Sakura looked up as Ino finally arrived, half an hour after the pink-haired kunoichi had gotten off her shift at the hospital.
It was nearing four in the afternoon that Wednesday, which was just fine with her. It was usually nice this time of day, and
she was glad she'd chosen this small, out of the way outdoor cafe to await her friend in. Even if she had been more worried
about Itachi missing his healing session yesterday than she had been of the potential, embarrassing meeting coming up with
her best friend.
Unsurprisingly, Ino caught sight of her and made a bee-line for her table, ignoring the 'please wait to be seated' sign
by the white-painted, wooden fence enclosing the dining area. She jerked an equally wooden chair out and sat, pinning Sakura
with a stare. "I finally caught you," she said pointedly, raising a blonde brow.
"I wasn't avoiding you," Sakura lied in return. She actually had been avoiding her, but after seeing Choji earlier
and having him complain about Ino's behavior, she'd decided she should just get this over with.
"Hm," Ino hummed, unconvinced. She straightened as a waitress wandered over and turned to make her order without looking
at the menu, then pinned Sakura with a suspicious look once the woman was gone. Casually, she rested her elbow on the table
and propped her head up with her fist underneath her chin. "You're sleeping with him, aren't you?"
Sakura's eyes grew wide and she immediately sputtered indignantly. "Wh-what? Ino, I already told you it wasn't like that
between us!" she said, outraged. "Itachi-san is a friend and a colleague, that's-"
Ino pounced on her slip with the eagerness of a starving lion catching sight of a lone, hurt gazelle. "Itachi-san? Ooh,
you're on a first-name basis now, huh?" the blonde said with a sly smile. "I knew it," she added smugly.
Sakura growled. "Ino-pig, I'm going to punch you in that perfect little nose of yours," she threatened, aggravated. "We.
Are. Not. Sleeping together," she said slowly, grinding the words out between gritted teeth.
"Hmph," Ino huffed, pouting. "I don't believe you- oh!" Her eyes widened as she fixed her gaze beyond Sakura's shoulder.
Sakura jumped at the unexpected voice and spun in her chair, eyes wide as she took in the three males behind her. Shikamaru
waved lazily while Sai smiled in an obviously fake manner at Ino. Itachi ignored everyone else and met her eyes, continuing
unprompted. "I have something at home that I wish for your medical opinion on," he said bluntly.
She blinked, her mind taking a minute to catch up with his veiled meaning. "Medical...? Oh! Yes, yes of course," she agreed
quickly, smiling up at him. "Do you want to go now?"
Sai wandered past Itachi and stole Sakura's bread stick, that fake smile directed at Ino as he inquired after her health.
"I must make my report first," the Uchiha replied, glancing at Ino briefly before disregarding her. "You may come over tonight."
"Okay," she agreed slowly, confused. She shrugged the feeling off after a pause and smiled again. "Well, you weren't here
yesterday, anyway, so it's just as well."
He offered a curt nod and spun on his heel. "Have a pleasant meal," he said over his shoulder before walking off, Sai and
Shikamaru following behind him. The former Root nin dropped the half-eaten bread stick onto a napkin on the table as he left.
Sakura slowly turned back around, counting down from three in her head. On zero, a very strange smile crossed Ino's face
and she opened her mouth. What came out of her mouth, however, was not what Sakura expected. "If you don't want him, then
I'm gonna grab him up," she said decisively.
Pink brow quirking, Sakura tilted her head, curiosity written openly on her face as green eyes sparkled with amusement.
"What about Sai?"
Ino paused at that, a soft blush burning it's way up her neck and into her face. "Oh."
Sakura nodded. "Thought so." She saw the bread stick and scowled. "That damn..."
Ino pretended not to notice.
Itachi stopped in front of the Hokage tower and turned to his two temporary teammates. "I can go alone," he said to them,
looking at Sai. "You may go."
Sai tipped his head to the side curiously, but nodded after a moment. "Very well, Itachi-san," he agreed, a fake smile
on his face. "Have fun on your date with Ugly!" And with that, he dissolved into a puddle of ink, which dissipated in seconds,
leaving Itachi to glower at the ground.
Shikamaru cleared his throat, attracting Itachi's attention. "So... let's go. You can go back, you know. I need to make
a separate report to the Hokage anyway."
Itachi regarded the younger genius for a moment, wondering if he was going to tell the blonde Hokage what he'd seen of
Itachi's and Kisame's interaction in the forest. Cole-black eyes narrowed on Shikamaru before he shook his head negatively.
"I am the captain; I'll make the report," he decided. "... I appreciate the offer."
The lazy nin's brow hiked up as he watched Itachi turn and abruptly head into the Hokage tower. That was... really strange
to hear coming from Uchiha's mouth. He'd almost said 'thank you'. Shikamaru shook his head, bewildered. He still hadn't managed
to figure this man out, but one thing was for sure...
He retained some sort of friendship with the mizu missing nin. Shikamaru just wasn't sure what.
"Shikamaru," Tsunade said, smiling slightly at the shadow-user. He'd come in five minutes after she dismissed Itachi after
the captain's report. "How went his first mission? Well, I hope?"
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Shikamaru agreed. He hesitated, wondering if he should really tell her about Itachi's meeting with
his old partner, but after a beat, he sighed. "He met up with Hoshigaki Kisame."
Honey-colored eyes widened in surprise. "What?" she demanded sharply. "Are you saying-"
He shook his head, and when she fell silent, he went on. "He warned Hoshigaki to leave Akatsuki, and that if he was still
with them the next time they met, Itachi-san would kill him."
Her brow furrowed in bewilderment. "Then they're close?" she murmured, more to herself then him, but he answered anyway.
"It would appear so." He shifted uneasily, then offered his opinion. "I don't think he'll leave Konoha now," he said slowly.
"There's... something... between him and Sakura. He's curious about her, and I think he might remind her enough of
Sasuke to keep her coming back. He won't leave, if only because he doesn't have her figured out."
Tsunade chewed on her lip as she thought this over. "... was he aware that you knew? That you'd seen, I mean," she asked,
deciding to focus on that rather than Uchiha's possible semi-attachment to her apprentice.
"Yes. He probably knew I was there from the outset," Shikamaru replied with a sigh. "He is a very good ninja. Better than
She nodded. "Well, he did massacre an entire clan of elite shinobi," she pointed out, frowning, then changed the subject.
"The deadline's tomorrow, Shikamaru."
He shook his head as if to clear it and pressed his lips together, pushing his hands into his pockets and rocking back
on his heels. "I know. You haven't managed to convince them?"
"No," she admitted, scowling in annoyance. "We'll have to keep his meeting with the Mizu nin to ourselves for now. Not
only for his sake, but for mine. They'll seek to undermine my authority if it seems that I was wrong about Uchiha."
He nodded in agreement. "Yeah. We'll make him look pretty for now," he sighed, frowning. "His eyes are improving somewhat,
but he used the Sharringan on the mission, so they're a little worse than they've been. He thinks he may have strained them."
"Sakura's going to be angry," she muttered, smirking in amusement. She nodded to the door. "Your report is noted. Dismissed."
He bowed and turned, leaving the room swiftly, and Shizune entered in his wake. She offered her Hokage a smile, then frowned
when she noticed that Tsunade had already broken out a bottle of Sake. She snatched it away and started griping about paper-work.
Tsunade sighed. Never a moment's break, dammit.
When Sakura finally arrived a little past seven thirty, Itachi was just finishing the dishes after his and Shikamaru's
dinner, and the lazy nin had settled in the living room. Itachi unplugged the sink, then dried his hands on a dishtowel before
going to the door. He nodded at her. "Sakura-san."
She smiled slightly at him and entered when he stepped aside. "Hello Itachi-san," she greeted cheerily, toeing her shoes
off and setting them aside in the shoe-rack.
He quirked a brow. "You're in a good mood," he pointed out.
The kunoichi chuckled as they wandered toward the living room. "Well, yeah. Lee and I were sparring, which is why it's
so late. We lost track of time," she admitted sheepishly. She waved at the other man in the house. "Hi Shika. Ino says you're
He looked up at her with wide eyes. "What? Oh, come on... What'd I do this time?"
Sakura shrugged. "She didn't say, but I get the impression that you forgot something."
Shikamaru's brow furrowed as he tried to recall what he'd forgotten, but he shook his head in bewilderment. "I have no
idea," he muttered dejectedly. "Mendokusai..."
Sakura fought a smile at the familiar phrase as she sat on the love-seat and gestured for Itachi to sit next to her. "It'll
be alright," she assured the shadow user. "You won't stay dead. She'll bring you back to kill you again and then you can run,"
she assured him.
He gave her a bland look that made her giggle. "Gee. Thanks. That was a wonderful pep-talk, Sakura," he deadpanned.
"You're welcome," she quipped, beaming.
He rolled his eyes. "Women..."
Chuckling, she turned to look at Itachi and quirked a brow. "So... Why was it so urgent to see me tonight? Or were you
just saying that because you missed yesterday?"
Itachi regarded her for a moment before inclining his head. "That, and... I may have over-used it."
Silence. Shikamaru shifted away, then got up and tiptoed out of the room, making himself scarce as a thunderous expression
crossed Sakura's face. "What."
The Uchiha sighed at her soft question-turned-statement. "I over-used it. My eyes hurt. There was no way to avoid using
it as much as I had, otherwise I wouldn't have."
She glared at him. "Right. So you couldn't have incapacitated whoever it was with your hands?"
The frank answer gave her pause, but only for a moment and then she was groaning in annoyance. "I swear, Itachi-san. You
should be more careful! Uhg. The more you use it, the longer healing them completely will take!"
His brow lifted. "I'm sure that is fine," he replied cryptically.
Sakura scowled. "And what's that supposed to mean?" He didn't answer, so she shook her head with a huff. "Fine, be all
mysterious-Uchiha-like. See if I care," she muttered before reaching up and abruptly starting the session.
Since her eyes were closed, she completely missed his smirk.