Blue eyes were narrowed, focused, and a blond brow furrowed with concentration. Naruto stood in the middle of a training
field, alone. His hands were outstretched before him, holding two separate tagged kunai. The silence of the field was loud,
suppressing, pregnant. It was almost as if everything was holding its breath, waiting for something...
And then a surge of chakra preceded the toss of both knives, in opposite directions. Another surge followed before the
sudden boom and crash of an explosion. Naruto was thrown back from where he'd stood like a rag doll. He rolled along the ground,
a furrow of dirt trailing behind him, and finally came to a stop on his back.
His gaze was trained on the darkening sky above him for a moment. Then he frowned. "Dammit."
He got up to try again.
Sakura stretched her arms above her and yawned as she stepped through the door of her house. There was no sign of Itachi,
but it was before dawn, so he was probably still asleep.
Shaking her head at the thought, she lightly kicked the door shut behind her and toed her shoes off before padding into
the darkened living room. Not a sound could be heard anywhere in the house, but that was fine with her. She was used to it.
It was almost... peaceful.
Breathing a sigh, she narrowed her eyes at the couch in the dark, briefly wondering where Itachi was sleeping. He wasn't
laying on the couch, so she sat down and sighed again. She rested her head against the back of the couch and closed her eyes.
The next thing she knew, someone was shaking her shoulder gently and she was opening her eyes to the same dark room. She
blinked blearily at the figure crouched there, then let her eyes close again.
Itachi sighed and picked her up, letting the books she'd had in her lap topple onto the couch. He shook his head as he
walked down the hall and nudged her half-open door so it opened all the way.
She stirred as he placed her on her bed and started to cover her. "... 'Tachi?" she mumbled, hand reaching for his and
clumsily grasping one finger. "S'it you?"
His brows furrowed slightly. "Yes, of course," he replied, perplexed. Who else would it be?
Her half opened eyes closed and a faint smile crossed her face. "S'not a dream... you're... real... really 'live, again,"
she mumbled before releasing his finger and curling up on her side underneath the blankets. "Don't... die 'gain."
He stared at her, numb with shock, for a long time after that. He couldn't say the words "I promise" no matter how many
times he opened his mouth. He couldn't lie to her.
Yamato finally found Naruto passed out underneath a tree. The area was familiar, here. This was where he'd helped Naruto
train to control his elemental chakra, several years ago. He remembered the time clearly, since Asuma had gone up against
the Akatsuki Hidan and nearly died. Thankfully, a backup patrol had gotten there in time, so they hadn't lost the man.
He shook his head and picked up Naruto's new white cloak from where it had been abandoned a few feet away. He spread the
cloth over his student before crouching beside him.
The boy must have been working hard all night. Training. But what was he training for? Yamato hadn't gotten any notice,
and the only reason he'd known at all was because Ino had asked where he was when she hadn't found him at his apartment this
"Yamato-taicho?" Naruto muttered, not bothering to open his eyes. "Did you need something?"
"I would like to help you with your training," Yamato said. Mostly, he wanted to know if he needed to keep the Kyuubi at
Naruto sighed and opened his eyes, meeting the older man's gaze. "It's just a transportation jutsu," he said. "Nothing
Yamato nodded. "I still want to be careful," he said reasonably, and the blond sighed again.
Sitting up, Naruto shrugged. "Do what you want. I have to get back to work." He tossed the cloak aside and got to his feet,
then walked to a specific spot on the field. He waited for five minutes, until Yamato had set up his Sit seal, and
then he vanished.
Yamato gaped, stumbling to his feet as he watched the smoke clear from the area Naruto had once stood. "N-Naruto?" he cried
out, glancing around. He heard a crash then, and looked over toward the treeline to find the blond curled up in a ball on
the ground. Quickly, he dashed over and rolled Naruto onto his back. "Naruto? Are you alright?"
Naruto grimaced and sat up, rubbing the back of his head. "I'm still working on the landing," he admitted a touch sheepishly.
"And the 'appearing'. I've got the 'disappearing' part down, but then it gets hard to focus... how the hell did he ever manage?"
Yamato sat down on the ground with a bone-jarring thud, staring at the blond. "Was that...?"
Blue eyes lifted, and Naruto frowned. "The Hiraishin? Yeah. Sorta." He shook his head and got to his feet. "Like I said,
I'm still working on some parts. Yondaime-sama was some guy, though! He managed to create such an amazing technique,
and I can barely do anything towards learning it."
Yamato gaped at the youth even as Naruto headed back to the middle of the field to start again. It really is... like
father like son, he thought numbly. He was knocked out of his shock when Naruto landed beside him again with a grunt.
It was going to be a long morning.
Ino blinked and looked up when someone stepped into the shop. She gasped. "Itachi-kun!" she cried, and grinned. "What can
I do for you? Are you-"
"I would like some flowers," he interrupted before she could go on a spiel about him and Sakura. "For a grave."
Ino's smile slipped away. "O-oh."
"Something to say goodbye," he added calmly.
She stared at him for a moment before nodding and walking around the counter. After a few minutes of deliberating, she
turned to look at him. "Well, pink carnations mean 'I'll never forget you', and cyclamen means 'resignation and goodbye'...
um... a purple... Hyacinth..." She hesitated, then murmured, "It means 'I'm sorry'."
He blinked, looking up from a row of bouquets to stare at her. How had...? He frowned. "A bouquet, then... Would they all
look alright together?"
She nodded and quickly put the bouquet together, then named the price. He paid it without thought and left. Once he was
gone, she sighed, and wondered who he was going to see. His family? "Maybe... his parents?" she wondered aloud.
Like most of the ninja clans of the Konoha village, the Uchiha not only had their own lands, but their own burial plot
as well. Every single Uchiha back to the beginning had been buried here, all except Madara himself.
Itachi found it highly ironic that he stood here, staring down at not only the graves of his parents, but his own as well.
There were flowers on his grave, dried ones and recent ones. He wondered if she had put them there. They were pink
carnations, and had only just started to dry...
Whoever left them, it must have been right before I returned, he mused, and then stepped over to the grave he'd
come to visit. Kaasan...
He took a deep breath and then knelt before it, staring at the name carved into the stone. Uchiha Mikoto. He sighed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "You probably don't care. You likely do not want to hear these words, kaasan... but I am
sorry." He set the flowers down on her grave and let his hand drop into his lap. "I wanted to save people, and I foolishly
thought that Danzo's way was the only way to accomplish that. Instead, I obliterated hundreds, orphaned my brother and disgraced
my name. And yet..."
He stopped, drew another breath, and closed his eyes. "And yet, I still wish..." The wind picked up, and he felt the tickle
of his hair in his face. "I wish you could forgive me, Okaasan."
Silence settled in the graveyard, and the wind fell to a whisper. If he closed his eyes and thought back, he could just
remember an echo... "He's important, Itachi-san. He's so important..." Always Sasuke. With his
mother, and his father... it had always been Sasuke. Yes, his father always spoke so much about how perfect his little prodigy
was, but then... then he'd turn around, and his eyes were cold as he gazed upon his heir.
He heard the soft crunch of leaves behind him, just as the autumn wind revived, and when he shifted to look, Sakura stood
there. Her gaze flickered toward his grave, then the flowers on his mothers'. She took a step back. "Aa... I'm sorry. I was
just..." She turned around abruptly. "I'll leave you be," she called over her shoulder.
Itachi shot to his feet and darted after her, catching her wrist before she'd gone five steps. "Sakura-san."
She turned, surprise clear on her face. "U-um... yes?" Her free hand reached up to pull her hair out of her face when the
wind tossed it into her line of sight.
He tilted his head, brow furrowing in confusion. "What are you doing here?"
She flushed, looking an amusing combination of embarrassed and caught. "I... I don't know. It... Well I... I guess... it's..."
She bit her lip and looked away. "Become a habit."
Realization dawned, and he nearly cursed himself. It was another case of the effect of his death on her. Had he truly hurt
her so badly? But why? He looked down, and realized that at some point, her hand had slipped into his, or maybe his had clasped
hers. "I..." He stopped, unsure what to say.
"Yeah, I know, it's really stupid," she said, letting out a forced-sounding laugh and suddenly tugging on her hand. His
reflexively tightened it's grip. "Silly little Sakura, visiting her friend's freaking grave, even though he's not actually
dead..." She tugged again. "I just... I don't know. Naruto was gone, and Shikamaru wouldn't talk to anybody about you, and
Sai... well, he's Sai, you know him," she rambled. "I guess sitting here kind of calmed me down, you know? It's really
He looked up from their hands as she pulled at hers again. "Sakura-san."
"I don't know why," she muttered. She wasn't looking at him, and was almost idly pulling at her hand now. Panicking. "I
guess it's just one of those dumb little things that I do when I can't talk to anyone else... I cried so much for you, you
know that? And I sat here, for hours after the funeral, calling you every name I could think of, Itachi."
"Sakura-san," he repeated softly, and sighed when she didn't seem to hear him.
"It hurt, and then you show up again... I should have known you wouldn't just die like that, but I didn't,
because to me, you were dead. You were dead. You... you were dead, and that wasn't supposed
to happen... because you're Itachi and Itachi isn't supposed to just die like that!" She pulled more frantically at
her hand. "And let me go, you bastard!"
He jerked her into his arms, cutting off whatever else she'd been planning on saying. Silence once again fell, and as soon
as Sakura realized that he was hugging her, she hugged him back so tightly that he thought his ribcage might shatter... a
distinct possibility, considering it was Sakura. He held her with one arm around her back, the other atop her head with his
elbow braced on her shoulder, and closed his eyes. "I am here," he whispered.
That was apparently all it took to break the dam, because then she was sobbing, soaking his shirt with tears, fingers digging
into his back painfully. He bore it in silence, though, because he'd done this to her. He had made her cry,
and if it took getting his ribs broken one-by-one to fix it, he'd gladly bare it every day of his life.
"You're so stupid," she mumbled into his chest.
"Aa," he agreed, smiling slightly.
She smacked his chest lightly. "You're not supposed to agree, you jerk."
"I was under the impression that disagreeing with you is fatal," he replied smartly. She smacked him again
and pulled back as he winced. "Ow."
"Jerk." She reached up to rub the remaining tears from her face, smiling slightly. "I'm sorry about this. I don't know
what I was doing. I just... I woke up and you weren't in the house, so... I guess I jumped to conclusions." She sighed. "I
was coming out here... to see."
"My grave." She nodded and he heaved his own sigh. "Come. Let's make some lunch. It should be about noon by now," he said,
holding out his hand.
Sakura smiled at him and took his hand. "I'm famished."
Ino grinned and snagged Hinata's hand as the other kunoichi fretted over her choice of colors. "Orange is good,
Hinata-chan! Don't worry! It's fine," she said soothingly.
Hinata blushed and fidgeted. "But what if he doesn't like it?"
Ino gave her a hug. "He'll love it."
Sakura was about halfway through the most godly sandwich she'd ever had when someone knocked on the door. Itachi got up
and returned a moment later with a civilian nurse from the hospital.
The woman bowed. "Sakura-sama, you're needed at the hospital... we have a group of shinobi that came in, and one is poisoned.
Also, Genma-san has been giving a few of the nurses trouble... we had hoped you could get him in line..."
Sakura's eyes narrowed. "That man, I swear..." She shook her head and got up, smiling. "Right away, Naiyuki-san."
Naiyuki bowed and then quickly vacated the house. Sakura smiled at Itachi. "Sorry. Duty calls. I'll see you later?"
He nodded. "You live with me," he responded reasonably. "I will see you when you return."
She grinned. "Yeah." With a wave, she dashed out into the front hall, slipped on her shoes, grabbed her jacket and left.
Itachi shook his head and also prepared to leave. He needed to speak with Yamato-san, and a few clerks in the city. He
had a bed to take care of.
Yamato blinked at Itachi, brows furrowing. "Sure, I could do that," he said thoughtfully. "Just so long as this is a one-time
deal. I have better things to do than make beds. I won't be able to do it today, though, since we're doing that..."
Itachi quirked a brow. "What?"
Yamato smirked and glanced around, then leaned forward to whisper in Itachi's ear. After a moment, the Uchiha pulled back
and Yamato straightened. "I see."
Yamato nodded. "Yes. Would you like to come?"
"I don't think he'd like it too much," Itachi said, taking a step back and preparing to leave.
"ITACHI-KUUUNNN!" a familiar voice shrieked, and a woman latched onto his arm, beaming up at him. "You're coming, right?
He would flip out if you didn't!"
Itachi, feeling slightly uncomfortable with Ino's proximity, frowned faintly. "I don't think he'd care," he tried again.
"Oh, hell no! Don't make me get Sakura!" the blonde unknowingly echoed her best friend. She scowled up at him. "You're
coming! Just try to have a little fun, eh?"
"W-we'd apreciate it, U-Uchiha-san," Hinata stammered as she approached behind her blonde friend.
Yamato laughed and waved. "You guys convince him to come. I have to get back to Naruto-kun now. He should be waking up
about now, and I don't want him getting suspicious." He performed a quick transportation jutsu and vanished.
Ino smirked, leaning up against the Uchiha. "Heeyy, I know! Will you come if I promise to make sure you dance with For-
I mean, Sakura-chan?"
Itachi gave her a skeptical look. "Why would she dance with me?" he asked slowly. His brow furrowed. "And what would make
you think that that's adequate motivation?"
"Because you totally dig her," Ino retorted. "Honey, if anyone knows romance, it's me! And I've seen the way you watch
His eyes narrowed. "Perhaps, then, you are not as knowledgeable as you seem to think," he replied softly.
She shocked him into silence by flicking his nose. "Quit denying it. It just makes you look stupid," she admonished as
he rubbed the offended spot. "Besides, Sakura-chan would dance with you! All you have to do is ask. Have I ever told you that
you two would make an amazingly cute couple?"
Itachi sighed and pulled his arm out of her grasp, grabbing her bicep to steady her when she stumbled. "I will think about
"Oh, please!" Ino whined, pouting at him. "I'll even leave you alone the whole night! No annoying advances from me!"
That was actually pretty tempting. While yes, the woman was attractive, he didn't generally go for blondes. They were too
bubbly for him. He narrowed his eyes at her, wondering for a beat if she'd been planning it like this. "I will think about
it," he repeated. "I must go. I have errands to run."
"Don't forget to pick up a present!" she yelped, and then pouted as he vanished in a cloud of smoke. "Wow. That must really
get on Sakura's nerves..."
Hinata coughed, reminding Ino that she was there. "W-we should look into presents ourselves," she suggested shyly. "Do
you know what h-he'd like?"
Ino smirked. "Yep!" When Hinata turned toward a store, a sinister and calculating expression crossed Ino's face. "All I
need is ribbon..."
"D-did you say something?" Hinata asked, glancing back.
Ino beamed and pushed the other girl toward the store. "Nothing, nothing! Presents! C'mon!"
"I can't believe I got roped into this," Sakura groaned, standing on a stool and reaching upward. She was trying
to pin a banner onto the wall above the entrance, and Neji was standing below her, making verbal adjustments.
Tenten laughed at her. "It's not that bad. According to Ino, she ran into Itachi in town today, so you don't gotta worry
about him being bored. He looked like he was on some sort of mission."
"Says Ino," Sakura retorted. "With her, we're all plotting something. He could have just been bored and wandering around."
Tenten snorted and randomly popped an orange balloon, then gave Neji an innocent look when he scowled at her. "What?"
"You're being a pest," he retorted.
"Oh, please," Tenten replied, rolling her eyes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room with Lee and Kiba...
"YOSH! You are most certainly the epitome of YOUTH to be able to keep up with me!" Lee cried as he and Kiba raced to blow
up balloons (and sometimes, 'blow up' was a pretty accurate description).
"STOP WASTING BALLOONS!" yelled Anko, smacking the both of them upside their heads. "Or I'll make you fix 'em!"
Both boys winced, and Kiba secretly wondered what the scary woman was even doing here. Didn't she have Jonin stuff to do
"I HEARD THAT!" She smacked him again, and Kiba flailed.
She could read minds! Holy shit!
"That's a sight for sore eyes," murmured Shino thoughtfully, eying the other group.
"Maybe she'll give them brain damage and they'll be demoted to genin again," Neji added somewhat hopefully.
Sakura gave them both a scowl. "Neji!" she barked, attracting his attention. "Is it straight?"
He narrowed his eyes at the banner, activating the Byakugan briefly. He shook his head. "No."
Tenten glanced at the banner, then at Neji. She frowned. "Neji, are you looking up her-"
He quickly covered her mouth and pulled out a book. "Shush."
Shino gave them both an annoyed look. Then he sighed and went back to what he was doing, mainly making a tally on what
they still needed to get. Punch... strike out the alcohol someone had scribbled on here... Banners... check. He glanced around,
then checked off balloons and ribbons. He scratched out another listing of alcohol, Vodka specifically, and wondered if Kiba
had gotten his hands on the list.
He heard a crash and glanced up to see Neji doing a backflip away from a very irate Sakura. He sighed. This was going to
be a long day.
Yamato heaved a sigh when Naruto announced a break. "Hey, we should take showers and go out or something," he suggested
to the blond. "You've been working really hard on this..."
Naruto blinked at him, then shrugged. "Sure. Ramen? You paying?"
Yamato gave him a look. "I have a different idea," he said slowly. "If you don't mind. Something special. It is
your birthday, after all."
Naruto actually looked stunned for a beat. "It... well... You... know about that?" he got out finally.
Yamato's smile gentled. "Of course," he said. "C'mon. Let's take showers. Sakura-san's going to meet us at this address."
He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over. "Meet you there in... half an hour?"
Naruto grinned brightly. "Hell yeah!" He waved and vanished with a small poof of smoke.
Yamato shook his head and picked up one of the kunai on the ground. Sighing, he put it in his holster and decided he'd
return it later. "I hope they're done..."