Itachi twisted his body, flipping backward and tossing a kunai in his wake; satisfied when he heard the tell-tale sound
of the blade sliding through cloth and into skin. Of course, this was instantly followed by an equally telling pop, and Itachi
glimpsed a log thudding to the ground where his sparring partner had once stood.
Then another in the small group of five darted at him at the same time as a third attacked with ink-made lions. Itachi
efficiently dispatched both, before spinning and burying his elbow in the shoulder of the last man, driving him to his knees
with a grunt. And then the first and third were on either side of him, both plunging kunai into his neck, though he'd already
switched himself with a clone.
Itachi took the chance, while his clone was popping out of existance, to complete his jutsu and reached up from the ground,
snagging the ankles of both his recent attackers. "Doton! Shinjuu zanshuu no jutsu!" he growled, and pulled them beneath the
surface of the earth, all the way up to their heads.
There was a short bark of laughter from the sidelines, where their female audience was watching the sparring match. One
of the trio had even procured popcorn, sharing it with the women on either side of her. "Serves you right, Genma!" the brow-haired
kunoichi to the blonde's left shouted, grinning.
Itachi created three kage bushin, meanwhile escaping unnoticed up into the treeline nearby and lying in wait. Soon enough,
as his third clone vanished, he saw his opening when one of the two remaining nin (above the ground), turned to look at the
pair buried up to their next. Itachi made a clone and had it drop from a tree on the other side of the semi-circle clearing
at the edge of the forest. The clone darted forward and attacked the distracted ANBU as the real Itachi quickly knocked the
final man out.
He quickly did the same to the pale-painted youth (he'd almost escaped from the ground by this point) and then the other.
He distantly heard the two louder females (the black haired woman didn't seem to want to comment) boo at their comrades, but
that was merely background noise.
The last standing nin saved him the trouble of having to knock him out when he spun around, realized his companions were
defeated, and raised his hands in surrender, breathing hard. Itachi stopped his advance and nodded, bowing slightly. The nin
hesitantly returned the gesture, looking uncertain.
He was surprised when, as he was walking away from the fighting area, he heard a voice call out to him. "Yo, Uchiha! Wait
Pausing, he turned and waited for the brown-haired kunoichi to catch up. Rather than bother asking what she wanted, he
simply lifted a brow in invitation. Grinning, she obliged. "Have you ever fought a Hyuuga?"
He clenched his hand, staring down at his fisted fingers for several long moments before allowing them to go lax. The shade
of the cherry blossom tree he sat under danced a few inches away from his toes, beconing to him, pleading with him not to
remember. However, despite the fact that Uchiha Itachi wasn't the sort to be sentimental... Everyone remembers sometimes.
"I-Itachi... nii...? What... happened?"
Itachi reached down and plucked a blade of grass, twirling it between his fingers and leaning back against the trunk of
"Don't come in..."
The door slid open with a soft thunk and Sasuke froze just as he stepped over the threshold, a
gasp escaping him. He began to shake, uncontrollably, as his eyes wandered up, landing on what Itachi knew he saw only as
a shadowed figure, standing over his dying parents.
"Mother...! Father...!" Sasuke cried after a second's hesitation.
Itachi turned his head, allowing the light from the window to bathe his face, and Sasuke's eyes widened further. In
fear; in disbelief; he shook his head. "Nii-san!"
The blade of grass fell from Itachi's fingertips and he sighed. That had been so long ago, and when it happened, Itachi
had truly believed that he'd never be back. But look at him now...
"Uchiha-san?" a timid voice said, and he slowly looked up to find the black-haired girl from earlier's training session.
She shifted nervously and offered him a small smile. "A-are you... o-okay?" she went on, steepling her index fingers and looking
down shyly. She stole a quick glance up at his face before looking away again.
Itachi quirked a brow at her rather interesting behavior. "I'm fine," he murmured after a moment.
She looked instantly relieved, and Itachi pegged her as the sort to be worried about pretty much anyone who wasn't publicly
her enemy. "Th-that's good..." She bit her lip and glanced at his face again before averting her gaze to the safety of the
road running along to their left. "A-are you... lonely? H-here?" She blushed at the strange question and shook her head as
if to some thought that'd crossed her mind. "N-no, I mean... You look... s-sad. L-lonely. You know." She frowned slightly
and looked down at her feet, appearing rather deflated.
Slightly bemused, Itachi shook his head. "I'm fine," he repeated. He stood up, causing her to take a reflexive step back
in surprise as she glanced up at his face. "You don't need to worry about me," he added before turning away.
Hinata watched him meander down the road, lost in his thoughts, and sighed. He was lonely; it was so obvious... Maybe they
should invite him to ramen. She'd talk to Kiba and Shino about it, maybe.
To say that Kiba was utterly stunned when, while buying dogfood with Akamaru, he ran into Uchiha Itachi would have been
an understatement. Well, actually, he almost ran into him, except Itachi side-stepped at the last second. See, Kiba
had been running through the street with his best friend when the Uchiha suddenly stepped from a suspiciously dark alley-way,
and the only thing that kept him from running right into the older male was fact that Itachi instantly took a step back into
the alley-way, red eyes glowing rather eerily.
Akamaru yelped upon seeing those eyes and stumbled backward, Kiba managing not to yelp, though he did take a few pointed
steps away. "Er... Uchiha-san. I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"
"It is of no consequence," Itachi interrupted coolly. When Kiba did nothing but stare at him in shocked silence, those
eyes narrowed. "Perhaps you can help me in return for the trouble, then."
"Help... you?" Kiba echoed, a little surprised. "With what?"
The Uchiha walked forward, forcing dog and boy to both back up, and moved around them, continuing down the street. Realizing
he hadn't been answered, Kiba hastened to follow. As soon as the younger boy was walking along-side him, Uchiha went on. "I
was told that the Hokage would not be able to assist me with a medical inquiry, so I must find a medic that is off-duty today.
Preferably a good one."
Well, what do you know? "I was just about to join Naruto, Shino and Sakura at Ichiraku's for lunch. You can come along;
Sakura's the Hokage's apprentice and it's her day off anyway," he offered, figuring he may as well.
Itachi appeared to think of that for a moment before giving a very creepy smirk. "Actually, I think I will," he murmured.
"I'll meet you there; I have to get money."
"Oh.. Um, okay..." Kiba watched, wide-eyed, as Itachi walked away, looking strangely amused. Weird.
Sakura was more than a little annoyed. The reason for her annoyance was Naruto. And Itachi, though indirectly. And also
Kiba, but he couldn't be really blamed for what he hadn't know.
When Uchiha Itachi had shown up to join them for lunch and ask her some medical things, Naruto had thrown a fit. The only
thing keeping the boy from pouncing on the older male was the fact that Sakura threatened to beat the shit out of him if he
ruined her lunch.
And Itachi wasn't helping with his nearly nonexistent but no less amused smirk.
"Naruto, stop glaring at Uchiha-san and eat your ramen," Sakura growled in irritation, then scowled at Itachi when he smirked
at the jinchurriki. Oooh, the nerve of that man!
On Itachi's other side, Shino rose to his feet, Kiba quickly following suit. The bug man bowed slightly to them in apology.
"We must be going," he intoned softly. "Hinata-san is awaiting us."
Sakura stood and smiled at him, bowing in answer. "Alright. Have fun then, and I'm sorry about... the trouble." She glared
at Naruto, who flinched and became increasingly interested with his untouched bowl. Between spouts of glaring at his best
friend's brother, that is. "I hope we can try again next week."
Shino smiled a bit at that. "Yes, of course, Sakura-san. Though... Just us, then, I think. So no one can ruin it."
She blushed in embarrassment. "Uh... Yeah. Probably a good idea." She bowed again and watched the two friends walk off,
Kiba elbowing his best friend and talking to him in a low murmur with a grin on his face. Then she turned to see that both
Naruto - looking horrified - and Itachi - looking both amused and curious - were watching her.
"The bug guy?" Naruto said, voice little more than a whisper, jaw dropping just a little bit.
Cheeks flaming, Sakura smacked him upside the head. "Yeah? So?" she demanded indignantly, sitting down between the two
(mostly so they wouldn't fight). "If you have a problem with it, Naruto, you can go screw yourself! Since when does it matter
to you who I go out with, anyway?"
The blond simply gaped at her for a few minutes more (until her glare was enough to melt metal) before abruptly shaking
his head and staring down at his noodles. "But Sakura-chan..." he mumbled, but she cut him off, realization dawning.
"Are you jealous?" she asked incredulously. When he didn't answer, she dropped her face into her hands. "Oh, good
gods, my best friend's jealous of my sparring-partner."
"You're what?" Naruto asked, blinking.
"Spar-ring part-ner," she said slowly, scowling at him. "We spar and he sometimes takes me out to lunch afterwards, that's
The jinchurriki instantly looked relieved, letting out a breath. "Oh. You had me scared there for a minute! ... ow..."
Withdrawing her hand, she shook her head and turned her attention to the quiet Uchiha beside her, smiling slightly. "Anyway,
Itachi-san. You said earlier that you had a question?"
He glanced at Naruto (who was scowling in his direction) and nodded. "Aa. However, it's a private question, so I'd like
to keep it's nature as... secret as possible, if you don't mind."
She nodded thoughtfully. "I understand, but... If it will lead to eventual treatment, then I'll have to know the details.
Perhaps we can meet up some time and you can tell me then?"
"Hm." He looked down at his tea for a moment before nodding. "Yes. That will be suitable. When is your next day off?"
"Uh..." Sakura frowned, thinking back to the roster this morning. When was it again...? It was... "Oh! Um, Saturday, I
believe. Is that fine?"
Itachi nodded, standing and placing money for the tea and untouched ramen on the counter. "Yes. I'll have the main complex
set up, so come over around two in the afternoon, if you can." He glanced at the suspiciously thoughtful Naruto. "Alone,"
he added firmly, and narrowed his eyes when the blond turned to glare at him.
Naruto smirked and stuck his tongue out, making Itachi blink in surprise. "Tch. I don't wanna know," the blond muttered.
"I can get Neji to spar with me Saturday, then." With that, the blond abruptly stood and waved to Ichiraku. "Put it all on
my tab, 'cept Itachi's," he said with a grin.
Sakura rolled her eyes. Ever since her friend had arranged a tab with the shop (the money taken from his pay before he
got it), he'd happily used it as often as humanly (for Naruto, anyway) possible. "Geez, Naruto. You moron," she grumbled half-heartedly.
Itachi shook his head and turned away. "See you then," he said in parting and disappeared. Literally.
"I met Uchiha-san today," Hinata said suddenly as she and her team walked toward their regular training grounds. At Shino
and Kiba's surprised looks, she quickly elaborated. "H-he was by th-that tree... The one d-down the road f-from home..." she
When she'd turned eighteen, she'd moved out of the official Hyuuga compound to live in a tiny house on the outskirts of
Konoha, claiming it was peaceful and since she was still protected overly much by Neji, it shouldn't be a problem. Surprisingly,
her father had let her go, on the condition that she take a family member with her. She'd chosen Neji, of course, and the
two shared the small, three bedroom house with no real problems.
As such, whenever she got a visitor from Konoha, it was surprising, since not many people ventured that far out. Whether
from fear of Hyuuga wrath or simple disinterest was debatable.
Now normally, the simple statement 'that tree' would be rather confusing in a town like Konoha, however, her teammates
knew that by 'that tree', she meant 'her tree'. She'd planted it herself and had a special botanist with abilities in plant
growth help it grow more quickly than natural. It was now matured it 'adult hood', and big enough that they often found her
curled up with a good book in the boughs.
"Funny you should mention that," Kiba mused with a smirk. "We met him earlier at Ichiraku's when he wanted to ask Sakura-san
"R-really?" she murmured thoughtfully. "Genma-san said th-that he doesn't... u-usually leave the U-Uchiha... compound."
Shino nodded. "He doesn't," he agreed thoughtfully.
"Maybe it's errand day," Kiba suggested jokingly, making Shino sigh and Hinata shake her head. "Huh? What?"
Finally, after a week of grueling work and just as exhausting an effort on Sakura's part while dealing with the Hokage,
Saturday came around and Sakura found herself standing outside the Uchiha compound, Ino's words from lunch fresh in her mind.
"He invited you over?" the blonde shrieked in glee. "Oh, Kami-sama, Sakura! You lucky dog!"
"It's not that big a deal, Ino," the rosette kunoichi admonished, giving a slow, exasperated shake of her head. "He
wanted me to answer some medical inquiries-"
Ino snorted, cutting her off. "'Medical inquiries'? Is that what they're calling it now? C'mon, Sakura, you're acting
like a genin."
Sakura blushed a bit at the indication. "It's not like that, Ino pig," she retorted, miffed. "It's seriously just business."
Still looking skeptical, Ino clucked her tongue. "Well, whatever it is, you better be on time for a babe like that,
girl. Or I'll march over there and tell him something real embarrassing about you." She grinned at the mortified look Sakura
took on and continued before her friend could interrupt. "At any rate, business or not, you know every Uchiha-besotted girl
in the village will hate you now, right?"
"Only if they find out, and it's not like we're doing anything strange," Sakura defended halfheartedly.
"You're going over to his house, and he wants you to come alone," Ino deadpanned. "Whether or not you're actually doing
strenuous activities, everyone will be thinking that you did." A frank, sympathetic smile was aimed at the pink-haired girl.
"No matter what you say in contest."
Sakura knew it was true, too, but there wasn't really anything she could do about it. At least her conscience was clean.
That was something, right? Gulping, Sakura pushed the main gate open and looked inside the compound. A long street stretched
out before her, ending a few blocks down at a large, brick house painted a soft shade of brown. It was obviously newly done.
"Here goes," she muttered, slowly making her way down the street. It took only seven or eight minutes to get down the deserted
aisle and then she was standing before the brown house, biting her lip. The house was surrounded by a pretty Japanese garden
that went all the way around it, as far as she could see, disappearing into the shadows of the large Cherry Blossom trees
lined up in columns on either side of the complex.
A swing hung from the porch roof, big enough for about three people, if they sat within each other's personal space. It
took her a minute to recognize the prone form splayed out in the dark shadows dancing over the swing, and when she saw Uchiha
Itachi laying there, she couldn't help but remember what Ino had said about Uchiha-besotted girls.
Is he asleep? she wondered, opening the waist-high gate - it swung in on silent hinges - on the fence separating
the garden from the road. She stepped inside and stopped on the first step heading up to the porch, putting her hands on her
thighs in plain sight.
She cleared her throat noisily, but he didn't stir. "Uchiha-san? Are you okay?"
He turned his head to face her and opened his eyes slowly. For a minute, he just stared at her in seeming confusion before
he sighed and slowly sat up. "Is it that time already?" he asked softly.
Sakura nodded. "Hai." She looked at his face, noting that it seemed slightly different than normal. It wasn't until he
activated his Sharringan that she realized he had been without it at first. She swallowed and twitched nervously. "Um..."
Itachi seemed to notice her nervousness and instantly realized what it meant. "I can't see well without it," he explained
gently, and she was stunned by the capacity for him to do so, since he always seemed so... severe and cold. "That's what I
wanted to talk to a medic about. The mangekyo Sharringan ruins my eyes, and I need to know if there is any way to reverse
the damage done."
Understanding dawned and she walked forward slowly, stopping at the end of the swing. "Mind if I take a closer look, Uchiha-san?"
she asked, and when he shrugged, she stepped around to his side and knelt on the floor of the porch. "Please lean down. You
may close your eyes if you want; it won't hinder the process," she said, switching to what Shizune jokingly referred to as
her 'medic mode'. Granted, most medics had them, but still.
"Also, I'll be probing your eyes with chakra, so please try not to resist. I know it may be instinct, but if I'm going
to figure it out, I'll have to do this with your cooperation." She raised her hands and let them hover to either side of his
head until he closed his eyes - hesitantly - and nodded. As soon as he was relaxed enough, she gingerly cupped the sides of
his upper face and stared unseeing at some point on his forehead as she 'looked' at his eyes with her chakra.
Sakura almost winced when she realized what was wrong; chakra burn. The mangekyo had to be a pretty exhausting technique
to use so much chakra that it'd literally burn his eyes. At that point in time, Sakura had no doubt how much he probably hurt
every time he used chakra in his eyes. It would damage them further every time he used them, like trying to walk on a broken
leg without proper support.
Finally, she let her hands drop into her lap and was surprised to find him watching her curiously. "It's chakra burn."
He nodded and she went on. "Healing it would take time and several dozen sessions; especially with how severe it really is.
I'm surprised you're not blind." She sighed and ran a hand through her wind-tousled hair. "I can do it, but it's slow work,
and it'll probably feel weird. I don't know if it'll hurt or not; I haven't had experience with healing chakra burn in someone's
Itachi was silent for a while, eyes surveying the peaceful garden. It would be nice to see again without everything seeming
so... slow... "Alright. Do you need to come back later? Or can you start now?"
Sakura blinked in surprise at the sudden answer. "Well, I can do a little bit today," she agreed hesitantly. "We should
probably get comfortable, though..." She had to lean back on her heels as he swung his legs around abruptly and sprung to
his feet, all in one fluid movement. "Um..."
"I will make tea," he said firmly and stepped over to the door, holding it open and pausing. "Come. Make yourself comfortable
on a couch," he offered, gesturing toward the slightly sunken area where two couches and a chair sat, facing a fireplace and
He left her alone, going down a hall to her left, and she meandered over to the bookcase, looking through the various novels
on everything from fantasy to nonfiction. She picked up one on chakra manipulation and thumbed through the dog-eared, worn
pages. Near the back, tucked between two pages, was a flattened white lotus flower, it's petals spread out over the page and
nearly reaching the edge.
"It was my mother's, once," came the soft voice of her companion as he seemingly materialized right behind her
She jumped and spun instinctively, hand twitching with the urge to grab a kunai, though the spot on her leg where she usually
kept her weapons' holster was empty; she'd left them at home. He quirked a brow at her reaction but didn't comment. Instead,
he motioned toward the low table in between the couches, where he'd placed a small tarnished tray holding the tea. She saw
milk, sugar and chocolate - oddly enough - amidst the tea kettle and cups.
Sakura was relieved to see regular, Japanese tea cups rather than the China ones Sasuke had always preferred. Maybe it
was the part of her that didn't want to remember her past love, especially in the presence of the one man he'd hated most.
As if doing so would corrupt his memory...
She shook the thoughts away and sat. "Thanks."
Itachi knelt on the other side of the tea table and began quietly pouring them both tea. That task done, he glanced up.
"Would you like anything in it?" he asked, that brow lifting again.
She smiled a little at the thought that he was being rather old-school and traditional; the perfect host, her mother would
say. He really was so very different from his little brother... "Yes," she replied. "Just some milk, please."
He nodded and obliged. Silence reigned once more, and eventually they were both comfortable. Sakura set down her tea and
turned in her seat to face the Uchiha, only to find him already studying her. Under his scrutiny, she once again recalled
Ino's earlier words. Frowning, she switched to medic mode lest she blush in embarrassment. Stupid Ino Pig and her damn ideas.
"Shall we get started?" she asked, then added, "We probably should soon, or I'll be here all night."
He inclined his head and set his own cup down before crossing his legs on the couch in front of him and settling back into
the cushions. "Very well," he agreed pleasantly enough.
Sakura nodded and scooted a bit closer for a better reach, telling herself that she definitely wasn't thinking of dumb
Ino and lunch. "If I run too low on chakra and don't pull away, get my attention and make me stop please."
Her only answer was a nearly imperceptible nod before he closed his eyes and visibly relaxed. Well, as much as any ninja
could in the presence of another... Slowly, she reached up and cupped his face once more, eyes sliding closed as the soothing
warmth of her chakra brushed the ever-present pain away for the moment.