep to the main road, there's no way I'll be attacked. I have nothing valuable on me, Sakura reassured herself naively. 

She walked to the inn and repeated the same ritual of the night before: get a room, take a bath, eat and sleep. She was too tired to do anything else. Just as had happened the previous day, she woke up early once again, had breakfast by herself, and set off North, towards Kawakami. There weren't any guards stationed at the North entrance, but Sakura wasn't bothered by that, confident that she knew the path to the village she had grown up in fairly well. 

Excited about meeting all her old friends, Sakura distracted herself with reminiscing over their time together and preparing the stories she'd tell them from Konoha. She knew better than to give sensitive information about the ninja she knew, although Sakura doubted anyone would benefit from knowing Uchiha Itachi had a fondness for jasmine tea and dango. She wondered where he was and what his mission entailed, and whether he was already back in Konoha. Shikamaru once told her that a ninja could make the trip from Konoha to Kawakami in a day, and Sakura now felt jealous of that power. 

Nearby a flock of birds flew upwards, startling Sakura with their screeches. She looked at them, wondering what had caused such a sudden commotion. She heard frantic shuffling of leaves and wondered why, as there was no wind running. Looking towards the direction of the sound, a group of four rugged looking men burst from the top of the trees down to the road in front of Sakura, further scaring her. 

They all looked wild, with mismatched clothes and deadly looking weapons, all of them bearing a odd-looking tattoo on cheeks. Sakura didn't move or even breathe, afraid that they'd notice her presence. Unfortunately for her, she was noticed fairly quickly, and all of them turned their attention to her. Trembling, Sakura took a step back, wondering if those were the bandits those guards had warned her about, and if they were going to kill her.

They muttered something she couldn't hear and began walking towards her. Sakura took another step back and turned around, hoping to run away. Before she could even pick up speed, one of them appeared in front of her, quickly grabbing her and preventing her from going anywhere. 

"Please have mercy! I don't have anything valuable on me! I'm just a mere civilian from Konoha!" Sakura cried, begging for her life. The man holding her laughed cruelly. 

"Konoha huh. Maybe we can use her as bait…" He spoke to his companions, and Sakura barely had enough time to contemplate who she'd be bait for, when a strong backhand from her captor rendered her unconscious. 

When Sakura came to, she was tied up and gagged with an awful smelling cloth. She didn't know where it came from, but it made her want to retch. She was placed underneath a tree, and her captors were standing by a campfire, talking in low tones. It was barely still day, as the sky was being colored orange and red, dyeing everything ominously. Sakura wiggled, testing her restraints, and found that both her arms and feet were very firmly bound and she had no way of escape. Tears began to pool in her eyes, as Sakura considered that she was likely about to die, or worse be tortured for the pleasure of these barbarians. Choosing to stay as still as possible as to not draw any attention to herself, Sakura eyed the trees surrounding the improvised camp, hoping that perhaps a rescue could come.

As the sky began to darken from orange into reds and purples, Sakura’s hope for a rescue began to dim, as she had been traveling alone, and it'd be days before she would be missed in Konoha. She wondered who would grieve her besides her parents. As she drowned in her depressed thoughts, she noticed a small shuffle of leaves. She couldn't see properly as day began to turn to night, but Sakura thought she had seen what looked like a person for a split second. She wasn't the only one who noticed it, as suddenly her kidnappers grew alert, and one of them walked towards her, unsheathing his sword. 

Sakura grew nervous upon seeing the blade, and began to squirm away from him, trying to yell against her gag, yet only muffled squeals came out. He extended a hand towards her to grab her, but before the arm could touch her, it was cleanly cut off. Both Sakura and the man yelled, except hers weren't heard over the sudden commotion that befell the camp. 

From the shadows three men appeared to fight the other bandits, and a fourth man placed himself between Sakura and the man that had tried to grab her. She looked up and was instantly filled with relief as she recognized the very distinct, dark ponytail that belonged to one Uchiha Itachi. Sobbing in relief, Sakura promised herself that she'd owe him a lifetime of free tea forever for saving her life. 

The now one-armed man charged at him with the sword, but he suddenly stopped mid-charge, dropping his weapon and falling to the ground helplessly. Sakura’s eyes darted between him and Itachi, trying to understand what had just happened. Turning his back on the attacker, Itachi faced Sakura, kneeling next to her. He pulled out a kunai and quickly released the bindings on Sakura, allowing her to move and talk freely. Behind him, the man that had fallen was getting up again and Sakura feared for Itachi’s life. 

"Itachi!" She yelled out, pointing behind him. Sakura couldn't see his expression, but she could tell he wasn't worried as he casually flicked his kunai backwards, as it hit the target between his eyes. Sakura stared at the now dead man in shock. Behind him, the three figures of Itachi’s team were all towering next to three other dead bodies. Sakura recognized Kakashi's silver hair and Neji's chestnut locks. 

"Sakura-san, are you alright?" Itachi asked and Sakura tried to nod before fainting. 

Sakura found herself waking up from unconsciousness yet again, except this time her arms and legs weren't tied up, and she wasn't gagged with a disgusting cloth. However she could hear her name in an argument, and instead of immediately opening her eyes she chose to listen.

"We can't leave her alone Tenzo. She is going the same way we are, there's no reason why we can't simply make a quick stop." Kakashi's voice was not as aloof as she was used to, and Sakura was touched by the concern he showed. 

"She's not part of the mission." An unknown voice answered calmly. 

"She's a Konoha citizen. As shinobi it is our duty to protect the innocent." Neji entered the conversation. Deciding she could no longer pretend to sleep, Sakura opened her eyes. She saw the night sky, as she had been laid down in a cot. There was a small campfire where the three ninjas were sitting around. She could see their faces clearly, as they were not using their masks. Itachi was nowhere to be seen and Sakura wondered where he was. The short brown-haired male, who Sakura assumed was Tenzo, had droopy black eyes and a mournful expression. 

"I suppose it's up to the Captain." He sighed. The other two nodded, and as if summoned, Itachi joined them, jumping down from a tree. 

"I've set up the perimeter. Sakura-san, would you care for some dinner?" He asked, destroying Sakura’s act. She sat up slowly, and Tenzo immediately hid his face behind his mask. Kakashi, Neji and Itachi didn't bother, and after a second, Tenzo removed his mask again, looking at his captain curiously. 

Sakura slowly tried to stand up, and cringed at the pain that shot through her foot. Her ankles were swollen and bruised from being tied, and she almost gave up on walking. Itachi made his way to her, offering his hand for help, and Sakura gratefully took it, allowing him to help her to the warmth of the fire. She sat down next to Kakashi, and Itachi took her right, completing the circle. 

"I um… I'd like to thank you all for saving my life." Sakura teared up again, remembering the events from earlier. Kakashi placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. 

"It's our fault. We were hunting them and I believe their intention was to use you as a hostage." Neji explained the situation to her. Sakura nodded, remembering how she had been referred to as bait. 

"Our mission is not quite done, but as it will take us near Kawakami, we will escort you there first." Itachi spoke, settling the earlier debate.

"Thank you very much, Itachi-san." Sakura had never felt so grateful towards another human being before. 

"I'll take first watch." The man named Tenzo got up and left his spot by the campfire, jumping into the shadows of the trees. Sakura watched him go, wondering if he had something against her. 

"Don't mind him, Sakura. He's just shy." Kakashi smiled reassuringly, and Sakura could only nod, staring at the shadow he had disappeared into. 

"Here, you should eat." Neji handed her something that looked like the many ninja rations Sakura had seen for sale at the market. She reached over to take it, and noticed that her hand was still trembling. Although she wasn't afraid for her life anymore, Sakura could still feel the shadow of the panic and terror she had been in. 

"Thank you, Neji-san. It seems I lost my pack when I was…" Sakura couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence, and tried to repress the urge to cry. She chose to nibble on the ration Neji had presented her, focusing only on the fire in front of her. She kept trying to suppress the memory of the man without an arm, who had a kunai burning between his eyes, dead eyes staring at her. Logically she knew that she was surrounded by Konoha shinobi who would never harm her, but she couldn't stop thinking about how easily they had murdered those four men who in turn would easily have murdered her. Sakura was trying to cope with the reality that she was simply another cog in the machine of murder that comprised the ninja world. And the worst part was that she was the most helpless one, as she could do nothing to protect herself. 

"We'll set off at dawn, if you wish to rest, you can use the same cot as before." Itachi’s gentle tone pierced crisis of existential dread that began to fill Sakura’s heart. She turned panicked green eyes towards him, and met with sorrowful black. She had never seen him ever display that much emotion before and was momentarily fascinated by how deep his emotions ran that she forgot her own. Sakura forced herself to look away from him, and chose to take his offer of rest, heading to the privacy of her cot, so that she could let go and cry away from their eyes. 

Sakura couldn't remember falling asleep, but she woke up with the sun shining on her face. She opened swollen green eyes and sleepily looked around her. Next to her cot was her lost pack, surprising Sakura, who immediately sat up and looked through it, relieved to find everything intact. She smiled at it, realizing that one of them had retrieved it for her during the night. 

"I found it on the road, a couple miles back. Looked untouched so I hope everything is there." Kakashi smiled at the younger female, who returned the smile thankfully. 

"Yeah, everything is here. Thank you very much, was it hard to find? Did you have to look for long?" Sakura asked. He had to have searched for it during the night, and she worried that he had a hard time. Instead he laughed her concerns off, telling her that he had a good nose and found it easily. 

"We'll leave in 5 minutes!" Itachi called out from the center of the camp. Kakashi told Sakura to head to the trees and relieve herself while he packed the cot, and by the time she returned, the whole area showed no signs that they had been there at all. Grabbing her pack, Sakura stood next to Kakashi, ready to set off. After emptying her heart of grief the previous night, she felt a little better, and was excited to see her childhood home once more. 

"Sakura, here." Kakashi was kneeling in front of her, showing his back to her in a very clear demand that he would be transporting her. She hesitated for a second and relented, allowing him to secure her to his back. Once she was secure, he nodded to his captain and they set off. Sakura had never experienced that much speed before. Her hair flew backwards as Kakashi jumped from tree to tree, flying forwards. Sakura couldn't even properly see where their surroundings as everything was just a blur to her eyes. She simply closed her eyes and enjoyed the rush of wind, thinking that traveling like that was enough of a reason to be a ninja. 

They stopped suddenly, and Sakura wondered why. She looked around them and didn't see anything that would cause them to stop. Neji nodded to the group, silently communicating something, and Itachi exchanged a look with Kakashi, who sighed. He set Sakura down gently, and she held onto the tree's trunk to make sure that she wouldn't fall. More silent communication passed through the team, and Itachi nimbly jumped onto the branch Sakura was standing on, barely shaking a leaf. As if his landing was a sign, Kakashi, Neji and Tenzo placed their masks on and disappeared. 

"Sakura-san." Itachi called Sakura, snapping her attention to him. He was waiting for her to get on his back just as Kakashi had. Sakura hesitated, as she was suddenly nervous. Blushing, she approached him, and noticed that he was warmer than Kakashi, and that his ponytail was even silkier up close. He secured his hands on her thighs, and Sakura wondered why they were so much warmer than Kakashi's, and why her heart was suddenly speeding up again. 

Itachi took off just as suddenly, but he was even faster than Kakashi had been and Sakura could barely keep her eyes open. Tightening her grip on him out of instinct, Sakura closed her eyes, trusting that he would keep her safe. Her mind was focused on his breathing, and the feel of his hair on her cheek. It was soft and smelled nice, a masculine scent that Sakura couldn't quite identify. Itachi’s steps were also smoother, and Sakura felt like they were actually flying, instead of jumping. She had to admit that she liked Itachi much better than Kakashi as a ride, and was sad when they stopped. They were on the outskirts of Kawakami, and Itachi gently let Sakura down. He turned around to face her with a small smile. 

"As captain, I apologize for what happened to you Sakura-san. It's regretful." Itachi bowed slightly, surprising Sakura.

"No, there's really no need to apologize. I'll be fine, Itachi-san, I promise, so please raise your head." Sakura smiled at him, hoping to show him that she could be strong, and that she could get over it. She had come to the conclusion that if the situations were reversed, she'd also have killed anyone that threatened his life, and that she should only be grateful that the Gods sent him to save her. He seemed reassured by her, sending her a small smile before jumping into the trees. She stood there for a minute longer, sending a prayer for his safety. 

"Sakura? Is that you?" 

Sakura turned around to see her cousin, looking surprised to find her there. Sakura smiled at him, happy to see her cousin. 

"Of course! Long time no see, Arashi!" 

"What are you doing here? I thought you'd show up at home." Whether he did it on purpose or not, Itachi had dropped Sakura at the edge of the Haruno farm, which amused Sakura, who made a quick excuse of wanting to look around first. 

Sakura was happy to be back in Kawakami, where she grew up and still had friends and family. Arashi was currently taking care of the farm, but there were other Haruno clan members that were happy to see Sakura. By the end of the day she had already settled back in the element of the small town life, she hadn't expected to see any ninja, and was flabbergasted when she spotted Itachi’s team standing at the town center, looking completely out of place. She approached them, earning stares from the locals who were keeping their distance. She was sure that most of them had never seen a ninja before. 

"Long time no see! What are you all doing here?" Sakura greeted them with a smile. She could feel everyone staring at her intently, and was sure that by the end of the day, the entire town would be talking about it. 

"Our mission requires us to stay in the area for a few days. We were searching for an inn." Itachi answered, looking around the houses with interest. There were very few stores, and so far they hadn't been received well. 

"This is a farming village, there are no inns here. But if you all need a place to stay, you can all stay at our farm. There's more than enough space for all of you." Sakura offered. After they had saved her life, she knew that she was indebted to them, and if she could offer them a place to stay, she would do so regardless of the judgement the town would bestow upon her. 

"We don't wish to trouble you, if there are no inns we can make a camp." Itachi answered and Sakura crossed her arms, purposely placing herself in front of him. 

"I insist. You all saved my life. Placing a roof over your heads is the least I could do." Sakura would not be swayed. Behind Itachi, Neji and Kakashi were smiling in amusement. Itachi sighed and agreed, asking Sakura to show them the way. Tenzo watched it all happen in surprise. First their usually aloof captain was sent into a rage once they found out about the kidnapped girl, then they housed her for the night instead of continuing on their attempt to locate the bandit stronghold, after that, they escorted the girl to the village, and although they had found that the stronghold was near the village, the captain insisted that they use it as their base, instead of allowing him to make them a house using his jutsu. Now, he just watched Uchiha Itachi, ANBU captain, war hero, Uchiha Clan Heir be bossed by the same pink-haired girl. 


"Kakashi-senpai, who is she?"

Chapter Text

Itachi was a genius. In his life he had accomplished more than an entire clan of people could. He had ended a war, prevented a civil war, mastered his clan's Sharingan, led ANBU teams, and won so many battles he would take days to count all of them. However, he was a simple man, with only one wish, a peaceful, mundane life, with a happy family and a few good friends. 

Itachi had a happy family, an adoring brother who constantly sought his approval that Itachi loved more than anything else. He had a kind mother, who was always happy to take care of her precious family and a father that respected him, and listened to his opinions, even if he had a difficult time being upfront with his feelings. Itachi also had a few good friends in Shisui, his cousin, Kakashi, his teammate and Shikaku, who enjoyed playing shogi with him. His life wasn't mundane as a ninja and a ANBU captain, but Itachi was content. He didn't dare wish for anything else, for he believed he had everything he wanted. Until he met her. 

She was Haruno Sakura, and she was an explosion of color that he didn't know was missing. She was his opposite in every way, an emotional, impulsive civilian who spent her days dreaming about things she couldn't have. When he first saw her, he thought she was simply a pretty girl. But then he saw her devour books of a complexity beyond most people, and easily discuss them with him, keeping up with his ideas, and confronting them with her own. She wasn't just one of the smartest people he knew, she was also thoughtful, with an uncanny ability to understand what people were thinking and feeling. 

He didn't know how, but she always seemed to know when he was returning from a difficult mission and craved something sweet, when he had just left a difficult conversation with the clan elders, she'd sit with him to talk about the pros and cons of different medical herbs. And it wasn't just him. He saw the effect of her presence on others, as well. Kakashi's eternal grief for his lost friends seemed to be less sharp, and even Neji's fatalism was duller. Itachi had once waited for the two of them to spend twenty minutes arguing about nature or nurture. He didn't want to interrupt them by entering the shop, so he waited on the rooftop, listening to her clash against everything the Hyuuga man had always believed in. 

Itachi believed that she was precious, her kind, selfless innocence was worth protecting, and Itachi had taken it upon himself to do so. He had been shocked to find her wanting to purchase a weapon, as in his opinion, her hands should not soil themselves with blood. He had been relieved to see that it was just her wanting to practice, and had gone out of his way to prepare a set of safe, practice-friendly weapons for her. He had done the same for Sasuke when they were much younger, and his efforts were rewarded with his favorite tea and his favorite sweets in a pink box that reminded him of her. It had caused Itachi to sneak into his room undetected so that he could hide his treasure from his family. 

Through her Itachi experienced fear again, the soul-crushing fear of losing someone important. When Kakashi warned him that he had smelled her near their prey, he found his heart stopping. He hadn't even needed to tell Neji to use the Byakugan, as he could see the same fear reflected in those pale eyes. The Hyuuga saw her being captured, and they sped towards their quarry, intent on saving that precious life. Itachi knew that Tenzo was probably befuddled as to why his usually aloof team was suddenly so agitated, and Itachi could feel his mangekyo activating when he saw her limp body tied and gagged. He wasn't afraid of using his Captain privilege to assign himself the duty of saving her, as he knew that he'd happily lay down his life for hers, for to him she was bright, beautiful and full of innocent life. 

He had saved her life, but not her innocence. She had seen the cruelty of the world, and yet it didn't break her, as she still seemed happy and bright. He stared at her long pink hair, as she led them to the house she had been raised in, telling them all manner of things as they walked past the streets she had spent her childhood on. They finally left the main town area, headed down a path through a field and found themselves in front of a large, mostly wooden house. It had a wide porch, several windows and a big door, sending a message of a welcoming, happy environment, where a large family could live in. The door opened and a male exited, he had the same green eyes as Sakura, and his hair was a dark red. He smiled just as much as she did, and Itachi briefly wondered if just as all Uchiha were moody, all Haruno were happy. 

"I'm Arashi, Sakura’s cousin. I've been taking care of the farm since they left for Konoha." The man introduced himself. 

"Uchiha Itachi, captain of Team 4. These are Hyuuga Neji, Hatake Kakashi and Tenzo. We're all very thankful for your hospitality." Itachi bowed politely. His comrades followed his example, and Arashi welcomed them in. 

He guided them to their rooms, apologizing that they only had three free rooms, and one would have to share. Itachi reassured their host that it wouldn't be a problem, as they were used to sharing rooms, and since he always wanted at least one of them observing the bandit stronghold, he'd set up a rotation system on the rooms. 

For now, as they were all there, he chose Kakashi and Tenzo to share, as he knew the two of them were close friends. He walked into his room, sitting down on the bed and breathing deeply. The smell of herbs and flowers permeated the house, which was pleasant. He knew the Haruno farm was meant to support the tea shop, so it made sense they'd grow tea herbs. Looking around the room he noticed that the furniture was old, yet well taken care of, and asked himself how many generations of Harunos had lived among these walls.  Deciding to look around the house, Itachi left his pack and his anbu mask in his room and walked through the house, stopping between the kitchen and the living room. Sakura and her cousin were preparing a meal for them, laughing and talking happily, about all sorts of menial things. It was very different from his own home, where his mother was left alone in the kitchen and his father would read his newspaper by himself. 

He looked around, noticing all the differences between his home and this one, when his eyes stopped on a wall, where there were several dashes carved on it. He stepped closer to inspect it, as they looked like they were made by a weapon, but the gashes were old, and at odd heights. He ran his fingers through them, trying to understand the pattern. Looking closer he noticed there were worn numbers next to each one, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16… Itachi was completely puzzled when Sakura approached him. 

"Did you do this too?" Sakura asked him, and he turned to look at her, wondering why she was accusing him of damaging her house. "I wasn't much into it, as you can see, I'm not much of a grower." She laughed, kneeling down to look at the numbers closely. "It's hard to believe that when I was four I was only this tall…" She ran her fingers on the four and suddenly Itachi understood. These were all measurements of Sakura’s height throughout the years. He looked at them with new wonder, imagining a young Sakura standing tall while her father marked her height. 

"How tall are you now?" He asked, wondering if she had grown past the highest mark. She stood tall next to it, and Itachi noticed she had barely gained a couple of inches and smiled. He stood next to her, comparing their heights. 

"It's not fair! You're way taller than me!" She pouted and Itachi was amused. Whenever he was around her he always wanted to smile. "I should get back to helping Arashi with dinner, it'll be ready in a few minutes if you want to get your team together." Sakura left him, and Itachi watched her go back to her cousin. He watched them for a second longer, wishing that he had been a civilian man, who could have a farm and a wife just like her. 

Locking the traitorous thoughts away from his mind, Itachi refocused on the task assigned to him, to eliminate the bandit stronghold that was plaguing the area. He might not ever have this idyllic life, but he'd do his best to protect those who did. Itachi’s first stop was Neji's room, and team 4 gathered in Kakashi and Tenzo's room to discuss their plans for the attack.

First Itachi wanted to thin their numbers before moving in on the stronghold itself. He set up a rotation schedule, where they'd have one member watching the stronghold and another member patrolling the area to eliminate any bandit that left the safety of the stronghold. The other two would stay and rest. He assigned the first shift to himself and Kakashi, leaving Tenzo and Neji to rest. They'd leave after dinner, as Itachi did not wish to disrespect the hard work Sakura and Arashi had put into making the meal. 

"Dinner is on the table!"

His sensitive ears picked up Sakura’s voice, and calling the meeting to an end, he led the four ninja to the main table, where there was a healthy meal waiting for them. Itachi hadn't eaten real food since leaving Konoha, and he found his appetite grow upon seeing and smelling the feast. 

"This looks amazing, thank you very much for your hospitality." Neji spoke, taking a seat. Uttering similar words, the other ninja also sat down, serving themselves. 

"I don't think I've ever had this many people at once, it's quite exciting." Arashi smiled at them. Itachi had wondered if he lived here alone, and why. 

"I keep telling you that you should stop being an idiot and tell Makoto that you like her. Then the two of you can start to fill up the house." Sakura teased her cousin, who blushed at the mention of whoever Makoto was. 

"Or maybe you could find a husband, follow your dad's footsteps and raise your family here." Arashi tried to return the favor, but Sakura waved his words off. 

"Please. I can't leave dad in charge of the shop, he'd forget to charge our customers and go bankrupt." 

Itachi watched the interaction curiously, gathering more information on the inner workings of the Haruno Clan. 

"More like you can't find a husband with that ridiculous forehead of yours. I told you all those books you read would make your head big, nerd." Arashi's words had no bite to them, and Sakura simply laughed at them. Itachi found his eyes drawn to Sakura’s forehead, to check for himself. He did concede that she had a slightly larger forehead than average, but he didn't dislike it. 

"I could totally find a husband in Konoha if I wanted to." Sakura shrugged, and Itachi agreed with her. He suspected Kakashi had a soft spot for her, the Nara kid might also like her, and while he couldn't be her husband, he could see any number of interested individuals. Sakura was kind, smart, compassionate and beautiful. 

"Just make sure it's not a ninja, you know how your mother feels about them, and that you'll have to inherit the shop." Arashi's words soured Itachi’s tea. He knew of course that a life with Sakura was only a feeble dream, due to his own duties to the clan, but to see that she too had a fate planned for her, to further drive away any chance they could have together, sunk his heart. 

"Does Mebuki-san hate shinobi?" Kakashi asked, and Itachi listened, although to anyone else he looked absorbed in his food. 

"Ah well it's um…" 

Sensing that Sakura was uncomfortable and the topic of conversation was undesirable to their guests, Itachi rose from the table, collecting his utensils. 

"Kakashi, we should leave soon for our shift." He spoke, ending the conversation. His friend and vice-captain nodded, and the two of them set off to get ready. Itachi quickly got into anbu gear, grabbed his mask and strapped his sword to his back. He met Kakashi by the back porch, facing the farm. Sakura was also there, waiting for them with two thermos. 

"Good luck you two, and make sure to come back safely!" She smiled, handing them each a warm thermos. Itachi took his gratefully, rewarding her with a rare smile. Her tea always made a long night of vigilance less lonely. Sending her a final nod, he took off, heading towards the bandit stronghold. 

"Sakura sure is a kind girl, huh, captain." Kakashi's teasing voice reached his sensitive ears despite the speed of their travel. Itachi didn't say anything, afraid he'd compromise himself. "She's so sweet even the mighty Uchiha Itachi can't resist her charms…" The silver haired man giggled and Itachi redirected his course, crashing into Kakashi and pinning him to a tree, Sharingan spinning menacingly. 

"Watch your words, Hatake." Itachi threatened him cooly. He liked Hatake Kakashi, he admired the man's efficiency, intelligence and skills. But he was not going to allow him to speak of subjects that could be dangerous. 

"Sorry, sorry, didn't think you'd be that upset about it. Frankly wasn't even sure if I was right or not, was just trying to confirm my suspicion. Geez, there's nothing wrong with liking Sakura, Itachi-san." Kakashi threw up his hands in surrender, and Itachi released him, but kept his Sharingan fixed on the Copy Ninja. He weighed his options and decided to trust his own judgment. Kakashi knew the pain of loss, and liked Sakura enough that he'd understand. 

"You're not from a clan, so I'll be explaining this to you. If it became public knowledge that the future head of the Uchiha Clan was infatuated with a civilian girl, there would be those that would seek to take advantage of this. I'm sure you know who would be targeted by those people." Itachi spoke in a low tone. He was rewarded with the sight of Kakashi's smile melting into a frown. 

"Your secret is safe with me, captain. But if I may give you my own opinion… Sometimes the best way to protect someone is to keep them close to you, not push them away." Kakashi's face was covered in shadows, but Itachi could clearly see the edge of the man's red Sharingan, peeking from the underneath of his headband. 

A rustle of leaves nearby alerted them to the presence of others, and the two anbu shoved their feelings and thoughts to the very recesses of their mind, to focus only on their mission. 

They returned at sunrise, having made a significant impact on the enemy's numbers. They intercepted a large group that was intending to raid Kawakami, and Itachi was relieved that they were stopped. Although he trusted Neji and Tenzo to protect Sakura, they likely wouldn't have been able to save everyone. Now, the peaceful villagers could go about their daily lives, not knowing what they almost suffered.

Itachi and Kakashi found Tenzo and Neji already ready to head off, sitting at the kitchen table. Next to them was a plate filled with onigiri, which Itachi eyed greedily. 

"It's for you and Kakashi-senpai. Sakura-san made them for you two." Tenzo said, noticing how the two ninjas had been eyeing the food. Itachi noticed that Tenzo spoke with a familiarity that wasn't there when he left, and was amazed at Sakura’s capacity to melt cold-hearted anbu. 

"We intercepted a raiding party headed this way, so their numbers are low. I want you two to keep a close eye on enemy movement to see what their next play will be." Itachi gave his instructions and dismissed the two, who set off. He and Kakashi ate in silence, too tired to talk. 

After eating, Itachi retreated to his room to rest, cleaning himself up and falling onto the soft bed provided to him. It smelled faintly of Sakura, and he fell asleep with a smile. Itachi was awoken with the sounds of frantic whispering, and looking out the window, he realized that it was almost noon. Surprised at how long and how deep his sleep was, he headed outside, to investigate whoever was whispering. 

Sakura and Arashi were in the kitchen, whispering to each other about the meal. They hadn't noticed his presence yet, and Itachi took the time to admire the two. The two cousins were discussing the lack of protein available in the house, and they were arguing over who should go, as they both believed themselves as essential in the process of making food. Itachi decided to end their dilemma. 

"I'll go." He startled the two, who turned to stare at him with almost identical surprised faces. "Just tell me where to go, and I can purchase whatever is needed" Itachi offered. They were allowing his team to stay for free, so it would only be proper if he could contribute. The two cousins shared a look and a nod, causing Itachi to raise his eyebrow at their silent conversation. 

Sakura decided she was joining him, and Itachi was almost offended, as he could easily procure whatever was necessary, but an uneasy look from Arashi prevented him from protesting. He recalled how the locals had reacted to him and his team the previous day, and realized that it was probably not the best idea to wander around by himself. 

As such, Itachi was now following Sakura around the small village, listening to her tell many anecdotes about things that had happened to her in each location they passed. Taking advantage of his presence, Sakura decided to do more than just shop for chicken and pork for their meal, and soon Itachi’s arms were filled with bags, which he carried around for her. At first uncomfortable whispers followed them, but as they visited more shops and Sakura filled his arms with more purchases, the locals began to approach them more, calling out to Sakura wherever she went. 

Itachi could see that she was just as loved here as she was in Konoha, as wherever they went people smiled, waved and greeted her, and she always replied, surprising him with how well she knew everyone. 

"I think we have everything, now we just have to stop by the butcher which is right around this… Oh, no… We are turning back now." Sakura did a quick turn, suddenly heading the way they had just come from, startling Itachi, who looked back, wondering why her sudden change in heart. He saw a young man and some elders, but nothing that would cause her to speedily walk away. 

"Sakura!" The young man waved, calling out to her. He broke into a run and soon caught up to them. Itachi looked him over, wondering why he made Sakura so uncomfortable. He was the most average person Itachi had ever seen, of average height, brown hair, brown eyes and a forgettable face. She smiled at him and greeted him, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. 

"Hiro, hi. I didn't see you." She blatantly lied. Itachi was happy to watch the exchange from his spot, quickly realizing that this was probably a fanboy. Sakura looked just like Sasuke whenever he was around fangirls. 

"I'm so glad you are back. Are you staying for long? This is good because there's a lot I want to tell you. Sakura, I've made my decision, I'm willing to leave my home and my parents for you. I can go to Konoha with you and we can get married, I'll even take the Haruno name!" Hiro dropped to one knee, presenting Sakura with a small golden band. Itachi felt bad for the young man, as looking at Sakura, you could clearly see that she wanted to be anywhere but there. 

"Oh Hiro, I don't know if it's a good idea…" Sakura looked at Itachi, begging for help, but he looked away from her, interested in how she'd react. "I know we were together for a bit before I left but… I don't love you." She spoke mournfully, surprising both males with her bluntness. 

"You don't love me?" 

Itachi felt bad for the poor man getting his heart broken in front of him. He broke into tears, begging Sakura to reconsider, but she stood her ground. They were starting to make a scene and Itachi finally decided to intervene. 

"We should go. Your cousin is waiting for us." He reminded Sakura who nodded, walking past the sobbing Hiro, who directed his attention to Itachi, as if he only now realized he was there. 

"Are you her new lover? Is that why she doesn't love me anymore?" He asked. Before Itachi could deny any connection of that sort between them, Sakura stepped up. 

"I've never been in love with you, Hiro. I don't have a lover, Itachi-san and I are just friends." 

Itachi noticed how his name still had the honorific attached to it while the crybaby didn't and felt a pang of anger and jealousy. He swallowed it alongside the disappointment of being labeled a friend and followed Sakura to the butcher. 

They returned to the Haruno farm, to find Kakashi and Arashi waiting for them. Sakura immediately set off to help Arashi finish their lunch and Itachi joined Kakashi at the table, watching the two cousins work. 

"Anything interesting happen in town?" Kakashi asked. Itachi briefly wondered if he knew of the incident with the rejected young man. 

"No." Itachi replied. Kakashi nodded, and the two of them remained in silence for a while longer until Kakashi spoke again. 

"I saw Tenzo built them a new storage house. It looks really nice. I was thinking of helping out too, in the afternoon. If that's alright with you, captain." 

"As long as you still have energy for your shift tonight."

Itachi ended up joining Kakashi in his efforts to help out Arashi with the afternoon farming. The two of them made shadow clones and with seven pairs of hands, the work of three days was done in one. Sakura stopped them a couple times, providing snacks and chilled teas. By the time the day was dark, dinner was served, and Itachi was happy to sit down. His chakra reserve was practically untouched but his muscles ached in a way that he hadn't felt in a long time. 

"With all the help they've supplied, I think you should be able to head to Konoha tomorrow, Sakura." Arashi noted during dinner, and both Itachi and Kakashi were suddenly very interested in the conversation, although both of them hid it quite well, focusing on their meals. 

"Yeah, that might be a good idea. Hiro proposed to me today. Again. This time he even said he'd join our clan, too." Sakura sighed. Itachi noticed Kakashi staring at him and sent him a look that caused the copy ninja to quickly avert his eyes. 

"Poor boy. Didn't Itachi-san scare him away?" Arashi asked, looking at Itachi. The Anbu captain quickly took his cup of water to his lips, to avoid eye contact. He wondered if perhaps Arashi had expected him to play a role to spook Sakura’s suitor away and felt that he might have failed something important. 

"Don't be ridiculous. I'd hate it if Itachi-san had intervened. You know I don't like people trying to solve my problems for me." Sakura scowled, crossing her arms, and Itachi set down his cup in relief. 

"Sorry, sorry. I just worry for you, Sakura. You're too kind for your own good."

Itachi agreed with Arashi's assessment of her, although he kept quiet, not wanting to suddenly interrupt their bickering. He finished the rest of his meal without saying a word, and helped clean up afterwards. Once they were finished, Sakura set off to make onigiri for Tenzo and Neji, and although Itachi offered to help, she shooed him away, telling him to rest. 

Itachi joined Arashi and Kakashi in the living room area, and was happy to simply listen to the conversation. Arashi was asking Kakashi about Konoha, mostly things related to Sakura. Itachi could tell he was worried about her, and he felt that he could relate to the Haruno male. Sasuke was a constant source of worry to him, and Itachi was always interested in hearing all about his little brother's life. He couldn't imagine living so far away from Sasuke, especially if his brother didn't have the means to protect himself. Making an unusual decision, Itachi spoke up, surprising the other two. 

"Tonight Kakashi and I shall complete the mission, freeing us to escort Sakura-san to Konoha. It is the least we can do, after you two have been so kind to host us and feed us." Itachi offered. He knew that perhaps it meant more effort from him and Kakashi, as clearing out an entire bandit stronghold was no pleasant task, especially as they had been assigned to be stealthy about it and Itachi was fond of the slow and methodical approach, but he'd much prefer that than to spend the next few days worrying about Sakura traveling by herself. He looked at Kakashi, who nodded at him, agreeing to the new plan. 

"That's… I thank you, Uchiha-san. Knowing that she'll be safe would bring me peace of mind." Arashi smiled at them, and Itachi thought his smile was very similar to Sakura's. His eyes also shone brightly, sending out more warmth than Itachi expected. 

After a while, Sakura joined them in the living room, looking tired. Arashi was quick to report the news to her, and she looked at Itachi, concerned. 

"Are you sure that's alright with you?" She asked, and Itachi was touched by her worry. He reassured her that it would be fine, and to prove a point, Itachi and Kakashi decided to prepare and rest before setting off.

He heard the two Haruno also soon retreating to their own rooms, and Itachi joined Kakashi, watching the older man quickly stock up on weapons and scrolls. He had faith that Kakashi was just as motivated as he was, but he still felt the need to provide a plan. 

"We'll strike from different positions. I'm going to want you to keep a perimeter around the stronghold to make sure there's no stragglers or escapees while I…"

They waited for Neji and Tenzo to arrive, who announced the death of another squad of bandits. Itachi relayed the plan to them, and was surprised when they agreed, as he didn't expect Tenzo to be fine with escorting a civilian to Konoha. Neji offered to join, but Itachi didn't allow it. The Hyuuga was still a fresh recruit, and he hadn't yet seen the amount of carnage his Captain was capable of. Itachi’s small pride hoped to keep it that way for longer. 


Kakashi wasn't dumb, quite on the contrary, he was a genius, much smarter than anyone would believe. He was fairly sure that he could easily compete with a Nara member if he wanted to. He could see Itachi’s interest in Sakura with the same clarity as he could see the sun, even though his Captain made a significant effort to hide it, his feelings were rather obvious. He had just taken out an entire castle that garrisoned thirty something men by himself just so he could make sure Sakura would have a safe return to Konoha. 

Now, Kakashi didn't really judge Itachi, as he would have done the exact same thing. Sakura was special to him as well, she was a breath of spring after the long, cold winter he had endured after Rin's death. She was like the young sister he never had, someone he wanted to protect and cherish. And although he knew that as a brother figure, perhaps he should be more occupied with chasing Uchiha Itachi away, but he knew he would never be able to find a better suitor for her, as the man was the closest thing to perfection anyone would find. 

He understood Itachi’s position as a clan heir, as an anbu captain and as a socially inept male made him want to keep his feelings for Sakura hidden, but Kakashi didn't quite agree with him, so he'd help his senpai out, whether he liked it or not.

Chapter Text

After her visit to Kawakami, Sakura found herself even happier to be in Konoha. While she genuinely loved the village and her cousins, she knew that she was built for the busy life of the city, and she could never truly go back to living in Kawakami again. 

Sakura returned to her daily life with renewed vigor and joy, happy to see her parents, her friends and her customers, even if she had just spent a lot of time with them. She hadn't yet told her parents about everything that had happened during the trip as she knew her mother would be incredibly upset, but Sakura found herself renewing her efforts in training herself to at least be capable of some amount of self-defense. 

Kakashi and Shikamaru supported her decision, and Tenten became her biggest helper. The other woman's proficiency at weaponry helped Sakura significantly. Ino sometimes also joined them in their training and a month after her trip to Kawakami, the two females gifted Sakura her first set of real weapons. She now walked around with a small pouch tied around her leg, which housed her humble arsenal. Walking among the other Konoha citizens, she now fully looked the part, and Sakura finally felt that she had truly assimilated into her new life. 

Humming happily as she set out decorating the tea shop for the upcoming festival season, Sakura was a happy girl, and her joy was contagious, spreading even to the two overworked Nara who were watching her move around the shop. 

"This festival is such a drag…" The son complained. 

"It's the anniversary of Konoha, a hundred years. Hokage-sama wants to make a big celebration, even invite people from different countries. I know Sand is sending a delegation." The father eyed the son, searching for something. The son purposely avoided the gaze, keeping his eye trained on Sakura.

"It's troublesome and it's more work for everyone." The son polished off the rest of his tea, leaving his father behind with the bill. 

Sakura waved Shikamaru goodbye as he left, and noticing that Shikaku was still around she walked to him.

"Everything okay? Shikamaru was in a bad mood today." Sakura asked. 

"He's fine. We've all just been very busy with the festival preparations." Shikaku smiled, knowing very well what was bothering his son. He placed the money on the table and got up as well. Sakura collected the amount and the dishes with a smile, internally laughing at the Nara males and their idiosyncrasies. 

She took the dishes to the kitchen where her mother and father were discussing what to serve during the day of the festival. Kizashi wanted to make a special blend of tea, and Mebuki wanted to make sure the sweets were festive enough. 

It seems even here people are stressing out about this festival, Sakura thought. She wasn't too worried about it, as she knew she'd likely have to work for most of it, and since Ino had a date and Tenten was busy with security, she didn't even have anyone to walk around with, and going to a festival alone was plenty sad. 

"Ah Sakura, there you are. Can you pick up the samples Karakura-san prepared for us and bring them here so we can test it with the new blend?" Kizashi asked his daughter. Sakura nodded, happy to help. 

Karakura's traditional sweets shop was on the other side of town, and Sakura casually walked over, happy to have a reason to visit that part of the city. It was a wealthier area, where a lot of the bigger clan compounds were. She admired the more traditional Japanese styled buildings, and noticed that in this part of town there were less decorations for the festival. 

As she walked further out, the decorations became more and more sparse, and Sakura started to ask herself why. Everyone else was happy to celebrate one hundred years of Konoha, so why were these people not? She asked herself. Turning a corner Sakura spotted an altercation between two males, a blonde and a dark haired one. For a moment she almost wondered if Itachi had cut his hair, but a second look told her that she was not looking at Itachi. 

"Teme!" The blonde sent out a punch, which the other one dodged, and soon the two were brawling in the street. None of the passerby seemed to care, dodging the fight with ease. Sakura noticed they were moving ever closer to Karakura's shop and being familiar with a shinobi's destructive power, she decided to intervene. 

"Hey you two knock it out!" She yelled at them, but they didn't stop. "I said stop this!" Sakura impulsively moved closer, hoping to grab one of them. She managed to grip the wide collar of the black-haired male, who quickly replied with a punch aimed straight at her. 

Sakura was sent backwards, suddenly feeling dizzy. She was stopped by gentle hands who steadied her. 

"Sasuke. Naruto." A female's stern voice came from the person who was supporting the still dazed Sakura, who looked up to see a beautiful woman. She had long black hair, deep black eyes framed by long lashes that were highlighted by pale, unblemished skin. The two boys froze upon hearing her voice, and looked at her in fear. The beauty had a smile that Sakura was sure promised death. "Are you alright?" The beautiful woman turned her attention to Sakura, who stared at her. 

"Uh… You're really pretty." She said dumbly. Sakura still felt her head ring and complex thoughts evaded her. 

"Thank you, sweetheart." The woman giggled and Sakura could swear that her laugh twinkled. Blinking a few more times, Sakura began to feel her senses sharpen again and then the pain came. She brought her hand to her temple and groaned. 

The two rowdy boys approached them slowly, and the beauty turned her attention to them once again. 

"Brawling in the streets again, and not only that, harming a civilian who tried to stop you, Sasuke." She sounded so disappointed that Sakura felt bad, even if she wasn't the one who was being scolded. "And you, Naruto. What will your father say?" 

"She tried to stop us! Why would you do that if you're a civilian girl!"

Sakura glared at the haughty black haired guy. He was certainly pretty as well, but his personality was completely rotten, Sakura decided. 

"You two were about to cause property damage to Karakura-san's shop! She's making sweets for the festival and there are shops who depend on her for that!" Sakura bit back, also crossing her arms. The blonde stared at Sakura wide-eyed. 

"Who are you?" He asked, amazed. 

"I'm Haruno Sakura." Sakura introduced herself. She then turned around to face the beautiful woman and bowed slightly, grimacing as her head hurt with the motion. "Thank you for your assistance, ma'am."

The older woman smiled again, this time a kind smile. "Please, there's no need to bow. How is your head? It seems like it still-ah Itachi!"

The four of them turned around to face the new addition to the group. One Uchiha Itachi stood there, assessing the situation with an unreadable look. The two boys frowned and the woman's smile widened. Sakura wondered if perhaps she had accidentally bumped into Itachi’s girlfriend. Surely someone this beautiful would be his partner, Sakura told herself, ignoring the way her heart shrunk.

"Mother. Brother. Naruto. Sakura-san." There was a small pause before he said her name, and once he did, Sakura was suddenly the center of attention again. She was busy trying not to smile upon realizing that this beautiful lady was his mother. 

"Ah, Itachi do you know Sakura-chan?" The mother asked, Sakura tried to stand up straighter, suddenly feeling upset that this was how she made her first impression. Getting punched in a fight was not how she wished to meet Itachi’s mother. 

"Indeed."

"That's wonderful. Sakura-chan here was just injured in a fight, I was thinking about bringing her home with me to give her the appropriate treatment."

"Oh no, I'm fine. I don't need any treatment it was nothing!" Sakura quickly protested. 

"Nonsense, dear. You received a punch from Sasuke-kun on your temple! You're lucky you don't have a concussion. Come on now. Oh of course, I forgot to introduce myself, where are my manners, I am Uchiha Mikoto, mother to these two." Mikoto pointed at Sasuke and Itachi. Keeping a firm grip on Sakura's arm, she started to lead the way. 

Being dragged by Uchiha Mikoto, and followed by Itachi, Sasuke and Naruto was not how Sakura expected to enter the Uchiha Compound. She was too shocked by the rapid sequence of events to do anything besides follow. Mikoto quickly led them to a large, traditional house and planted Sakura on a comfortable armchair before leaving in search of medical supplies. 

Sasuke also attempted to leave, but a stern look from his brother stopped him, and Sakura watched him and Naruto share a couch as Itachi stood by the door, facing the two troublemakers. 

"What are you still doing here, dobe?" Sasuke hissed at Naruto, who grinned. 

"I'm here to watch you get in trouble for punching her. Sorry for teme here, Sakura-chan, he's a bit of a bastard, all Uchiha are." Naruto waved at Sakura, who squinted at him. He looked very familiar to her, although she couldn't point out from where.

"I can tell he's a bastard. Why did you punch me even? I was trying to help!" Sakura pouted, gently massaging her pulsating temples. 

"What did a weak little girl like you even think you were going to do?" Sasuke scoffed. Sakura raised an eyebrow at him, surprised by his behavior, which was the complete opposite of the gentleman that Itachi was. 

"Sasuke." Itachi’s voice was cold, and Sakura saw Sasuke freeze. Itachi opened the door and stepped outside. After a minute, Sasuke sighed and followed him. Naruto snickered in his corner and Sakura couldn't help but ask where the two were going. 

"Ah probably outside where Itachi will give him a stern speech about Uchiha pride and manners and how Sasuke disappointed him or something." Naruto answered. Sakura nodded, thinking that Sasuke certainly deserved a lesson in manners. "But you Sakura-chan, are you single? I noticed you didn't immediately fawn over Sasuke, so clearly you're a cut above the rest? I'm the son of the Hokage you know, want to go on a date together? You're awful cute."

Understanding why he was so familiar to her, Sakura smiled. She had no intention of going out with him, but he was charming and warm, to a point where Sakura almost considered it. 

"Sorry Naruto, I'm not interested in a boyfriend right now, but if you ever want to do something as friends, you can find me then." Sakura didn't want to completely shut him down, as there was something magnetic about his presence. 

"Naruto, I do believe your mother might be looking for you, perhaps you should head out now?" Mikoto rejoined them, carrying a box. Naruto quickly jumped up and ran off, apologizing to Sakura and Mikoto on his way out. Left alone with the Uchiha matriarch, Sakura was suddenly nervous. The older woman simply kneeled in front of the pink-haired girl and opened her box, pulling out a small circular container and some bandages. 

"I have an ointment which will help with the pain, and I can wrap up your head a bit if you'd like. I do apologize for my son's behavior. He used to be such a sweet, caring boy…" Mikoto began to gently spread the herb-scented ointment on Sakura's temples, who felt the relief seep in immediately. 

"Don't worry about it, Mikoto-sama. I did throw myself into the fight really impulsively." Sakura smiled, relaxing.

"So where did you meet my eldest, Itachi?" 

"He goes to the tea shop I work at. He's a valued customer to us." Thinking about the tea shop made Sakura remember her original task. "Ah! I need to pick up the sweets from Karakura-san's shop for the taste test! I'm really grateful for your kindness Mikoto-sama, but I should set off before they close."

Mikoto allowed Sakura to get up from her chair, and watched the young woman politely bow before hastily heading out. She watched Sakura run down the streets of the compound, previous headache forgotten. 

What a sweet young woman, Mikoto thought. Walking back inside, she headed to the backyard, to find Itachi sitting on top of Sasuke. Sighing at the two of them, she crossed her arms. 

"It seems Sakura-chan had an errand to run for her shop, and she left in a hurry. I'm worried about her head though…" Mikoto sighed and wondered which one would take the bait. 

"I should return to Anbu tower. No need to wait for me for dinner, mother." Itachi got up, dusted himself and jumped off, quickly disappearing from sight. Mikoto smiled happily and looked down to her youngest, who was still grumbling on the ground. 

"He didn't have to punch me that hard just because of the pink haired weirdo." Sasuke complained. 

"Now now Sasuke, one day she'll be your sister so you should probably earn her respect." Mikoto smiled happily thinking about her future grandchildren while Sasuke scoffed. 

The next day Sakura didn't expect to see Sasuke and Naruto again, but she met them anyway, by sheer coincidence, bumping into them again when she was out seeking lunch. Sasuke was sporting a fresh black eye, and Naruto’s grin was as bright as the sun, and in these conditions, Sakura was happy to see them. 

"Sakura-chan we meet again! It's almost like destiny keeps bringing us together!" Naruto pulled her in for a tight hug, prompting an awkward laugh from the young woman. "Where are you headed?" 

"I wanted to get a quick lunch, something not too expensive either." Sakura replied, prying herself away from his grip. 

"Oh I know just the place! Ever been to Ichiraku ramen before?" 

Next to Naruto Sasuke rolled his eyes, groaning theatrically. He started to complain about Naruto only eating ramen, and from there the two started to bicker. 

"We can go there." Sakura agreed, hoping to placate their argument before it escalated into another brawl. Naruto was so excited he was almost skipping with joy as he led the way to his favorite ramen shop, while Sasuke followed with a scowl on his face. Sakura noticed that his bad mood didn't quite reach his eyes, and realized that the younger Uchiha had way more bark than bite. 

On their way there they met with Kakashi, who was walking home carrying a bag with herbs. Sakura wasn't planning on greeting him, knowing that he liked his privacy, but Naruto beat her to the punch, yelling out his name. 

"Kakashi-senpai! Hey it's you! C'mon let's go train together again, you taught teme that super cool move you have to teach me something too!" Naruto left his companions and ran to the older anbu. Next to Sakura, Sasuke scoffed again, and went to pull his teammate away from Kakashi's personal space. 

"Be more polite about it, idiot." Sasuke chastised his teammate on his bad manners. 

"Huh? Kakashi-senpai knows me forever okay, I can talk to him however I want to." Naruto bit back. Approaching the two of them, Sakura placed firm grips on both their collars and bowed, forcing them to do the same. 

"My apologies for these two." She apologized. Naruto and Sasuke both protested, but remembering the harsh retaliation of the last time they harmed the young woman, they didn't struggle under her grip.

"Ah it's alright, I know these two quite well and I'm already used to it." Kakashi laughed at the situation and Sakura let the two troublemakers go. "Naruto I'll train with you this afternoon." Kakashi added. Naruto promptly cheered, jumping into the air. 

"Alright! Let's go Sasuke! We have to eat a lot to train with Kakashi-senpai!" Naruto took off running, dragging Sakura and Sasuke behind him, leaving a bemused Kakashi behind. 

Naruto took them to Ichiraku ramen, where he greeted the owner with great familiarity. Sasuke took a seat to Naruto’s right, leaving Sakura with the seat to his left. She looked over the menu, wondering what she should eat. Naruto and Sasuke had both already submitted their orders, leaving Sakura to decide. She chose to copy what Sasuke was having. The owner set off to prepare their orders.

“I have to eat well today, because training with Kakashi-senpai is such a rarity!” Naruto rubbed his hand in excitement. Sakura raised an eyebrow, wondering why, as Kakashi always seemed to have plenty of free time, considering how often he was at the tea shop. 

“Don’t get too excited. He’s not going to teach you the chidori.” Sasuke rolled his eyes. Naruto answered something back and Sakura tried to keep up with them, puzzling over their complicated words. Sharingan, chidori, rasengan were all terms she was unfamiliar with, despite her studies into ninjutsu. 

“Here ya go!”

The owner handed them their bowls, and the three teenagers dug in. Sakura was genuinely impressed with how delicious the ramen was, and found herself agreeing with Naruto’s assessment that it was the best ramen in Konoha. While they were eating, they didn’t talk, their mouths too busy.  As soon as they were finished, Naruto started chatting again, and Sakura wondered if he ever really stopped. Sasuke only replied with short words or grunts. She finished her own food listening to them in amusement.

Eventually Naruto said something that annoyed Sasuke, but before he could open his mouth to retort, another person joined them.  Uchiha Itachi casually pulled out one of Ichiraku’s flaps, leaning inside. Sasuke and Naruto both stiffened in his presence, but while Naruto relaxed after a minute, Sasuke only grew more anxious. Itachi took a moment to cast a glance upon each of them before turning to his younger brother.

“Father is looking for you.” He spoke. Sasuke nodded and got up. The two siblings ignored Naruto’s complaints and began to walk away, leaving Sakura to stare at them thoughtfully.

“Stuck up Uchiha Clan and their stupid crap.” Naruto crossed his arms with a frown. “Every time I feel like Sasuke is finally going to be free of them, they hook their claws in him.”

“How so?” Sakura asked. To her limited Uchiha knowledge, they didn’t seem bad, so she wondered why Naruto had such a negative view on them.

“The Uchiha clan is like the Hyuuga clan, a stuck-up elitist clan that thinks they’re better than everyone else. They won’t even allow people to marry outside the clan to preserve their prestigious bloodline. Bunch of nonsense if you ask me.” Naruto grumbled on, not noticing the sudden gloomy look that befell Sakura.

Of course, Sakura had never truly believed that anything would ever realistically happen between her and Itachi, but on her good days, she liked to entertain the notion that maybe they could one day work out. She knew that from her side there would be several complications, but to see that his family would also not want her, it was disheartening.

“I should probably head back, thanks for the meal, Naruto!” Sakura forced a smile and ran off, leaving the blonde boy with her bill. 

She didn’t immediately head back to the shop, taking a longer route to keep her emotions in check. Reinforcing her decision to follow the route her family would surely choose for her, she repeated to herself, that her path and Itachi’s path would never truly be joined. They were two parallel lines, destined to never join.

Once she calmed her heart, Sakura returned to the shop, to find Kakashi casually sipping tea and reading a book. She approached him with an easygoing smile.

“Aren’t you supposed to train with Naruto? I bet he’s waiting for you.”

“Waiting is also a form of training.” 

Sakura nodded and walked away, leaving Kakashi to his book. She took her usual position, and pulled out her accounting book. There was comfort in numbers, Sakura thought, as numbers were cold, logical and rational, with no room for senseless emotions that did nothing but complicate life.

That night, Sakura watched the stars from her window, thinking of how she felt about Itachi. He was so unlike anyone she had ever met, and the way she felt around him was unique and new to her. Everyday she looked forward to seeing him, and every time it was the best moment of her day. She liked the excitement she felt whenever he appeared in the shop, and was sad to watch him go. Am I in love with him? She asked herself. And if I am, what can I do about it? I'm just a simple girl, a civilian bound to a family heirloom that I cannot discard. Sakura had spent her entire life being groomed to eventually take over the shop. It has been in the Haruno family for generations, since the very beginning of Konoha, could she be the first one to leave that behind? Could she tell her father that she was giving up on everything he had taught her? Could she tell her mother that she was going to marry a ninja? And, she asked herself, would Itachi even reciprocate her feelings? 

Sighing one last time before closing her window, Sakura dragged herself to her bed. She knew all she was doing was agonizing over something that would never happen. I should just focus on my own life, she thought. I'm sure mom and dad will pick a cousin for me, and I'm sure I'll be just fine with whoever he is. 

What Sakura tried to ignore was her heart asking her if just fine was good enough. 

Chapter Text

Sakura woke up with excited voices yelling downstairs. She sat up in a state of mild disoriented sleepiness, and bleakly stared at her mother, who has burst into her room carrying a large box. 

"Sakura! What are you still doing sleeping! Our kimonos have arrived, quickly run into the bathroom and wash up. I have a friend coming over to do our hair in a few minutes!" Mebuki put down the box, pulling her daughter up and dragging her to the bathroom. 

"Is this really necessary?" Sakura asked, wondering why were they dressing up for an event they wouldn't even attend. 

"With this sort of attitude you'll never find a husband." Mebuki complain. Sakura simply sighed, removing her pajamas while her mother set the water to warm. 

"What's the point of me finding a husband if you and dad will just pick one for me yourselves." She muttered. Mornings were not her strong suit, especially when she kept staying up late thinking about Itachi. 

"What did you say dear?" 

"Nothing mom."

"When you're done come into the living room with your robe."

Mebuki left, and Sakura stepped into the bathtub, allowing herself to sink to the bottom, leaving only her head outside the water. I wonder what Itachi-san will be doing during the festival. I bet he will have to escort some pretty girl that his parents picked for him… 

Realizing that those thoughts would only drag her further down, Sakura sat up, splashing water on her face. She promised herself to not think about him, and focus only on the festival and the many clients they'd surely have. Thinking of money and sales, it was a renewed Sakura that stepped out of her bath, ready to let her mother doll her up, and ready to smile and entertain whoever entered the shop. 

Sakura allowed Mebuki and her friend to do with her as they pleased, and when she saw the end result she was shocked by it. Her long pink locks were shining, matching the embroidered cherry blossoms of the kimono, artfully combed into a braid that curled into a neat bun. A black comb contrasted with the pastel pink. The kimono was also black, with embroidery comprised of pink cherry blossoms, and a deep green obi which matched her eyes. Sakura thought that she looked like a princess and blushed at her own beauty. 

"You look so beautiful." Mebuki was tearing up, and Sakura didn't understand why. "My young girl has become a beauty worthy of legend. I was always afraid of your pink hair, but now I see that I shouldn't have doubted the kami's will.

"Oh mom, that's just because you did such a great job picking this wonderful kimono." Sakura consoled her tearful mother, who nodded, sniffling into her handkerchief. "Let's go downstairs and help dad, yeah?" 

When the two of them arrived at the tea shop, Kizashi had just opened it, and turned around to face his two girls. First he smiled at his wife, but as soon as his gaze landed on his daughter he frowned and crossed his arms. 

"Change of plans. We're not opening today."

"What? We can't do that! We already bought the sweets and we already put up all the decorations!" Sakura rushed to him, grabbing his arm to prevent him from locking the door he had just opened. 

"Sakura. If we open the shop, I'm afraid I'll have to duel all the men who will come here for my beautiful daughter."

"Don't worry, you'll always be number one in my heart." Sakura smiled at her father, who returned the smile. Laughing, the family opened the shop together, setting up to receive their customers. 

As morning turned to afternoon, several elders started to appear, stopping for tea before heading to the festival. Ino and Tenten also appeared, followed by another girl named Hinata, who Sakura had met a few times, but had yet to befriend. 

"Forehead girl! You look amazing!" Ino complimented Sakura. "You should come to the festival with us, we'll be the prettiest girls there!" 

"Sorry pig, we're full here, I can't really go." Sakura smiled apologetically. For the first time since she had started working there, every table was occupied. 

"At least try to take a break at around 10. That's when the fireworks will start." Tenten nodded, pulling the complaining Ino away from Sakura. She watched the three girls leave sadly. A part of her wished to go to the festival and enjoy spending time with them, but her duty was here. Turning her back to the window where she could still see them, Sakura headed to the table asking for the check. 

As the afternoon blended into dusk, the elderly started to dissipate, and the shop was no longer full, but there were still younger clients and families, some who were only now heading to the festival, and some who were heading home after a full day. Sakura could feel the tiredness beginning to set on her feet, as she was unused to spending so much time wearing geta, and the kimono's constrictive nature hampered her usual mobility. 

Sakura had just managed to sit down and rest for a bit when Shikamaru appeared, followed by a tall, sandy blonde woman with sharp blue eyes. She wasn't dressed in a kimono like everyone else was, and carried a large black object on her back. 

Seeing her friend and interested in who he was with, Sakura approached them with a mischievous smile. As soon as Shikamaru saw her, she watched his shoulders sag further, and he rested his head on his palm, muttering something. Sakura stopped by the table, handing them both menus. 

"Hello, I'm Haruno Sakura, and I will be assisting you this evening. Might I recommend the festival special, the tea and sweets were made for each other." 

The blonde girl looked to Shikamaru, who was pointedly looking away from Sakura, feigning disinterest. 

"We'll have two then." The blonde woman nodded, and Sakura collected the menu before stopping. It was obvious that Shikamaru did not wish to acknowledge her, so she'd play the part of a stranger, but she would grill him to death later. 

Returning to the kitchen with the order, Sakura collected two plates of sweets, one sweet tea and one bitter tea and returned to the table. She placed the bitter cup in front of Shikamaru and the sweet one in front of his companion and set off to help another table. 

She had just turned around when she was stopped by the blonde woman. 

"I ordered two of the same, his tea is different from mine."

Turning around with a smile, Sakura wondered how she'd explain this situation, but Shikamaru spoke first. 

"Sakura knows I like my tea bitter. We're friends." He sighed, sounding like he had just been forced into something horrible. The woman simply looked at him and Sakura, who bowed politely after the introduction. 

"Nara-san comes here often." She tried to help him out by adding extra honorifics to his name. 

"Ah."

"Sakura, this is Sabaku no Temari. She's a delegate from Suna, and I am showing her around." 

Sakura thought that Shikamaru was simply digging an even bigger grave, by being so familiar with her. No girl wants to meet other girls on a date! She mentally yelled at him. 

"Pleasure to meet you Temari-san. We actually have some leaves imported from wind every year, they're very popular during the summer season."

"Ah right." Temari was glaring at Shikamaru now, and Sakura decided to make a hasty retreat and leave them alone. She returned to their duties, but she could see the furious whispering Temari was doing, and knew Shikamaru was certainly getting an earful. 

Smiling to herself, Sakura wondered if his father knew he was going out with a girl from Suna, and from there she wondered what sort of hardships they'd face to be together. Dating someone from a different country would surely be challenging, especially if they were both ninjas. As she went about her work, she noticed that the mood at Shikamaru's table steadily improved as time went on and she was happy that they at least were on good terms. She was sure to give him some tips later on, but was proud to see he could mostly handle things himself. 

By the time they were done, most of the patrons were finishing up and heading to the festival, as the highly anticipated nightly events were about to begin. Temari smiled at Sakura while Shikamaru handed her the amount due, and Sakura made sure to smile back. They were the last to leave, leaving the store empty again much to Sakura’s relief, who promptly fell into a chair, leaning backwards and closing her eyes. 

"We had so many people today!" Sakura's parents were celebrating, still full of energy, and she looked at them skeptically, wondering how they were so lively. 

"It doesn't look like there's anybody around, so I think we can close up. That way you'll still be able to enjoy a little bit of the festivities, dear." Kizashi smiled at his hardworking daughter. 

Sakura considered her father's offer. She felt too tired, and she didn't have anyone to go with. She knew Ino would probably welcome her, but by then, finding her amidst the crowd, and going there alone, and staying alone until she found Ino and her group, and Sakura really didn't want to go by herself.

"You and mom should go. I'll stay and close up." Sakura smiled at her parents. They looked at her in concern. 

"Are you sure?" Mebuki asked. Sakura had always been adventurous, and this was uncharacteristic behavior. 

"Yeah, I'm fine! You two should enjoy and have a date night away from your daughter. Go have fun!" Sakura rose up from her chair, pretending to have more energy than she did, to encourage her parents to leave.

They fell for her ruse, and with big smiles they set off towards the festival, leaving Sakura behind. She was glad to be alone and to have silence, and took a cup of tea for herself, sitting at one of the tables and staring at the empty shop. This will be my life from now on, she thought sadly, never being allowed to participate in things, always having to care for the shop. She thought. Looking around she felt conflicted, as she was fond of the place, and yet she was bitter. 

The bell for the door rang and Sakura didn't even bother to get up. 

"We're closed." She called out to the newcomer. 

"Wonderful." 

Nara Shikaku took the seat across from her looking miserable, and Hatake Kakashi leaned on the table, looking just as tired. She stared at them both in surprise, wondering what they were doing. 

"Do you mind if I grab us some tea?" Kakashi asked, pointing at the door to the kitchen and Sakura shook her head. She watched him trudge there and returned her attention to Shikaku, who was now resting his head on the table. 

"What happened?" Sakura asked, wondering what caused such exhaustion in two aloof, hardened ninjas. Shikaku answered only with a grunt, and Sakura only had her reply when Kakashi returned, with sweets, tea and a chair for himself. 

"Festival security." he groaned, dropping down to the chair. Shikaku finally rose his head, to start attacking the sweets. 

"Did something bad happen? An attack? A fight?" Sakura wondered what tragedy befell the festival and suddenly began to worry for her parents. The two ninjas snorted at her. 

"I wish an enemy attacked us." Shikaku smirked. 

"We've spent all night handling small disputes, petty thieves, finding lost children and objects, and making sure no grandmas were hurt." Kakashi explained, and suddenly Sakura understood their plight. 

"So the festival was a great success then?" Sakura smiled. It comforted her that she wasn't the only one who was suddenly hating her job and the festival. 

"Yeah. We didn't see you there, did you not go?" Shikaku asked. Sakura shook her head. 

"I've been at the shop all day."

"It's for the best Shikaku-san. Look at her, we'd have to break up more fights." Kakashi smiled behind his mask, and Shikaku nodded, prompting a pretty blush from Sakura. She felt flattered that they still found her pretty even if she had just spent all day working. 

"You should still try and see the fireworks." Shikaku observed and Sakura smiled. 

"Once I'm done closing up the shop, I'll go." she lied. Sakura had no intention of going anywhere, really. She'd be happy to see whatever she could from her bedroom window. 

The bell jingled again, and the three of them turned to find Itachi, dressed in full anbu gear. Kakashi and Shikaku glared at him. 

"How was your mission Itachi-san." Shikaku asked. 

"Good. I just returned." He answered.

Sakura quickly jumped up and offered him her seat. 

"I'll get you some tea." she made a quick retreat to the kitchen to hide her rapidly beating heart. He had been on a mission! She cheered. He couldn't have been enjoying the festival with a random pretty girl like she had imagined. Instead he wasn't even in the village at all. Suddenly feeling invigorated, Sakura returned with tea and sweets for him. 

They had pulled another chair for him, and Sakura sat back down, interested in the conversation. 

"It's the anbu chief that's in charge of security." 

"I had faith in my vice-captain."

"That wasn't even a crucial solo mission."

Piecing together what had happened, Sakura began to giggle. The three turned to her curiously and she started to laugh. 

"Sorry, it's just… Did Itachi-san use a mission to not deal with festival security?" She asked. Kakashi and Shikaku nodded while Itachi simply took another sip of his tea, mirth in his eyes. "That's really funny." Sakura felt all her previous woes disappear. Worrying about Itachi was meaningless. There's nothing she could do about him, as he was the type of person who lived exactly how he wished to. 

"Did you enjoy the festival, Sakura-san?" Itachi tried to divert the focus of the conversation from him. 

"I spent all day working here, actually." Sakura smiled. She wondered if he was reassured by her answer, or if he even cared at all. 

"It's a shame, because she looks so beautiful, don't you think, captain?" Kakashi asked Itachi, and everyone looked at him with various degrees of interest. 

He took a moment to look at Sakura, who found herself blushing and averting her eyes from him. She felt that she was being analyzed, and was suddenly anxious. 

"Indeed." He answered cooly. Sakura smiled a little bit, but felt disappointed by his simple answer. Deciding that having Itachi around would be too much of an emotional roller-coaster, she got up. 

"I should start closing the shop if I want to see the fireworks. You three can stay for a while longer if you like."

Sakura began the usual closing routine, cleaning up tables, counting the money and placing it in the safe, draining all the unused water and tea. She was about to start setting up the chairs when she found an issue. With her kimono it was impossible to properly bend down to grab and lift chairs. She contemplated running upstairs to change her clothes, but looking at her three customers, she didn't quite want to return to the usual-looking Sakura. 

She decided that for tonight she could leave them down, and returned to the balcony for one last check of the accounting books. Shikaku, Itachi and Kakashi paid their dues and headed off, leaving Sakura alone again. She finished her math, and began the last task of the day, taking out the trash. 

She shuffled through the front door, pulling the unusually large trash bag with her, struggling with its size and weight. 

"Allow me."

Two strong hands took the bag from her, easily lifting it and throwing it away, where the other trash bags were. Sakura stood there in shock, not expecting to see Itachi, freshly washed and clothed.

"What are you doing here?" Sakura asked. He wasn't wearing the traditional hakama and haori, simply using his usual casual clothes, and he had just been there, so Sakura wondered if he had forgotten something. 

"I thought I might see the fireworks, and since you were planning on doing the same, I believed we might go together." He answered smoothly. 

Sakura found her lips parting in shock, and for a moment could only stare at him in surprise. To her it seemed as if he could clearly read her heart, as twice today he appeared exactly when she felt most alone. 

"Oh um, yes I'd like that. I just need to lock the door and we can go." Sakura pointed at the shop and he nodded. She rushed to do it, smiling to herself. When the day started the couldn't even hope to spend time with Itachi at the festival, and now she would get to watch the fireworks with him. It was almost a date! Sakura squealed excitedly in her mind. "Shall we?" She smiled brightly. 

He started walking towards the festival, and she followed him, chatting about everything that had happened of interest in the shop. He nodded and answered in one word sentences, which Sakura didn't mind, already used to it. She suddenly noticed they were beginning to head away from the festival, and asked him where they were going. 

"The best place to see the fireworks." he answered. Sakura nodded, trusting him. They stopped in front of a house, and Sakura wondered if they were going inside, when Itachi stepped behind her, scooping her into his arms. He jumped into the air, gaining height and speed, using the rooftops for travel.

Sakura threw her arms around his neck, seeking something to grab on to, and choosing his shirt. She had already been transported by him before, but never had it been bridal style, and it was a completely new experience. The wind suddenly started to undo her hairdo, and Sakura hastily brought a hand to it, to make sure the fancy comb didn't fall out. 

Itachi suddenly stopped, depositing her on the ground, but keeping a steadying grip, as Sakura found her footing. She took a moment to simply breathe and look around her, as they were now atop Hokage Mountain, and she could suddenly see all of Konoha. The view was just as breathtaking as the trip, and she stayed silent, taking it all in. The wind blew against her face, undoing the last braids on her hair, letting it fall completely loose, floating behind her.

"Ah…" she brought her hand to her hair, feeling self-conscious of how the princess visual was now ruined. She tried to put it into another bun, but the wind wouldn't allow it to stay. 

"Leave it. It looks just as nice with it flying in the wind." 

Sakura looked at Itachi with a blush and nodded, placing the comb in her sleeve. She noticed his hair was barely out of place, and felt a tinge of jealousy. Returning her attention to the view in front of her, she looked down, to find herself standing on top of the third Hokage's head. Suddenly afraid of the height, she moved closer to Itachi, grabbing his arm. 

"Are we even allowed to be here?" Sakura whispered, hoping she wasn't offending anyone.

"Don't worry, only Hokage-sama has the authority to stop me, and he's stuck at the ceremony down there." Itachi replied in a smug tone, pointing towards a very bright assortment of lights, which Sakura assumed was the festival. Just when he said that, the lights dimmed, and the fireworks started. 

Explosions of colors, with different shapes and sizes took over Konoha's sky, coloring and brightening the world in different ways, enthralling everyone who watched. Sakura could simply smile in wonder at the most amazing and beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life. They were at the perfect height, where they exploded right in front of them, and Sakura believed that if she reached out, she might be able to touch one of the bright, colorful sparks. 

Her hands left Itachi’s arm to try and grab one of the magical pieces, but Itachi took her hand in his, surprising her. She looked at him, but he was staring forwards, and she admired the way the different colors played on his white skin, and reflected on his dark eyes. Smiling, she returned her attention to the fireworks in front of her, allowing him to hold her hand. 

This is fine, she told herself. I can't have him forever, so I'll steal these little moments and treasure them for the rest of my life. 


Kakashi hated his Captain in moments like these. Itachi should have been the one here, coordinating genin and receiving reports of lost or stolen objects. Instead he was stuck in this tent with Shikaku-san, suffering.

"Kakashi. Let's go back to the tea shop. We can grab Sakura and go to Hokage mountain to see the fireworks."

Quickly agreeing with Shikaku's plan, the two of them left again, leaving clones behind to do the work. When they arrived at the shop, they found it closed, with Sakura missing. A quick sniff told Kakashi that Sakura headed north, with one Uchiha Itachi. 

"Itachi-san has her." He smiled at his captain's sly methods. 

"What?" Shikaku did not sound impressed, and Kakashi could relate. He knew the older Nara liked the girl and had even considered setting her up with his own son, which was when he discovered his son was interested in the sister of the Kazekage. "Where are they headed?" 

Kakashi followed their scent, and the two of them ended up in Hokage Mountain, atop Hashirama's head, looking down on Itachi and Sakura.

"Leave it. It looks just as nice with it flying in the wind."

They heard Itachi speak, and Kakashi smirked. He had left several of his copies of Icha Icha in the anbu locker one night after he went on a duo mission with Itachi, and they had gone missing. Now he knew who took them, as that line was said in Volume 2, chapter 7. 

"I can't believe the nerve of that brat." Shikaku grumbled next to him. Kakashi knew if he was Itachi’s self-declared wingman, Shikaku would now try and thwart his efforts, as he still hadn't given up on getting Sakura into the Nara clan. 

"Don't worry, only Hokage-sama has the authority to stop me, and he's stuck at the ceremony down there."

Kakashi snickered. Just as they could hear Itachi, it seemed he could hear them too. Next to him the Nara Clan Leader deflated, knowing it was a battle lost. What Uchiha Itachi wanted, he got, and if he was willing to publicly hold hands with Sakura atop Hokage Mountain, his intentions were very clear to anyone with sharp eyes. 

Chapter Text

Seeing the fireworks with Itachi kept Sakura in a state of constant happiness for an entire week. She smiled at everything and everyone, except for Itachi himself, as she couldn’t look at him for more than a few seconds without blushing and averting her eyes. Sakura was so busy being a young girl who had found her first true love to notice how obvious it was to anyone who knew her. To most people, seeing Sakura in a state of constant, blissful happiness was enough to make themselves happy, but there were two people who did not share in her happiness, two people who instead were hurt whenever they saw her smile.

“We must do something about this! It cannot go on, not with him!”

“I have already taken the necessary steps.”

Summer was beginning to turn into Autumn, and as the leaves began to fade away, so did Sakura’s joy. That season she barely ever saw Itachi anymore, and all of her cautious questions were answered with the same generic answer: missions. It didn’t take long for doubt and insecurity to take over Sakura’s psyche, as she began to wonder if she had done something wrong, or worse, if he had lost interest in her. As such Sakura’s smiles faded like the leaves, turning into sighs of longing and discontent.

"Sakura!" 

The love-struck girl jumped in her seat, startled by the unexpected yet familiar voice that called out her name. She stared at the man in front of with a smile, happy to see him. 

"Arashi! What are you doing in Konoha?!" 

"Your father invited me over."

Leaving her seat to give her favorite cousin a warm hug, Sakura felt her gloom leave her in waves, excited to see the boy she had always considered as a brother. Inviting him to take a seat behind the balcony, the two cousins talked away, exchanging information and stories that happened during their time apart. Sakura purposely didn't mention Itachi, knowing that if she did, he'd pick up on her feelings, but she had enough stories to tell about enough friends that it was easy to avoid talking about him. 

"Ino and I were planning on going out to dinner with some friends, you should join us, I'm sure you'll like them." Sakura invited Arashi, who agreed happily. 

Kizashi chose that moment to ruin their plans, however. 

"We're having a family dinner tonight. There's something more important that we need to discuss now that Arashi is here." He interjected seriously, prompting the two cousins to look at him curiously. It was unusual for Kizashi to be so strict and serious, and Sakura quickly wondered if something happened, and what it could have been. 

She spent the rest of the afternoon puzzling over her father's behavior, going over everything that had happened recently to try and figure out what needed to be changed. Business was the same as it had always been, and the farm had been producing as normal, which left Sakura no further avenues to pursue. She briefly wondered if perhaps her parents had figured out that she had learned to handle ninja weapons at a basic level, or if they had somehow learned of what happened during her journey to Kawakami, but Arashi assured her that he hadn't said a word. 

Unsure of what to think, Sakura sadly canceled her plans with Ino, unable to give her a reason as to why, since Sakura herself didn't have a clue. 

Arashi helped Sakura and Kizashi with closing the shop, and the three Harunos walked up the stairs to the living quarters in solemn silence. They were welcomed by Mebuki, who had already made dinner, and was setting up the table. Looking at the dishes laid down, Sakura noticed they were fancier than usual and while they did have a guest, she didn't think they warranted different food. When they were still living at the farm, Arashi was a frequent presence during meals, and he had never received special treatment then.

"Everything looks really good." Arashi complimented Mebuki, who smiled warmly at him, inviting everyone to clean up and sit down. 

The three Harunos lined up to wash their hands, and Sakura noticed her father still looked serious, and her nervousness began to rise, as she began to conjure up what terrible things were about to be shared. Perhaps we'll have to sell the shop, or the farm? Maybe someone died? Are my parents getting divorced? Each second only heightened Sakura’s fears, and it was with a trembling heart that she took her seat at the table. 

Mebuki and Arashi exchanged small talk while Sakura and Kizashi stayed silent, each one looking down at their food with near identical frowns, barely eating. Unsatisfied with them, Mebuki set her own utensils down, deciding to break the news and let chaos run loose.

"Sakura, Arashi, the reason why we gathered here today is to tell you two that we are arranging for your marriage. To each other." Mebuki's words were followed by deafening silence. She had expected Sakura to cry or complain about it, but instead her daughter simply looked back at her, with eyes that lacked their usual brilliance. This reaction hurt her more than any tears or screams, and Mebuki watched her only daughter mechanically turn back to her food.

"We have spoken to your parents, and you'll be staying here until winter for the courtship period, and when the next year begins, the two of you will return to Kawakami, to take care of the farm, together." Kizashi further explained. Sakura simply nodded at him. Arashi had an angry look in his eyes, which prompted a silent exchange between the older couple. When Mebuki and Kizashi began plans to marry Sakura and Arashi, they expected Sakura to be the difficult one, as they knew her to be infatuated with the Uchiha heir. Instead Arashi was the one shooting them glares. 

"I'm done eating, I'll be in my room." Sakura left the table and retreated to the safety of her room. There, she allowed herself to fall upon her bed and think, ignoring the angry voices that came from the living room. 

She knew why Arashi was protesting, as he had his own sweetheart back in Kawakami, and Sakura respected that he wished to fight for the chance to have a future with the girl he loved. But me, what do I have to fight for? She asked herself. She knew that she liked Itachi a lot, but she also knew that their relationship was a platonic friendship on its best day, and even then, she knew that she was simply the girl who worked at his favorite tea shop, and he was the heir to one of the most prestigious ninja clans in Konoha. 

It was easy for Sakura to believe they might have a chance together when they were watching fireworks alone atop Hokage tower, but the reality was that Sakura was getting older, she'd probably need to have children soon, and her parents would want her to marry within the Haruno Clan to keep the shop within the family. 

This is my duty, Sakura told herself, this is the life that I have been born into, and there's nothing I can do about it. She told herself sternly, desperately trying to suppress the growing pain in her heart. 

The next day did not bring about any change. While Sakura had resigned herself to her fate, she was not happy with it, and it was only her sense of responsibility that made her get up early to work at the shop. Arashi had left the house sometime the previous night, after an argument with her parents, and had yet to return. Mebuki went looking for him while Kizashi and Sakura tended to the store. 

Sakura welcomed the usual clients, served their usual teas, but could not grace them with her usual smile, as her eyes had not yet been able to find the spark of life that made them shine. They had turned from bright emeralds to dull, empty pits of green. 

That day Neji entered the shop, and that perked her up somewhat, as she hadn't seen him in almost two months. He greeted her with a tired nod, and she wondered where he had been and what he had been doing. 

"It's been a while, Neji-san." Sakura smiled, but he did not return the smile, instead choosing to stare into her eyes. She looked back into his pearlescent ones for a second, before averting her gaze. She always felt uncomfortable around his stares, as she always felt he could look past her skin and into her mind with them. 

"Long mission. Captain and I-" He stopped himself suddenly. "I'll have the usual with an extra side of arare." Sakura nodded, and took his order to her father. As she waited for his request to be brewed, she thought to his words. 

By captain, did he mean Itachi? Is that why he's been gone? A really long mission? Sakura asked herself. However, looking at her father's face as he handed her the required items, she forced herself to stop her traitorous thoughts. Having any sort of hope would only make everything harder for herself. 

She took the items to Neji's table, placing them down and immediately leaving, which was unlike her usual behavior. She liked chatting with him for a couple minutes before leaving him alone, but this time she didn't want to, as it would only make her think of what she couldn't have. Her unusual behavior was noticed by Neji, who watched her return to her post with his observant eyes. He wondered if her clear moroseness had something to do with the long mission he and Itachi had gone on.

Sakura opened the latest book she had procured from the library, a tome on Konoha’s history, focusing on the Second Hokage’s era. She was reading about the long war with Stone, and the toll it had taken on the village and its inhabitants. Sometimes she had a hard time believing everything that was written on it. To her it seemed impossible that one man could fell hundreds of people.

“Ahem.” Sakura looked up to see Neji standing in front of her, looking uncomfortable. “Can we talk?”

Sakura nodded, closing her book in order to give him her full attention. Neji looked around, and Sakura asked him if he wanted to move to somewhere more private. He nodded and she got up. Telling her father she was taking a quick break, she rejoined Neji, showing him the way upstairs. She knew her mother wasn’t around, so they’d be able to talk without being interrupted.

It felt weird to be sitting around in the living room across from Neji, but Sakura waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts and say whatever he wanted.

“Being a ninja is difficult, leaving behind friends and family to risk our lives in a foreign land, in clandestine operations where sometimes if you’re careless your body won’t be able to return to your loved ones. What’s even more difficult is knowing that all that time spent away is hard on those waiting for us, so while it can be hard, it would be easier for Captain if you were cheerful, even when he’s gone.” Neji spoke, surprising Sakura, who didn’t expect this to be the topic.

“Neji-san you seem to be mistaken. Itachi-san and I aren’t…” Sakura’s throat closed up and she found herself struggling to say the words that were in her mind. They hurt her heart, and constricted her soul. Closing her eyes to take a deep breath, she forced herself to continue. “Your captain and I aren’t in a relationship.”

“I thought…”

“You thought wrong. In fact, my parents have just arranged my marriage to Arashi, so I’d appreciate it if you stop insinuating that I have anything to do with your captain.” Sakura got up from the couch and rapidly turned around, not wanting to break apart in front of Neji. “I should return to the shop, and I’m sure you have your own duties.” She left him behind, knowing he’d find his own way out. Sakura stopped just before entering the shop again, bringing her hands to her face, hoping somehow she could hold the tears that were beginning to fall.


Neji sat inside the ANBU lounge, contemplating his options. He had just turned in his report to Shikaku, who told him to take a couple days off. Neji wanted to go home and sleep, but his mind kept returning to Sakura’s bitter words, barely concealed tears and how she wilted like a flower that was about to die. Neji wasn’t heartless, and he understood the pressure of family better than anyone else, but he didn’t know what he should do. Should he try and interfere? Should he do as she asked and keep to himself?

“You look deep in thought.”

Tenzo took the seat next to him. Neji nodded to his teammate. The two of them remained in silence, as Neji continued to mull over the situation. Casting a side-glance at the other ANBU, he wondered what he would do in this situation. 

“What would you do if you saw someone going down a path that hurts them, but that they cannot easily escape?” Neji asked vaguely, hoping to make it sound like a casual, theoretical question.

“Do they want to escape?”

“I don’t know. Probably, but perhaps they can’t, or don’t know how.”

“Then I’d try to do something to help.”

Neji pondered on what he could do to help Sakura. Other than potentially kidnapping her to prevent the wedding, he couldn’t do anything. At that moment, Itachi entered the room, looking freshly showered. He nodded to Neji and Tenzo before heading into Shikadai’s office. Neji stared at the door thoughtfully. He couldn’t do anything to help Sakura, but Itachi could. He waited until Itachi left, growing impatient.

“Itachi-san is taking a while.” Tenzo commented, further annoying Neji. “Well it was a long mission, good to have you two back. Kakashi-senpai and I were growing lonely.” Tenzo joked.

Neji turned to him with narrowed eyes, wondering if perhaps Tenzo knew about the whole situation and was mocking him, but his teammate looked innocent. Getting up, Neji made his way to Shikadai’s office, not bothering to knock. He knew he was acting out of character, but even if he had no way to escape his own sad destiny, he could help Sakura, and he’d be able to get rid of this oppressive feeling in his chest.

Shikaku and Itachi stared at him with matching raised eyebrows, and looking to his captain, Neji spoke: “Sakura is engaged to Arashi and I think you should do something about it because she…” Not knowing how to put his words, Neji pursed his lips. “She’s not… She’s not well.” He looked down. 

Shikaku sighed, muttering under his breath.

“Well, it seems you cannot run away anymore, Itachi-san.”

“Indeed.”

“I have your report, Neji here can answer my follow-up questions, you should go.” Shikaku waved Itachi away, and Neji nodded, feeling relieved. All his years working under Itachi had told him that the man never failed, and he was certain this would not be an exception.

Itachi frowned as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop, flying to his destination. He had not wanted to take the long infiltration and reconnaissance mission that Yondaime had thrust upon him after the festival, and he hated the sadistic pleasure on Shikaku’s face that told him it was retaliation for leaving him with the festival work. It seemed his absence had significantly hindered his plan regarding one Haruno Sakura, but Itachi could improvise. The first thing he would do is to check on the girl, as Neji’s words and expression worried Itachi. 

He made it to the tea shop, and noticing it was void of the person he was looking for, Itachi frowned. If Sakura had been a ninja, he’d be able to locate her easily through her chakra signature, but as a civilian, Sakura’s presence mingled with all of the other civilians in Konoha, making it impossible to locate her.

Deciding to gather some clues through her parents, Itachi entered the tea shop, looking for signs of life. After a minute, Kizashi showed up, and upon seeing him, immediately tensed. As a ANBU hunter, Itachi was trained to recognize patterns in behaviors, and he noticed that Kizashi didn’t seem to want him there. There was no hostility, but there was a clear sign of discontent. The two of them stared at each other for a while, each male immersed in their own thoughts.

“Sit down. We need to have a conversation.” Kizashi made the first move, heading towards one of the empty tables. Itachi followed him and Kizashi sighed, knowing this would be a difficult talk.

Once the two of them were seated, they remained in silence longer, and Itachi began to grow impatient. Kizashi's grim behavior began to make Itachi believe that something might have happened to Sakura. "May I ask what this is about?" He finally cracked, hoping Sakura was alright. 

“I'm not blind. I can see that you like my daughter, and I can see that she likes you just as much. Now, Sakura is my precious only girl, and this is why I must do this to protect her future happiness. I've done my research, I've asked around and you're the heir to a prestigious ninja clan, aren't you?” Itachi nodded “Therein lies the problem. If my Sakura marries you, she'll have to give up on this, on her own family.” Kizashi spoke sadly, looking around at the tea shop. He himself had many happy memories associated with this place, and it would hurt him to know that one day it wouldn’t be there anymore. 

“I don't want to make her choose. Ninjas have a low activity rate, I'll probably be retired before it's Sakura’s turn to inherit the shop. I do not wish to leave her to do everything alone.” Itachi answered smoothly. He had considered quitting the ninja lifestyle many times before and he knew it was only a matter of time before he too was deemed too old or injured to continue in active service.

Kizashi shook his head, believing that Itachi didn’t quite see the full extent of his concern. “It's not about Sakura taking care of the shop by herself. It's about your family. Family is a tricky thing, sometimes they're there to help you and sometimes they're chains that bind you. Your ninja lifestyle might allow you to help Sakura when I'm gone, but what about your father? What will happen when he's gone? Your family will want you to take over as leader, and then you'll have to tell Sakura that she'll have to give up everything she grew up with, everything she worked for, to be your clan's matriarch.” 

Itachi looked down at his own hands, cursing the Uchiha blood that flew in him once more. He knew Kizashi was right. His own mother had once been a prolific ninja, with many achievements, and even she was forced to become a Uchiha matriarch, forced to give up her career, her friends and her freedom to be a mother for the clan.

“Will you be able to tell her that in twenty years from now? Will you be able to bear living with her knowing that you took away her freedom? Her connection to her family? Will you force her to give up her life to live your life? Is this something you can live with? No, don't think of yourself. Think of Sakura. Is that a future you think will make her happy?” Kizashi pressed further, realizing that Itachi finally was beginning to see why he was against this marriage. He sincerely hoped that the young man in front of him would be able to take action, to do something to help the situation, as Kizashi hated seeing Sakura as she was, so sad she didn’t even seem alive.

“Kizashi! Kizashi where are you!” Mebuki ran into the shop, breathless, clutching a paper in her hand. “They found Arashi! He’s back in Kawakami-” Mebuki stopped when she noticed Itachi’s presence, and suddenly filled with fury she strode towards him. 

“Mebuki don’t.” Recognizing his wife’s fury, Kizashi tried to stop her, but she shrugged him off, pulling Itachi up from his seat, shaking him in anger.

“You! This is all your fault! There’s so many other pretty girls out there! Why did it have to be mine? Why won’t you ninja leave my family alone!” She yelled at him. Itachi allowed her to do as she wanted, recognizing she needed to let out her anger. “You know my father was a ninja, and my mother was a civilian, I saw the damage he did to her! I will not have that for my daughter, you hear me? Spending days on end away from home, barely contributing to the family finances because all the money was spent on weaponry and alcohol. The few times he was home he was drunk and violent, and finally, finally when my mother finds the courage to leave him, he gets himself killed, so mother has to stand there on his funeral pretending to be sad, having to listen to people tell her what a great man, what a hero he was, how many lives he saved, when all he did was destroy her life!” Mebuki let Itachi go, turning to her husband, who embraced her, allowing her to cry out her anger in his arms.

For the first time in his life, Itachi felt lost. He didn’t know what to say or do, how to comfort the woman in front of him. Of course he knew that many ninjas struggled with the hazards of the lifestyle, but he had never before faced a situation like this one.

“I would rather die than let any harm befall Sakura.” Itachi promised. He knew there was nothing he could do about the past, but he could try and change the future.

“I know. I’ve been watching you since the start.” Mebuki sniffled. “I only wish my father had been half the man you are. And Sakura is my precious girl, she loves you so much...”

“If you can promise me that your clan will not attempt to interfere with Sakura’s life and allow her the freedom to do as she wants, I will allow you to court my daughter, but until then I cannot.” Kizashi spoke to Itachi who nodded.

He’d ended a shinobi war by himself, surely changing the Uchiha clan wouldn’t be as hard.

Chapter Text

As Itachi walked home he considered the path in front of him. He hadn't ever spoken to anyone about this, but he had never wanted to be the heir of the Uchiha Clan. He hated the pressure, the responsibility, the deterministic fate set upon him and his own family. To him, nothing sounded better than quitting anbu, becoming a simple jounin, helping Sakura out in the shop, only going on the occasional mission. He wouldn't even mind quitting Konoha altogether and raising his own children in the Haruno farm. He could keep the village safe from harm, and he could spend his days using body for good, honest labor. 

However, despite how much he wished for those peaceful days by Sakura’s side, he knew the merciless grasp of the position of Uchiha Clan Heir would never allow it. Perhaps Kizashi is right, Itachi told himself, it would have been better if Sakura and I had never… 

"Yo." A familiar voice interrupted Itachi’s gloomy thoughts.

Kakashi was leaning against a tree, looking at Itachi with a knowing smile. Itachi stopped to stare at the silver-haired male. They were friends, in a way, as they were both very similar people, who bonded over the burden of loss and expectations. He knew that the Yondaime Hokage had always hoped Kakashi would follow in his footsteps, and he also knew how much Kakashi did not want to be the leader of the village. 

"Kakashi." Itachi nodded. He waited for Kakashi to say something. If he was here, at this moment, it was because he wanted to be here. 

"I got this new set of weapons that are in need of testing. Want to help me out?" 

Itachi readily agreed. The prospect of throwing sharp objects at something felt very appealing to him at that moment. 

The two of them made their way to their favorite training ground, which was usually restricted to anbu. There were already worn out targets set out, and the two men wasted no time in peppering them with a wide variety of different sharp objects. The dull thunk was the only thing that could be heard as they went through a rather extensive collection. 

Itachi thought through his options as he threw kunai and shuriken. Despite everything he considered, including kidnapping and desertion, he always looped back to the same conclusion. As long as he was the Uchiha Clan Heir, he'd never be allowed to truly give Sakura what he wanted to. 

Eventually the supply ran dry, and the two ninja walked to the targets, to collect the weapons. 

"So I heard what happened." Kakashi started pulling out kunai, Itachi knew that this had been his plan all along. 

"It seems that I cannot court Sakura-san." Itachi sighed. It took effort to pull out the kunai he had thrown, and he chastised himself for being a tad too aggressive with his strength. 

"Oh, why not?"

"Because I am the Uchiha Clan heir." Itachi turned to look at Kakashi with a frown.

"Well that doesn't seem to be much of a problem." Kakashi smiled at Itachi’s glare. "Just don't be the clan heir. It's never suited you anyway."

Itachi contemplated if he should revoke Kakashi's status as one of Konoha's geniuses. 

"I cannot simply stop being the clan heir. I was born into it, it isn't something I chose."

"So just because you're born into it, are you forced to be it for the rest of your life? You're starting to sound like Neji. Look at me, I wasn't born with your clan's Sharingan, and yet I have one. Birth shouldn't automatically make anyone anything, it's what they choose to do with themselves that makes them who they are." Kakashi spoke, returning his attention to his target, pulling out more weapons. 

"I cannot just give up on the clan, I have responsibilities, duties and..." Itachi began to explain, but he was quickly interrupted. 

"Of course you can, you just can't do it irresponsibly. Don't you have a younger brother who is desperate for attention and importance?" 

Itachi thought of Sasuke. His younger brother was foolish and naive, full of unrealistic ideals. And yet, Itachi’s brain began to spin with ideas, perhaps a young man like Sasuke could be exactly the thing the clan needs, Itachi told himself. Perhaps he could escape. 

"I cannot thrust this burden upon Sasuke." Itachi told himself out loud. Kakashi rolled his eye at him, mildly offending Itachi. 

"You're not sentencing him to death. Look, I've spent enough time with the kid to know that he'll love the attention and self-importance that comes with it. Sure it won't be easy convincing all those old geezers, but don't you think that after everything you've done for your clan and your village, you're allowed to be selfish for once? Itachi, I've known you for years, we were both murdering for clan and country before we were twelve, and you never complained, never asked for anything. Not even when your friends and teammates were sacrificed in a suicidal mission. Now there's finally something you want, something that you can fight for, a personal reward and you want to concede defeat before even trying? And it's not just about you either, are you telling me there's a chance that you could make Sakura the happiest girl in the world and you don't think that's something worth fighting for? I will kill you if you hurt her more than you already have Uchiha Itachi." Kakashi took the recently acquired shuriken and aimed it at Itachi, showing him he truly meant his words. 

"Well, I wouldn't have pegged you for passionate speeches, maybe Yondaime does know something we don't." Itachi and Kakashi both turned around to see Shikakui, Neji and Tenzo standing in the training grounds. "You're not without allies, Itachi-san." Shikakui smirked. He should have asked Neji for mission details, but instead he had chosen to grill the young man on what happened with Sakura. He quickly connected the pieces and set off to find the Uchiha Heir. He tried setting up his own son with Sakura and failed, but he wasn't a petty man. If Sakura chose Itachi, he'd do his best to help him out. 

"So, how do we set about changing the Uchiha Clan?" Tenzo asked, looking around the anbu members curiously. 

After a long discussion with anbu team 1 and Shikaku, a plan was formed, and Itachi found himself thankful for his friends, as without their support, he'd never have worked up the courage to properly carry on such a wild idea. He now ran home, knowing that he would need another powerful ally, one who would support him unconditionally, as nothing was more powerful than his mother's desire for grandchildren. 

He found Mikoto in the kitchen, having just cleaned up dinner. Itachi didn't realize he had missed it, but as soon as she saw him, she pointed towards a plate full of food that had been set aside for him. Thanking her for her thoughtfulness, Itachi sat down to eat, and Mikoto joined him, watching him with a smile. 

"Mother, I wish to court Sakura." Itachi spoke between a spoon of food. At first he thought that she hadn't heard him, as she said nothing, but soon she started squealing excitedly. 

"Oh that's so wonderful! She's such a lovely girl, I asked around, of course, and nobody had a mean word to speak of her. It was only the best things, and she's so pretty too, with those long pastel pink locks, I pointed her out to Kushina the other day and she said-"

"There's a problem." Itachi interrupted Mikoto, who looked at him curiously. "Her family objects to me."

"What? Why? Do they not know you? Who would dare object to my Itachi?" Mikoto's joy quickly turned to rage, prompting a sigh from Itachi. 

"It's not me, personally. It's my position as clan heir. They have a shop, which Sakura is set to inherit, and they don't wish for her to…" Itachi looked at his mother sadly, as he watched realization dawn upon her. "They don't want her to give up everything for the clan."

Solemn silence befell the kitchen, as Itachi watched his mother stare into the distance sadly. He knew that she loved her family more than anything, but he also knew that it must have been difficult for her. 

"I can't blame them. If it were my daughter, I don't know that I would wish this for her either." Mikoto agreed sadly. Itachi nodded. 

"I have a plan, to make Sasuke the heir."

"Your brother? Oh he'd love it, but I don't know if your father and the elders would agree."

"I know. If I handle the elders, can you convince father?" Itachi asked. Mikoto took a moment to think, and replied with a confident nod. Itachi smiled. 

"Do you think that they'll have red hair? Oh I do hope they have her beautiful green eyes…" Mikoto daydreamed about her future grandchildren. Internally Itachi agreed with her, as while he didn't care about the color, he hoped his children would have the warm, bright Haruno eyes. 

After finishing his meal, Itachi set off to find his brother. Sasuke was outside, practicing with the targets set up behind the house. He watched his brother perform his own version of a lighting jutsu to hit the target behind the rock and contemplated how different they were. The resolution to make him clan leader faltered. 

"Sasuke." Itachi called out, drawing his brother's attention. 

"Nii-san, you're home." Sasuke strolled to his brother's side with a small glint of excitement. Even after all the times Itachi had disappointed him, he still looked at him with that look, and Itachi felt crushed. He couldn't be this selfish, he couldn't pass on this burden unto his younger brother. Sasuke was his precious younger brother, and he had vowed to protect him. 

"Good job." Itachi praised him for his work on hitting all the targets and smiled at the happy look Sasuke gave him. Someone like me, I cannot possibly desire anything more than this. Itachi told himself, giving up on his dreams with Sakura. 

After training with Sasuke in some light taijutsu, Itachi left the house, knowing that he wouldn't be able to get any sleep. The next day, he told himself he'd do the right thing and talk to Sakura, let her down gently, so that she could move on, be happy with someone who could give her everything he could not. 

Itachi sat alone in the empty training lake near the Uchiha complex, watching the stars reflected on the water. He was feeling a pain he hadn't felt in years, the crushing heartbreak of losing a loved one. The last time had been when he had been the only survivor of a suicide mission where both his genin teammates and captain had perished. It had been when he had awoken the Mangekyo Sharingan. Without even trying, his sad black eyes bled into red, as he cried. 

"Itachi?" A voice he hadn't heard in a while startled him, and he hastily brought his sleeve to his eyes, to hide his face. "What happened?" Standing next to him was Uchiha Shisui, his cousin and best friend, looking down at him in concern. 

"You're home?" Itachi asked, carefully maintaining his usual composure. Shisui has been deployed on a long-term diplomatic mission which had kept him away from Konoha for the last year. 

"Yeah, just got back. I stopped by your house and Mikoto-baa looked so sad, and I come here and you're crying. What happened? Is Sasuke alright?" Shisui asked, filled with concern. Itachi smiled bitterly. 

"Sasuke is fine. Mother is upset with me." Itachi explained cryptically. Shisui sat down next to him. He stayed silent, waiting for Itachi to gather the courage to tell him everything. "I fell in love with a girl, Sakura from the Haruno Tea Shop. But I cannot have her as I am the Uchiha Heir. I had thought to make Sasuke take my place but I could not."

Shisui hummed in understanding. He smiled at his cousin, and reached out to pat him on the back. 

"Wait, what happened to Haruno-jii?" 

"He died. Shortly after you left. His son took over."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't make Sasuke the new heir." Itachi looked at Shisui in shock. He thought his cousin would side with his mother and be angry at him for not seizing the opportunity to make himself happy. "Remember our promise?" 

Itachi thought back to when the war had just ended, he and Shisui had been standing in front of the new memorial that had been made for the war victims. Danzo's name was being added to it, even though he had been killed by Shisui, as he had been trying to orchestrate a takeover of the Uchiha Clan. That day the two young Uchiha had promised to eradicate the old, corrupt ways, to cleanse the clan and the village of those who would use innocent lives as pawns in their war games. 

Itachi looked back to the water in shame. He had been planning to use his position whenever he became the Clan Leader to cleanse it from all of those who clung to visions of past Uchiha power and pride. It was just another reason to not give Sasuke this role. 

"Do not worry, as I said, I could not give Sasuke the leadership."

"And that's good, but cousin, why must you pick between two things? Why can't you have the girl and the clan?" Shisui asked, looking at the sky. 

"Sakura will one day inherit the shop, but the clan would not allow the Uchiha Matriarch to well, do anything besides be the Uchiha Matriarch." Itachi explained. He thought that perhaps Shisui would understand, as although he wasn't part of the main house, he had been there long enough to see what had happened to his mother. 

"Just because you know everything about today, doesn't mean you know everything about tomorrow."

"Shisui…"

"If the current you can't protect Sakura’s happiness, then all you need is to become someone who can." Having imparted his words of wisdom to his cousin Shisui stood up to leave. "I'm going to give the Hokage my report and then see my mom. Good luck!" In a puff of smoke, leaving Itachi behind. 

Looking at the mirror in front of her, Sakura forced a smile. She hadn't seen Itachi since his return and she was trying to pretend everything was fine. She told herself that if she faked it enough, one day it would become real. Arashi's rash and sudden wedding had put a stop to talks of marriage, and Sakura was trying to focus on the good things, trying to grasp whatever happiness she could find. 

Making her way downstairs, she made sure the smile was set and the charisma was high. She welcomed the usual customers, took their usual orders and chatted the usual topics. After she took their money and the shop was empty again, she sat down at her spot, allowing herself a single sigh. 

"You're doing good, Sakura. Stay strong." She told herself, motivating herself to regain her confidence. The usual bell jingle that signaled a customer rang, and she opened her eyes to look at the newcomer. It was a young man with short, black curly hair, and black eyes, and she instantly knew that he was an Uchiha. He looked too similar to Itachi, Sasuke and Mikoto. 

"Hi, I'm Uchiha Shisui, I've been away in a year long mission, but I swear I used to come here all the time! I'm so sorry Haruno-jii died, I'll miss him." Unlike all the other Uchiha she had met, Shisui was extremely expressive. 

"I'm Haruno Sakura, the granddaughter. My father and I are looking over the shop now." Sakura bowed politely. "What will you have?" 

"Hmm, surprise me!" He grinned. Sakura gaped at him for a second before nodding and retreating to the kitchen. There was something unnerving about Shisui's cheerfulness that felt like it was being used to hide something. Sakura chose the freshest sweets and the tea her father had just finished brewing and took them to Shisui. 

He thanked her enthusiastically, and asked Sakura to sit down. She did so hesitantly, and he continued to chat on, talking about her grandfather and how he had been the one to discover the tea shop. 

"Um, excuse me." Sakura interrupted him. "I understand, so you don't have to worry about it. You don't have to force yourself, it's okay to be silent." She smiled. 

He looked at her, and Sakura squirmed in her seat under his gaze. His eager smile relaxed into a smaller, more sincere one, and for the first time the emotion reached his eyes, and Sakura found herself finally relaxing in his presence. 

"I see. You're just like your grandfather. He too saw right through me."

"It's nice to meet you, Shisui-san." Sakura graced him with the first true smile to come out of her in some time. Her emerald eyes shone again and Shisui understood his cousin. The girl in front of him was a true treasure, the kind that you couldn't even touch, for fear or ruining something so precious. 

"The pleasure is all mine, Sakura-san." 

As he watched her flit around the shop, cleaning, organizing and tending to whoever came in with the same endless care and kindness, he felt the irony that this woman would probably have been the best thing to grace the Clan, but they would be too blind to see it. 

Shisui hadn't really planned on doing anything beyond what he already did, but after meeting Sakura, he decided that perhaps it was time for another conversation with his cousin. 

Sakura waved Shisui goodbye, happy to have met a new person. She liked him after he dropped the overly-cheerful personality, and would be happy to welcome him to the shop again. A few minutes after Shisui left, Kakashi showed up. He walked straight to the counter leaning on it. He fixed an observant gaze upon Sakura. 

"Did you see Itachi today?" He asked, hoping that her recovered spirit had been a result of last night's meeting, but as soon as he spoke the name, Sakura deflated again. 

"Hmm? Itachi-san? No, I haven't seen him." Sakura answered with studious disinterest. She stared straight ahead, with a stoney face. Kakashi internally sighed. Perhaps he would have to become the Godaime, just so he could spend the rest of his life sending Itachi on D-rank missions out of pure spite. 

"I'll have the-" before Kakashi could finish his order the door opened with a burst of energy. A green tornado ran in, knocking tables and chairs sideways. Kakashi quickly positioned himself in front of Sakura to protect her from the chaos that was Maito Gai. 

"Yosh! My eternal rival I've finally found you! It's been 48 hours since our last contest, which is way too long so I must request a rematch!" Gai yelled out. Kakashi sighed, cursing Gai's awful timing. 

"Umm…" Sakura peeked out from behind Kakashi, looking at the unexpected creature. 

"Oh Kakashi is this beautiful creature the reason you've been so hard to find? Has the springtime of love finally warmed your heart oh my eternal rival? I am Maito Gai, Kakashi's rival!" He introduced himself. 

"Kakashi and I aren't dating or anything like that!" Sakura hastily tried to explain. Gai burst into tears and pulled a disgruntled Kakashi for a tight hug. 

"My poor Kakashi! It seems this sweet blossom has rejected your love! Fear not, for the springtime of youth is not yet lost! I Maito Gai will help you recover your power and spirit!" 

The pleasant sound of Sakura’s giggles began to fill out the room, prompting the two men to stare at her. Her small giggles became a bright laugh that Kakashi hadn't heard since before the festival and he found himself smiling. Gai's timing was as impeccable as always, Kakashi relented. 

"Our contest can be whoever cleans up faster." Kakashi spoke, looking at the mess that Gai's dynamic entry had done. 

"Yosh! I shall not be outdone!" 

The two ninja set off in a burst of speed, and Sakura could only watch in amusement as the two of them ran around, putting back everything in its place. Kakashi finished just barely before Gai, and Sakura was treated to watching them argue over it. 

Sensing a familiar presence, Kakashi offered to settle this with another competition, and he waved Sakura goodbye before running out after Gai, in a contest of speed. 

Sakura was still smiling when he entered the shop. She wasn't facing the door, but she still knew it was him. It was the slow way he opened the door, the slow clacking of the sandals on the wooden floor, the manly scent that reached her nose, and the presence he had. Telling herself that she wouldn't cry, no matter what, she turned to look at him. 

"Itachi-san."

"Sakura-san."

The two remained locked in a heavy silence. Sakura had not yet found the strength to leave her spot, and Itachi was too busy noticing all the differences in her. The brightness of her eyes was gone, her skin was paler, and even her hair looked more faded than usual. The guilt began to consume him. 

"Would you like some tea?" Sakura finally broke the silence. 

"I came here to speak with you." Itachi couldn't hear anyone in the kitchen or upstairs, so he felt it was safe to speak without anyone interrupting. Sakura nodded. He moved to his usual table and she followed him, her steps heavy. 

They sat down and Sakura looked down to her lap, fidgeting with her fingers. She had read enough romances to know what came next. She'd be strong she told herself. She'd be gracious, she'd smile and she'd tell him they could still be friends. She waited for him to take the lead, but he still said nothing, simply staring at her with a look that made her uncomfortable. It was pained, and she worried that he saw her as pitiful. 

"Shall we get this over with? I know why you're here. I'm a civilian girl who likes you too much and it's become cumbersome so you're here to let me down." Sakura blurted out anxiously. She could feel the tears beginning to pool in her eyes and she bit her lip, trying to hold them in. 

"That's… I'm so sorry." For the first time since she had known him, Itachi sounded genuinely hurt and she closed her eyes, incapable of looking at him, lest her heart break twice over. 

"It's alright, I should have known better. Someone like me…" Sakura placed her hands on the table, so she could get up and make a hasty retreat to her room before she broke down. He stopped her, placing his own hand atop hers. 

"Sakura, you are wrong. I'm here because I love you, but someone like me doesn't deserve you." He said in a low voice. Sakura looked at him in shock, but his eyes were not on her. Her mouth hung open, going over the words he had just said over and over, trying to parse them. 

"I don't understand." Sakura fell back on the chair, tears falling down her cheeks freely. Her eyes sought his desperately, trying to make sense of what he said. 

"I cannot make you happy right now. You should forget about me and…"

"Why?" She interrupted him. Her two hands now grabbed his fiercely. "Why can't you make me happy? Why should I forget you? What aren't you telling me?" 

Itachi finally locked eyes with her, dull onyx clashed with fiery emerald. 

"As Uchiha Clan Heir, it is expected that my wife will be Uchiha Matriarch, whose role is to bear and raise children and preside over certain clan matters." Itachi muttered. The pieces began to fit together in Sakura’s head, giving her a better idea of the whole picture. 

"The shop." she whispered. Itachi nodded and Sakura understood. He couldn't ask her to give up the shop, and if she was being honest, she agreed with his assessment. She would have surely eventually come to regret that. 

They remained in silence, staring at their joined hands. Itachi’s were rough to the touch, filled with calluses from a lifetime of handling weapons and fighting. Sakura’s were soft and delicate. They were complete opposites. 

"You said right now. Is there a chance you could make me happy in the future?" She asked, looking back at him. 

"As leader, I could change the clan, shift things. But… That's years away. As a ninja, I could even die before my father."

Sakura nodded, understanding what he was trying to say. She was in a similar situation with her own family. 

"Well, it's good you won't have to worry about that."

The couple turned around to face the new presence in similar surprise. Uchiha Fugaku stood in the shop, by the door, looking at them with a stern face. Both Itachi and Sakura stood up. 

"Father." Itachi bowed his head. Eyes widening, Sakura performed a deep bow. When she stood back up, the old man was staring at her, and she blushed under his gaze. "Why are you here?" 

"I've come here to speak with you two." Fugaku made his way to them, pulling a chair with him. The three sat down in silence. "Itachi I'm making you the clan leader effective today. With the understanding that this young lady will become your wife."

The two stared at him. 

"You're stepping down?" Itachi didn't understand why, as Fugaku had always taken his role as Clan Leader very seriously. 

"Yes. You should probably go warn Hokage-sama." Itachi looked at Sakura, who returned his gaze of befuddlement. "Go! I wish to speak to my future daughter-in-law." Fugaku glared at his son, who nodded and dutifully walked away, leaving Sakura alone with the old man. 

"Um, can I ask why did you…?" Sakura stared at him in confusion. 

"Is it not a father's role to make way for his son's happiness? Do you think I'd enjoy spending my final years watching him be miserable because he couldn't have you by his side?" Fugaku raised an eyebrow and Sakura nodded with a smile. It seemed the strict-looking man was actually pretty thoughtful. 

"But what about this shop?" Sakura asked, looking around. "I won't give it up." She frowned. 

"Let's not be hasty, you'll still have to go through a proper courtship after all, and knowing my son, he'll have it all sorted out before it becomes a problem." Fugaku crossed his arms with a proud smile that could only belong to a confident father. 

At that moment Kizashi entered the shop, and stopped upon seeing the scene that greeted him. 

"Fugaku-sama." Kizashi bowed slightly. 

"Oh good, we have much to discuss. Come, let us have some sake." Fugaku got up and walked to the door. Sakura and her father stared at each other for a minute, before she nodded and smiled at him. Seeing his daughter's bright smile finally reach her eyes, which had regained their spark of life, Kizashi knew he had no choice but to follow Fugaku.

Chapter Text

Sakura hummed as she welcomed the young women to the Tea Shop. It was a monthly occurrence, when the Haruno Tea Shop would close for the night, and several of the top females of the village would all gather together for a night of relaxing and gossiping. Many dreamed of an invitation to that exclusive gathering, but it was a restricted club, and only true friendship would get you in.

"God can you believe Hokage-sama? He assigned that weirdo Sai to my interrogation squad! And then Shikamaru asked me to look after him? Who do they think I am? A babysitter?" Yamanaka Ino had finally become a captain of her own squad, and loved to complain about it at any opportunity. 

"Ah well, it could be worse. I'm having to train under Neji to try for an anbu position. It feels a little bit humiliating to train under my former teammate. I wish it had been anyone else." Tenten bemoaned her fate. She had chosen to join the elite ranks of anbu, and had been assigned an anbu trainer to assist her. 

"I'm s-sure Neji-nii-san was chosen because he knows you so well." Hinata smiled placidly. The young Hyuuga Heiress had been hard at work in reforming her own clan, with the assistance of her fiancé, Uzumaki Naruto. 

"What about you, Sakura? What do you have to complain about?" Temari was the last member of their gathering, staying in Konoha long-term for a diplomatic mission. 

"Hmm? Nothing much really. Mom and Dad have decided to go on their anniversary honeymoon so it's been just me." Sakura smiled as she set down everyone's food. She had spent all afternoon preparing a large feast, full of everyone's favorites. 

"Oho? You're alone? Are you sure? You don't have a Uchiha weaseling his way into your room every night?" Ino asked in a sultry tone, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. 

"Ino! Itachi would never!" Sakura blushed fiercely. 

"Aww c'mon Forehead Girl, you're literally engaged to the pinnacle of male evolution and you haven't tapped that once?" Ino shook her head in disappointment. 

"Ignore her. When are you guys going to finally settle down? You've been at it for almost three years now! At this pace Hinata will marry her idiot before you!" Temari crossed her arms. Since she moved to Konoha, she had joined the ranks of avid customer of the tea shop, and she was now fiercely protective of her new best friend, Sakura. 

"I've already explained, as soon as the clan allows me to keep my shop." Sakura sighed, sitting down herself. 

"It's hard to b-break down decades of tradition." Hinata nodded in solidarity. She had also become close with Sakura, as the two of them bonded over their shared exasperation with stuck up clan elders. 

"Still, it could be worse, at least you two can still be together." 

"Yeah, it could be worse." Sakura agreed, smiling. 

Since her courtship with Itachi started, she had developed a veritable arsenal of smiles she used to hide her heart from the world around her. And now once again, she was smiling to hide her bitterness. Sakura had heard those words on repeat since the day Uchiha Fugaku had entered the shop, set on changing her life. She was of course grateful that he stepped down to allow Itachi to take over, and she was happy that she was allowed to be Itachi’s partner for all these years, but she was rapidly growing more and more tired of having to withstand the world telling her it could be worse.  People are gossiping about you in the market? It could be worse. You've been harassed by other women? It could be worse. You aren't allowed to see him whenever you want to? It could be worse. Sakura hated those words now. She felt that her relationship with Itachi was being held hostage by the world, and that she could do nothing but be compliant for fear of retribution. 

As she sat there smiling at her friends, listening to their conversations, she envied them. They were allowed to complain and bemoan, because they didn't have anyone to chastise them for wanting more, they didn't have anyone to tell them to not be greedy, they didn't have to hear anyone tell them that it could be worse. 

That night Sakura was glad to see them go, and was relieved to climb the steps to the empty apartment, and throw herself on her bed. She closed her eyes, suddenly exhausted. However, sleep eluded her, and within minutes, her eyes were tiredly staring at the ceiling, thinking about the last three years. 

Once Fugaku announced his retirement, Itachi immediately took over, and his courtship with Sakura was announced. Under the guise of the change in leadership, Mikoto did not set a date, claiming that the clan took precedence. The elders readily agreed, hoping to use that time to dissuade Itachi from marrying outside the clan, while Itachi wanted to use that time to cleanse the council. 

However both sides quickly learned that their goals were much harder to achieve than expected, and the struggle had been ongoing for three long years. Due to the interference of the traditionalist side, Itachi faced several restrictions to his relationship with Sakura, many of which still angered her. 

Of course, as a anbu ninja, Itachi always found time to sneak moments away from anyone who might interfere, but Sakura was quickly growing tired of having to sneak around, as if they were doing something wrong. As essentially his fiancée, she wanted to love him freely, whenever and wherever, in whatever way she pleased. During the first months, she longed for hidden kisses, now all Sakura wanted was to hold his hand in public. 

A low, rhythmic tap startled her from her daze, and she sighed, knowing what it meant. Slowly getting up, she trudged her way to the window, to open it slightly. A black crow flew in, carrying a small scroll, which Sakura picked up. She opened it and placed it on the floor, revealing many black markings of what she now knew to be a teleportation jutsu. The crow disappeared in a puff of smoke and Sakura hastily closed the window and curtains, as Itachi materialized himself in her room. 

"Hey." She greeted him with a small smile, and he returned it, closing the distance between them to plant a chaste kiss upon her lips. 

"How was your evening. You sound tired."

"I am." Sakura had quickly learned that Itachi was well-versed in reading her body language to know exactly how she felt, and she had taken to using half-truths to hide her feelings when she needed to. "You also look tired." If Itachi read her body, she could read his eyes just as easily. 

"I finally got the necessary votes. Uchiha Inari has been replaced." Itachi had secured another victory, yet he no longer felt joy, only tiredness. There were still two very influential elders that he could not touch. They were the last living Uchiha to have lived in Madara’s era, and they were still extremely influential and respected, capable of easily swaying votes against Itachi. The wife was the real danger, as she had a plan to marry Itachi to her granddaughter, with the husband usually just following whatever she chose.

“That’s good.” Sakura tried to force a smile but that night she couldn’t. Sensing her gloom humor, Itachi pulled her in for a hug.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. I hate that you’re constantly apologizing to me.” She mumbled. She knew Itachi was working hard for her sake, she knew that he hadn’t left the village in a mission in years now, she knew he spent long hours trying to appease and please his clansmen, she knew that if he could, he’d take extreme measures, but taking the correct, righteous path was always the hardest one.

The couple remained embraced in silence, each one deep in their own melancholic thoughts.

“Tomorrow is the Chunin Exam, I’m thinking of making a public appearance with you, what do you say?” Itachi offered. Going to large events with Sakura by his side was the strongest display of strength he could do at the moment. 

“Sounds good.” Sakura cheered up a bit. She liked going out with Itachi in these situations. 

Leaving Sakura in a better mood, Itachi left, to return home. He didn’t want to really risk anyone visiting the main household that night, as his mother and father were not in, and he didn’t trust Sasuke to not give out that the Clan Leader was not home.

Sakura got ready to sleep, thinking that she’d be missing out on a lot of potential customers if she closed the shop to go to the Chunin Exams, but she decided that without her parents to help her out, she’d likely be overwhelmed anyways, and didn’t feel that bad about it. Settling down to sleep, she prayed for some kind of miracle.

The following day Sakura woke up earlier than she wanted to, but forced herself to leave the warmth of her bed. One of the first complaints the elders directed at her was her lack of finesse, and since then Sakura had worked hard to always present a perfect public persona. Her skirt was below the knees, her shoes were dainty and without heels, her blouse was delicate and feminine without exposing too much skin and her hair was neatly arranged in a braid. 

Itachi had assured her that he didn't care about what she wore, and that she should feel free to dress as she pleased, but after facing the judgemental stares, she decided that it was easier to change her clothes than their minds. Hiding her weapon pouch underneath the longer skirt, Sakura set out to make a small breakfast, not feeling hungry. She knew the Chunin Exams attracted the entire village and that she would be under heavy scrutiny. 

Absently munching on her toast, Sakura waited for the time to pass, wondering what her life would have been like if she'd been allowed to become a ninja. What would my Exam had been like? Would I have passed? Who would my teammates be? Sakura thought to all the ninja she knew, and she sincerely hoped that her team would be Neji and Shikamaru. She always got along with them, and they were smart like her. 

Chuckling to herself, Sakura was in a good mood when Itachi arrived. He was dressed in his usual style, a plain dark gray shirt with the Uchiha symbol emblazoned at the back and black pants. 

"Good morning."

Although the skies were gray and promising rain, Sakura found herself agreeing with him. Gifting him a bright smile she closed the distance between them, taking his hand. 

"Shall we?" She asked. He nodded, returning her smile, and the pair set off.

The streets were filled with people heading the same way, as the Chunin Exams were an event adored by shinobi and civilian alike. Among the crowd, it was hard to truly identify anyone, and Sakura found herself enjoying the anonymity. 

"We should do this every year." Sakura hummed pleasantly. 

"If you wish." Itachi agreed. 

The pair continued to walk as Itachi filled in Sakura on who the participants were, and how there were two Uchiha among them, and that he had high expectations for them. 

"It's among our younglings that I have the most success with. Most of them don't understand why the elders care so much about their traditions, and they agree with me that the clan should be more open and integrated with the village."

"You've mentioned that a lot of Uchiha graduates of the Ninja Academy don't join a genin team and instead join the police force, right?" 

"Yes, and one day I hope that anyone be allowed to join the police force, not just the Uchiha." Itachi spoke, looking to the sky. Sakura admired his goals, but she hoped that before then, he'd at least succeed in allowing one civilian to join the clan. 

They arrived at the stadium and Itachi directed them to the area usually reserved for clan leaders and other important people. Sakura felt all their eyes on her as soon as they stepped into the light. Hyuuga, Yamanaka, Akimichi, Aburame and Uchiha, all staring at the future Uchiha Matriarch. 

Next to Shikaku there were two empty spots, which Sakura and Itachi took. She smiled at the Nara clan leader, who returned her smile with a nod. 

"Sakura-san."

"Shikaku-san."

In these occasions, Shikaku was the couple's greatest ally, and through him they were able to gain favor with the Yamanaka and Akimichi clans as well. The Hyuuga seemed to still disapprove of Sakura, and she didn't know the Aburame enough to know their opinion of her. Smiling to the other leaders in greeting, Sakura told herself that nothing could go wrong. They were just here to watch these young ninja fight to prove themselves. 

She was very wrong. 

The first fight had barely started when a large explosion burst onto the northern bleachers. Debris flew everywhere with the impact, and a large fire quickly erupted. Around her, all the clan leaders sprung to action, jumping out of their seats. Itachi was the only one who hesitated, looking at Sakura in concern. 

"Go! I'll evacuate with the others." She reassured him. Itachi nodded and also disappeared. Suddenly alone, Sakura looked around, trying to understand what was happening amidst the chaos. Rocks, people, jutsu and screams were flying everywhere as ninjas battled and civilians ran, trying to save themselves. 

Remembering the evacuation protocols Kakashi had once drilled into her, Sakura headed towards the nearest exit calmly, making sure to properly check corners and walls to prevent getting hit by any stray weapons or jutsu. By the time she made it out of the VIP area and into the common area, the panicked mass had mostly moved on, and Sakura picked up her pace, noticing there were more and more ninja flocking to the location. 

She made her way to the streets, where ninja were fighting on the rooftops and people ran around in a panic. Tracing the route to the nearest evacuation tunnel, Sakura also took off running, cursing herself for not dressing more sensibly. 

As she turned the corner that led to the tunnels, she saw an elderly woman being accosted by an enemy ninja. He wore purple, and the symbol on his forehead was not one she knew. He grinned evilly as the elderly woman fell, and Sakura found her body reacting faster than her mind. Reaching under her skirt to her weapons pouch she pulled out a kunai, and let it fly with all her might. It hit the man, who fell, and Sakura ran to the elderly lady to assist her. 

"Are you alright?" Sakura asked. The elder nodded, still looking at the fallen man. Sakura followed her gaze and screamed. The weapon she had thrown had buried itself in his eye to the hilt, and Sakura could see the blood and brain matter leaking from the wound. A sudden urge to vomit hit her, and she brought her hands to her mouth. 

He's dead! I killed him! Sakura thought in a panic. She had never hurt anyone, let alone killed anyone. When she had thrown the weapon, she had never truly thought of what might happen if it hit, and the reality that she murdered a man crushed her soul. 

Sakura stared at him in complete shock, and it was only a nearby explosion that allowed her to regain her senses. Turning to the elderly woman in front of her, Sakura tried to block out what happened by focusing on the person in front of her. 

"T-The evacuation tunnels are right there, can you stand up?" Placing her hands on her arms, Sakura helped her stand, and allowed her to try and steady herself. The woman grimaced when her foot made contact with the ground. 

"It seems I'm injured." She spoke in a bitter tone. 

"Lean on me. I'm sure there's going to be a medic in the caves." Sakura tried to smile. The rain that the sky had promised began to fall, and Sakura shuffled past the corpse, holding on to the elderly lady, and purposely not looking down. She guided them to the tunnel entrance, hidden within a sturdy building, and soon the two of them were safe from the rain and the fighting. 

"It's a walk to the caves under Hokage tower. You should leave me here." 

"I can't. I'm not the type of person who can ignore someone in need." Sakura smiled. They made slow progress forward. "I'm Haruno Sakura, what's your name?" 

"Maiko."

"Well Maiko-baa, we'll be fine. My friend told me the first Hokage built these tunnels himself, and he was a great man so we'll be fine!" Sakura spoke, hoping that some of her fake cheerfulness would turn into truth. 

However, as the Gods usually do, whenever someone tries to reassure themselves, they present them with a greater challenge, and a wayward jutsu hit the mountainside, prompting the tunnel to collapse in front of Sakura and Maiko. 

The rubble blocked their way forwards and backwards, leaving them stranded and unable to call for help. Sakura let Maiko down on one of the rocks, and sat next to her, burying her head in her hands. 

Sakura wanted to cry. She killed a man, and now she would die. Cursing the heavens, she wondered what sort of hideous crime she had committed the previous life to be so doomed. 

"Girl…"

Snapping out of her self-despair, Sakura turned her attention to the elderly lady. "Since we're stranded here, we might as well have a look at your leg, see what's wrong." Sakura kneeled in front of Maiko, and began to examine her. She quickly noticed it was a heavily sprained ankle, and remembering what she had read in Tsunade's books, she set out to provide first aid. Ripping her skirt's edge she made a makeshift bandage to secure the ankle, and satisfied with her work, she allowed herself a moment of pride. 

"Why are you helping me?"

Looking at the elderly woman curiously, Sakura wondered why she asked such an obvious question. 

"Why wouldn't I help you?" 

"Do you not know who I am? I am Uchiha Maiko, the one who has been stopping Itachi from marrying you."

Gaping at the elderly woman, Sakura took the moment to finally properly look at her, and quickly noticed the noble jaw, straight nose, and deep black eyes that every Uchiha had. 

"I didn't know…" Sakura whispered. Not that it really mattered, she told herself. She wasn't the type of person that would allow someone to die for her own benefit. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Uchiha-sama." Sakura bowed respectfully. 

The elderly woman scoffed at her. 

"I'm sure you're now regretting your actions."

Sakura straightened herself to look upon Maiko. She saw only a small, frail old woman, who was bitter and probably just as afraid as she was 

"My only regret for the day is killing that man. I wish I could have saved you without the bloodshed… I… I've never killed anyone before." Sakura sighed. She sat down next to Maiko, starting to feel morose again. 

"So naive. He was an enemy."

"He wasn't an enemy. He was a person! A human. Just like me. Just like you. We're all people…" Sakura faced the elderly woman fiercely.

Another explosion was heard, and the rubble began to shift slowly. Sakura looked around in fear.

"Uchiha-sama, we should do something. If we stay here any longer we'll be buried alive." Sakura looked to Maiko, hoping she'd be able to pull out some Uchiha magic, but the elderly woman simply crossed her arms. Realizing she wouldn't be any help, Sakura started to look around, worried at the rocks who began to move and fall faster. 

A piece of their temporary ceiling fell, knocking another piece of rubble loose, and a larger ray of light shone through. Sakura approached it eagerly. 

"If we move this we can get out!" Sakura exclaimed after examining the rubble. Another piece of the ceiling fell, and Sakura pulled the reluctant Maiko towards her. 

"What can you do, girl? A civilian like you can't move this rock."

Sakura looked at the large boulder that blocked their way. She had read the books, she knew that by channeling chakra to your limbs you could be capable of superhuman feats. Placing her hands on the rock she took a deep breath. She had never been able to successfully mold chakra before, despite her tries, but there was no other option. 

She pushed with all her strength, while trying to focus on her chakra. She knew she had some, she had felt it once or twice, she tried finding it, summoning it, to pull on its small reserve. Behind them another rock fell, further trapping them. 

"What are you doing? Learn to accept when your time has come."

My time hasn't come! There's still so much I want to do! I refuse to die here!  

"SHANNARO!" With a yell, Sakura gave a final push, and the rock shot forwards, making a passageway for their exit. Propelled by the momentum, Sakura fell forwards, barely catching herself in time. Maiko also stumbled forward, right as the last rock fell, sealing away the tunnel. 

"You…"

Grinning at the muddy floor, Sakura savored the victory and the burning sensation in her arms. She had no strength left to lift herself from the floor to a standing position so she stood there, crouched. She had successfully molded chakra, she had saved herself and Maiko. 

"I'm sorry Uchiha-sama." Sakura spoke, looking back at the elder, who had a surprised look. "I'm too stubborn to simply accept death. If there's no clear path, I'll just make my own." Suddenly feeling exhausted, Sakura collapsed to the floor, looking at the grey skies. Her vision began to grow dark, and Sakura passed out. 

"Maiko-sama, we've found you!" Two members of the Uchiha Police force appeared, looking concerned. They had been searching for the elder, but they could not find her. If it hadn't been for the flying rock that diverted their attention, they'd never have seen her. "Konoha is under attack by Sound, allow us to escort you to the Uchiha compound!" They saluted. Maiko nodded. 

"Bring the girl too." She ordered. 

"The girl? This one?" 

"Yes. And be careful with her, she's the future wife of our Clan Leader."

.

.

.

Itachi was worried. Orochimaru’s attack had been unexpected, and therefore heavily damaging. Although he and his forces had escaped, they had destroyed a large part of Konoha and killed many civilians and ninja before leaving. Konoha’s forces were now focused on rescue and retrieval. Once he had finished giving his report of his battle against the Snake Sannin, Itachi had quickly made his way to the Hokage mountain, where most of the evacuated civilians were. Tenzo had been looking after them, and Itachi went to him first. 

“I’m sorry captain. If I had seen her, I would have remembered.”

Itachi nodded, the frustration growing within him. Sakura had never made it to the Hokage Mountain. He tried her house, finding the tea shop miraculously untouched, but she was not there either. Itachi stood there, clenching his fist, wishing that he could distinguish Sakura’s presence from all the other civilian ones. 

“Nii-san?” 

Itachi looked to his brother. Sasuke looked just as ragged as he was, with a few cuts and bruises here and there, his chakra reserves running low. 

“Sasuke.”

“Sakura isn’t here. I saw her being taken to the clan compound with Maiko-sama.” 

Itachi stared at his brother trying to process the information. Uchiha Maiko, Madara’s grand-niece had taken Sakura to the Uchiha compound? Immediately turning around he set off running, Sasuke following him. The two siblings swiftly made their way to their home, which looked untouched. As soon as they were inside, Itachi slowed down his pace to a brisk walk, trying to not look worried. He knew the other Uchiha were staring at him and Sasuke as they made their way to the main house.

Inside, Itachi ignored his father who called out to him and went straight to the guest room, where he could feel his mother and Maiko’s presence. Itachi was livid. If Uchiha Maiko thought she could hold Sakura’s life over him, he would return to the ways of Madara’s time that she so loved, to murder her in cold blood, as Uchiha so frequently did back then.

“Nii-san!” 

He knew Sasuke could sense the rapidly growing murderous aura within him, and without any hesitation, Itachi slammed the delicate shoji door open. Sakura was lying down on the tatami mattress peacefully, while the two women watched over her. Seeing her unharmed calm Itachi somewhat. 

“Ah, you’re here.” Maiko spoke, getting up.

“Honorable Elder.” Itachi looked at her, allowing the Sharingan to shine red in the dimly lit room.

“Itachi!” Mikoto also got up, worried. She looked between her son and the elder, who were staring at each other, Sharingan versus Sharingan. Maiko was the first to back down, closing her eyes.

“Don’t look at me like that, boy. It’s against the future you’re trying to build. Your chosen partner saved my life today, despite how hard I made it for her. It seems I should have trusted your eye more than mine, as she truly is a precious rock. If she had been polished into a fine shinobi…” Maiko sighed, looking back at Sakura’s sleeping form. “I will no longer oppose the marriage, she’s proven her worth twice over today.” Maiko attempted to leave the room and Itachi allowed it, stepping to the side, eyes still red.

Sasuke sighed in relief once Maiko could no longer be seen and Itachi allowed himself to return to his usual state. He entered the room, followed by Sasuke, and the two of them sat next to their mother, flanking her.

“Apparently Sakura-chan saved Maiko-sama from a sound ninja, and then once again when they were caved in, she pushed a large boulder to free a path for them. Maiko-sama told me she used a technique similar to Tsunade-sama’s, using chakra to enhance her strength. She was very impressed that a civilian managed to not only mold chakra but do so in such a delicate way, and without harming herself.” Mikoto whispered excitedly. “Maiko-sama had her brought in and even called the clan doctor to look at her. She’s fine of course, just sleeping off the adrenaline and sudden usage of chakra.”

“That shouldn’t be possible.” Sasuke was skeptical, but Itachi nodded.

“Mother and I looked into her family tree. Her grandfather came from a line of shinobi famed for their excellent chakra control, an old branch of the Uzumaki Clan.” Itachi answered. He knew, from the moment he saw Sakura once make an attempt to mold chakra that there was an untapped potential there. If she had gone to the academy, studied under a good mentor, Sakura could have become a fearsome ninja.

“Huh.” Sasuke looked at the sleeping Sakura once more. He wondered what it would have been like, to go to the Academy with Sakura, maybe she could have been the third member of his and Naruto’s two-man team. Sasuke smiled. In that world, he might have been fighting with his brother for her affections.

“I’ll look after her, you two should rest.”

Understanding that he wished to be alone, Mikoto nodded and stood up, pulling her youngest son with her. Sasuke made a noise of protest, but relented under his mother’s strong grip, and allowed himself to be dragged out of the room.

Once they were gone, Itachi allowed himself to finally let go, slumping his posture, and relaxing his face into a relieved smile. I should have just made them meet sooner, he thought, nobody can resist your charms my love. Itachi reached under the covers to hold her hand, staring at Sakura’s peaceful resting face, finally feeling that same peace within him.

Chapter Text

The month after the attack of Konoha was the one chosen for the wedding of the Uchiha Clan Leader, and despite Sakura’s concerns that there might not be enough time to prepare everything happened flawlessly. Mikoto and Mebuki set aside any differences they might have had to make sure it was the most fabulous, exquisite affair ever seen in Konoha. As such, Sakura was left to the whirlwind of preparations, fittings, choices and rehearsals, constantly being dragged from one to the other, barely allowing her any time to rest.

By the time the wedding proper came around, Sakura only wished for it to be over. She wanted only to return to her daily life. But of course, she had not realized that the daily life of Uchiha Sakura was much, much different than the daily life of Haruno Sakura.

For the sake of tradition, Sakura and Itachi were forced to take residence at the Main House of the compound, and her husband, being the family-oriented man he was, did not wish to force his parents or his brother to move. It embarrassed Sakura that Mikoto rose earlier than she did, and had breakfast set at the table for her. It was weird to her that despite no longer being Clan Head, Fugaku still took the seat at the head of the table. It was strange to her that she had to report where she was going before leaving. It was odd that she had to wear clothes emblazoned with the Uchiha’s symbol at all times.

However, despite the new, strange environment Sakura was happy. Mikoto’s presence allowed Sakura the freedom to leave the house to her care and spend her days at the tea shop. Sasuke had become a good friend to keep her company whenever Itachi was out until late. Even Fugaku’s presence grew on Sakura, as a gruff yet kind father figure to her, who constantly looked out for her. He knew everything that went on in Konoha, and warned her of important merchants that could provide her with rare herbs.

In that odd way, with her new family, Sakura slowly started to settle within her new routine. Once her daily life was settled, she began to expand her sphere of influence. It was a slow, gradual change, Sasuke told Itachi one night. It began with the children of the clan, who would always run up to greet her whenever she was returning home. They laughed and smiled with joy, as Sakura always had leftover sweets from the day to distribute. 

“They call her Sakura! Shisui’s mom told me that she gives them sweets and smiles and they all love her. Not only has she conquered the children, but the men and women too. I don't know how, but I was talking to our cousin Inaba and he said…" 

Itachi sighed, listening to his brother tell him gossip he already knew. Itachi was well aware of Sakura’s influence on the clan. She had only been with them for half a year but it was more than enough to show a considerable change. Smiles, cheerfulness and kindness were never traits usually associated with the infamous Uchiha Clan, but since she became the Matriarch, all of those could be found everywhere. 

"Are you complaining?" He asked Sasuke. 

"Huh? No, of course not. I mean it's weird, but it's not bad."

Itachi nodded. When he had been an infant, Sasuke had been a happy child, until eventually the pressure of being an Uchiha changed him. Itachi hoped that his children would never have to go through this. 

"Kaa-chan I can't find it!" A voice echoed throughout the great house. 

"Have you checked under your desk?" 

"Yeah!" 

"The futon?" 

"Not there."

"Then it's in grandma's basket."

The loud voices were replaced by the rapid footsteps of a young boy dashing towards the living room. 

"Found it!" 

"Then let's go! Your father and your brother are already way ahead of us!" 

A young boy ran towards the front door, clutching a small stuffed cat in his arms. He grinned at his mother, grandmother and grandfather, all of them standing by the door. 

"Take care you two, make sure to write." The beautiful grandmother kissed the young boy and his mother. The grandfather smiled at them and rushed them out. Grabbing her son's hand, the mother walked out. 

"Sakura-sama! Toshiro-kun!" The other members of the Uchiha Clan waved to them as they walked past, and both mother and son returned the greetings excitedly. They made their way to the entrance, where Itachi and Tetsuro were waiting for them. 

Two years after she joined the clan, Sakura was blessed with twin boys, Toshiro and Tetsuro. Although they were born mere minutes apart, the two children were as different as night and day. Tetsuro had inherited his father's talent, instantly being deemed a genius, excelling at everything he set out to do. He had also inherited his grandfather's taciturn behavior, preferring to keep to himself, rarely speaking much. Everyone instantly deemed him an excellent Uchiha, but Toshiro was certainly the most loved one. He was popular with everyone, including the Godaime Hokage, Hatake Kakashi. Toshiro inherited his mother's charisma, compassion and open heart, being a bright, warm boy who loved everyone around him. The other thing the two boys differed were their appearances, as Toshiro inherited the classic Uchiha Clan look, with deep black eyes, aristocratic features and silky onyx hair, while Tetsuro had deep emerald eyes, and coppery red hair. 

Despite their differences, they were both loved by their family, and when the twins turned 5, a year before they could enter the ninja academy, Sakura insisted they spend that year in Kawakami, at the Haruno farm. She wanted them to be able to have that same idyllic childhood she had, running around open fields, playing freely and learning about the Haruno ways before they were thrust into the world of ninja. 

It had been a logistical nightmare, but through everyone's help, the family managed to secure that one year of freedom. Shisui and Sasuke would take care of the Uchiha Police Force, Fugaku and Mikoto would handle clan matters and Arashi's family would spend the year in Konoha to help with the shop. 

"Everything ready?" Itachi asked. Sakura smiled, taking Toshiro and Tetsuro's hands in her own. With her husband and her boys by her side, she could face anything.