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The Uchiha's Wife

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messy art and animation ;P


74 days before Uchiha Sasuke falls in love
410 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love


Chapter beta-ed by: Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

Saturday, 10th November 2007

Today was the worst day of her life.

She had been forced to leave behind everything she'd ever known. Her home, her neighbourhood, her parents, her school and even her surname.

Starting three hours ago, she was no longer Namikaze Naruto.

As of three hours ago and counting, she was now Uchiha Naruto.

Her azure eyes glared at the piece of paper that was her marriage certificate. Life wasn't fair at all. She had barely turned sixteen when she found out that her birthday marked a month before her arranged marriage. To the youngest son of her Father's best friend.

The Uchihas were rich, famous, and powerful. It was known worldwide. The Uchiha's had steadily conquered the world with their keen intelligence and plentiful talents. Since the first Uchiha rose to fame, the first empire they dominated was the business world. The first was Uchiha Madara.

The next was his brother, Izuna who was a famous and gifted actor. A decade later, he became a remarkable director. Every movie he was in or directed always hit first place in cinemas around the world.

Soon Shisui would be known as the best doctor around. His grandfather, Madara, gave him a hospital as a gift. Soon, more Uchihas joined in the medical field, inspired by the prodigy doctor.

The branch of the Uchiha family Naruto had married into were in the family business run by Madara. Their eldest son, Itachi, who was a genius and had brought the company to a new height was named heir of the Uchiha Inc. Itachi's younger brother was given the freedom to choose any career of his own wish, an apparent yet startling soft side of the ever-strict Madara.

The seventeen-years-old Sasuke was Madara's youngest and most favoured grandson. Since he was little, Madara would openly shower his affection towards the young child. Everyone knew that Sasuke was the one who had melted his icy cold personality with his chiming laughter and adorable mischiefs. Like all Uchiha, Sasuke too put on an impassive façade in public. It was only in the Uchiha family that Sasuke would open up with no hesitation.

He was their sun.

The marriage was taken place early only because Uchiha Madara was getting old (and senile, according to one Uchiha Obito). He vehemently believed that he didn't have many days left to live; (Prof. Dr. Shisui mumbled that he was just being melodramatic). He was already in his late seventies and was afraid that he would die before he could see his beloved grandson getting married. Madara was relieved when his good friend and Mayor of Konoha, Senju Tsunade, agreed to marry the boy off to her beloved granddaughter, Namikaze Naruto, with the condition that they were not to consummate until they were old enough.

The marriage was the reason Uchiha Naruto was now sulking in her room and thinking about how unfairly her beloved grandmother had given her away to the boy she hated the most. She gave the marriage certificate another scowl, hoping that it would burn under her intense glare.

"Hn, dobe," a melodious voice sneered softly.

She scowled at the raven-haired teenager, who was also her husband of three hours ...and twenty-five minutes.

"Teme, what are you doing in my room?" the blond said curtly.

Sasuke was leaning against the bathroom door frame with his arms crossed. Their rooms were separated by an adjoining bathroom. He chuckled condescendingly, "Hmm, can't a husband come to his wife's room whenever he wants to?"

Naruto scoffed and squinted at him, "Husband? Seriously, teme?"

The raven-haired teen blew his stray bangs off his face, walking towards her with haughty steps. He blinked at her, his eyes promising more derision.

"Well, dobe, since you're married to me, I am your husband now." He pulled her face roughly, giving it a good inspection. "Luckily, you're up to Uchiha's minimum standard for looks, or you'd put me to shame forever." He pushed her face away, shrugging nonchalantly.

Naruto screamed with frustration, pulling the hem of her long, expensive Japanese wedding kimono, and almost tearing the elegant flower embroidery stitched on the white soft satin. She gave him a livid stare. "You - must - be - joking. Are you seriously going to stay with all this silliness?"

Sasuke slipped a slightly confused look on his face.

Naruto rolled her eyes, scoffing irritably. "Wow, teme… You call yourself a genius, but you're actually more stupid than I thought."

"What are you trying to say, Naruto?" he snapped, losing his cool faster than the sand slipping off one's fingers.

Pleased to see Sasuke was losing his temper so easily, Naruto smirked. "Well, teme," a thoughtful finger on her chin, "since we both obviously hate each other, once we are older and allow to have a say in our lives, we can just file for a di—"

Naruto was surprised when a weight threw her flat on the bed. Sasuke was on top of her, squeezing her wrists painfully tight and glaring furiously at her.

"I—I hate this… this stupid, forced arranged marriage just as much as you do, Naru," he breathed heatedly. "This is our grandparents' wish. But like it or not, we Uchihas do not do divorces. It is unheard of," he squeezed her wrists, emphasising his point.

"So, we're going to live with this and you're free to do whatever you like, same as me. We'll mind each other's business. But we are going to pretend, do you understand, Uchiha Naruto?" Sasuke's eyes bore into hers, challenging her. Only the sound of their angry, short breaths filled the tense silence.

"Fine. You said it yourself. I'm going to mind my own business. I don't care what you want to do. Actually, I don't even want to know," she said curtly, looking solemnly at him. "Now, get off me, teme," she gave the other teen a hard push.

"Hn, gladly," Sasuke peeled himself off the blond girl and dusted his black wedding yukata as though he was removing something repulsive off it. Naruto scowled and managed to land a kick on his knee. Sasuke yelped and caught himself from falling.

"You fucking dobe," he spat, giving her a fierce glare. "You are really asking for it!" he stood up slowly, emitting a dangerous aura. His dark eyes seemed to flash red briefly. He cracked his fingers and neck aloud as he moved his head from side to side, pacing deliberately towards her.

"Pssh, teme, don't think I'm backing away," Naruto was ready to pounce. Her long, smooth leg was shamelessly sticking out from the side of her kimono and her hands were in an opening fighting stance. They were both about to take a step forward when the door clicked open and a chuckle caught their attention.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise I was interrupting your intimate moments. I shouldn't have intruded in the new bride's room at this hour. My bad…" the intruder laughed quietly.

Naruto blushed crimson instantly while Sasuke hid his embarrassment behind a cough, squaring his shoulder to regain his regal posture and collect his leftover pride. Muttering the blonde's name quietly, he motioned to her exposed hip with a glare. She gathered herself up and bowed her head to hide her growing blush, biting her lips in chagrin. Sasuke stared at the intruder coolly and walked towards him.

"If you know better than not to intrude at such hour, then what are you doing in my wife's room…," his eyes zeroed to him dangerously, "…Sai?"

Chapter Text

Chapter beta-ed by Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

A little seven-years-old boy was standing alone in a corner of the huge park. He was pouting and his little arms were folded on his chest. He then composed himself, reminding himself that 'an Uchiha mustn't show any emotions in public'. However, the situation he was in was making him forget again. Eventually, he began to pout, folding his arms and feeling displeased for the umpteenth time that day.

Just then, a cheerful six-years-old girl was strolling down the brick pathway with hurried little steps. When she saw him, a mischievious grin settled on her cute face. She stealthily trotted towards the boy or so she thought as she walked noisily on the muddy ground, breaking little branches on the way. Luckily for her, the raven-haired boy was too immersed in his own thoughts to realise that.

"BOO!" she shouted and hit him on his shoulders, making the little Uchiha shrieked in fright. Sasuke tried swivelling around to punch the laughing girl, but he couldn't. He pouted again, folding his arms crossly and muttering aloud childish curses at Naruto. She stopped laughing and glared at him. "Sashuke! That's so mean." It was Naruto's turn to pout cutely, looking rather upset.

"You scared me. That was even meaner, dobe! " he defended. Not so far away, Uchiha Itachi was standing behind a tree, hiding a growing smile behind the back of his hand. He watched how his little brother would try calling for help as he'd been stuck in the mud for two hours already. Itachi was amused at his little brother's endurance to wait for someone, specifically a Uchiha , to come and rescue him.

Naruto had her innocent blue eyes at the raven-haired boy, "Um, Sashuke… what are you playing here? What's so fun? Ne, ne, share with me." Sasuke mumbled a reply, feeling embarrassed.

"What? I can't hear yoouuu…" she insisted.

"I said, I'm stuck in the mud and I order you to pull me out, now!" he said with a demanding voice, pointing his feet that were buried until his ankles. Naruto sniffed, feeling offended.

"That was not a nice way to ask help. Mommy said you must say pleaaasssee…" she told him, pouting cutely.

"Don't you order me around! You're just a stupid little girl. Uchiha do not beg," he said arrogantly.

"I'm not stuwpeed! You're wittle too! Fine!" Naruto cried, almost in tears. She was about to leave when he tugged her arm.

"Dobe, pull me out," he mumbled quietly.

"Say pleeeassseee…" she said in a singsong voice.

"I'll give you my candy that Itachi-nii gave me," he pulled out a colourful lollipop and saw Naruto's face brightened up at once.

"Okay!" Naruto chirped and she started pulling him with all her might, "You're – sho – heavy." Her face scrunched with strain.

"Just keep pulling," Sasuke was trying to shake his feet free from the ground.

"Don't – be – bossy!" she panted, and he was finally free with an audible 'ouuff'. Unfortunately, the force caused him to tumble forward. They both fell to the muddy ground with a splat and Naruto's dress was covered with mud. Naruto wanted to cry but gasped in horror when she realised that their lips were brushing against each other. She went still as Sasuke threw himself away from her, blushing heavily.

"Ugh, dobe's slime, yuck!" he yelled, averting his eyes to hide his embarrassment. He left without helping her. She was stunned at the accidental contact and when she recovered, she belatedly realised that she was alone… and she was stuck in the mud. Tears began to fill her blue eyes. There wasn't anyone in sight to help her, and her favourite dress given by her beloved grandmother was ruined. Itachi shook his head, unimpressed with his brother's terrible behaviour. He was about to help her when he saw someone else came to her rescue.

"Don't cry," said a gentle voice, and Naruto's sobbing quieted. A pale hand held out to her, and her eyes flickered to the dark eyes that didn't reflect the smile he had on his face. She hesitated, but eventually took his hand and he pulled her out.

"T-Thank you," she mumbled, feeling uncomfortable with her messy appearance.

"You're welcome," he smiled again. "Don't worry, you look pretty," he assured her, lightly stilling her hands from trying in vain to remove the dirt from her dress. She went red again. She noted that he was nicer than that meanie Sashuke, and smiled shyly at him. Itachi walked towards the two little children and placed his jacket on her little shoulders. Although it was oversized for her, she gave the older boy a happy grin and muttered her gratitude softly. He offered a hand which Naruto took almost immediately, promising her that he would bring her home after getting them ice-creams. "I'm Sai." The little boy walked beside her and said with a genuine smile. The two children didn't notice the jealous eyes of a certain Uchiha at a far corner of the park.

Itachi hid another growing smile behind his hand.



68 days before Uchiha Sasuke falls in love
405 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love



Thursday, 15th November 2007

Five days had passed since she became an Uchiha. She was given lessons to instil a way of an Uchiha's life every alternate day. After the first lesson, she knew why Sasuke was always an uptight person.

"'What an Uchiha wants an Uchiha gets'," Naruto grumbled in a mocking tone, repeating what her tutor had told her earlier, "Pssh, yeah, my ass." With a heavy sigh, she muttered, "…no wonder that teme is suuuch a bastard." She swore that if it wasn't for her grandmother's wish, she wouldn't have agreed to the marriage. She loved her grandmother. Uchiha Mikoto, her mother-in-law was training her to be a good wife. The dark-haired woman was so happy to have a daughter and to spend some mother-daughter quality time together. Unfortunately, Naruto wasn't sharing her enthusiasm when it came to her responsibility as a wife, but she liked her too much to deny her wishes. When she was told to wake up before Sasuke, prepare his bento, wake him up, prepare his clothes, and make his bed too, Naruto couldn't hide the scowl on her face. She knew marrying the difficult prick would invite more trouble, but it was more taxing than she had thought. She couldn't believe the jerk could get under her skin without even breaking a sweat.

"Oii! Teme! Wake UP!" she barged into the room through their adjoining bathroom, startling the sleeping resident terribly. A pillow was thrown at the unsuspected Naruto, right on her face. She fumed in anger as the pillow dropped on the carpeted floor.

"Teeemmeeee…" she growled, throwing the pillow back at him. Sasuke caught the pillow swiftly and snuggled into the bed, ignoring the raging blonde. Naruto clenched her teeth.

"That stupid teme, urgh! I can't stand him!" She stomped her feet towards the bed and took a few deep breaths. With all her might, she gave the comforter a hard tug and he fell off the bed with a painful thud.

"YOU'RE DEAD, DOBE!" Sasuke roared, jumping at her with fury. Naruto countered with a swing, causing Sasuke to stumble, but he got his balance back. He was about to kick her leg when he slipped on the comforter, falling on her painfully. They stifled a painful groan and then blinked in horror, feeling their hot breaths intermingled on their reddening faces. The more they struggle to separate, the more tangled they become. They suddenly felt more aware how intimately their lips touched each other, especially when Sasuke's slight chapped lips kept grazing on Naruto's smooth ones. His panicked breath slowed as he fell into a trance when he met her eyes, gradually absorbing his will to push her away and strangely he had an urge to taste her lips more.

Noticing his waning struggle, Naruto glanced up and belatedly realised that there was an odd atmosphere in between them. With a resolve, she gathered her strength and pushed him so hard that he swore his shoulder bruised. "Why must it ALWAYS BE YOU?!" Naruto roared, wiping her mouth with a disgusted look.

"The feeling's mutual, dobe," Sasuke quipped, giving her a vicious glare before leaving towards the bathroom. She took a few calming breaths, muttering quietly to herself. She continued on with her daily routine, hoping to get it done before Sasuke was done bathing. It took her a while to finish her chores in Sasuke's room due to the mess earlier. Naruto covertly peeked, making sure that the corridor was empty.

She breathed out with relief, "no Sai-kun today." Naruto was mortified by Sai's sudden appearance into her room that night and had avoided him ever since. She blushed, flustered by his teasing, but gratefully accepted her cat when he handed it to her. She laughed when Sai dented Sasuke's pride by insulting Sasuke about being small below. He earned a livid glare from the fuming boy.

To her, Sai was always a kind, odd friend, but ever since she moved to Suna at age ten, she rarely met him. It seemed so coincidental every time she was back to visit the Uchihas Sai was always away. That had made their friendship become slightly awkward today, especially after he had teased her about the incident that night. A purr caught her attention and she scooped the furry feline up in her arms, gently caressing its orange, silky fur. Her pet had managed to escape from her room again and was going for a stroll. She held her cat closer to her chest, giving a loving peck on its head. She then smiled fondly at her favourite pet. It was given to her by Sasuke (unfortunately) when she had to move away.

At first, she thought that it was the first time Sasuke had been kind to her, but then he said that it was a 'thank-god-you're-moving-away-because-I-can't-live-a-day-more-seeing-your-stupid-ugly-face!' gift. Sasuke earned a good punch on his face for that. The kitten was so cute, so she kept it even if it was an ill-wished gift. She giggled when her cat nibbled on her finger playfully. The cat's tag caught the reflection of the sunlight, blinding her momentarily before she saw the gold plated name written on it: Kyuubi. She named him Kyuubi because as a kitten, it was vicious and unfriendly; just like the mythical nine-tailed fox her father once read as a bedtime story when she was younger.

She initially believed that it was a stray because Sasuke claimed he found it in a bin as it would be 'befitting for her.' She soon learned it was a Scottish Fold cat when she went to the veterinarian. He even told her that her kitten came from his new litter of kittens because it had the same birthmark on his paw just like its mother, and Kyuubi was adopted by a young boy. When Naruto asked if the boy's name was Sasuke, the doctor merely smiled knowingly. Naruto then reasoned out that since it was given by Sasuke, his standoffish attitude got rubbed off on the cat. It took her two whole weeks before Kyuubi allowed her to touch him, exclusively Naruto and no one else. That was how prideful Kyuubi was.

"So beautiful," a voice broke her reverie, and she froze when she met his eyes. It was Sai; Naruto started mentally. She had been found, but she wanted to pretend that she wasn't avoiding him at all.

Stroking on Kyuubi's coat lightly, she smiled and praying silently that she could act normally, "He is, isn't he?"

Sai chuckled, catching her attention again. He tilted his head and placed a gentle finger on her chin, "I meant you."

Naruto blushed heavily at once. She wanted to say something, but she was stuttering. She decided it was best so she fled off after muttering an audible, "Excuse me." His eyes followed her until she disappeared at the first turn of the long corridor. Sai knew he shouldn't do what he was doing or feel what he was feeling but he couldn't help it. He was known for being abnormally impassive despite the fake smiling face he put on. He knew since he was little, ever since a friend whom he regarded as an older brother and his parents had died, he couldn't love anymore.

However, he did. For the first time in his life, he had fallen in love. He stared at her in awe before realising that she was the bride of the wedding he was attending to. He couldn't forget the anger he felt towards the groom, and his eyes had shaded with dislike.

It was always, always him, he thought darkly.

Naruto was very beautiful. Almost all eyes were on her, staring at her in admiration. The beautiful long white wedding kimono fitted her small frame perfectly. The bottom half of the long kimono was filled with white and silver flower embroideries until it reached her long train that fanned out behind her. Her golden hair was tied into a high bun, fixed with a tiny diamond hair net and a few strands of hair were purposely let loose with curls that fell on her shoulders. Hair flower jewellery completed her hairdo and she looked elegant: a perfect Uchiha's bride.

He knew Sasuke and Naruto hated each other. He had heard Sasuke muttering to himself for many years since they were little, about how annoying Naruto was. Since he was ten, he had never had the chance to see her until the wedding day. Sasuke always sent him away to do his chores whenever she came for a visit. He was baffled as to why Sasuke found someone as wonderful as Naruto annoying. His eyes narrowed when he remembered that night he gave Naruto her cat. He didn't like how speechless Sasuke was and how wide-eyed he got upon seeing the cat. Sasuke asked, almost stammering, if the cat was the gift he gave her and was surprised to know that she had kept it all along. Sasuke turned away, looking confused and Sai swore he saw a slight blush was on his face for a while. When Sasuke was aware that Sai was in the room too, he signalled for him to leave the room with him.

Whatever it was, Sai had enough of giving in.

He was always the one following Sasuke wherever he went and had seen how everything seemed bent to every will of the Uchiha. If being with Naruto was bothersome to him, Sai would gladly take her off his hands. Someone called his name and he saw Sasuke was looking at him blandly, gesturing with a lazy nod to follow him. "Yes, Sasuke-sama," he said with a smile that looked forced. "What about Naruto?" he asked, remembering about the blonde.

"Tsk, that dobe can go by herself," Sasuke mumbled and began to walk towards their awaiting black limousine.

Sai took a glance back and his fist tightened. If she were his, she would be treated like a queen.

Sasuke missed the solemn glint in Sai's eyes.


Naruto was panting hard when she arrived. She grumbled colourfully, silent curses about Sasuke who had cruelly left her behind. She walked in hurried steps down the hall, eyes searching frantically for her class: 2-A. She was given a map to move about, but she was terrible at reading one. She became more and more vexed when she met with—what seeming like—an endless maze of corridors. The school compound was wide, comprises of a few clusters of three-storey buildings which were indistinctly interconnected, a few large fields, and two large swimming pools.

The Konoha Private School was quite small compared to her previous school: Suna International School. Unlike before, she didn't have a guide to tour her around. She then noted little children in uniforms were running about. "Oh Kami, I'm in the elementary division…" she rubbed her forehead with a frustrated groan. She took a quick look at her watch and mumbled about being an hour late already.

"Excuse me," a finger tapped on her shoulder gently and she swivelled. A man with a scar across his nose gave her a stern look. If she didn't know better, he looked like some Yakuza man. Naruto blanched with fright. "Why are you here? Aren't you supposed to be in class now?"

"I'm sorry… sir, but I'm new here and I'm… lost," Naruto said sheepishly, scratching a wary finger on her cheek. The teacher looked surprised and gave her a warm smile.

"Well then, welcome to the Konoha Private School. I'm Umino Iruka and I teach in this division," the teacher spoke benignly, surprising Naruto with his gentleness. With a warm smile, he asked her name which Naruto gave without her new surname. She would like lesser people to know of her being related to that annoying Sasuke, even if it was a futile attempt. "Don't worry Naruto-kun, I'll show you the way."

It was a long walk from the elementary division to the high school division. The sensei was likeable as he was kind and talked a lot about his love of teaching, children and the school. When they arrived, Iruka-sensei explained to the teacher who was currently teaching in her class. To Naruto, Kakashi-sensei was a weird English teacher who wore a mask and seemed to like teasing Iruka-sensei with double entendre. After bidding the irate teacher goodbye, Kakashi-sensei cleared his throat and the class fell silent, "Class, this was the new student I was talking about earlier. She was transferred here from International Suna High, this is Uch—"

"You can call me Naruto!" she cut him off almost panicky and with a grin on her face. She didn't notice the swooning looks from the boys. "My aim is to find the best Ramen in the world!"

The silver-haired teacher had an eyebrow raised and there was a bout of laughter. "Alright Naruto-chan, you may sit there," he pointed at an empty seat at the end of the class beside the window. She complied.

Her neighbour was a mischievous-looking boy with almond brown eyes. He was trying to stifle his laughter and gave her a big grin.

"Hey, I'm Kiba. You're funny and I like you already," he grinned and then, he realised that he would be misunderstood and stuttered, "I-I mean, as a friend, um, that is, if—"

"As a friend, I know. I'm Naruto, I hope we can be friends, Kibbles-san."

Kiba scowled, feigning an offended look at Naruto. She stuck her tongue out cheekily, pointing at his many key chains of a large white dog. They knew they would be buddies from then onwards. English class was moving slowly and they were bored. Kiba challenged her into playing Bingo and gave up after his 10th loss.

It was break time and Naruto shared her bento with him. He introduced Nara Shikamaru from 2-S, a small accelerated programme where only selected people were allowed to join. Kiba was gobbling down the sandwich she made, "You know, Naruto-san," he paused to swallow, grabbing another piece of sandwich, "you'd make a great—" he munched on another piece, "—wife with this amazing cooking skill."

"Slow down, Kibbles-san," Naruto scolded, passing him a bottle of water when he started to choke. He took a long gulp of water and sighed satisfyingly.

"Please tell me you're not one of them," he pointed at a group of girls with a red and white band on their forearm. Naruto gave him a questioning look. He shifted closer and spoke in a surreptitious whisper, "They're that idiot, Uchiha Sasuke's fangirls. I hate him. Hell, I hate the Uchiha!"

Naruto blanched at the statement. She hated Sasuke too, but she was a part of the Uchiha now. "I'm not like them. I hate that teme," she replied ambiguously.

Kiba was surprised and he gave an appreciative pat on her shoulder. "Thank god," he breathed in relief, "… though I didn't know you knew him already."

"Trust me. I've known him my whole life. If there's anyone I'd ever like to see suffering, he's the first and most exclusive on the list," she said darkly, taking a bite from her sandwich.

Shikamaru, who was eating silently beside them, spoke for the first time, "I never knew Uchiha-san has a blonde female friend."

"Our parents are friends," Naruto corrected.

"Your parents must be somebody to be close friends with that prideful family," he cannily deduced, patiently waiting for her answer. She remained silent, not knowing what to say. She didn't want to inform anyone about her relationship with the city's mayor because if people dug a little deeper, they could connect her relationship with the famous psychologist/detective, which was even more dangerous. It was already bad enough that she spent most of her life away from her parents because of the constant threats and kidnapping attempts.

She never felt safer until she married Sasuke and took his family name.

"Um..." She was about to speak when they heard the girls started to shriek happily. They turned and saw Sai was walking towards them, smiling at Naruto. The class went silent at once, feeling intrigued with their relationship.

"I can't find you in the special class, Naruto. What are you doing here?" Sai asked, greeting the two boys with a nod who were looking at him curiously. He placed his hands on her shoulders with her back facing him and leant nearer to her.

Naruto felt slightly uncomfortable with the closeness and shifted slightly. "I was placed in this class," she told him, looking at him sideways.

"Really? That must be a mistake," he said, looking thoughtful.

Suddenly, there was an uproar, and a grumpy looking Sasuke—in Naruto's point of view—came towards them. Naruto grimaced at how hysterical the girls went at the sight of him. Sasuke didn't acknowledge their presence, but his eyes were fixed on her with a hard glare. "What?" she asked curtly, folding her arms on her chest irritably. Kiba's jaw dropped open at her boldness, talking to Sasuke in such tone and attitude. He had never seen a girl being so cold towards the Uchiha.

Sasuke clenched his teeth, trying to hold in his anger. "That's no way to talk to your senior, dobe," he said warningly, eyes squint with contempt.

"Yeah, senpai, whatever teme," she snorted, rolling her eyes.

"Tsk, you're so irritating," he muttered coldly. His eyes flickered momentarily at Kiba who was giving him a disgusted look, and to Shikamaru who was looking at them with a keen interest. "Next time, send it to my classroom. Don't make me come to you," he warned, snatching his bento from her bag.

"I'm not your slave. If you want it, take it yourself," she snapped, shooing him away with a waving hand. He slammed his fist into her desk, startling the whole class. He leant closer to her, giving her a vicious glare.

"Do as I tell you, dobe," he said threateningly, a mocking smirk was on his face. "It is an order from a senpai to his dearest kouhai," he patted her head mockingly and she slapped his hand away.

Naruto stood up abruptly, causing him nearly to fall backwards. She stood fearlessly, closing the distance between them with her face held high as she glared stubbornly at him. "Make me," she dared him.

Sasuke's eyebrow twitched with annoyance. He was staring down at Naruto who was about a head shorter than him. He leant forward, showing her that he wasn't afraid of her threat at all. They were so close that they could feel their breath on each other's face. Sasuke suddenly felt slight panicky. It was that same feeling again as he stared into her eyes. It felt like a kind of spell was cast on him, like he was made to gaze into those bright azure eyes and he found it was difficult to breathe. He took a step back, hoping that he could feel himself again. He inwardly sighed with relief regaining his sense of normality. Whatever that was, he didn't like it at all. It was so frustrating whenever he was around her. If he didn't know better, he'd think that she might be a witch. He grabbed his bento and glared at her before signalling Sai to follow him.

He stopped in front of the door. Sasuke then swivelled and with an accused finger, he said, "You're a Uchiha and Uchiha listens to their head family.I'm the future head of our family, so you should listen to me." He left after that, leaving the class stunned at the piece of information.

Naruto frowned. He wasn't keeping his promise just like the jerk he was; he was already trying to control her life. She sat down, feeling upset. "Hate that teme," she grumbled with downcast eyes, unconsciously pouting. "What's gotten into him? First, he said that he wouldn't control my life and suddenly he said he would. Tsk." She wasn't aware of the surprised gazes that were thrown at her.

When she did notice, it was because Shikamaru suddenly spoke, "I never knew there was a blonde among the Uchiha before." Naruto heaved a tired sigh.'So much for keeping it a secret…'

"Well, now you know there's one who is." She saw Kiba was gawking at her incredulously, "What's wrong, Kibbles-san?"

She waved a hand over his face and he blinked. He was trying to speak, but only gibberish words were muttered out. The brown-haired boy took a deep breath and stared at her with a serious expression. His voice was slightly audible with a tinge of doubt and wonder.

"You're a… Uchiha?"

Chapter Text

Chapter beta-ed by Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

Thursday, 15th November 2007

Inuzuka Kiba couldn't focus in class that day. Not that had he ever paid attention to the lessons before. He was always caught daydreaming about his not-so-little 'puppy', playing tricks on his fellow classmates and teachers too, that earned him an extra week of detention, and doodling dogs on his books all the time. Today, however, he was even more distracted and was so immersed in his own world that he didn't realise that the teacher had called up his name. It was the first time that he wasn't thinking about his beloved dog. His head was filled about a certain blonde Uchiha. Another puzzled line creased his forehead. 'Since when did the Uchiha have a Blondie?'

A slim tin pencil case flew across the room and it landed on Kiba's forehead. The loud contact earned a pained hiss from the boy. There were fits of laughter in class 2A before the teacher shushed them strictly.

"Perhaps Inuzuka-kun can show us how to answer the question?" the maths teacher spoke with a mocking tone, eyeing the boy with obvious dislike.

Kiba groaned inwardly as he dragged himself to the front of the class, scratching his painful bruise. Ebisu-sensei was still mad at him for the prank he pulled on him two weeks ago. It was pretty funny to see how he went running across the field with a girlish, horrified scream, all covered with minced meat, and a huge, frenzied white dog chasing after him with determined vigour. Kiba had wanted to motivate the stubborn, lazy Canine to be more active by chasing a target who happened to be Ebisu-sensei and he had been successful. 'The man had no sense of humour,' he thought. It didn't help that said teacher had a strong dislike for dogs, especially 'that monstrous white demon'.

He grinned at the man apologetically, taking the stylus pen from the unwavering glaring man. Taking a glance at the question on the broad multi-touch electronic blackboard, Kiba stifled a snicker. The teacher had intentionally written a difficult question for him out of spite. Compared to the tyrant of his sister who was adamant to 'mould' him since he was a little boy, Ebisu-sensei didn't seem that scary. It seemed that Ebisu-sensei had forgotten why he was placed into A-Class despite being temporarily expelled from Special Class. It wasn't because of money and status that he had been placed in the A-Class and definitely not to keep face for his demotion. Each class in the school was assembled accordingly to their grades and performances, except for Special Class which was mostly for distinguished family heirs and scholarship students.

A little reminder wouldn't hurt. Kiba swirled on his feet, giving him a cute look at the fuming math teacher after answering the question easily. Ebisu-sensei was bitterly reminded that he was against one of the top twenty students of the esteemed school. Glaring, he snatched the pen from him. He dismissed the boy with a disapproving click with his tongue and grumbled under his breath.

"What's with him?" Naruto mouthed as the grinning Kiba sat down.

He leant closer to her and muttered, "Two weeks ago, I pranked him and got thrown out of S-Class as a detention."

"It must have been really funny," she stifled a laugh. "Wait. S-Class?" she blinked, "You must be really smart."

"Naah. I'm not that smart," Kiba waved his hand dismissively, "The school just want to make the family heirs and scholarship students study harder. Oh, I know you're Uchiha and all, but Sai-senpai said something about you were supposed to be in the S-Class too. Only heir's family and scholarship students are placed into the Special class. You must be really smart." Kiba smiled cheekily as he threw the words back at her. Naruto paled at once. If that was true, she must be placed in S-class only because she was the family heir's wife. She knew she was a good student (what with her grandmother's strict upbringing), but not smart enough to certify as a scholarship student as stated in the school handbook. She wasn't sure if she could get a minimal average of 95 percent marks.

"Um, I'm not sure," she bit her lips worryingly, her voice was barely audible; "My average was 82 percent at Suna I. Honestly, it was a miracle I could maintain that average." Anything theoretical took enormous effort, constant repetition, and infinite patience from her tutor to get through to her. Only by learning by practical means could she absorb things like a sponge.

Kiba huffed and rolled his eyes. "Naruto-san, Suna I is the best school in this continent. There's a good reasons why it's an International school. I wouldn't be surprised if your average is higher here." Naruto glared, feeling annoyed at his exasperated tone but then wondered if he was telling the truth. Konoha was second best compared to her old school. She hoped she could fabricate the real reason she would be entering S-Class with the scholarship student façade she was determined to get soon.

"I want to be a scholarship student too, but I can't waste my free time with more studying and not be with my sweetheart Akamaruuuu…" Kiba sighed dreamily.

"Eh, you're not a scholarship student, Kibbles-san?" Kiba stared at her, finally understanding that she didn't know who he was. He laughed aloud heartily. 'She's interesting,' he mused. To hell with what he thought about the proud family, she was obviously different from the other Uchihas he knew.

Another loud clang and a painful choke later, Kiba sported a bump on his head for the second time that day.


Naruto grimaced. How could she have forgotten?

There were five prestigious families in Japan, one of them was yours truly, the Uchiha. There were four other families, although one of it was a combination of three families; the Yamanaka, Nara and Akamichi or known as the 'Ino-Shika-Cho' who were specialising in pharmaceutical. Then, there was the Sarutobi who were mostly politicians. For three generations, they held their post as the prime minister of the country. Her grandmother was related to the Sarutobi whose Head's brother had married to a Senju and retained his wife's family name. The Hyuuga were Uchiha's business rival and made the best lawyers too. The Hyuuga lawyers worked closely with Sarutobi politicians and anyone who were able to pay the expensive fees for their services.

Lastly, the Inuzuka…

Naruto went red with embarrassment when she realised that Kibbles-san was, in fact, the heir of the well-known special police force, Inuzuka Private Force that had produced many excellent officers. Detective Morino Ibiki was one of their most prized students. They also taught self-defense arts to Konoha and Suna I's students, allowing any of them who were interested and capable enough to work on the force for a period of time. Through their classes, students were taught to instil their 'will of fire,' just as the current president of Japan always said to the people. Some even made a name for themselves before starting into their main career or family business just like Uchiha Itachi. Not to forget, some famous officers like the Senju Jiraiya and his son who took up his old family name instead of Senju: Namikaze Minato.

'Of course,' she rubbed her face in chagrin. Her father had once brought her to meet the Inuzuka family when she was very little. She was lucky that Kibbles didn't remember her as they were very young when they first met. Being the only child and daughter of Japan's famous criminal psychologist who worked alongside with the talented and stringent Detective Morino Ibiki had invited much unwanted attention to her family.

That was why she lived most of her life, especially when she went to the boarding school at Suna, under her Mother's surname, Uzumaki.

She sighed aloud. She missed her family. She closed her eyes, remembering her father's warm smile and her mother's affectionate embrace. It had been more than a week since she last seen them. She already had to spend so little time with them for her safety. Her father had thought it was best for her to live with her grandparents since she was little and then stayed in the dorm in Suna I as Uzumaki Naruto. Unlike Konoha, most citizens in Suna were blonde, red and light brown-haired. She would be passed as just another person's kid there.

She suddenly remembered her grandmother and her eyes watered lightly with sadness. She wondered what Tsunade-baachan was doing now… drinking in the middle of the day she reckoned.

"Naruto-san?" a worried voice broke her train of thoughts and she met the concerned eyes of her friend. "Are you okay?" She then realised that she was in the cafeteria with Kiba. He had paid for her ramen as a welcoming gift which Naruto gladly accepted, twirling once in happiness. Gathering back her emotions, she gave him an assuring grin.

"I'm fine, Kibbles-san," she snickered at his irritated low growl.

"Surprisingly…," she began as she took her chopstick and stirred the noodles in the bowl, humming gratefully at the delicious scent, "this ramen reminds me of Ichiraku Ramen back in Suna. I love Teuchi-san's ramen! He is the best!"

"Ah, that's because his daughter works here," Kiba gestured with his thumb at his back without shifting and Naruto saw her heaven with shimmering eyes: Ichiraku Ramen corner. Not that she would stop searching for more ramen stores around Konoha to compare Ichiraku's with. She gasped when she saw a familiar face and ran towards the young lady behind the counter.

"Ayame-san!" Naruto greeted cheerfully.

"Naru-chan," she said, surprised. "It's so nice to see you. What brings you here to Konoha?"

"I moved here, Ayame-san," Naruto grinned sheepishly. "I'm so happy that you're here! I couldn't bear the thought of not eating Ichiraku ramen ever again when I moved," Naruto chirped, leaning against the counter.

"I hope you'll have a nice time here too, Naru-chan… and for a celebratory present, how does five free ramen coupons sound to you?" Ayame smiled as she waved five coupons at here.

"Five free ramen coupons?!" Naruto gasped disbelievingly, ignoring Kiba who was muttering at her about unhealthy food, "Thank you Ayame-san! I love you!" she threw her arms around her neck. Ayame laughed softly in reply.

"Your ramen is getting cold, Naru-chan," Kiba hollered, stirring the broth with her chopsticks and a mischievous grin on his face, "Since you have soooo many free ramen…." Kiba immediately took quick slurps, trying to finish up before she could push him off. She screamed indignantly, hitting the boy's broad back. Kiba laughed in between his gulps and remarked about her not having an Uchiha's grace at all.

By the time she managed to take the bowl away from him, it was almost empty. Naruto sniffed pitifully until Ayame surprised her by placing a new bowl in front of her and muttered to Kiba that she was charging him for that. Sticking her tongue at Kiba childishly, she broke a new set of chopstick while muttering gratitude to the lady. She ate happily, unaware of displeased raven haired Uchiha who saw it all.

He clicked his tongue in annoyance before leaving, throwing away the crumpled invitation to the student council for a certain blonde. "Stupid dobe."


It felt like she had run a mile.

Kiba chuckled and muttered words of comfort to the girl in his arms. Glaring at him, she tried to ignore the umpteenth stream of sweat falling down her cheek and dripped onto her white uniform shirt. Forming yet another blotch on the cloth. She tightened her grip on his arms, steadying herself properly.

"Are you ready, sunshine? Not too tired for another round, are you?" his baritone voice mocking the fuming blonde.

Her lips thinned at his tone, "I will win this time, Kibbles-san." Naruto smirked when he saw his eye twitched in annoyance at the nickname.

"Says the loser, U-chi-ha, it's 15-0," he sneered and grinned when she glared up at him. He had to admit that she did have the Uchiha glare almost perfected. Suddenly, the Dojo door slid open and Sai appeared with a long raven-haired beauty. Naruto gathered all her strength and tried to flip the boy who suddenly lost his posture upon the sight of the black-haired girl. Naruto cried out a victory cheer and did a small dance. Japan's judo representative champion, who was on the ground with a funny look on his face, had fainted on impact. Shame on him.

"Inuzuka-kun," Hyuuga Hinata gasped softly as she ran toward the unconscious brunette. Naruto spluttered words of apology, helping to tend to her friend. Sai hid a satisfied smirk. He knew that Kiba was reduced into a weak fool whenever the Hyuuga heiress was nearby. Sai ignored the twinge of guilt swelling briefly in his chest for bringing his classmate into the dojo out of revenge. Kiba was conquering Naruto all to himself for the whole day and it wasn't fair. Shrugging his shoulder nonchalantly, he took his shoes off and went to help his juniors to aid the unconscious brunette.


The drive back home was tense. Naruto was silent and Sasuke seemed more annoyed than he usually was. Sai was stuck in between. Deciding to break the tension, Sai decided to talk to the blonde at his side, "Naruto, how was your first day of school?"

Naruto was about to answer when Sasuke suddenly spoke with a mocking tone, startling the other two, "Tsk, brought shame to the Uchiha name, that's what she did."

If look could kill, Sasuke would have burnt to death under her hatred glare. "Well, glad I'm not like someone with a stick stuck in his sorry ass."

Sasuke stared at her disbelievingly. "Why you—" he shifted in his seat, facing her properly, "At least I'm not a pig that gobbles down a bowl of stupid noodle as though they haven't eaten for ages." He mocked an exaggerated act of it, surprising Sai as he had rarely seen the future Head acting so childishly. Uptight yes, but reduced into this elementary level of childishness, never. 'What Naruto can make him do,' he thought in wonder.

Naruto shrilled a retort and Sai sighed dejectedly, rubbing a tired hand on his face. All he wanted was to have a nice conversation with Naruto, probably one that could have made her see him in a new light of romance instead of this obvious friendship, but it always ended up with Naruto and Sasuke fighting and clawing at each other. Sai pressed a button and groaned resignedly at the voice box, "driver, hit the gas." The chauffeur gladly obeyed.

When they arrived home and met Itachi in the hallway, the older Uchiha gave a questioning look to Sai upon seeing three very dishevelled teenagers. Sai who sported a black eye merely held a defeated hand up and muttered, "Please don't ask, aniue." If any of the teenagers bothered to look up, they would have seen a rare albeit small, amused smile graced his usually impassive, handsome face.

What Naruto could do to them…



A little sneak peak to the future...



Saturday, 1st December 2007

The chilly breeze blew hard suddenly, biting the exposed skin on her face and reminding her that it was already December. She shivered and shifted on the bench, trying with her scarf to shield her face from the cruel wind. As much as the fireplace in the living room was inviting, she wanted to be outside of the Uchiha mansion. Her in-laws had been especially nice and loving to her, but the burden to carry the Uchiha name was getting into her. People were expecting her to do something Uchiha-ish all the time, only to be surprised and disappointed that she was nothing like one. Itachi, being the kind onii-chan, had told her that she was perfect as she was, but Sasuke kept condescending to her.

A smile was on her lips when she remembered Itachi gave a hard, painful poke on Sasuke's forehead after that. She knew that Itachi had always favoured her more than Sasuke since they were little, and she giggled at the thought. Naruto watched in fascination on the trail of her warm breath mixed with the cold air. She breathed out even more and trying to catch the wisps of mist in vain. A soft chuckle startled her and she caught sight of an approaching figure at her side.

"Sai-kun…" she acknowledged him and he nodded once to greet her. He took a seat beside her and gazed out at the other end of the Uchiha compound. She waited for him to say something, but he was comfortable watching the snow falling. "Um… what brings you here, Sai-kun?"

He gave her a lopsided smile and turned to look at her. "I could ask the same of you, Naruto-chan." He said knowingly. Her face paled. She prayed she hadn't made it obvious how unhappy she was with her fate, especially not with her marriage to that teme. A soft laughter turned her attention back to her companion. "Don't worry. I feel the same way," he gave her an understanding look and looked at the same spot at the end of the compound, "It's hard, isn't it? … Being an Uchiha."

Naruto gave him a surprised look. She knew about Sai's adoption into the Uchiha main branch as the youngest son, but Sai didn't regret that… or so she had thought.

"I was seven when my parents died in a car crash." She gave a gentle squeeze on his hand and he gave her a sad smile before he continued. "I grew up in a somewhat poor city with my parents and a friend who was like a brother to me. When they died, I was brought into the main branch because my father was Madara-sama's disowned youngest son. I didn't know because my father had never mentioned it. He threw away his family name just so he could marry my mother. My mother apparently wasn't worthy of being an Uchiha bride. She was only a café waitress."

He paused for a moment, swallowing bitterly.

"Madara-sama was against their marriage. At that time, I couldn't have cared less who I'd end up with. All I wanted was to grow up quickly and leave. They said I was cursed because before my parents died, my friend had died too in a freak accident." He closed his eyes, trying to hide the sudden pain that was reflected there. "I am a cursed person, destined to bring misfortune to others," he said in a small voice. Naruto wanted to refute but he looked away from her, indirectly telling her that he didn't want any words of comfort and reassurance. It had been years and he had been young when his parents died, but he could remember enough to feel the pain.

"It was Sasuke-sama who took my hand and declared that 'I shall be his playmate and aide'." Sai paused and smiled as he heard a soft giggle muttering 'typical teme.' Her voice was so sweet to his ears, soothing his pain like a balm to a wound. "The current head of family was furious when Fugaku-sa- chichiue took me into the family registry, but when Sasuke-sama got his say in it, he had to bite his tongue and he reluctantly allowed it." Naruto then understood why Madara ignored Sai completely. She felt upset at the old man, but before she could wrap her mind around his situation, Sai took her hand in his.

"It's okay, Naruto," he smiled, but when Naruto smiled back at him, she then noted how his eyes reflected his feelings.

"You should smile that way, Sai-kun. When you force it, it looks insincere and creepy," her face scrunched a bit and they laughed a little.

"Smiling is easier when you're around, Naruto." he squeezed her hand and his eyes flickered up to her azure eyes, holding her gaze with his. A look of confusion was on her face before it turned to surprise when he suddenly came nearer to her, whispering, "Whenever you're beside me." He took her other hand in his and caressed his thumbs over her clothed fingers. "Naruto," he breathed, his eyes shone with determination, "For a long time I have always—"

"Ah, there you are, dobe," Sasuke suddenly appeared, startling both of them. Naruto and Sai quickly retracted their hands. Naruto in relief and Sai in remorse..

"What do you want, teme?" Naruto spat, hoping that her voice sounded as annoyed as she intended.

"Aniki's searching for you," Sasuke said nonchalantly, taking her hand and dragging her into the house.

"… and you're okay being nii-chan's messenger boy?" she asked dubiously, staring at him in disbelief. She knew how much he hated being ruled over by Itachi and how reluctant he was to do something for him. Sasuke just grunted in reply and tugged her hand harder when she started to drag her feet. Belatedly realising that he was holding her hand, she demanded him to let go. Instead, he quickened his pace, ignoring her demands as he pulled her along into the house. "Teme. I said let go," she grumbled in frustration, struggling to free herself from his tightening grip. She was starting to stumble on her feet, unable to match with his speed. "What's crawled up your ass, teme? Let go!" She suddenly felt scared of his silence and his ironclad grip was getting too painful to bear.

"Sa-Sas'ke!" she cried.

"Naruto?" Itachi called out; his voice laced with concern. Naruto and Sasuke stopped abruptly and turned to look at the older man. He was staring at their linked hands and then at their faces as he approached, "What's going on, Sasuke?"

"Tsk, nothing. Naruto was wearing too little outside and she needed help getting back to her room," Sasuke replied casually, earning an incredulous look from Naruto, and a raised eyebrow from his brother. Itachi eyed Naruto for a while before looking back to Sasuke's impassive face. Naruto was obviously looking warm enough under her plenty of layers of clothes.

"If there is nothing more, we're leaving. Good night, aniki." Stuttering in bewilderment, Naruto was forced to follow.

Itachi shook his head in disappointment. Sasuke was too stubborn and spoilt. He blamed it on their grandfather who always gave into his every wish. When he passed by the window overlooking the garden, he saw Sai sitting down dejectedly and alone. Rubbing his forehead due to an oncoming migraine, he muttered under his breath about having such difficult and stubborn little brothers. Taking a glance at his watch, he noted he had time for a short detour. Walking silently towards the youngest sibling, he called his name.

Sai turned around and was surprised to see him. "Aniue," Sai greeted, bowing slightly. "What can I do for you?" Hiding speculative scrutiny behind an impassive façade, he informed the young boy of the plentiful yet wasteful momen-tofu for dinner they had earlier and that their mother was about to request the maid. Sai's eyes widened slightly in horror, thinking that his favourite dish was about to be thrown out and quickly excused himself to the kitchen.

Itachi chuckled quietly. Of course, Itachi knew that their mother would request the maid to keep the leftovers for Sai, but what fun would it be if he told him so.

"Baka otouto-tachi."


Upon arriving at Sasuke's room, Sasuke shoved Naruto in and locked his door after entering himself. Naruto nearly stepped on Kyuubi who had happened to wander into Sasuke's room through the adjoining bathroom. "What. The. Hell. Teme?" Naruto shouted, emphasizing each word with an angry glare. "Niichan was searching for me, huh? Great story." Naruto raised both of her hands mockingly.

Sasuke let out a long, exasperated sigh, his back was still facing her. "Whatever," he muttered, turning towards his bed and gave an irritated look at the cat. "Get that demon out of my room," he snapped.

"Kyuubi's not a demon, you are. Rude bastard." Naruto retorted. Picking up her cat, she cradled the orange furball and scratched its head lovingly, "Just in case you have forgotten, we had an agreement. We are to mind our own business. I'd appreciate it if you don't talk to me much, especially in school. If possible, at - all." She then walked towards the bathroom door and entered her room without waiting for Sasuke's answer. Hearing the soft click the bathroom door closing, Sasuke let out another suffering sigh.

He was so confused and being around Naruto was making the confusion even worse. When he went to the garden to find for the blonde, he didn't expect to see her with company. What dampened his mood further was how closely Sai was sitting next to her, and that she was smiling so much. He wanted to drag her away, although he didn't know why he wanted to. When he accidentally listened in—he was NOT eavesdropping—to their conversation, he had a strong urge to duck away from their vision and hid behind the tree. Upon hearing their conversation, Sasuke felt ashamed for feeling annoyed at his adopted younger brother. He flinched slightly when he was addressed as 'Sasuke-sama'. He wouldn't mind if Sai called him by his name. It would be even better if Sai called him 'nii-san', after all they were his family and he was their beloved younger brother. Even Itachi had tried to break his habit and told him to be warmer as family, but Sai—

Sasuke's eyes widened when he heard the tone how Sai spoke Naruto's name. He swivelled and saw the determination glinted in his brother's eyes. Sasuke had known that Sai had liked Naruto for a very long time. That was why he always sent him away to their relative's place whenever Naruto came for a visit from Suna. He knew that he wasn't jealous either—of course, he was an Uchiha after all. Uchihas didn't need to feel envious; they were to be envious of. Possessive, yes, Naruto was his very first friend after all and Sasuke didn't like to share.

He didn't mind sharing many things with his siblings, but definitely not Naruto. It was upsetting how much Naruto adored Itachi. Just the mention of his name would send her bouncing happily towards his aniki. He was the first person who found the dobe, dammit.

Seeing how Sai leaning towards Naruto and taking her hands into his, Sasuke didn't like that burning feeling in his chest. Uchihas were possessive after all, especially one Uchiha Sasuke. And… even if the said possession was his only-in-contract-wife whom they had a mutual understanding of minding their own—

Oh hell no, Sasuke swiftly left his hiding place and came into view, "Ah, there you are, dobe." Sasuke didn't care if he had crossed the line. There was no line in the first place.

Just lines that would bend to his every wish.



53 days before Uchiha Sasuke falls in love
391 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love



The three-year-old girl was playing happily in the garden of the Uchiha Manor, hiding among the thick bushes of flowers and under a shady tree. Her two blonde ponytails bounced to her enthusiastic paces. Her blue dress was smudged with dirt from wiping her hands. Her tongue stuck out at the side in concentration, carefully placing a trident-like stick she'd proudly found. And with that her mud castle was completed.

A cute grin was on her face and she clapped happily at her masterpiece. She told the butterflies flying by about her success and then gushed to a green caterpillar she saw munching on a leaf. She showed it to the frog she found under the bushes but it leapt from her small hands, startling her and she fell on her bottom with a loud 'eep'.

"Naru alright?" a concerned voice asked and the little Namikaze turned to look. Her blue eyes narrowed when one of the many rivulets of sunlight passing through the shady tree blinded her momentarily. She saw in momentary haziness, a shadow of a boy, holding out his hand to her.

"Sash'ke?" Naruto took his hand and stood up on her feet, feeling confused with his rare display of kindness. The four-year-old Uchiha had been quite a bully most of the time.

"W-why ish Sash'ke here?" Naruto head tilted in befuddlement, a finger was on her pouted lips. The sight would make any young mothers to coo in adoration.

"Um, I… nii-san is searching for you," Sasuke spoke quickly, rocking on his heels and avoiding her innocent gaze guiltily. His face burned red, secretly liking the attention he got from her.

From the top of the tree, the said Uchiha had an elegant eyebrow rose, shaking his head in disappointment at his foolish otouto for being a little liar. He would teach him a lesson for lying later.

Sasuke had been looking forward to the Namikaze family coming. Even if he had many other Uchiha who were willing to play with him, none of them would be as entertaining company as Naruto. So, the little Uchiha had felt quite devastated when she disappeared right after lunch. He had been searching for her high and low but couldn't find her until he heard a chime of giggles from the garden as he passed by.

"Weally?" she asked, blinking her large blue eyes, "let's find Ita-nii togethwer, Sash'ke." She grabbed both of his hands in hers and smiled pleasantly. She was very fond of Itachi who was deemed her most favourite nii-chan ever. She was about to drag him along, but Sasuke stopped her attempt.

"N-no, Naru-chan, nii-san's …um, busy."

Itachi made a mental note to prank him for a week. Naruto then looked disappointed.

"… It's okay. We will see him later, ne?" Sasuke pacified her quickly and mumbled that she could play with him instead. She brightened up at the idea. Her cheerful smile was so intense that his heart started to beat rapidly and he felt light-headed. He was so scared of that feeling. Without meaning to, he pushed her hard that she fell down again. It was so sudden that she went rigid for a while. It wasn't until he was gone, running into the house as fast as his little feet could muster and the pain was too much, that she started to cry.

Itachi crouched down to her side at once, gently whispering to her words of comfort as she clung to him. She didn't understand what she did to deserve Sasuke's 'meanie' treatment. Whatever it was, Itachi made up his mind to triple the punishment. He didn't want his brother to grow up into a stubborn, spoiled brat after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter beta-ed by Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

 

Uchiha Naruto was in a grave danger.

God no, she wasn't physically hurt or suffering from any systemic diseases. As a matter of fact, she was alone and safe in an empty classroom. The last bell had rung an hour ago and she had yet to join any extracurricular club. Instead, she decided to stay put in the classroom, waiting for Sasuke-teme and Sai to finish up with whatever activities they had. She glowered at the past year examination papers before her, sinking dejectedly into her seats as she read on. Her future looked bleak as she leafed through the pages. "The standard's not that high, eh?" she moaned pitifully, massaging her aching forehead, "Damn you, Kibbles-san."

"What did I do?" Kiba wondered aloud, suddenly appearing beside her. Naruto shrieked in fright and blushed, her pride dented. She punched his arm when he laughed heartily. Dragging a chair to sit beside her, he eyed the papers on her table, "So, what'cha doing?"

She ignored him and focused on one of the papers which belonged to 'Uchiha Sai.' She massaged her aching right shoulder, grimacing at the memory of a dusty rose-haired girl whom Naruto was sure had purposefully given her a harsh shoulder bump during lunch time. When Naruto swivelled with a scowl on her face, she swore she saw a wicked smirk and emerald eyes gleaming dangerously. With a loud despondent sigh, she scattered the paper off her table and dropped her head down with a painful thud.

"I'm doomed," she groaned, thumping the desk with her head repeatedly. "You – are – a – damn – liar - Kibbles," she growled every syllable after each thud.

Kiba chuckled aloud, placing a comforting hand in between the abused table and her aching forehead. "Aww… pity the table…" he empathically patted on the table, earning an incredulous stare from the fuming girl. Holding out two placating palms towards her, he grinned apologetically at her, "Okay, okay, pray tell why I am a liar?" He was a little unnerved by her piercing glare. She might not look like a typical Uchiha but that glare was a classic Uchiha 'death-threat' glare. Dealing with a raging storm of extreme emotions that was his elder sister for life, he had been, at least, able to weather an irate Naruto a bit.

"You told me that the standard isn't that hard. I can't get into S-Class if this is how it is…" Naruto sobbed, gesturing to the strewn paper around them.

Kiba breathed a sigh of relief, collecting a few papers off the floor and giving them a scrutiny, "Oooh, yeah. This is special class' standard. That's why it's a very small class compared to the regular classes." He glanced up to meet her eyes, "Why would you want to go to S-Class? It's a lot less stressful being in the regular program, ya know? Honestly, I feel quite rewarded being demoted to A-Class even if it is for a while." He shrugged before gathering the rest of the papers off the floor.

Kiba wondered why Sai-senpai had thought she was supposedly in S-Class. He contemplated whether he should talk to Shikamaru later, knowing how that lazy bum was a sucker for mysteries and puzzles, and Naruto was both mysterious and puzzling. Albeit, how privileged special class students were, most people would rather be in the regular program than the wicked accelerated program. Even he would rather be in the regular program than the accelerated one. Everything was one or few notches higher and the curriculum was the same standard as Suna International's best classes. He knew she would do nicely in A-Class, but the S-Class was strictly for exceptional scholarship students, the heirs, and the heir's family members to meet the high expectations of the distinguished families.

Obviously, Naruto wasn't Sasuke's sister or god forbid his wife, what with the way they hated each other. They were only teenagers for god's sake and it was the 21st century! He knew the Uchiha family was old-fashioned but not THAT much, right? Anyway, it didn't make sense for the prideful and traditional Uchiha to adopt someone so vibrant and already in their teens. She wasn't a scholarship student either because she wasn't wearing a badge for it and in the right class. On top of that, she transferred into the school half-way through the second semester, a few weeks after the midterms, which such transfer almost unheard of. He was getting more intrigued as to what Shikamaru would deduce from this. He was, after all, the smartest yet dreadfully laziest Nara produced in a century.

"Well…" Naruto trailed with downcast eyes. She had convinced Sai last night to make the school administration place her in A-Class for this semester. She vowed that when she entered the advanced class, it was under the guise of a scholarship student instead of the heir's family member. She didn't want anyone to know that she was married to the bastard. Her life would have more freedom that way. "I thought I would like to try? You'll be back there next week, right? You're my friend and I like us being classmates too, Kibbles-san," she reasoned, smiling genuinely at him. That was half the reason she wanted to enter the advanced class.

Kiba stilled for a second, regaining his composure quickly and placed the stack of papers in front of her. He felt warm inside, feeling honoured that she would go through such lengths for their new friendship. A lot of people wanted to take advantage of him because he was the heir of the powerful special police force. He had been the victim of many kidnappings and murder attempts since he was two. It wasn't hard to see Naruto's sincerity and he immediately included Naruto in his small circle of precious people. The less the precious people he had, the less reason for there to be any blackmailing and agony for him by his enemies. He had to keep them safe, meaning he had to train harder, even if he was already almost as skilful as Detective Morino Ibiki and the prodigy Uchiha Itachi. He wanted to be the best among the best before taking over the force.

His brown eyes briefly steeled with determination. When he met Naruto's azure eyes, his eyes illuminated with trust and mirth. "Just Kiba-Kibbles is fine," he chuckled, shaking his head while feeling amused at the bizarre nickname. "We're friends, right?" he beamed at her and her eyes widened with happiness. "We still could hang out even if we're in different classes," his voice didn't sound as convincing as it was before. The thought of her being in the class would make the advanced program feel less suffocating and more entertaining.

"Naruto, then," she laughed softly, "Hmm… If we never try, we'll never know," she grinned, giving him a challenging look.

Laughing gaily, he pushed his sleeves up to the elbow and solemnly spoke, "We have two weeks before finals and if you cannot keep up with my teachings, you better give up early while you're able, fish cake…" Naruto bristled a little at the epithet, but then she punched the air with a victory cry. He pondered briefly if his sister's sadistic teaching style would suit Naruto just like it did him and decided that since they were both alike, it would.

"Welcome to hell, Uchiha Naruto." Naruto nearly gulped aloud at the foreboding tone of his voice.

.

Sasuke stood in the corridor at another side of the building, facing her classroom. He didn't understand what he was feeling and decided to ponder on it for a while. It was something he couldn't put a finger on, familiar yet not, all whirling in a vortex of confusion. Confusion, he mused, was something that he usually associated with Naruto as far as he could remember. That, and a lot of endless annoyance. But, she was his annoyance and only his. He scowled at the thought of anyone who would think that they were worthy enough to be her friend or had the audacity to address themselves as one. As far as he knew, he was her first and only friend, despite how severly reluctant he was to admit that. He believed that that stupid-looking guy was delusional, thinking that he could be Naruto's friend when in fact he most definitely wasn't Naruto's friend.

How dare that dog-faced idiot touch her hand so casually like that! "Like anyone else has rights to her," he sneered quietly; thinking how since he was there first, she was his by rights. He was known for being very possessive of his things. That included his important people, his favorite navy blue shirts, his favorite books, his favorite socks, that small patch of tomato plants grown in the garden, that window seat in the corner of the music room where he could sit and listen to Sai's piano play, his favorite and only younger brother, and even irksome people like Naruto and Itachi. It was because he believed that she belonged to him that he had accepted the arranged marriage. There was no difference at all to him, be it a wife or an annoying friend. In his opinion, the marriage would only strengthen his point that Naruto was his and he had been there first. They were all useless, but very convenient papers, anyway.

He scrutinised hard, trying to understand those exasperating bouts of spiralling emotions as he observed how Naruto was talking so animatedly and smiled that smile to that idiot-looking guy. He mocked a gag when the word 'dazzling' came across his mind and swore colourfully. How that word could be associated with someone as irritating as Naruto was beyond him. He remembered once when he was younger he had informed that thought to his older brother with a dark look and evil tone. Itachi had stared at him with a rare expression which he believed was a 'disbelieving look'. Aniki had heaved a heavy sigh while smacking his forehead with his hand. For the first time, he used the word 'very' before the usual reprimand of 'foolish otouto' sans the habitual affectionate flick on his forehead. 'How insulting!'

Of course, when Naruto and Sasuke agreed on minding their own business, Sasuke meant that Naruto could do anything she liked as long as there was no one else other than him or their family or just herself or even that demon-cat. Certainly, Naruto had mutually agreed on that because he was doing the exact same thing as her loyal first friend. He reckoned that there was such rule as a 'first-friend' rule somewhere in the world. He just hadn't found it yet.

When he saw Sai enter Naruto's classroom and inform her that they were leaving, he snarled at Naruto's bright grin towards someone who was NOT him and stormed to their awaiting car. He decided it was that idiotic Naruto's fault that he was upset. She betrayed him, after all. 'It was always her fault anyway.'

When Sasuke had stormed away, the door nearby clicked open. A pretty dusty rose-haired girl covertly stared outside at Sasuke, twisting her long hair with her bright emerald eyes narrowed with contempt at the blonde-haired girl who was busy packing her things while happily chattering to one of the school's princes, Inuzuka Kiba. She wondered how such a mundane girl like her could be a Uchiha and had, not one, but three princes dancing in the palm of her hands.


At times like this, Uchiha Itachi envied his closest friend and cousin, Shisui. He was the only child in his family, a brilliant doctor and grandfather's third favourite grandson (after himself, of course). More importantly, he was the only child in his family.

Oh, did he mention that twice? He must have thought about it redundantly.

He sliced a small piece of his lamb chop, medium-rare as he liked it, with ease and the luscious juice flowed out and pooled a little around the meat. As he nudged his fork into it and politely guided into his mouth, a spoonful of mashed potato shot over his plate and landed not far from him. He continued eating, unmindful of the situation he was in. He ate on, gracefully and nobly as he had trained since he was very little.

A scream later, the tablecloth was roughly tugged away. Itachi swiftly took his plate and placed it gently on the table again, sans the cloth. The disappointment of not being able to save his drink, which was spilling all over the place, was felt fleetingly before he continued munching again.

Sometimes, he wished he was an only child. However, he would never trade his two little brothers and his little sister (-in-law) for the world. He loved them so much and they were precious to him. Only at times like this that he wished he was alone. Before he could contemplate further, a soaring jug swiped his plate off the table and he delicately wiped his mouth with a napkin. He was about to call the butler for another glass of wine when a wine bottle rolled towards him. He nimbly removed the cork and he caught a glass flute that sailed over him. He could feel the pleading eyes of his youngest brother boring into him before the boy was dragged off by the collar and managed to defend an oncoming punch with his forearms. Itachi chose not to acknowledge him, just like how he chose not to acknowledge the battlefield that was fiercely going on in the dining hall.

He stirred his wine slowly, taking small sips in between. Even when a few droplets of vegetable broth splattered on his cheek and suit, he kept on drinking, unflinching, like nothing had happened.

"…A-aniue…," Sai pitifully pleaded again with that faltering fake smile. Sai blocked another hit and punched Sasuke in the face. Unfortunately, Sasuke dodged and it landed on Naruto instead. His eyes bulged out in horror and he apologised profusely, jumping away from being swiped by Sasuke again.

Itachi reluctantly admitted that they were getting better with their jujutsu. He made a mental note to have a one-on-one with his brothers. However, he didn't have the heart to fight with Naruto. In his eyes, she was always the fragile, sweet little sister, albeit notoriously loud and devastatingly mischievous. He picked up the napkin again and patted gently on his lips and his cheek.

Sasuke managed to get Naruto in a headlock and she struggled for a while before Sai came to rescue her. It was a futile attempt because Naruto elbowed a hard jab to Sasuke's rib, causing him to cry out in pain and loosened his iron grip.

Itachi stood up from his chair, fastening the button of his shirt and ignoring the few extra slops of sauce on his very expensive suit. The dinner was pleasant and he nodded at the bowing butler. A plate flew past him and crashed into the wall as he walked calmly out of the dining hall. Father and Mother weren't home that night. They were invited over to their friend's house for dinner. Another crash came behind him as he paced down the corridor, away from the shrieks and scuffles. After a safe distance, he let out a heavy sigh of frustration.

He felt disappointed with Sasuke for being a very foolish little brother. He felt exasperated with Sai for still being distant and formal, calling him 'aniue' when he had told him many times to call him 'aniki' or better yet 'Nii-chan'. So what if he had a small sibling complex, he coughed lightly. He was troubled how Sai always put on a fake smile, which was extremely disturbing, and Itachi had tried in vain to break the habit. He wasn't blind to Sai's feelings towards Naruto either. He just wished that Sai would realise that it was hopeless and would use his brilliant mind to notice that Sasuke was very possessive of Naruto even if the person himself wasn't aware the nature of it. Didn't Sai read any of the manga with the tsundere main characters he'd bought for him?

What foolish little brothers Itachi had. Both were equally troublesome. Itachi clicked his tongue, feeling disheartened.

He was upset with Naruto for not calling him for help when she knew well that he would come to her rescue and happily cuff on his cute little brothers' heads if she asked. He didn't want to be there when their mother got home later to see the dining hall was a wreck. The usually gentle kaa-san was scary when she was angry. Itachi decided to change into his pyjamas and stay in his room instead. Perhaps if kaa-san found him sleeping, she would think that he was unaware of what had transpired in the dining hall. Being the second eldest, Sasuke would definitely be severely punished instead. Sai would get a gentler reprieve from their mother as he was the youngest. He knew Naruto would be safe because their mother adored her very much and would only get a little scolding from her. It was obvious how much kaa-san had wanted a daughter and Naruto was her dream come true. Nodding pleasingly, he stuck to his plan. With all the headaches Sasuke had caused him lately, he would plan for a lesson or revenge or prank,depending on who was asking.

"Hn, extremely foolish otouto."


Monday, 3rd December 2007

Did the world end already and she was now burning in hell?

Naruto was awfully convinced that she was in hell. The hell was the new daily set for every subject's question sheet and the Lucifer himself was the grinning brown-haired sadist, staring down at her with an evil gleamed in his eyes. She grudgingly pressed yesterday's question sheets into his extended hand, glaring at him. Her lips pursed when he started to chuckle and looked amused. "I have to say that I'm impressed you lasted this long, Naru-chan. I wish you luck for the finals tomorrow…" he smirked as he took a seat across the table. The classes ended a while ago and most students went back home to study. Kiba and Naruto mutually agreed on staying back for four hours for her tutoring every weekday and went to Kiba's house with Sasuke (because the teme insisted!) over the weekend.

Kiba dramatically 'unsheathed' his red pen from his pocket, pointing valiantly to the sky and twirled it around his fingers as he propped his elbow on the table. With a click of pen's cap, he gave her another playful grin and began marking her paper. Naruto wasn't amused at all and merely glowered at the brunette-haired boy with a pout. "As thankful as I am, I will seek vengeance against you, Kibbles," Naruto vented but her tone devoid of the infliction. She had to admit, albeit resentfully that within that period of hellish tutoring, she really did improve very much.

"Hmm… spoken like a true Uchiha," he hummed pleasantly, nodding his head as he marked on.

"That's not true," Naruto grimaced. "We, Uchiha, do not do 'vengeance,'" she quoted, grinning widely. "It is 'beneath us.' It is, however, 'ethical to reply adequately for the effort given to us.' An Uchiha must show that they are benevolent and are revered.'"

Kiba burst out laughing. "Are you serious?!" he held his stomach, laughing hysterically. Naruto, who couldn't contain her amusement, laughed aloud too. "Which era did the Uchiha came from?" He howled gleefully, "This is the 21st century for god's sake!" He fell on the floor, laughing boisterously as tears trailed down his cheeks. They laughed until they were out of breath, feeling light-headed. Kiba sprawled on the floor, rubbing tears from his face. Naruto slumped over the table, feeling slightly rueful that she had laughed so much that she believed she just lost all two weeks effort of studying. She began plucking the air and pretended to 'consume' the imaginary pieces of 'knowledge' that she had lost.

Just a floor below Class 2-A was Class 3-A on the ground floor. However, two 3-S students had decided to study in that empty classroom right below where Naruto's was. They both stared incredulously at the ceiling, wondering what the eff was so hilarious that their juniors were laughing their butts off.

Sasuke looked apparently livid and jealous, not that Sai noticed as he was feeling the same too, only much subtler. Ever since the dobe came back home two weeks ago, the tension between them had multiplied. She told them over dinner that she would be studying with that infuriating baka-zuka, and planned to go to his place during the weekend. The moment she addressed that baka-zuka by his name so casually, Sasuke had snapped and lunged at her. Sai tried to break them off, only to be dragged into the scuffle. That sly Itachi managed to get away unscathed, and he had to brave their mother's petrifying fury.

Kaa-san stared at him disapprovingly and scolded him that as the eldest in the room, he had to set a good example as a proper Uchiha. She sternly reminded him that he had responsibilities and an image to uphold as the future head and kept stressing about how disappointed she was with him. He was even lectured on what a horrible husband he was to Naruto and being a good husband was to respect her.

Sasuke mentally gagged.

Since the butler had cleared up the broken glass, Sasuke was punished to clean up the leftover mess from the dining hall. Kaa-san even told him that his beloved PS3® was confiscated for the weekend. Sasuke paled upon hearing that and mourned for his newly bought Assassin's Creed®game that had just hit the city store today. When Sai decided to take the blame, Sasuke gave his little brother a sharp cuff on his head and told him that it was his own fault. Sasuke received a hard slap on the back of his head in return from their mother, scolding him not to mistreat the youngest, which made Sai flinch with guilt. It exasperated Sasuke that Sai valued himself beneath the Uchiha. He tried to make him be a part of his family. Even his strict Tou-san had gently admonished Sai when he called him 'Fugaku-sama,' and told him to address him as 'Tou-san' just as Sasuke did. Sai chose to call him, 'Chichiue' instead.

He became Sasuke's aide when they were younger only because he didn't like how unjustly his beloved grandfather had treated the boy. Sasuke didn't like the emptiness in Sai's eyes and his forced smile. He bristled how he addressed his Jii-chan so distantly as 'Uchiha-sama'. He immediately told his father to adopt Sai into their family. He didn't care how unwilling Jii-chan had been and how proud Tou-san was of him.

Kaa-san placed a kind hand on Sai's shoulder, looking at him sternly. She only told him that she wasn't pleased with what had happened, but was proud of him because he had tried to pacify them, albeitly in vain. He was punished with accompanying her for grocery shopping tomorrow morning, which didn't sound like a punishment to Sasuke because he knew how much Sai adored their mother. Sasuke bet that Sai didn't realise that his usually wide fake smile was always gentle and sincere when he was around her.

Kaa-san then turned towards Naruto and Sasuke smiled gleefully. He couldn't wait to learn what his mother had for her. He nearly rubbed his hands in anticipation. Naruto flinched when Kaa-san stood in front of her, crestfallen and ashamed. His unfair mother took Naruto's hands in hers lovingly and told her, in a gentle yet strict voice that only a mother could use how she hoped that it wouldn't happen again. Kaa-san allowed her to study with that baka-zuka and temporarily exempted her from doing the chores for him until finals ended. She was then told to go to bed after giving her a goodnight kiss on her forehead.

Sasuke scowled at the injustice happening in his life.



51 days before Uchiha Sasuke falls in love
389 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love


Friday, 7th December 2007

It was her doomsday.

She could hardly feel her shaking legs, which were supporting her weight. Her heart was pounding frantically, as fast as a Shinkansen (bullet train). She didn't realise that her teeth were chattering aloud and she twisted the edge of her uniform blouse between her fingers. "Stop that, Naruto," Kiba slapped her shoulder lightly with an exasperated sigh. "Have faith in yourself. You did superbly on my assignments, especially that last one. I honestly didn't think you would exceed my expectations." He patted her shoulder sagely, humming contentedly to himself.

A few girls appeared beside them, blushing and shyly approaching them. A long-haired girl with blond highlights bashfully stood in front of them as her friends pushed her forward with words of encouragement. Kiba subtly nudged on Naruto, grinning proudly with a wiggling eyebrow. He knew Naruto found it annoying when he relished in his popularity just to spite her. Naruto mouthed 'second' to him, smirking when Kiba childishly stuck his tongue out. Naruto couldn't understand why Sasuke was so famous when he was such a jerk.

"I-Inuzuka-kun..." the girl muttered, chewing on her lower lip shyly. Kiba smiled benignly in reply. Suddenly, a sharp whistle blasted repeatedly, making many people jump with fright.

"OFFENDERSSS!" an angry voice roared as more whistling shrilled towards them. Naruto smacked her head, belatedly remembering the notorious fan club. Upon seeing a group of girls with the red and white band on their upper arm, she pinched her nose to lessen her headache. The girls near Kiba paled immediately when a dusty rose-haired girl strutted and stared condescendingly at the girls. Naruto thought that she and Sasuke would suit each other very much.

"Now, now, Haruno-senpai," Kiba began, trying to placate the older girl, only to receive a sharp glare instead. She cleared her throat, crossing her hands on her small breast to make them looked ample (in vain).

"It's Sakura to you, Kiba-kun," Haruno Sakura spoke sweetly as she batted her eyes at him. Kiba stroke the back of his neck uncomfortably, humming affirmatively with great reluctance. "Don't you worry, Kiba-kun, you're not at wrong at all. I hope we can talk soon," she beamed playfully, patting his forearm.

She pierced Naruto with an icy stare and a graceful fling of her long stylish hair before she swirled away, snapping her fingers. The 'offenders' followed her reluctantly, followed by the rest of her clique. There was a complete silence in the school front compound, sparing a few chirping birds and rustling leaves, even a whole minute after the group had left. "Huh, a maelstrom that one is," Naruto snorted, breaking the stillness. A few other students murmured in agreement and everyone went back to their own routines.

"Pfft, I thought that was you," Kiba snickered, earning a scoff from the girl.

"I hope those girls are okay, though," Naruto muttered, tapping a worried finger on her chin.

"Haruno-senpai is really scary," Kiba said gravely.

"As much as it is convenient… but to punish anyone who approaches the…," Naruto frowned slightly as she spoke, "…'princes' is a tad too much, no? I mean, they were just talking. Not like they were jumping you or anything," Naruto shrugged nonchalantly when Kiba hid a growing blush behind a hacking cough.

"Who are they to dictate who you can talk or be friends with?" Naruto grimaced, remembering how she was harshly cornered one day and interrogated severely about her relationship with Kiba. They had screamed in rage and pulled her hair when she had spoken his name without a suffix. Luckily, Kiba came to convince Haruno that Naruto was his friend and pleaded her to spare her.

"She was just being cautious," Kiba gave her an apologetic smile when Naruto scoffed, "I've known her since we were in middle school. She knew how hard my childhood was and what I faced. I know that she has my best interest at heart, but… sometimes, she can be quite overwhelming." With a heavy sigh, Kiba continued, "Sakura-san is a good person despite her scary and obsessive personality."

"Obsessive indeed," Naruto agreed, appearing resigned. Kiba laughed aloud heartily.

"Yeah, her lifelong goal is to get married to that Uchiha Sasuke. She's crazy about him." Naruto blanched, wondering what Haruno Sakura would do if she found out that the teme was already married to her. Mentally shrugging, she reckoned that it was his own business to have an affair, not that she cared anyway. Their marriage was merely a façade.

"Ooooh, they are posting our results!" Kiba cheered. Naruto paled again, shaking with anxiety. Why she had signed up for the advanced class final exam was beyond her, she fretted mentally. She regretted every minute of her insanity, believing that she had a chance for a scholarship. There were only two special scholarship students in the second year S-Class of nine people, including the ever-procrastinator Shikamaru. She knew she had failed horribly and excruciatingly. She barely felt Kiba tugging her towards the notice board. Closing her eyes shut and gathering her courage, she stared at the S-Class result list. She gasped when she saw Kiba's name was at the top.

"WHOA! KIBA! YOU!" she gawked incredulously as she pulled on his sleeve and pointing at the board. It took him a moment to collect himself before he scratched his head distractedly.

"I…I guess since we studied together, I was ….improving too…?" he was still in a daze as he blinked at the result.

"Wow, I beat Shika. I actually beat that lazy genius Nara Shikamaru! Woohoo!" Kiba did a little victory dance and drummed enthusiastically on Shikamaru's shoulder when he appeared beside them. Shikamaru didn't look agitated. He was moving languidly and shrugged. "I'm a genius! Hana will be sooooo proud of me!" Kiba cried, punching his fists in the air as Naruto muttered, 'sister-complex'.

"Meh," Shikamaru sighed idly, "I guess I wasn't trying at all."

That was saying something, Naruto thought. Shikamaru didn't even try, not even lifting a finger to be in the current second place of their batch. Even his assignments were miraculously completed and handed in a day before the deadline. No one knew how or when he took the initiative and time to do them. Some believed that he paid people to do it for him.

Staring at the board, Shikamaru noted that he was only one mark off from Kiba's score. "I guess I'll try next time," he mumbled and left a heavy apprehensive atmosphere behind him.

"D-D-Did I-I-I j-j-j-just m-m-motivate S-Shika t-to s-study?!" Kiba stuttered a while after and whimpered pitifully with dawning fear. Naruto merely nodded her head slowly. Her eyes were still glued on where Shikamaru had disappeared as she gaped, didn't even hear Sai congratulate her and pat proudly on her shoulder. Everyone knew that once a Nara got serious, that spelt apocalypse.

"What have I done…" Kiba whimpered frightfully.

Chapter Text

Chapter beta-ed by Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

Sunday, 9th December 2007

It was one of the most secluded places she could find.

Away from the murmur of the family gathering, away from the clinking champagne glasses, away from the rustling sound of expensive suits and glamorous dresses, away from the soft strums of the small musical ensemble, and away from the unfamiliar expectant faces who wanted her to act a part of the family. She held back a sob and sighed dejectedly as she watched the snow falling through the glassed windows in the music room. The sky was dark and she watched as snow piled up with the help of the dimly glowing light posts around the huge compound.

She was jealous—jealous of the falling crystals of ice. It looked so serene and free as it gravitated to the ground and settled on every surface that caught its descent. So serene and free, unlike her.

She hesitated for a while, shifting in the seat of the music room before opening one of the windows. There was a brief susurrus of rustling leaves before an icy gust rushed in, grazing almost harshly on her bare face and shoulders. She felt some strands of her styled blonde hair dance with the draught and settle down again. Shivering, she tightened the shawl around her and arranged her dress so that it covered her as much as it could. She looked outside again, slowly holding out a hand and ignoring the sharp coldness biting on her skin. She waited for a while until a stray snowflake landed on her palm, but it melted immediately. Chuckling bitterly, she thought that even the beautiful, pure snowflake didn't like her touch, even though she understood the science behind it.

"Naruto?" a voice called out, his tone soaked with uncertainty. Uchiha Naruto immediately retracted her hand and silently shut the window. She had her back to him, trying hard to gather herself together again as she heard his heels clicked towards her. "Naruto? Wha—"

"Got bored waiting, teme," she sighed aloud, putting on a bored expression. She didn't meet Sasuke's probing gaze, opting to look at the lone piano in the middle of the room instead. She suddenly felt a pang of homesickness, remembering her own piano. She missed her parents, her friends in Suna, and mostly, her grandparents. She practically grew up with Jiraiya and Tsunade and it felt quite surreal to be away from them for so long. Even when she was in Suna, she always came back to their place over the weekend and spent her holidays in their house. She even missed her weekly ride with Itachi and he always stayed for dinner with them before driving back to his home.

Blinking, she reined in her feelings. "Your Jii-chan's coming, right?" she smiled briefly and gave Sasuke, her husband only by paper, a confused look at his sudden motionless. Ignoring his unreadable look, Naruto motioned benignly, "Let's go." She walked towards the door and out to the corridor without waiting for Sasuke's affirmation. The merry sound of the small party was getting louder with each pace and she found it was getting harder to breathe. Closing her eyes as she walked down the familiar corridor, she took a few calming breaths. She reminded herself to brave every upcoming painful gesture and remark, and comforted herself with the thought that becoming an Uchiha meant safety, even if it was at the cost of losing her chance of having true love, happiness, and freedom. She wasn't as lucky as her parents as they had married out of love.

She admired the way they smiled at each other, how they briefly touched each other's hand or cheek and stole kisses while they were doing chores, the way her father made her mother laugh, and how he looked at her whenever she retold how her day went. Before Naruto got married, she had a sleepover at her parents' house at least once every two months. When her parents thought she was asleep, she would sometimes peek into the hall, watching them with love and envy as they danced slowly to the alluring subtle tune of the radio. They spoke in soft voices, laughed quietly at every tease and joke, twirled and kissed.

Just like every naïve teenage girl, she wished for such love, only to have her dream slam shut in her face when her beloved grandmother told her about the arranged marriage to Sasuke on her 16th birthday. She understood the reasons she had to marry him: for her grandmother's wish and for her safety. Her father had looked relieved yet miserable when she became a Uchiha, kissing her forehead and telling her that she would be safer with Sasuke than with them. Her mother had cried, saying that she felt remorseful that she didn't have much time with her little girl growing up and now, Naruto belonged to someone else.

Naruto cringed, acutely aware that her parents didn't understand her misery, especially when her father told her that she was too young to understand and to take everything with Sasuke slowly. She doubted they would ever be more than just childhood friends. Her father didn't understand her at all, she thought bitterly.

She liked Sasuke's family very much. Fugaku and Mikoto were warm and kind to her, just like every married girl's ideal in-laws. Itachi was someone she had clung to and looked up to as an older sibling since she was little, for love and support in her parents' absence. Sasuke was someone she practically grew up with, a childhood friend who understood her despite his teme-ish attitude at times, someone she viewed more as a family member than as a lover. She loved him as a precious friend (hated him as such too), fought with him when he acted condescendingly, and teased him when he was being playful, but that was what he was to her: a friend. Not even a boyfriend. All of a sudden, her friend Sasuke, whom she knew had no romantic feelings for her, became her husband. She felt miserable, confused, and angry.

The only reason why she didn't protest strongly was because Sasuke was someone she was familiar with. So was his family. She knew Sasuke felt the same and that thought had comforted her. It was obvious that he didn't like this predicament they were in either; maybe she could convince him one day to get an annulment when they were slightly older. When they had fulfilled their grandparents' wish and probably stayed married for a couple more months or years. An annulment was much better than divorce, and there weren't any family rules stating no marriage annulments. She had checked, twice.

"Naruto?" Sasuke called again, reaching his hand out to touch her shoulder. She immediately turned and placed her hand on his forearm instead, smiling up at him. She ignored when he frowned at her, "We have to look the part, remember? I think your Jii-chan's here already." Sasuke merely nodded sharply, making sure that Naruto settled properly beside him and walking arm-in-arm towards the main hall. There were a number of people in the hall. With the approval of the Head of the Uchiha family, Sasuke's family had invited their closest relatives and Naruto's family to the gathering. Unfortunately, her family couldn't come because they were working overseas and the invite was rather sudden. Her parents had sent her gifts instead along with a long letter of apology, which had made her giggle while reading it. They saw many people greet the Head of family and he nodded in reply, face devoid of emotion. He was tall with glossy grey hair neatly combed back. He was clad in a deep blue coat over his gray-colored suit. The moment the old man glanced up and met Sasuke's eyes, his tight features softened with affection and a small smile was on his face. He waited patiently as the two teenagers approached him.

"Konbanwa, Jii-chan," Sasuke greeted as Naruto let go of his arm, bowing to his grandfather. Uchiha Madara gestured him to give him a hug and he softly pecked on his head, "Konbanwa, my dearest grandson." It was never a wonder for anyone how much the ever-strict Madara adored Sasuke. He then turned to look at Naruto, who inwardly felt like trying to run out of there, and gestured her to come closer to him. Naruto barely suppressed her surprise and walked forward, placing her right hand in his calloused one.

"Thank you for coming, Ojii-sama," Naruto curtsied, trying to act as impassive as she could. When she didn't get any reply, she looked up again and saw that Madara was staring at her with an unreadable look. Naruto felt panicked, wondering frantically if she had greatly offended the powerful man. Noticing that the teenager was restless, Madara gave her a small smile. "Smile, my child," he said, almost inaudibly. Naruto felt light-headed and confused. It was against her teachings about being an Uchiha, especially when greeting and behaving with the head of the family.

Why was he asking her to smile?

Was he so embarrassed by how much she failed to act like an Uchiha that he had to ask her to smile to not embarrass him more?

Suddenly she felt very aware of the probing gazes from everyone else in the room, burning blazingly at the back of her skull. Naruto bit her tongue hard, holding herself back from crying. She smiled softly, just like the one she gave Sasuke earlier. She didn't miss the slight disappointment creased on his face. He turned around, bringing the two teenagers closer to him before looking expectantly towards the crowd. "Today," he spoke aloud and waited for everyone to settle their gazes on him, "we gathered here to welcome our newest member, the wife of my heir, and celebrate her wonderful accomplishments. I present to you, Uchiha Naruto."

Naruto bowed, and her forced smile felt rather strained. She hoped that it looked sincere, especially after receiving a few disapproving looks the moment Madara addressed her as 'wife' of his heir. "Tonight is all about you. So have fun, Naruto-kun," Madara informed her, pushing her towards the crowd that had swallowed her into the circle.

She suddenly felt enochlophobia, looking around as people started asking her questions. She used to love being in a crowd, liking how she could converse and laugh along, and showing openly how she would love her precious people. This, however, was facing a crowd of expectant disappointments for just being herself. She felt the large hall closing in on her, seeming to bring the crowd closer to her. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest and she felt it was getting harder to breathe. She saw the disgusted look of a middle-aged man, the whisperings between two women hiding behind a decorated folding fan, many curious faces asking questions and trying to gauge answers from her, and the woman beside her was asking her many personal questions that made the people around her blush.

Just then, a hand was on her shoulder and she swivelled, sighing with relief when she saw the understanding eyes of her beloved nii-chan.

"Ladies and gentlemen, dearest aunties and uncles, do you know that Shisui-niisan has finally agreed to play against Obito-niisan?" Said person, Dr. Uchiha Shisui who was standing beside him, blanched at the announcement and furtively gave an accused look to his best friend who was practically his otouto. Uchiha Obito, a celebrated 9-dan professional go player and simultaneously holding five out of seven major titles, whooped excitedly and joined the crowd as he dragged his cousin/rival to the go board readily (miraculously, to the eager Obito's point of view) placed in the middle of the hall.

The thirty-one year old Shisui scowled deeper when he realised that wretched Itachi had staged it. He was supposed to be the smarter and wiser one, damn it!

Sitting gracefully and clearing his throat aloud, Obito sagely spoke as he twined his fingers together. He feigned a condescending look at his rival, "I'll give you as many as ten handicaps, aniki."

Scowling, Shisui then smirked, "Don't mock me, Obito-chan." Twenty-nine year old Obito stuck his tongue out childishly in reply, and Shisui placed one go piece each on the star-points of his side of the board. The Uchiha family was known to be a go-game fanatic and loved watching go matches especially between the two prodigies.

Itachi then took the opportunity to whisk Naruto away from the crowd, towards a slightly secluded corner of the hall which overlooked the dimly lit garden. He gave Naruto a few minutes to calm herself down, pretending to look out at the garden while covertly keeping a worried eye on her. She was thankful to Itachi for the privacy and feeling ashamed that she had panicked, unbecoming for a Uchiha. She felt remorseful and despised herself for the failure. Noting her sombre mood, Itachi decided to chuckle aloud, staring outside with mirth dancing in his eyes. Naruto looked at him, wondering what he was looking at and found nothing but the darkness of the night, "What's so funny, Ita-nii?"

Itachi's heart gave a painful squeeze with how she had addressed him.

She had unconsciously reverted to calling him 'Ita-nii' as she did when she was a young, neglected child—Itachi couldn't blame Minato-san and Kushina-san because it was for the child's safety, what with the many attempts on Kushina-san's life—and knew that she always sought comfort by his presence when she called him so. Itachi knew it was selfish of him for feeling pleased that Naruto was closer to him than any of her family members, except for her beloved grandmother who had raised her despite her many duties as the city's Mayor.

He had hinted many times in vain to his parents that he wanted a little sister and Naruto coming into their life was a blessing for him. If she wanted an older sibling for love and comfort, Itachi would gladly give her that. Brightly meeting her probing gaze, he gave her a meaningful look, "Well, I think I'm in trouble." He pressed his knuckles on his lips with downcast eyes, stifling a laugh.

"What did you do, Nii-chan?" Naruto giggled, briefly forgetting her plight.

He placed a finger on his lips, hunched slightly towards her and whispered aloud, "I think Shi-niisan is going to be furious with me." Naruto's eyes zeroed to the doctor, who was pouring all his attention into the game, and swivelled back to the twenty-two year old man with a questioning look. "You see," Itachi gave her a wicked smile, "I glued him to the chair."

"You didn't!" Naruto gasped, staring back again at the clueless older man.

"I did." She slapped her hands over her mouth to hold back her laughter. Her body shook with barely restrained glee. She tried to say something, but she felt like bursting out laughing. She bit her lips instead, looking at her nii-chan as he hunched down to stared at her with a conspiratorial look.

"You know what's funnier?" he chuckled, smirking at her. She had an understanding look a while after, and she grinned mischievously at him. 'Oh, this is going to be fun!'


Sasuke tried to tone down his smile, but he was so pleased being with his grandfather. He rarely had the time to visit and Sasuke loved attending family gatherings only because he would meet his grandfather. His brother had Madara most of the time as he was his grandfather's apprentice and heir of the family business. The teenager loved listening to his stories, his travels, and even about his late grandmother, whom Sasuke never got the chance to meet. Madara, in turn, listened keenly to his stories and smiled at his playfulness. He placed some tomatoes, three assorted-filling onigiri and a tall pile of okaka flakes into his grandson's plate when he saw his plate was nearly empty. Sasuke, in turn, filled up his grandfather's plate with inarizushi. Madara was especially content when he was with his beloved grandson. He would forget the stress of his work, the fatigue from the hectic day-to-day schedules, and the agonising ache of losing his beloved wife.

A soft chime of laughter caught his attention and Madara turned to look at the source. He saw Naruto was stuffing something that looked frighteningly like wasabi into two onigiri and shuffled them among a pile of similar-looking onigiri. Itachi, Naruto, and that child were taking turns eating from the pile with one hesitant bite. Sasuke, who noticed that his grandfather's attention was elsewhere, swivelled and saw Sai grasped his head as if he was in pain and tears rolled down his reddened face. His aniki was shaking with laughter while Naruto was giggling and passing Sai a full glass of water.

"Naruto-kun is a wonderful girl, isn't she?" his grandfather suddenly mused aloud. Sasuke was startled, turning his head so fast that his neck cracked. Madara chuckled, watching the blonde-haired girl, "Naruto-kun is my good friend's beloved granddaughter. A bright child suited for my own beloved grandson. I know she will make you happy just like my beloved Keiko did me."

"W-What?" Sasuke stuttered, blushing furiously. Why the hell was his grandfather asking him about that damn dobe, and comparing her to his late grandmother?

"Sasuke-chan," his grandfather glanced at him with a distant smile on his face, "While you are able, make sure you take care of her well. If you don't, you'll live in regret."

Madara heaved a troubled sigh, looking slightly crestfallen, "Sometimes I wish I told Keiko that I loved her and cherished her every day. I was—" He paused, smiling bitterly at a distant memory, "I was too prideful to tell her. When she died, I… I became a bitter man. That is until you came along." He affectionately patted his head, "I hope you won't repeat this silly old man's mistake." Baffled, Sasuke merely nodded. He honestly never saw Naruto in that light. She was always his first and best friend, albeit the annoying one. To him, marriage was the only way for him to make sure others knew that he was her best friend and she belonged to him.

Sasuke had a blank look on his face when he felt that there were some errors in that line of thinking. But… Naruto as his wife? What would have changed?

"I'll be back, Sasuke-chan," Madara spoke softly, unintentionally breaking the teenager's train of thoughts. Sasuke felt panic rise when he saw his grandfather was approaching Naruto. He desperately hoped that he wasn't going to talk about some weird marriage stuff with her too. He felt horrified when his grandfather spoke to Naruto and she briefly glanced at him. She gave his jii-chan a positive nod, excusing herself from the game, and followed Madara outside the hall. Sasuke groaned, rubbing his face with his palms in chagrin.

"What's wrong, Sasuke?" Itachi asked, appearing beside him. He patted on his otouto's thigh comfortingly. Sasuke was about to spill out his worries when his aniki abruptly stood up again. "I have to go. Let's go, Sai," Itachi gestured for his youngest brother to follow him and they left quickly. Sasuke was mystified and instantly felt very, very suspicious. His eyes narrowed at his siblings' retreating figures.

Suddenly, there was a shriek and he saw Shisui gracelessly fall on the ground in his chair. He briskly paced towards the chaotic crowd, wondering what was going on. He saw some of his elderly relatives were looking rather angry and worried while the others were laughing heartily. Obito's laughter was the loudest. Itachi appeared beside their fallen cousin, who was fuming and glaring murderously at his aniki. For a moment, their eyes met and Sasuke saw, with horror, a fleeting, wicked smile was on Itachi's face. He saw his brother's lips were moving in slow motion and the next thing he knew, everyone was staring at him disapprovingly (or with mirth, depending who it was. He ignored Obito-niisan who proudly patted his shoulder).

It took him a while for Itachi's words to register in his mind: "Sasuke, how could you do this to Shi-niisan? I saw the proof in your pocket." Belatedly, he felt a small weight and the bulge in his left pocket. Confused, Sasuke slid his hand in his trousers pocket and felt something. He paled when he saw it was a bottle of super glue with a large "THIS IS SASUKE'S GLUE. NO ONE ELSE BUT MINE. MINE. MINE. NOT SAI'S. NEVER ITACHI'S. Sometimes Naruto's, BUT MY GLUE. MINE."

"Whatthefuck?" he muttered incredulously, raising his eyebrows in disbelief at the outrageous words. He knew he pranked his relatives a few times—fine! MANY times. The dobe helped, alright?!'—and escaped from it half of the time. With his infamous reputation among his relatives, no one was going to believe him, future Head or not.

Itachi's disappointed face was so convincing that Shisui who initially suspected him had faltered with his opinion. His father paced menacingly towards him, knowing well that there was no Madara to stop him from reprimanding his naughty child this time. While everyone's attention was on him, Sasuke saw his two treacherous brothers stealthily leaving the hall while snickering. He swore he saw his aniki mouthed with a flick of his fingers, "Revenge is sweet, ne o-to-u-to?"

Sasuke saw red, 'That bastard! I'M GOING TO KILL HIM!'


Saturday, 22nd December 2007

It was the start of winter break. Ever since the last bell rang yesterday, the excitement never receded. Instead, where ever they went, the thick layer of snow coating the brightly lit shops and colourful banners reminded them of their wonderful, merry holiday. Although most of Konoha citizens weren't Christians, Christmas—just like every other celebration—became a holiday where families, friends or lovers met. This was one of the days where girls, specifically fangirls, found a solid reason as to why they must wish their crush/crushes a 'Happy holiday,' much to Sasuke's vexation. Since he was taught not to be discourteous to others, he grudgingly nodded and mumbled a curt reply to all well-wishers (or insufferably annoying giggler, depending who was asking) as he strode towards the awaiting car. He inwardly wished the driver had parked nearer, even if he had to drive over flower beds and knocking down the benches.

His classmate, Haruno Sakura, suddenly clung to his arm, pushing her chest against him. Sasuke snapped at her to let go, but she tightened her hold, asking him sweetly if he was free over the holiday and to go out for a date. He heaved an irritated sigh, tuning out her long windy list of where they could go. He had long learned that letting her finish whatever topic she wanted was best and she would eventually let go of him and leave. He glared at Kiba as that idiot gave cheerful replies to his fangirls, making the girls swoon and giggle as they left. Some even gave small presents to him, which he exaggerated an overwhelming reaction to each one and rejected them as he said he couldn't give one in return, only to be told that they didn't want any. It was because of him that the girls thought Sasuke would do the same. In their dreams!

What made him fume with anger was how nonchalantly Kiba trotted towards his best friend and had his filthy arm around his dobe's shoulder so casually as though they were best friends. He saw a number of guys around them were giving hopeful gazes at her when she didn't shrug Kiba off, especially when there were other 'scary' Uchihas around her namely Sai and him. He swore he saw some hesitated to go towards Naruto, taking out some little gifts which he knew were meant for her. That damn dobe had laughed when that baka-zuka pouted and held out a palm, asking where his present was. Sasuke gritted his teeth when Naruto told that baka-zuka that he had to wait till tomorrow. HE was supposed to be Naruto's best friend AND YET Naruto didn't say anything to him about getting ANY presents for HIM.

.

Naruto's eyebrows furrowed in irritation when she remembered how Sasuke had pulled her arm so aggressively yesterday, causing her to collide painfully with his chest and then dragged her away into the car. Her arm was still aching as she whipped the cream for the cheesecake. She never tried baking before, thus the horrible mess in the kitchen and how filthy she was. When she looked at the cream she had whipped, she wondered why there were only a bit left in it and belatedly realised that most of it had flown around the table and on her already messy apron.vGiving the butler an apologetic look when he told her that she was going to be late for her appointment, she reluctantly left the kitchen, hoping that the butler wasn't that upset for cleaning up her mess. At least, among the 35 trials she made since last night, four tasted okay despite looking so pitiful inside the pretty decorated small box.

Knowing how difficult that teme could be, she decided the best-looking one would be his. She tucked them carefully inside a paper bag.

When Naruto was told that instead of leaving a few questions blank as the lazy genius always did, Shikamaru had answered all the questions during the re-take and thus had the highest total marks in his batch. Kiba had been quite stumped after that since his total marks were less than Shika's, and the only reason he got 100 percent for average was because the marks had been rounded up. She was feeling quite overwhelmed at the thought of being taught by the genius Shikamaru. Of course, Shikamaru didn't do it willingly. The school had given a call to his father about his accomplishment (as usual) and his father was surprised when he heard that Shikamaru had re-sat his finals to get the perfect score. He immediately told his wife, who found out who had pushed their frustratingly lazy son to make some effort. When she heard that Naruto and Kiba were doing a study group, she had threatened her son into being their tutor, free of charge.

In fact, the Nara even was willing to pay them as long as their heir was doing something sociable instead of idling around.

"You smell of sweets, Naru," Itachi's voice broke Naruto's reverie, and he got a happy grin in reply when she saw him.

"Nii-chan!" she ran towards him, giving him a warm hug. When she realised that she was ruining his suit with her cream coated clothes, she wanted to pull away but Itachi tightened his arms.

"Tadaima," he greeted her, combing some of the flour and sugar grains off her hair. All his fatigue washed away by the warmth of his beloved imouto.

"Okaerinasai, nii-chan. It has been almost two weeks since you last came home. How was the business trip?" Naruto asked, pacing down the corridor with him.

"As stifling as ojii-san wished it would be," Itachi reluctantly admitted, pulling his tie off.

Naruto laughed and held a thoughtful finger to her chin, "Nothing nii-chan can't handle, right? Not even worth falling to your knees in agony, right?"

Itachi paused for a while, feeling a little suspicious but decided to ignore it. He was tired after all. He shook his head, patting her head again, "Of course." As much as Itachi had suffered dealing with difficult clients that offered outrageous demands, it was worth the prank when they got the best outcome and even Madara felt pleased and forgave him for the prank he pulled on his beloved grandson. Sasuke—that brat—had told him that Itachi was the one who glued Shisui to his chair. Despite everyone's rebuttal and justification, since Sasuke said so Madara had believed it wholly.

Itachi had pointed out that he was being very bias and very one-sided because his grandfather had yet to ask him about it, which Madara didn't bother to deny. In Madara's eyes, Sasuke-chan was his angel and his mischiefs were adorable when Sasuke-chan admitted to them. Itachi didn't show his irritation when Sasuke smirked and mockingly batted his eyes at him when his grandfather punished him by going on the problematic business trip in Kyushu. 'Oh, his otouto was really asking for it.'

"This is for you, nii-chan. I know it doesn't look good, but I hope you like it," Naruto thrust a small box into his sight, successfully breaking his thoughts on pranking Sasuke. Noting more in the bag where the box had come from, he thanked her and asked, "Oh, some for your husband, too?" He chuckled at Naruto's grimace face.

"Not you too, nii-chan," Naruto groaned, "Everyone keeps teasing me. Tsk, I don't even like that teme that way. Hmph."

For a moment, Itachi felt alarmed but then remembered that they were still young and they would take the marriage at a slow pace, which calmed Itachi's nerves considerably. He ignored the apprehension that gnawing in the back of his mind, deciding to smirk at her instead. "Whatever you say, Naru. Whatever helps you sleep at night," Itachi tenderly tapped his two fingers on her forehead.

Naruto scowled at him, harrumphed him a 'goodbye' as she stormed away. Itachi was amused. He was glad he was finally home. Taking a small bite from his gift and swallowed, Itachi nearly fell on his knees in pain as he had a hand clutched on his head and coughing. Glancing at the greenish fluid oozing out from the middle of the small slice, he heard Naruto chortled evilly, "Hah! I told you I'll win this time, nii-chan!"

Oh, both his otouto and imouto were so going to get it!


Normal people usually spent their holiday with something relaxing or exhilarating to mark the first day of the holiday.

Uchiha Naruto, however, was preparing her bag for a short study group she had planned with Kiba and Shikamaru. They will gather in Kiba's house, much to Sasuke's displeasure especially if he knew she was going there without him this time. She even packed more of her pathetic cheesecakes into a large Tupperware for them, ignoring the fact that she would be laughed at. She would say that they would be the perfect 'rubbish bin' to dump the failed experiments. Naruto grinned at the thought.

"Where are you going, dobe?" Naruto cursed quietly, rolling her eyes in chagrin. She had hoped that she could place his gift in front of his door and leave without telling him, just as she did Sai.

"Somewhere none of your business, teme," Naruto quipped, ignoring Sasuke's bristle. He briskly walked out of the adjoining bathroom, feeling annoyed that she still had her back towards him. He glared at Kyuubi when the fat, ginger demon hissed at him, jumping down from her bookshelf and paced petulantly around her feet. Naruto giggled, lovingly picking him up and cradled him on her shoulder. The Scottish Fold purred contently before staring haughtily at Sasuke again, who was muttering 'stupid cat.'

"Here, catch," Naruto suddenly said, throwing a small box at him which Sasuke nearly dropped. Surprised, he opened the box to see a small piece of something ugly and gooey.

"What the hell is this ugly thing?" Sasuke grimaced, looking back at her. He noticed that Kyuubi was glaring at him, swivelling its head when Naruto moved about and refusing to break the eye contact more than a second.

"That ugly thing," Naruto sneered, still didn't meet his gaze as she arranged her room, "is the best of all my failed attempts at a cheesecake. Just be grateful alright? It's not that sweet either. I know you hate sweet things."

That really did appease Sasuke's irritation for a bit, but seeing how she was almost done with her chores and was about to leave as she placed Kyuubi on her bed, he scowled at her again, "Where are you going? Not to that baka-zuka's house, I hope."

"Hey, don't diss my friend." Sasuke inwardly bristled at the word 'friend.' "Yes, I am and Shikamaru-kun is with us. He's going to give out our study plan and then, we'll be hanging out till five."

"I'll be going with y—" Sasuke snapped.

"No!" Naruto snarled, seething furiously at him, "Enough is enough, Sasuke." She stomped towards him, jabbing an accused finger at each word she hissed on his chest painfully, "Stop – controlling – my – life."

"I'm not controlling your life. I'm only—" Sasuke defended.

"You are!" Naruto barked angrily, "You said we were going to mind our own business, Sasuke. You're not doing that at all, you liar."

Sasuke gasped disbelievingly. A sense of vertigo nearly swept him off his feet before scorching fury crashed into him at being accused as a liar. He hurled towards her, pushing her into her bed. "I'M NOT A LIAR!" he roared, fisting her blouse with rage. Shocked at the sudden shift and being screamed at, Naruto slapped him.

Sasuke froze, holding his breath in disbelief as the light pain on his cheek tingled. Naruto had slapped him.

"Get off me, Sasuke," he heard Naruto hiss. Her voice seemed distant even though she was so close.

He refused to move, still stunned at what had happened. Naruto had slapped him.

He felt more than saw as Naruto tried to squirm out of his hold. His thighs were tightly barricaded her to the bed as he sat on her stomach, unmoving. His face was still tilted to his left from when Naruto had slapped him. Slowly, he turned to look at her, growling with anger as he fumed aloud.

Naruto felt scared at the severe glint in his eyes. Was he going to do what she thought he would? Was he really going to hit her for that little slap she gave him? Her hand barely stung at all. All she wanted was him to snap out of whatever gutter he had stupidly dived into. She felt like she didn't know this person who was kneeling on top of her. This wasn't the Sasuke she had known in her whole life. Who was this person wearing Sasuke's face? Was this what the show she watched a week ago was talking about, when they said that marriage changes people for the worse?

"You're not going, Naruto," Sasuke spoke in a harsh whisper with barely restrained anger. Her fear was drowned by rising rage and incredulity.

"It's a study group, teme! I'm going." she snarled. Sasuke swooped down, holding her wrists to her sides.

"No, you're not. I can teach you, you stupid girl," he fumed, "I'm a better tutor than your stupid friend."

"Teme! My friends are not stupid and my tutor is a Nara! The genius Nara if you haven't forgotten. His name is Shikamaru," she seethed.

"I don't care. You're not going," he said stubbornly.

"I am too. And you're going to your stupid date with that annoying girlfriend of yours." Sasuke's dark eyes widened at the remark.

"S-Sakura-san has my wallet as h-hostage. I have to go," Sasuke defended himself, unconsciously loosening his grip.

She pushed him off her, sitting up, "I honestly don't care, teme. I'm late. Have fun with your girl, Sasuke."

"Sakura-san's not my girlfriend." Naruto gave him a disbelieving look. "You're still not going, dobe."

Naruto heaved a tired sigh, feeling annoyed at him. "Whatever," she shrugged, picking up her sling bag and carefully put the container inside her bag. "You're not the boss of me, Sasuke." She was about to reach out for the doorknob when Sasuke pushed her against the door. She hissed in pain when the doorknob dug into her back. "WHAT THE HELL, TE—"

Naruto choked when she felt Sasuke's lips crash against hers, grabbing her neck to tilt her head and another hand tightened around her waist, pulling her close. He roughly nipped on her soft lips, his eyes closed as her azure eyes widened in dismay. 'Nononononononono…' She tried hard to push him away, but he pushed her against the door again, causing her to gasp in pain when the doorknob dug achingly into her back. Caging her against the door with his body, he forcefully held her wrists and pinned them to her sides. His tongue slipped into her mouth, deepening the kiss in a possessive and aggressive dance.

She couldn't breathe. She was so afraid and feeling betrayed at his outrageous act. Tears rolled down her cheek as she pushed him away in vain. 'How could he? How could he!'

All Sasuke had in his mind was 'Mine, mine, mine, mine' as he greedily kissed her, trying to make her understand that she belonged to him. She was his friend, his only and no one else's. He wanted her to know that he was the only person she needed, and no one else. Why couldn't she understand that? Didn't the marriage seal her fate to him, stating that she belonged to him and—and—and…

Sasuke steeled at the thought, belatedly realising that he… he was kissing her.

Why did he do that? What did telling her that she was his only and precious best friend have to do with a kiss?

Suddenly, he was aware of his surrounding, feeling horrified when he heard and saw her crying. He pushed himself off her slightly, loosening his hold as she tearfully stared at him with disbelief, grief, and pain. He tried to apologise, but only gasps of air were breathed out. He didn't mean to do what he did. He didn't mean to hurt her like this.

Why did he kiss her?

He felt Naruto's abrupt strength pushing him off her and he fell on the floor. Feeling lost and dazed, he tried to reach out to her and wanted to apologise to her. She quickly took her bag and slung it over her shoulder, glaring accusingly at him with raging hatred. "I hate you," she spat viciously and stormed off, crying silently.

How was it that her words had hurt him a thousand times worse than her slap? He didn't understand. Not even the fierce biting and clawing by an enraged Kyuubi on his arm was painful to him.

Why did he kiss her?



32 days before Uchiha Sasuke realises that he is in love
369 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love


Chapter Text

Chapter beta-ed by Kioshino (Fanfiction.net)

Uchiha Madara was known to be a strict, harsh and disgruntled man. He didn't tolerate nonsense. He didn't like disrespectful people. He hated unrepentant mistakes that cost him his company, name, and precious time. He disliked many things, and even a brief smile was irrelevant because he had no reason to. Ever since his beloved wife, Keiko passed away, he had lived life in mourning for her. His life was dull, grey and unmoving. He drowned himself in work and had never bothered to take a day off ever since her death. His schedule had been hectic, strangling him so tight he barely could breathe as he hustled through it all vigorously without pausing. If his children didn't check on him from time to time, he was often found collapsed in the large mansion because he didn't eat and forgot to sleep for days. If his mind was slightly unoccupied, his memories of her would surge forward and ruthlessly torment him with every single thing that he missed about her.

So, he decided that he needed more work to mute them all.

He didn't want to remember her sweet smiles when she looked up at him, her soft whispers into his ears when she wanted to startle him, her soft caress on his arm when she welcomed him home, the smell of her hair when he woke up with her beside him every morning, her favourite flowers near the window scenting their room lightly every time the breeze blew in, the mischief that glinted in her shining dark eyes when she wanted to tease him, the beautiful chimes of her laughter—

Shit!

He was remembering again.

He needed more work.

More. MORE. MORE!

.

He brutally swept all the things off his desk. His mug that had been on the table smashed into a large vase at the side of the room and they both unworthy employees cowered with fright; one of them was hyperventilating. He glared darkly at them, feeling satisfied seeing their terrified looks. "You are all FIRED!" he roared, not bothering to listen to their reasonings and ignoring their tearful eyes. "OUT!" he pointed them to the door with a firm finger. They scurried out of the office, taking their things with them as they silently wept.

Fugaku, his second-in-command for Uchiha Inc., heaved a weary sigh. "Otou-sama,"Fugaku began, but a stern glare from his father made his jaw clench tight. He doubted even his uncle, Uchiha Izuna could make his difficult father relax a little. Remembering about his uncle, he looked down at the schedule his father's secretary had given him earlier. "Otou-sama, you have a lunch appointment with Izuna-oji in an hour," he notified and Madara nodded in reply.

"Call someone in to clean up the office and fix up my desk," he said curtly, taking his keyboard from Fugaku's hand.

"Already did," his son answered as two men came in, starting to clean up the room quickly. Within three minutes, Madara's office was back as it was before.

However, his memories of her had almost cracked open during the wait. He began to work with renewed vigour as his son left his office, shaking his head in chagrin, just like the way Keiko did with mirth when Madara was struggling to put clothes on their ever-playful youngest son.

Shit!

He was remembering again.

He needed more work.

More. MORE. MORE!

.

The client was obviously a newbie because he was rambling and nervously glancing at him as he spoke. It was irritating and wasting his precious time. His gibberish talk was cracking the barrier to his memories of her. However, the company the newbie represented was one of his company's important clients and he had tolerated the man's gibbering for fifteen minutes before he started with the work talk. "Shall we proceed? I'm tight on schedule," Madara said impassively, trying to rein in his temper. Why the company had sent a newbie to deal with him was baffling and downright rude. He would send a very 'educational' email about this to the company later.

"Of course, of course, Madara-sama," his client had laughed anxiously. Madara threw a harsh glare at the man for addressing him casually by his name, "Eep, I mean, Uchiha-sama. I apologise for m-my rudeness, Uchiha-sama."

"Taken, and proceed," Madara gestured stiffly, hinting to get on with the damn business before he exploded. Suddenly, he smelt something agonisingly familiar and his eyes involuntarily darted to the large, beautiful flower arrangement of Freesia, daisies and roses. His heart thumped in pain when he realised that those were Keiko's favourite flowers. Whenever he was upset, she would—

Shit! He was remembering again.

Standing abruptly, he muttered an audible 'goodbye' while his secretary stared disbelievingly at his hasty departure. As his secretary apologised to the client and successfully rescheduled the meeting, Madara immersed himself into work again through his laptop. Luckily, he brought a small flask of liquor with him today to mask that smell. He remembered that there were more in his study room.

He needed more work.

More. MORE. MORE!

.

His head felt awfully heavy and his throbbing headache made him groan in agony as he stirred to consciousness. He tried to clutch his head with his hand, but his hand was unwilling to cooperate. The pounding ache made it hard to open his eyes, yet he relentlessly tried, but it was too taxing for his ageing body.

"Shhh, Ojii-sama, please rest," a cracked voice whispered, patting consolingly on his hand.

Madara was upset at the teenage boy's stupid meddling. How dare he command him, especially when he was the family's Head! No one dared to say what he could or couldn't do! His angry growl frightened the boy, and the child snatched his hand away from patting his sick grandfather.

"Shi-chan, go and sit down there sweetie," he heard his only daughter tell her child. There was a pair of reluctant steps pacing away from him before a slight groan of a chair was heard. Another warm hand was in his and he felt his daughter sit down on his bed beside him.

"Oto—P-Papa... Don't be upset with Shisui. He was worried about you," she raised his hand to cup her face, holding his hand in hers with gentle caresses. "I'm worried too, papa. Please, please stay with us. I want to take care of you, papa. We all do. Shisui wants to be a doctor so he can take better care of you too."

Madara's heart broke at her miserable tone and he brushed his thumb gently on her smooth cheek to pacify her. He slowly opened his eyes, and the familiar tearful eyes of his beloved daughter greeted him. Although she looked a lot like him, but her eyes and the shape of her lips were her mother's. Just like Keiko's.

His heart pounded painfully at the reminder. The pain was so raw, as though she had recently left him. Although she had died almost five years ago, the agony was still too fresh for him. To him, she had died too early and had been forcefully taken away from him too soon.

Why hadn't he died of heartbreak yet?

Was this God's way of punishing him for not telling and showing her that he loved her?

Did she truly suffer because of his selfishness and now he was punished to live in pain just as she did? Did she know that he loved her very much?

His face took on a morose expression and he looked away from his daughter, snatching his hand away from her gentle hold. "Leave me," he commanded coldly, closing his eyes as he knew they were glistening with raw emotions.

"Papa, plea—" she cried, gasping at his sudden indifference.

"I said, LEAVE ME!" he shouted. He didn't even need to look at her to know that he had hurt her, which made the aching in his heart even more excruciating. He heard her running out of the hospital room, sobbing almost audibly.

"Ojii-sama, why are you hurting yourself like this?" Shisui muttered, his tone broken with pain.

"LEAVE!" Madara bellowed and coughed painfully as he heard the door slammed shut. Even when his coughing fit receded, the tears in his eyes were still flowing fast and refused to stop. It didn't help that his memories of her were pouring out like a broken water dam and he was missing her so much.

For the first time in a long while, Madara forlornly cried himself to sleep, praying desperately to God to just end his agony and to grant his ultimate wish: to be beside Keiko once again, bodily and spiritually.

.

Madara hated days like this.

He had no work to do and he had to meet the rest of the family members because it was his duty as the Head of the family. It was one of the many annoying occasions where all Uchiha (including his otouto's equally large family and their cousins') would gather and supposedly have some 'family bonding time'.

He was talking to Fugaku about the successful business transaction they had earlier that day when he felt something wet dripping on his trousers. Madara became quiet at once and stared down at his trousers.

There were colourful smudges and many tiny handprints on his trousers. Some blotches of paints were dripping on his well-polished shoes. He then stared at the source of the mess. A young troublemaker who was smiling widely at him. If he wasn't mistaken, this was his second son's youngest child who was also his youngest grandson, Sasuke.

Inwardly, Madara refused to acknowledge the child of his rebellious youngest son who was born five months after Sasuke. His ungrateful son had left the family few years ago, throwing his Uchiha name away to marry some unruly woman. They had a son named Sai, not that he had ever bothered, and never mind how he knew the child's name.

To him, he had only two sons and a daughter. Not three sons and a daughter.

"S-S-Sasuke-chan!" Fugaku stuttered in horror as he took the one-and-a-quarter-year-old toddler into his arms. "I truly apologise, otou-sama. Sasuke is j-just a child. Please forgive him," Fugaku said, passing his son to his equally horrified wife. He bowed to his father, praying hard that his father accepted his apology. He saw his father's tense body language and braced himself for a scolding. "Please forgive us, otou-sama." He bowed his head lower.

Madara stared on aloofly and then glanced at the mess of colours the child made of his expensive suit. The child was rude and he was severely disappointed that his son didn't teach him any proper manners.

"Say 'sorry' to ojii-sama, Sasuke-chan. Can you say 'sorry'?" Mikoto encouraged him, giving a slightly displeased look at the child for his mischief.

"Shashke-cha no showwey(sorry), Mama," Sasuke pouted cutely, clapping his colourful hands timidly. "Owjii-sha shad(sad). Shashke-cha ka-wer(colour). Owjii-sha be hap-piiee."

Sasuke giggled gleefully when he said the word 'happy,' flailing his paint-coated hands around to show how happy he was. "Pwe-eey(pretty) ka-wer. Owjii-sha hap-piiee…" Mikoto's heart warmed at her son's innocent attempts to make his grandfather happy with colourful paintings. She wanted to smile, but she felt worried for the child, as he was in trouble.

Unknown to the troubled couple, Madara was having an internal breakdown.

The child had Keiko's cute smile. He had the same glint in his eyes when Keiko was feeling mischievous. That giggle, it sounded like how Keiko had laughed sometimes, especially when she felt extra playful along with their daughter. They had dyed his hair and painted his nails pink (as requested by their little daughter) after a relaxing massage on a very exhausting day. He remembered how surprised he was when he woke up and saw his reflection in the mirror. Despite feeling annoyed he soon laughed along with them, he didn't change his hair back or bother to remove the nail polish. Instead, Madara went to work the next day and enjoyed the bewildered swivelling heads and gaping faces of his subordinates.

The words the child uttered, it was the same line of thoughts Keiko had. Whenever he was sad or feeling angry, Keiko would sometimes weave a flower crown and place it on his head, giggling as she did so, "There, now you look like the happiest person alive." Sometimes, she would tuck little flowers in his hair, saying how thick and lovely it was. She always sighed enviously at his 'soft yet firm' hair and claimed that it was perfect for making a small garden of flowers on his head. "Pretty coloured flowers make a happy man," she had said in a singsong tone. Their daughter nodded enthusiastically, giggling along with her mother. Madara had blurted out a short laugh when she said so, allowing her to play with his hair because he loved it when she smiled like that.

He knew he never told her how much he had loved her, but did Keiko know how much he had loved and cherished her?

His heart constricted with pain at the thought that his wife had died without knowing how much he loved her. Now, his life was nothing but a colourless standstill. He was doomed to live in endless regret.

"Otou-sama?" He didn't realise that he had closed his eyes. When he saw the worry coloured in his son's eyes, he stumbled a little and paled in realisation. "Tou-san!" Fugaku gasped aloud, supporting his suddenly weakened father by his arm and shoulder. Madara massaged his aching forehead, closing his eyes and trying to relieve the pain. "T-tou-san," Fugaku's voice was thick with worry and Madara felt a pang of nostalgia, remembering how his children used to call him endearingly before his change of attitude after his beloved Keiko died. Now that he thought about it, it was the first time in almost five years since his beloved daughter had called him 'papa' again instead of 'otou-sama.'

"Are you alright? H-Here… I'll l-lead you to the chair, tou-san…-sama." Madara saw his third child blush lightly, realising that he had slipped in his panic and called him 'tou-san' instead of 'otou-sama.' The way he bashfully blinked his eyes four times and then looked down was exactly how Keiko did when she was being shy too. He belatedly realised how much of Keiko was in Fugaku. Sasuke had inherited a lot of Keiko through Fugaku despite having his mother's face, nose, hair colour and very fair skin.

Honestly, what would Keiko have said if she knew how he had behaved since she died? He bet that she would scold him severely with a red face, barely containing her anger while having both arms bend with her fists on her hips. She was so cute whenever she did that, he mused.

Little did he realise that his life was beginning to animate again with a soft sigh of life to his long spell of stalemate, blossoming splashes of colours and gaining lost time.

For the first time in five years, Madara smiled. It was very small, but it was there. His face softened a little at the memory. The child pouted exactly how Keiko did. Madara turned to look at Sasuke, stopping Fugaku from manoeuvring him towards the chair. He staggered a little and then proceeded to walk towards the child who was squirming in his mother's arms. Mikoto was worried and she shot subtle glances to her baffled husband. Madara took out his handkerchief, cleaning the child's dirty hands and the blotches on his little face. Keiko had died, but her legacy ran with the others. It felt like she was telling him not to feel sad and love their children and grandchildren in her stead, particularly this youngest grandson of theirs.

His and Keiko's.

"Sasuke-chan, hold still. Let jii-chan clean you up first," Madara admonished him gently when the toddler began to whine. He ignored the surprised gasps from his son and daughter-in-law and took Sasuke in his arms once he was clean. "Now, tell jii-chan, what Sasuke-chan did today, hmm?"

He listened keenly and quietly chuckled at how adorably Sasuke recounted his day. Sasuke talked excitedly with plenty of cheerful motions about his favourite food at first. Then, he pouted when he mentioned his first encounter with a boring blonde baby, emphasising wistfully how tiny she was and had red coloured skin like a tomato, which he 'weeeally, weeeally, weeeally' wanted. Madara barked out a laugh, musing that he could dress Sasuke up in a cute, large tomato costume since the child was practically obsessed with it. He bet the child would be thrilled, running around looking like a bouncing red vegetable. Maybe Keiko would laugh and coo dotingly too, watching him from the heaven above.

Reminiscing about Keiko didn't feel as agonising as it was before. If anything, it felt quite bittersweet, he was still missing her very much. He would never forget her, but he would live on for her sake too. "Sasuke-chan," he called, catching the energetic child's attention while pulling out his wallet from his trousers. He flipped his wallet open and showed the child the picture of his late wife. They were in a corner of the hall, secluded enough not to be interrupted yet open enough to be observed by the surprised relatives. That had marked the day of the pleasant yet baffling changes of one ever-strict yet benevolent Uchiha Madara.


Monday, 31st December 2007

It had been ten days since he last saw Naruto. Even if he did, it was a mere glimpse of her two long, fluttering ponytails. He felt guilty, ashamed, and lost. He didn't blame her for avoiding him.

She didn't even chance a glance his way, and it hurt. He had known her since the day she was born and never had she given him such cold treatment. He wasn't worth a peep or silent company. She left as soon as he was in her sight.

Kami, it hurt him so much because she was his best friend. He had betrayed her, their lifelong friendship, and he felt worse than trash. Sasuke tried to approach her, wanting to talk and break that awful and tense atmosphere between them. She ran before he noticed her. She slammed the door on his face before he could talk to her. She was hurting him, but he knew it was his fault. He knew she was hurting even more.

No matter how much he thought about that day, nothing made any sense. Yes, he understood that he didn't like Naruto hanging out with other guys when she had a perfect friend like him to be with. Alright, not so perfect but hadn't he proven what a great companion and friend he had been, despite what had happened recently. Couldn't she see how disrespectful the other guys were, staring at her and always trying to get close to her with 'evil' intention? They didn't want her as a friend, but as a prized trophy!

He wouldn't mind much if she had female friends, but most girls in their school were upset that she was related to him, which was baffling and exasperating especially when they didn't know that they were married. 'What if she was… let's just say… my sister? Would she be facing the same discrimination?' he couldn't help but wonder. 'Girls,' he quipped inwardly, feeling agitated with the existence of such complex, unfathomable creatures called females. However, what confused him the most was why he had kissed her. He knew he didn't like sharing whatever he owned, yet that didn't justify his outrageous action.

Middle child syndrome, someone had pointed out one too many times. He acknowledged that he was possessive, jealous and competitive; what with having a genius for an older brother, and a gifted artist and pianist for a younger brother. Sasuke was smart, but not a prodigy like Itachi. His aniki had graduated high school at the age of twelve but refused to enter university until he was sixteen. Every effort and advice from their father and grandfather had fallen on deaf ears. Instead, Itachi told them that it was his life to live and he wanted to do whatever he wanted before entering university.

Madara had been upset at first, grumbling about how he was being a bad role model to his beloved grandson, whom now that he was looking at the child, little Sasuke-chan was staring admiringly at his aniki. He paled in horror, hoping to change Sasuke's mind before this became another ridiculous thing like how his precious Sasuke-chan had forced him into agreeing to that child's adoption. He was furious, but Sasuke's angry pout and silent treatment after the heated debate they had were things he didn't want to face again.

He sure was his grandmother's little grandson. If he willed for something, despite how impossible it seemed, with just a few very convincing words and a condescending glare that wavered even a confident and jaded soul, people were forced to see reason and follow—no—bow to his will.

Just like his grandmother.

Madara inwardly sulked that if Sasuke ever thought of becoming a lawyer, with the child's ironclad sense of justice and boundless stubbornness, he would be one helluva hurricane to fight against. He pitied anyone who would have to fight against him in the future. Unwillingly agreeing to Sasuke's demands once again, Madara was put off his stride for the second time that week. He found out that Fugaku's best friend, Minato-kun—no, that damn Namikaze—had lured his irrational grandson into the Inuzuka Private Force (IPF) and was coaching Itachi on being a detective.

'Damn you and your son, Jiraiya!' he growled mentally and cursed colourfully. He detested that perverted, despicable novelist, even before the man was married to his unfortunate childhood friend (and unrequited first love—ahem), Senju Tsunade. Madara had stormed off while grinding his teeth in irritation, deciding not to care anymore because everyone seemed not to care that HE was the head of the family. However, as upset as he was, his treacherous mind made a tiny mental note to send a private message to the Inuzuka about his foolish grandson.

As a noble clansman of the prideful Uchiha and a loyal citizen of the ever-diplomatic Konoha, Itachi diligently worked and successfully uncovered many scandals and crimes together with the criminal psychologist and the famous detective for five years. Due to some unknown reasons— not that Itachi wasn't grateful—the IPF deviated every spotlight shined away from him and onto his two reverent mentors, whom both had wholly agreed to this arrangement for the sake of their young apprentice's safety. In turn, Itachi had been willingly wanting to help protect their families whenever they needed it, although he couldn't do much for Ibiki's family whose wife was not only a black belt in jujitsu but also a violent storm to weather.

Even upon entering T university one year later than planned, Itachi had graduated from with a master's degree and multiple honours degrees at the age of nineteen. Yet, Sasuke, now at the age where his aniki had entered T University, was only a senior high school student. He knew his aniki had made sure that he enjoyed his childhood as much as he could and prevented him from skipping a few grades, but he couldn't help to wonder if he was holding his genius otouto back from graduating as early as Itachi did, just because Sai chose to follow him instead. Sasuke had told him vehemently not to do that and just do what he should be doing for his own future.

The young Uchiha paused in his line of thinking, wondering how his mind had wandered so far.

"Sasuke-chan?" Madara's concerned voice interrupted his reverie.

Suddenly, he was aware of his surroundings: the merry tunes for the New Year's eve party, the joyous (and some boisterous) laughter from the crowd, the occasional tinkling of champagne glasses, and the muffled sound of fabrics brushing together especially when some were dancing in the middle of the grandly decorated hall. The teenager cringed in shame when he realised that he wasn't paying attention to whatever his grandfather had said. He knew he had been feeling lousy for ten whole days. His dispirited mood showed even on today's new year's eve's gathering. Sasuke and his grandfather had opted to sit on chairs nearby a securely closed door that led to a large balcony that night, giving them a little privacy and a short distant away from the buzzing crowd.

"I-I'm sorry, jii-chan. I'm just not f-feeling well. It's really cold this year," he muttered hesitantly with downcast eyes, hugging his own figure and rubbing his arms comfortingly. He wasn't sure if he truly was feeling under the weather or just quietly brooding that Naruto hadn't wanted to even see him for quite a while already. Sasuke's face scrunched slightly in sorrow, which, unfortunately, Madara read as a painful motion.

There was a rare look of panic in Madara's face, as he stood up and looked around. "Bring me Shisui, quick!" he demanded with a stern face, almost frantically searching for the genius doctor.

"Jii-chan! It's okay, I'm not ill," Sasuke defended, holding his grandfather's cuff to gain his attention. "I just need a little rest, that's all."

Madara looked torn but complied nonetheless. If his beloved grandson said so, it was true. Perhaps, he was overreacting, but that pained expression on Sasuke-chan's face had struck his heart deeply. "Alright, I'll send for Naruto-kun to bring you to your room, then," Madara conceded, gesturing for the butler to come to him while missing Sasuke's troubled wince. Sasuke then realised that he hadn't seen Naruto anywhere since they parted after entering the hall.

Where was she anyway?

It was then that Sasuke saw her from afar when the crowd suddenly parted a little. She was talking to Obito's youngest sister and Sai beside a large drink fountain. She laughed at something Sai had said. Sasuke saw how wistful yet contented Sai had looked, smiling gently at the two ladies and lingering his eyes longer on Naruto. Sasuke hissed, feeling strangely irritated. Upon his grandfather's worried look, Sasuke rubbed his forehead a little, feigning a terrible headache and smiled apologetically at him.

He took a glimpse at Naruto again.

Sasuke had been so concerned about how to act around her earlier, pretending to be nonchalant outwardly when in fact he was feeling like a hodgepodge pile of disarrayed emotions, that he had missed the way she had dressed for the night. No wonder his otouto hadn't stopped staring her from the moment they appeared through the doors and separated to opposite corners. The glistening blue ball gown sashayed with every subtle movement and went still when a butler approached Naruto. When the butler gestured towards them, Naruto eyes briefly met Sasuke's and she glanced away immediately, choosing to ignore him again. Sasuke merely succumbed unflinchingly to the pain his heart brought him.

He saw how her curly hairdo recoiled when she nodded with a positive reply to the butler and smiled apologetically at her companions. Sasuke pretended to look elsewhere as she approached, contemplating how peculiar the floor design was. 'Hn, must be jii-chan's unique taste again…' he mused. It was no secret that Madara had developed an odd fascination with cultures around the world and their exotic foods, especially ever since a client from south-east Asia had first introduced him to a very green and spiky fruit with the ghastly smell but surprisingly tasty yellow flesh inside. Since then, Madara had made sure that his family gatherings would be celebrated differently each time, enjoying new tastes of food and the excitement brought along with their unique cultures.

"Ah, Naruto-kun," Madara greeted, his shoulders sagged with relief. Sasuke covertly observed how sincerely Naruto had greeted him back with a smile and Madara replied with his own. He wondered what they had talked about during the last gathering that would warrant such warmth and trust from both of them.

"Jii-san," she bowed a little, "You called for me?"

"Yes, dear," Madara motioned towards Sasuke who was massaging his head lightly, faking a terrible headache. Naruto gave him an unreadable look. "Your husband's unwell. Can you please bring him to his room?"

Naruto held the urge to grimace but nodded instead. Gritting her teeth while putting up a forced smile, she paced towards him and helped him up. "He'll be retiring for the night, jii-san," Naruto bowed her head a little.

"Goodnight, jii-chan. I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer," Sasuke said regretfully.

"It's okay. Please get well soon. Goodnight, Sasuke-chan," Madara said and kissed his head lightly. "Thank you, Naruto-kun," Madara smiled and bid them goodbye with a wave of his hand.

The moment they left the hall, Naruto huffed in annoyance but didn't let go of her hold on him. Despite feeling resentful towards him, she was worried that he was sick. They didn't say anything throughout the walk; Sasuke gave her subtle glances, trying to figure out how to fix their friendship again.

Sasuke had to admit that he rarely saw Naruto all dolled up. He noted how the dark liner on the upper lid with a slight flick at the end of the eye and the ombre blue and silver that coloured her lid and accentuated the blueness of her eyes. Her eyelashes seemed fuller and with every blink seemed slow and somewhat alluring, her cheek had a rosy glow with slight glittery lustre over her face and her lips—

The rough kick on his door had startled him and he couldn't stop himself from giving her a dirty look. 'Typical dobe.' It was then it hit him that he had been checking her out, in a weird way.

What the hell was wrong with him?

This was the dobe. The one who ate that disgusting ramen like a deprived drug-addict. The girl who was always ended up looking so messy, sweaty and dirty rather than prim and proper like any other girl would. The girl who loved playing baseball with the guys and cheered boisterously that sliding onto the base was fun and satisfying, especially when they had the bases loaded with two outs. The person who didn't own any proper manners and was always acting like a tomboy. The person whom without his mother's guidance would never make a decent housewife or a proper Uchiha.

He truly believed that he was indeed feeling sick and wasn't faking it. Yes, he wasn't aware of him being sick at all. His mind was too muddled up to function, confusing him with what he erroneously saw about the dobe.

Sasuke barely registered Naruto had placed him on his bed and was rummaging in his cupboard to get a fresh pair of pyjamas for him. She placed them on his bed and proceeded to pour a glass of warm water from his flask. Without uttering a word, she took his hand and gave him two tablets of Tylenol. "Take them first, and then go change," she instructed with an edge of impatience. Sasuke nodded, quickly taking his medication. She was about to leave when he grabbed her wrist. She jumped with surprise and repressed fear as she swivelled back to him.

He immediately loosened his grip and took his hand away, ashamed and feeling wounded with the revelation that she was afraid of him. He had to do something, to make things better again. He wanted things to be back as they were before. "Will you stay for a while, Naru?" he asked quietly, hoping that she would agree so he could apologise to her properly. She deserved that much after what he did to her.

Apparently, it was the wrong move because she looked affronted and snarled at him, "I'd rather not. I'd rather be anywhere but—"

"I'm sorry," Sasuke quickly said, holding her wrist again while pushing a medium-sized decorated box in her hand, "I'm really sorry, Naruto." Naruto was speechless. The fact that Sasuke had apologised especially so profusely was a rarity. "This is a …peace offering. I don't know what got into me that night, but I truly didn't mean to hurt you, Naru."

When Sasuke saw that Naruto was still staring at the box and had yet to reply, he panicked and continued, "Kaa-chan already suspect something is wrong between us, Naru, and I wish to mend it before it gets harder to hide it from her. I want us to be friends again." He stared expectantly at her, hoping that she would accept his apology. Sasuke squeezed her wrist gently and their eyes met.

Naruto bit her lower lip and sighed deeply, reluctantly accepting the box, Sasuke's hand brushing hers as they parted. She glared at him lazily, unconsciously pouting at him. She knew how prideful her friend was and for him to say so much just to apologise to her showed how sincere and serious he was, "Hn."

"Already with the one-word reply? That's an Uchiha in the making," Sasuke teased her, earning an unwilling smile.

"You're such a teme, Sas'ke," she huffed, folding her arms over her chest.

"Tell me something I don't know, dobe," he smirked with a raised eyebrow.

"Urgh, don't call me that, you teme. You're the idiot here," Naruto grunted, glaring challengingly at him.

"Hmm, at least that's one record I could never take away from you."

"Teme!" she gasped aloud, feeling insulted. Sasuke barked out a short laugh, making Naruto to pout and glare at him in vain. Inwardly, he felt so relieved that they sounded normal again. It wasn't long before Naruto started to smile again. She flicked playfully on his forehead like Itachi always did. "Goodnight, Sas'ke," she bade, walking towards the door and switching the lights off. Her figure cast a long shadow into the dimly-lit room and onto the bed he was in. If Sasuke had to admit to something, it was how ethereal she looked when the golden lighting fell on her, especially with that kind of smile on her face.

"Hn." Sasuke didn't trust his voice to give a clear reply. Naruto merely rolled her eyes, feeling amused as she closed his door gently. She sighed in relief, feeling happy that they were back to normal again. She played with the box in her hand, shaking it lightly while walking towards her room. When she opened the door, the lighting from the corridor filled her dark room with a soft glow and layered shadows. Placing the box on her bed and turning on her heels, she decided to leave, but she hesitated. Naruto was curious about her gift. She walked back towards the bed and sat down, picking up the box again. Kyuubi suddenly jumped on her bed, strutting towards her and rubbed his head on her side. She affectionately brushed her hand on his soft fur and the cat purred contentedly.

Pulling at the ribbons and slowly opening the lid, she smiled and her chest felt warm with happiness. There was a small diary planner and it was orange in colour with a little cat design. She opened the diary and saw Sasuke's writing on the first page:

'For the unsystematic and disorganised dobe,
Use it.

-From, Sasuke'

"Trust the teme to do something nice for once," Naruto laughed and flipped through the pages. She was impressed with how colourfully he'd prepared her schedule and left some room for her own planning. When she shifted on the bed, the box fell from her lap and she heard something solid drop with it. She saw a crystal ornate hairpin on her carpeted floor beside the fallen box. Upon closer inspection, she saw the crystals were clustered into a shape of a tiny frog. 'How cute!' She smiled, feeling touched that Sasuke had given her something with a frog, which she liked very much. Tucking the hairpin into her hair while walking out of her room, she muttered 'goodnight' to Kyuubi, and closed the door behind her.

Her room darkened.

A few moments after she had closed the door, the adjoining bathroom light switched on. Sasuke stared at her closed door as he leaned against the frame of the bathroom door. He felt pleased because unlike before, he had made Naruto smile that smile twice within a two-minute period. Unlike before when it was directed at baka-zuka, or Sai, or anyone else, this time, it was for him and he was the one who made her smile that kind of smile.

However, what he didn't understand was why his heart had started rapidly beating when he saw that smile. He placed a hand on his chest to calm his frantic heartbeat. Deciding that he was too tired to ponder over it, he walked back into his room, musing that Naruto should smile like that for him more often because he really liked her smile.

He really did.



23 days before Uchiha Sasuke realises that he is in love
360 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love


Chapter Text

Red.

He saw red.

He saw red along with all the emotions that came with it: anger, frustration, agitation, possessiveness and jealousy. All in a heap on top of an Uchiha's unbending pride, especially one as overindulged as Uchiha Sasuke. He had long abandoned to question himself why he would feel so towards this person in particular. If anything, he blamed his possessiveness over his first and best friend.

'It's completely normal,' he convinced himself, ignoring his common sense gnawing at the back of his head. He disregarded the fact how exasperated and upset Naruto had looked. He needed to get his opinions across her thick, stupid brain. Stupid idiot girl for a friend.

He heaved a loud sigh. Ever since the final semester started fifteen days ago, everything took a plunge downhill and into the pit of burning inferno. What happened three days ago, which was on the nineteenth of January had broken his second final, almost non-existing, patience when Naruto had—when she had—when that dobe had—

A low rumble of anger escaped his throat as he stared into the equally fury azure eyes. Just the thought of that day alone had made him seethe. What happened a while ago was the final straw. Clenching his jaw, he hissed at her angrily, "Dobe, you—"
There were a few terrified shrieks of 'Sasuke-kun!' (Haruno Sakura gasped with a dramatic flair) when he suddenly felt a strong push on his chest and the world was tilting beneath him. He crashed into a penetrable surface and reflexively closed his eyes, bracing for the pain that didn't come. Sasuke felt his body was thoroughly immersed and slowly descending from the surface. When he opened his eyes, they stung slightly from the chlorinated water. The raven-haired teenager watched the ever-changing surface above him, temporarily disorientated at the distorted images of people.

The sudden disability to breathe made his mind sharpened and he quickly swam upwards. He was outraged at the dobe for pushing him into the swimming pool (thankfully, they were indoor). Sasuke resurfaced with a loud intake of breath and his dark hair flicked backwards, splashing a line of water to the crowd. He ran his fingers through his sodden hair. Sasuke breathed hard and his chest raised with effort. He felt annoyed when his drenched uniform was stuck to his skin uncomfortably. He didn’t bring any spare!

The fan girls sighed audibly with wonder, unperturbed by his death glare to the blond girl.

"YOU WITCH!" Sakura bellowed with a shaking fist pointed towards the blond Uchiha. She took resolute steps towards Naruto and her dusty-rose hair shook with her motion. However, her step faltered and she stood rigid when a figure appeared behind Naruto. She could only fume, bit her lip forcefully to not bark out any insults at the infuriating blond.

That person behind Naruto was well-known for his fearsome personality, untouchable by most, especially proven after Sasuke's fan club tried to humiliate Naruto a week ago. It still infuriated her how relentless Naruto had been standing bravely against an army of Sasuke’s fangirls. Despite being punched and kicked, some pulled her ponytails and tore up her uniform, she tried her best to get away without trying to hurt anyone or screaming for help. She knew Naruto could fight well. She had seen how competent she fought against Kiba in the dojo. She nearly snorted at the thought of that witch trying to be remotely noble. Even when help did come, she had the nerve pretending to worry about the girl she accidentally scratched her nails and nearly broke her skin.
Sakura’s emerald eyes narrowed at the glaring boy in front of her, a year her junior. Why someone of his prestige came to their school was a befuddlement: a son of a potent mayor of another state, a grandson of a well-respected minister, and a little brother to two excellent employees.

His oldest sibling was an intelligent female lawyer who worked for the reputed Hyuuga Law firm whereas his older brother worked for the powerful director and famous actor, Uchiha Izuna as his personal make-up artist and hairstylist. His brother was also a gifted costume designer who worked solely for the same Uchiha. It wasn't hard for Izuna to conquer the man entirely for his own benefits, especially when the younger man was quite infatuated with him and worshipped every ground he walked on.

No one would believe that the devastatingly handsome Uchiha had been in his sixties with grandchildren. Physically, he looked like in his late thirties. His older brother appeared much older, mistaken to be his father (or grandfather, depending who was asking teasingly) regardless the eight years gap. Madara refused to admit that he had developed a complex because of him. Even Madara's childhood friend, Senju Tsunade seemed barely untouched by time with her nonpareil beauty. Madara had found it difficult to meet them publicly at times.

Sakura despised how Naruto managed to bewitch him and the other princes effortlessly.

Sasuke had found out a while ago from his granduncle that this bastard—who was drawing closer to Naruto—was his granduncle's secret apprentice. The three siblings became the unofficial members of his granduncle's family the moment the youngest was taken in as an apprentice/ward.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed dangerously when he saw a placating fair hand on Naruto's shoulder. That person smirked slightly when their eyes met. A pair of thin lips came nearer to Naruto's ear, quietly whispering something to the angry Naruto. His aquamarine eyes squinted, judging him with obvious disgust and dislike. The bastard had his repulsive hand brushing lightly on Naruto's forearm as he stood behind her to pacify her. It didn't take him much before Naruto turned around, mumbling an audible 'saitei'.
The bastard swivelled back and smirked darkly. He placed a hand on Naruto's lower back, who was oblivious of his act. He threw the Uchiha an acid glare which Sasuke mirrored. Sasuke punched the surface of the water furiously as they walked away. That stupid girl just couldn't see that she was being manipulated by that red-haired demon.

Sasuke barely registered Sakura came running towards him with a towel in her hands once he got out of the swimming pool. She patted his cheek and neck as dry as she could while he glared at their retreating figures. The dusty rose-haired girl smiled prettily, hoping that her beauty would take his attention away from 'that disgraced Uchiha.' She had been doing this for a million times in vain yet she stayed resolute.

Sakura knew that whenever she was nervous or excited, she tended to talk too fast and sometimes, without thinking. "Don't bother about that witch, Sasuke-kun. I’m sorry that your shameful sister is such a horrible, manipulative bitch. Must be difficult for yo—"

Sasuke slapped her hands away powerfully, something he never did before. She squawked in both shocked and pain. Sakura staggered backwards at his intense scowl—his face tight with barely restrained anger. He swiftly held a menacing finger to her stunned pretty face. But through her eyes, everything moved at a sedated pace the moment she saw the petrifying look in his eyes. She had never seen him so angry before and it scared her. The fangirls who were cursing the blond Uchiha or gushing him with sweet words went silent with fear.

Her throat constricted as she listened to him seething. She knew the reason behind that—that look, the real trigger to that look. Yet, she chose to ignore it just because it was convenient. She was being hopelessly hopeful as always. She wanted to make belief that Sasuke was just being unduly protective over his rumoured (illegitimate) half-sister.

Everyone was shocked when some of the fangirls who bullied Naruto a week ago came to school on the next day, looking pale and disturbed. Their parents had warned them about upsetting a member from the main branch of the Uchiha family, informed severely by their superior or VVIP clients, specifically those related to one of Japan’s influential minister. One of them had been at the end of Uchiha Itachi’s glare when he visited the family for a business dinner, thanking her with an ambiguous smile for taking care of his beloved youngest sister. They were shocked to know that Naruto was related to Sasuke so closely.

She wanted to believe that Sasuke was being unnecessary posessive over his unruly sister. However, her intelligent brain said otherwise because an investigate was made after that bully incident. She had violently thrown the result away like it was poisonous and vile. Because –because it was cruel and unfair. She had fired the investigator for giving the false report, throwing all breakable things in a hysterical fit.

She had fallen madly in love with him first. She had sacrificed and did so many things, hoping Sasuke would open his eyes one day and notice her. But –but seeing that look on her precious love, her Sasuke-kun…

She saw his lips were moving, articulating words in a low, harsh voice, "Don't ever ...say that abou –"

Suddenly, she couldn't hear his voice even though she could see his lips were still moving. There was a ringing, a shrill, that was rising in frequency in her ears. She watched him leave with such brisk yet graceful strides, barely noticing the blackness was already closing in her vision. It felt so hard to breathe, like something had broken and filled up in her chest, choking her. The last thing she saw was the door to the boy's changing room slammed shut. His last words echoed nightmarishly in her head. She mentally screamed in denial before the blackness consumed her entirely.

Ever since Sabaku Gaara transferred to Konoha Private School, everything had gone all wrong and took a turn for the worse.



Fifteen days earlier… (fifteen days before the present day)


Monday, 7th January 2008

The moment Sasuke woke up to a gentle nudge and an amused 'wake up lazy-ass' with that smile he liked, he intuitively knew something was wrong.

No, it wasn't because Naruto who was being cheeky that day, poked him on his cheek when he turned to face her. He tried to poke her cheek back but he was still sluggish with sleep. Sasuke's heart skipped a beat when Naruto laughed at his futile attempts and gave him that smile again. He had whacked the back of her head, muttering an annoyed “baka,” to regain his normality and inwardly sighing in relief. Being with Naruto lately was giving him strange palpitation and an odd fluttering in his abdomen. The only way to quell it was to do things that would annoy her greatly. "Teme," she muttered darkly and rubbed her throbbing head.

Nope, it wasn't because what Naruto had done to compromise his breakfast that morning either for smacking her head. She had placed a lot of white pepper into his pancake with honey. He hacked painfully and sneezed incessantly for the next ten minutes. With tearful red eyes and itchy nose, Sasuke retaliated by throwing her bag out in the garden. He quickly dove (ahem—entered smartly) into the car where Sai was already waiting. He ordered (not breathlessly, just inhaling the necessity air quickly) to the driver to drive away quickly.

Naruto was upset when she realised the teme had left without her. It was then her favourite person and all-time saviour came to her rescue. Itachi called her name while tossing a helmet at her which she clumsily caught. He jiggled his bike keys at her and her eyes instantly brightened with mirth, reminiscing her very-much-missed weekly ride with Itachi when she was studying in Suna I.

"Arigatou nii-chan!" Naruto gave him a peck on his cheek, feeling grateful. She sat behind him and held his waist in a firm grip.

"Hn," Itachi chuckled, feeling amused as he fastened his helmet strap. The bike roared to life with a strong kick and they left with a loud rumble that broke the stillness of the morning.

.

Sasuke was waiting for the dobe to arrive as he leant against a large beam in the foyer (only because he was really bored since he was no longer in the student council). As usual, he ignored the horde of fangirls who were always devotedly followed him everywhere and had nothing productive to do. They giggled while glancing at him with blind adoration.

Luckily, his ever-clingy-and-impervious-to-his-sufferings classmate, Haruno Sakura was forced to leave when some first-years had tearfully asked her for help. Being the caring and responsible senior (obsessive and delusional fangirl aside), she went with them. Sakura had thrown many hopeful looks for him to follow her, which he ignored completely.

It was then he instinctively felt an ominous feeling rising in his chest.

A classy red car drove into the compound and parked almost in front of him. He saw a beautiful blond-haired woman in tight working clothes covering her voluptuous body was in the driver seat. Even the girls around him were rapt with attention, observing the mysterious newcomers, especially when there was such a handsome stylish boy in the car too.

"Keep clean, Ai-chan," the woman chuckled provocatively, caressing a teasing finger along his chiselled jaw line. The boy merely turned his head curtly, away from her touch. Noticing many prying eyes, she pulled the young red-haired boy forcefully by his arm and kissed his cheek with an audible smack. Sasuke gaped slightly at the illegal and immoral act happening on the school ground. His sense of duty as a former student council president unwillingly tingled. Whoever the boy was, he had no shame to show that he was a gigolo and in an indecent relationship with such sophisticated yet corrupted older woman.

Any more inappropriate act, he would force himself to put his foot down.

"Temari!" 'Ai-chan' the teenaged boy hissed furiously. He separated himself from the older woman while folding his arms across his chest, "you're embarrassing me, woman." The girls around Sasuke giggled excitedly, muttering "waaa! kawaii," "kamitteru(awesome)~ ikamen!” “kyaa! Ikebo!"

"Oh, stop being such a baby, Ai," she reprimanded while fussing over his crooked collar. That earned her a livid glare and a rough smack on her hand from the teenaged boy.

"Stop calling me that!" he snarled, opening the door with a harsh jerk and slamming it shut. The woman seemed adeptly unperturbed by his aggression and insolence.

"Loverboy will be fetching you today," the woman informed as she slid her sunglass down a little. With his back facing the woman and irritation etched on his face, 'Ai-chan' carelessly waved his hand. He briskly walked away as the older woman chuckled amusingly. "Bye, Ai-chan," she bid in a singsong tone. She pushed her sunglasses up and drove away, leaving the agitated teenaged boy.

'Charming gigolo,' Sasuke thought dryly with a raised eyebrow. 'Ai-chan' leant against one of the foyer's beams with crossed arms. He hesitated slightly when he realised that a group of girls were staring at him hungrily. He shot them a warning glare. The deranged girls shrieked gleefully, starting the red-haired boy with fright and palpable aversion to fangirls.

"Fuck off, bitches," he spat. The black eyeliner he wore intensified the ominous threat in those blazing aquamarine eyes. Despite feeling offended and afraid of the boy, the fangirls decided to distance themselves from him and admired him from afar.
Sasuke had to admit that it was convenient and he had more personal spaces now, just as he liked. Perhaps Sasuke should have him as a friend. With the red-haired boy’s presence around him, the fangirls wouldn't dare to get nearer.

A loud blaring sound broke his train of thoughts and a bike stopped in front of him. 'Finally,' Sasuke grumbled, outwardly looking rather bored from waiting. Naruto hopped off from the bike with her usual vigor that made Sasuke unwillingly smiled. She took off her helmet and passed it to Itachi, all the while refusing to look at Sasuke.

"Arigatou nii-chan for being such a nice person unlike some jerkass," Naruto smiled benignly and her tone was acid when she mentioned Sasuke indirectly. Itachi tucked a stray lock of blonde hair to the back of her ear and in a caress, he cupped her cheek—another routine she missed everytime after she had the ride with her nii-chan. It was Itachi’s way of saying that she was safe, a gesture he did since she was little whenever she felt afraid or sad. Her reply was holding his cupped hand in hers that meant ‘Thank you and I will be okay.’ Even with his helmet on, Naruto knew there was a reassuring smile on Itachi’s face. She took a step back as Itachi slid his hand away and placed it on the handle. He nodded once at Sasuke before he sped off.

Just as Naruto swivelled to glower at Sasuke, who was smirking at her, someone called out her name—her old alternate maiden name—with barely restrained delight: "Uzumaki!" Naruto jumped in shock while Sasuke stilled with confounded horror.

Sasuke watched, feeling perturbed, how Naruto's shocked expression changed as she blinked once and her shoulder slowly sagged with relief as she exhaled. A sunny smile appeared on her lightly glossed lips. She turned and her eyes shone as she looked at the red-haired 'gigolo' who was pacing sedately towards her. The 'gigolo,' in turn, was staring at her with his own aquamarine bright eyes, trying in vain to keep his face impassive.

"Uzumaki," the 'gigolo' or known as 'Ai-chan' by the older woman earlier, greeted politely. The soft expression on his face made him look dazzling that was highlighted by a well-pampered trendy hairdo with a right parting. He had a helix piercing and a black leather necklace with a unique designed pendant peeking from the unbuttoned collar of his school uniform. Those gave him a fiendish look. He also had a sturdy-looking body despite slimmer frame than Sasuke's.

Naruto, who was gasping with disbelief, finally snapped out of her trance. She ran, nearly crashed into him and squeezed his hand in hers. Staring up in pure happiness, she cooed, "Gaara!" 'Ai-chan' or now named 'Gaara' chuckled amusedly, shaking his head at her antics.

"Oh, Kami! Ai-chan! What are you doing here!? I missed you, dattebayo!" Naruto jabbered. She immediately blushed, feeling abashed at her old verbal tic resurfacing. It always happened when she felt so excited, extremely angry or terribly nervous.

"Don't call me that," Gaara growled, feigning a scowl because he was too pleased to feel upset.

Naruto gave him a mischievous grin, her arms behind her back while she looked at him conspiratorially, "eeeeeeeeehh… Hmmm…. I'm pretty sure many people calls you Ai-chan now."

Gaara threw her a caustic glare, "Only because you and that idiot lovesick Kankuro sabotage my papers."

Naruto tutted, shaking her finger at him like she was admonishing a naughty child. "He's your ani (older brother), Gaara. You are supposed to address and treat your siblings respectfully," she explained in a teasing tone.

Heaving a deep sigh, he glanced away with an unemotional face and grunted, "Whatever, Uzumaki." Naruto paled, realising how to tell her best friend not to call her Uzumaki anymore. Biting her lips worriedly, she looked up at Gaara again with a determined face. Just as she was about to say something, Sasuke harrumphed—rather loudly.

"Excuse me," he interjected and pulled Naruto to his side roughly. She cried in pain and surprise. "May I ask what the fuck do you want from Uchiha Naruto?" The group of fangirls who were unsuccessfully trying to eavesdrop, inhaled sharply when their beloved 'Sasuke-kun' had his 'precious' hand around the blond 'witch's' waist in a half hug. They seethed in anger to see the 'witch's' hand on his 'sexy' chest and she was leaning on his side.

Gaara gave him an irritated look as Naruto blanched in horror. "Uchiha?" he asked with a puzzled tone. He looked back at his best friend whose face was reddening with bare rage.

"TEME!" she roared fiercely, winding an arm and thrusting a fist towards Sasuke's cheek. Gaara quickly caught her arm and stared at her with a composed expression.

"Calm down," he reproved unemotionally, pulling the dumbfounded girl gently towards him. Naruto was astonished by his sudden change of attitude and gawked at him. For as long as Naruto had known Gaara, he not only had a volatile nature despite how much he tried to rein in his temper, but he was always quick for a scuffle, much to his siblings' mortification. Always. And—and to be intercepted by a putative hotheaded person threw her off-balance.

The fangirls began screaming with rage, cursing her for trying to hurt their 'precious Sasuke-kun'. Seeing how the red-haired bastard was taking his Naruto away, Sasuke was about to spit a curse when Gaara suddenly turned around and spoke with a low, menacing growl, "Let me instead."

Sasuke didn't see the incoming punch to his face and another to his side before he blacked out.

That had marked the day where both Sabaku Gaara and Uchiha Naruto became the prime enemies of the fan club, who fruitlessly tried to bring them down.

.

It was supposed to be a 'new beginning' to one Uchiha Naruto because it was her first day as a proud 2S-Class scholarship student. No one in history had change classes (especially S-class and getting a scholarship on top of that) at this time of the year, but she did, albeit it was a disguise to the real reason. She had made sure everything was neat (or as well-ordered as a 'rehabilitating' sloppy person could be). She ironed her uniform twice (nearly burning it near the hem for trying to be precise). She polished her special badge that gleamed 'SS' acronym for 'scholarship student,'and shined her shoes until she could see her own reflection on it. Now, no one would know that she was placed there because she was married to the future head of the family—except for Nara Shikamaru, who had his suspicion confirmed when he picked up a very upset and tearful Naruto during the first day of winter break. He had made sure that she was all better before they arrived quite late to Kiba's large mansion, much to the said Inuzuka's chagrin.

Being a scholarship student in the accelerated program meant that she was now deemed a free, happy and hardworking Uchiha. Now, no one would say that she was unworthy or a disgrace.

She remembered when Madara had requested to talk to her personally during the first party she attended to as an Uchiha. He had congratulated her for her achievement and crooned how he was proud of her. He informed her that she was already a pride of the family, with or without the scholarship. Holding her hands in his wrinkled ones, he advised in a gentle voice that she shouldn't feel intimidated by their ever-judgmental relatives. Madara wanted her to be herself without feeling afraid. He preferred her without the stress of being a scholarship student. He was very much able and proud to sponsor her study, but Naruto insisted on standing on her own, which made him smile. He assured her that if there was anything she wanted, he would grant her wishes. Madara reminded her that she was the beloved granddaughter of his best friend and they were now a family.

Her heart warmed with happiness when he said that and Naruto broke out in tears at the mentioned of her grandmother. Madara had held her tenderly, muttering words of comfort as he cradled her like a child. Despite feeling bewildered on how different the head of the family was compared to what she was told by her tutor, she easily saw him in a new light: a kind grandfather. No wonder Sasuke cared for him so much.

What Naruto didn't understand was when Madara advised her to be patient. Especially when dealing with Sasuke and to take the marriage a pace at a time. She felt like he had wrongly assumed that they were in a relationship when he compared them to him and his late wife. Because the way he spoke about Keiko-baachan in a tender voice and the shine in his dark eyes were nothing like Sasuke's. Naruto's wish to marry out of love, like her parents did, died the moment the wedding ring was slid on her finger. It felt heavy around her neck and she thumbed the ring on her necklace. They were only friends—best friends. Just that. Period.

Naruto wished that she could show Madara her new badge, but he was on a long business trip. She smiled at the approaching staff who gave her booklets and files for two. She thanked the staff who replied, "You're welcome, Uchiha-san." Naruto passed a set to Gaara, who was scrutinising her closely.

"What?" she asked, beckoning him to follow her with a slight tilt of her head.

"You've …," he hesitated, giving her a glance as they ambling down the corridor towards their classroom, "…changed."
She shot him a perplexed look and faltered a reply, "Is …that a bad thing?"

Shrugging, the red-haired teenager shifted his gaze to watch a group of students out on the field. "Not really," he imparted, "Just…" He turned to look at her, wondering if he should voice out the rest of his thoughts. Naruto knew what he wanted to ask and she had been postponing the inevitable. She exhaled loudly, belatedly realising that she had been holding her breath while pondering over the matter.

"I'd rather you call me by my given name instead, Gaara. I…" she swallowed, dragging her feet a little, "I am in an arranged marriage for almost two months now… um, I'm married t-to Sa-Sasuke." Her voice quivered a moment and she laughed nervously, not daring to meet his eyes. "Sa-Sasuke is that guy you p-punched e-earlier, dattebayo," Naruto mumbled as she rubbed her neck anxiously. She remembered how furious Sasuke's fangirls had been and fighting with each other who should be bringing Sasuke to the infirmary. Luckily, the eccentric English teacher, Kakashi-sensei was nearby and had brought him there instead. She reckoned that Gaara would criticise her brutally and tell her off how stupid she had been into agreeing to such a thing. Squaring her shoulders, she braced herself for his remarks.

She didn't expect a gentle hand was on her shoulder, stopping her stride. She bravely met his eyes and was shocked to see the worry and understanding in those aquamarine eyes. His usually stoic face softened and she could see the sadness on his face. Sadness and profuse understanding.

Her lower lip began to tremble slightly. No one had ever given her that look or tried to ask for her opinion about entering into an arranged married. The way Gaara had looked at her made her realised why he was her best friend. He was someone who was equally or perhaps, even more close than Sasuke had been. No one else understood her fate better than Gaara would. They were so alike and she had forgotten how she always felt connected to him in many ways.

Even Gaara himself was being protected by the Uchiha family through Izuna. He was just like her—living with constant death threats and kidnap attempts, just because he was the youngest in his family. No matter what they did or who they hired to protect him, it was always hopeless. Akatsuki, the notorious yet powerful Yakuza group, had been an infamously skilled group terrorising Japan for thirty years and counting. They took up the mantle and name of the disbanded strongest yakuza clan that had reigned for centuries. No matter how the Inuzuka Police Force tried to uncover their illegal works even with the help of the disbanded yazuka clan, Akatsuki had learnt the trades of their predecessors and exceeded them exceptionally. Gaara was successfully kidnapped twice and his family had paid ransom for his release, not without traumatising him severely before handing him back. His grandfather, the minister, had felt so relieved when Izuna took his grandson under his wing as his apprentice and ward.

Naruto couldn't believe she had doubted him—her best friend who was like a brother to her. She stared at him wistfully with unshed tears, taking his outstretched hand in her own shaking one. With a light tug, he hugged her firmly as she wept into his embrace. He patted her back comfortingly, eyes shifted from the top of her head to the students outside. He saw Sasuke who was stumbling a little on his feet, pressing a hand on his side and covering his swollen cheek with an ice-pack. The school's doctor came running behind him and calling for him, which the Uchiha heir had ignored entirely as he walked as fast as he was able.

Gaara's aquamarine eyes hardened with resolve as he vowed solemnly. He would make Sasuke's life difficult and taunt him as much as he could. After all, he had seen the way Sasuke looked at Naruto and the way the future head had scrutinised him with a vigilant eye. Knowing his best friend who was like a precious sister to him, Naruto had always been an airhead, albeit an endearing one. What a brother got to do other than to protect his dearest sister, right?

.

The moment Naruto and Gaara entered the classroom after lunch, she was intercepted by an irate brown-haired Inuzuka with a grab on her shoulder. "Where have you been?" Startled, Naruto was about to reply when Kiba's almond eyes shifted from her to

Gaara who was standing behind her. "Subaku-san?" he gawked, staring at him in disbelief. Gaara nodded at him once and observed the rest of the class, ignoring the incredulous gazes from their classmates.

"You know him, Kibbles?" Naruto questioned, staring up at the Inuzuka heir. Glancing down at her, he belatedly realised his hand was still firmly on her shoulder. Muttering an apology, he bobbed his head in a positive reply.

"Yea, of course. He's one of my students in my awesome jujitsu class I'm holding every Saturday morning," he said smugly. He pulled on his blazer's sleeve smartly to gauge an expected reaction from his blonde friend who scoffed a bland "whatever Kibs."

"But..but—when I was told that a Sabaku Gaara was coming to our class, I thought it was a joke. What are you doing here in Konoha High, Subaku-san?" he asked. Gaara merely stared at him in reply which earned exasperated sighs from the other two. Kiba and Naruto shared a bewildered look and a dawn of understanding lit on their faces. They both were familiar with Gaara's unsociable-and-at-times-short-fused personality. Chuckling, Kiba spoke with a finger scratching his chin, "Articulate as ever that one is."

"A chatty companion indeed," Naruto said dryly, rolling her eyes at Gaara's squinted eyes. Kiba paled at the glare, taking a step back out of reflex. "Gaara," Naruto admonished in a teasing tone, gesturing him to take a seat beside her. Shooting Kiba an amused look, she grinned, "This class is having two of us, dattebayo!" Naruto had two fingers waving at Kiba excitedly and she blushed when she realised her verbal tic was back again. "Kami-sama, three times today... I'm reverting back to my old habit," she mourned, crestfallen.

"Not on my watch, Uzu—Naruto," Gaara glowered, infliction dimmed by the slight blush at his slip-up. Naruto couldn't stop the delighted grin appearing on her face when Gaara had finally called her by her first name. Just for the sake of annoying him, she excitedly pumped a fist into the air, "Datteba—ump!" She feigned a snivel and tended to the pain on her head after Gaara had hit her.

"I cannot believe this... are you... are you the rumoured 'Ai-chan' The one the girls are talking about?!" Kiba exclaimed, pointing a finger at him. Kiba missed Gaara's death glare only because Naruto made him glance her way when she asked, "What 'rumoured Ai-chan?"

"The one who ran over Uchiha Sasuke over a red truck because Ai-chan here," Kiba yelped in a high-pitched tone when he met Gaara's dark stare before continuing in a trembling voice, "I-I mean, you-know-who ...didn’t like the fact that Uchiha Sasuke is… well, our ‘shiogao danshi’ and much better looking. He sent Sasuke-senpai straight to the hospital because of that." There was a long pause before Naruto laughed heartily.

"That's just ridiculous, Kibbles. Of course—" Naruto was interrupted by another classmate who was looking at Gaara warily, "I heard it as you-know-who came to assassinate the Uchiha heir for the family's heirloom, but failed miserably. Sasuke-senpai was sent to the ICU with twenty broken bones and comatoes. Pity…"

"Are you kidding me?" scoffed a blonde female classmate, "I heard it as this witch here is smitten with her own relative—oh my god, you’re so disgusting—and wanted to catch his attention by frolicking with another hottie who fell for her witchcraft. Sasuke-kun wanted to save the Uchiha's name and tried to take her away, but this hottie over here got upset and baaaaammm." She threw a disgusted look at paled Naruto, "Way to go, tarnishing the Uchiha's name like that."

"Ino," Shikamaru snapped in a final tone when he entered the classroom, "Enough." The classroom fell silent and everyone went back to their seat again.

Ever since Shikamaru took up the mock-up test at his own will, everyone was feeling a little apprehensive and treated him with high regard. He was even elected to take over Sasuke's position as Student Council President after Sasuke had stepped down, ignoring the fact that Shikamaru never once ran for the election. He had been telling anyone who would listen to him that he did not sign up for this goddamn burdensome chore. Even during his first speech, he had said that he was feeling quite troubled by the unnecessary appointment. He received a standing ovation for the next three minutes with everyone wishing him to bring the school's name to a better level. He felt worse when he received a pat on the shoulder with a hopeful gaze from the principal too. He resigned to his fate when he realised that he was dealing with a ridiculous crowd. Every time he was stuck in a troublesome situation, Shikamaru was unable to stop himself from cursing Kiba in a vast range of vocabulary (and soon, different languages) for provoking him to take that goddamn mock-up test!

The Nara heir threw a half-hearted glower at Kiba who was about to dig his own grave. "So, since we're classmates and have a mutual friend, we're friends, right?" Kiba cheered and daringly hooked an arm around Gaara's shoulder. The dangerous stare Gaara shot him made him tumbled and he cried painfully when the corner of a table hit on his left kidney. "Kami, you're scary as always," he whimpered, tendering to his bruise.

"I thought he’s just a student from your awesome jujitsu class, Kibs. Surely, a sensei isn’t afraid of his disciple, right?," Naruto teased as Kiba sat down in his seat. Before he could retort, their English teacher entered with lazy strides. "Kiritsu!" he grudgingly called out, hissing a little when he tried to stand straight. He mentally groaned when he gave out the next order, knowing how painful his bruise would be.



Twelve days later… (Three days before the present day)


Saturday, 19th January 2008

Massaging his aching head, Kiba mourned for his peace days. Ever since the semester started, his days had been circulating around the two Uchihas who were bickering incessantly. At times, it escalated badly that they started to fight physically. He peeked a glance through the gaps of his fingers and groaned inwardly, 'nope, they're still at it.'

He had long learnt to never get in between their fights. Sai had tried once too many to stop the fight, only to be dragged into it. Even he had tried once and that punch he received from an irate female Uchiha was enough reminder for him to never cross a woman's wrath. He just didn't understand why Sasuke had to be goddamn controlling over the blonde for everything she had to do, and it got especially frustrating when it evolved around his red-haired classmate. There was always one question lingering in his mind ever since: What was so special about Naruto to warrant such possessiveness from the Uchiha family heir?

He wondered if Sasuke was actually trying to be caring towards his blonde relative—illegitimate half-sister, according to the rumour circulating in the school ever since the bully incident a few days ago. He knew that Sasuke had a soft spot when it came to his younger brother, Sai. But since Sasuke was a goddamn asshole all the time, he just didn't know how to express it properly.

He felt his blood ran cold at the thought of Naruto had a horrible past before she was taken under the Uchiha main family's care. Maybe that was the reason why Sasuke had been so adamant about her whereabouts as he felt she was his responsibility. That wasn't an assuring thought at all. What if Naruto was still in danger?

However, being the future chief of Inuzuka Police Force meant that he had accessed to many levels of restriction cases. He had read files after files on the Uchiha's family and he had never stumbled upon Naruto's name. He mused where Naruto fitted in the Uchiha's family. Perhaps, the crazy rumour that Naruto was Sasuke's illegitimate half-sister, as scandalous as it sounded, was the reason why her name was never mentioned in the family registry. He just couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing a bigger picture. Everything about Uchiha Naruto was mysterious and puzzling. He remembered that he wanted to ask Shikamaru about solving this myster—

"Whatever you're thinking right now, stop it," Shikamaru said languidly, shifting in his seat to find a comfortable spot. Kiba drew a sharp breath. The fact that the Nara heir told him to not mull over Naruto's enigmatic situation instead of unravelling it was very telling.

"You knew something I don't," Kiba stated, scrutinising the lazy genius who was an expert on ignoring troublesome situations. The silence he received was his only answer. Kiba knew that if there was anyone trustworthy in keeping secrets to his grave, that person was Shikamaru. Sighing loudly, he watched helplessly as Naruto screamed over Sasuke's loud remarks on why she should not be going out to celebrate Gaara's birthday.

Gaara's birthday was the reason they were at Naruto's place. It was his turn to pick everyone up and now was waiting for the final member to get into the car and drive away. Gaara's siblings (especially his super hot sister) had been so ecstatic when Gaara had told them that he was going to have dinner with some bossy classmates for his birthday. Kiba swore that he had never seen how alive in his languorous manner Shikamaru had been interacting with the twenty-years-old Temari earlier.

Despite hanging out with the red-haired classmate for almost two weeks, Kiba still found it difficult to approach him. But he was getting better at interpreting some looks now. Fortunately, Kiba was quite adepted when it came to Gaara's stages of temper as he was always at the end of his classmate's rage most of the time (excluding Sasuke, of course). Unfortunately, that steadily visible tic beside Gaara’s eye and the way Gaara's thumb was rubbing his index and middle finger in irregular circles were defined as ‘Gaara's-about-to-snap’ point. If he didn't do something now, he knew things were about to be catastrophic.

"That's it," was the only verbal warning they received before Gaara left the white limo with uncompromising strides. Kiba grasped his wrist a moment too late when he was grabbing onto the air instead. He watched in horror as Gaara stormed towards the three Uchiha. Sai, who had decided to watch hopelessly at the side had a panicked look on his face when he saw the youngest Sabaku was approaching them.

"SHIT!" Kiba and Shikamaru swore almost in unison, running to catch up. As they approached, the shouting was getting louder and their patience was wearing thinner.

"THIS IS MY LIFE, SASUKE! MINE! I'LL GO WHEREVER I—"

"THE FUCK YOU WILL. THAT MANIPULATIVE DEMON—"

"THAT PERSON IS MY BEST FRIEND—"

"LIKE HELL HE IS. I AM YOUR BEST FR—"

"Haha! THE WAY IT IS NOW, YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A GODDAMN BAST—"

"YOU’RE JUST BLIND, NARU—"

"WHAT THE FUCK?! FOR A THOUSAND TIME, GAARA IS MY—"

"THAT'S WHY YOU'RE FUCKING STUPID, YOU FRUSTRA—"

"YOU BLOODY TAKE THAT BACK, YOU—YOU—"

"FACTS DOBE, THAT'S ALL FAC—"

Kiba wasn't sure if it was the piling frustration that accumulated throughout that twelve days enduring the vexatious Uchiha pair who quarrelled like a conflictual married couple, or if it was the anger and frustration he held in for so long as he watched on how controlling and unfairly Sasuke had treated Naruto during that period, or if he was so mad when Shikamaru's arms were holding him back in an iron grip from doing the same deed Gaara had done; but the sound of the punch on Sasuke's face, the way he practically flew back and landed hard on his back, and the way he groaned in agony... those were so satisfying that he forgot how light it felt like to be free from the stress.

He just wished that it was him who did the punching. Because, at least, he wouldn't hit the Uchiha heir so hard that he looked quite disorientated. But serve him right, though. He was being a pain-in-the-ass for the whole twelve days that even he, the onlooker, couldn't take it anymore. Naruto cried Sasuke's name out of worry and wanted to tend to Sasuke's wound, but Gaara had stopped her. Kiba was so grateful that Gaara had swiftly taken her away like a gallant knight saving his princess. Gaara, however, didn’t stop there. He swivelled around, hand still gripping hard on Naruto’s wrist, and smirked at Sasuke. With a condenscending look, he spoke with much vanity, "I'm taking what's mine."

‘Yes, he is taking...wait—what?! WHY THE HELL IS THAT BAKA TRYING TO RILE THAT UCHIHA UP?! BAKA!’ If only that Sabaku wasn't looking so murderously, he would have screamed that to his face. "S-so, it's true then?" Kiba wondered aloud, thinking about a rumour that Gaara and Naruto were dating. It did fit the damn puzzle about why Gaara was always together with Naruto anyway. However, that didn't explain Sasuke's possessive attitude. He acted as thought he was being threatened that his girlfriend was about to be swept away. That would be ridiculous because Naruto's his rumoured illegitimate half-sister, right? That would spell incest all over. He gave them a pointed look who were sitting across him in the limo—‘huh? when the heck did we entered the car?’

"When you were having a mental breakdown," Shikamaru murmured, reading his facial expression which now was a look of astonishment, "Even a two-year-old can read you like an open book, baka." Feeling insulted, Kiba grumpily fixed his collar and combed his messy hair with his fingers. He harrumphed loudly before he stared accusingly at his two friends.

"So, it's true then? Are you guys are actually together?" he asked and his almond eyes squinted at the thought that they were dating behind his back. Naruto was sitting with her arms folded, looking torn between worried and seriously upset as she glared out the car’s window. Gaara was, as always, looking aloof, but Kiba knew that slight crease on his forehead meant that he wasn't entirely pleased. "Well?" he piped up again, "Anyone?"

It was when Shikamaru sighed wistfully that Kiba realised he was the only one in the circle who didn't know anything. "Don't give me that betrayed puppy look, and no, they aren't together. Gaara is just being troublesome," Shikamaru muttered.

Kiba looked around again, feeling slightly dejected, "You guys aren't going to tell me anything about some secret here? I know there is one, or a few, and I wouldn’t judge you for anything. We’re friends no matter what.” He threw a serious look at Naruto, who was looking torn.

There was a moment of silence before Naruto whispered sadly, “Thank you, Kiba, but I’m not ready.” He was surprised to hear her call by his name properly, but he understood the seriousness implied. He grinned and yelled happily, “It’s okay. Plus, it’s Sabaku-san’s birthday. Throw away those glummy face and snots, and let’s par-teehh!” There was a murmur of amused words and chuckle. “There was no snot, Kibs. That’s your specialty, dog-face,” was Naruto teasing murmur when she met his bright eyes with a smile on her face. Gaara’s hum of aggrement made Kiba squawk indignantly.

Naruto giggled, feeling thankful for having good friends.



A day later… (two days before the present day)


Sunday, 20th January 2008>/u>

Inuzuka Kiba knew he should have waited like a loyal friend for Naruto to tell him about the secrets. He knew he could wait, but he was just being cautious. What if because he wasn’t unaware of her situation, something bad happened and he didn’t know how to assess the situation at its utmost potential? That thought alone was the reason why he was rummaging through files about the Uchiha Clan in Inuzuka Police Force headquarters on a wonderful Sunday morning. No matter what he read, or which photos he was scrutinizing, there was absolutely no information about Uchiha Naruto’s condition.

He heaved an exasperated sigh, rubbing his face out of frustration. He knew when things happened, he could always wing it. But this was someone he cared for very much. Naruto was his close friends. She was one of his precious persons. Anything could happen if Akatsuki, especially, found out about this and will use her to get to him, or something similar.

Kiba threw the umpteen files on the hazardous heap that was about to spill off the resource room’s large table. He felt like he was missing something vital and he hated that feeling. He felt like he had forgotten something, but no matter how much he probed, he couldn’t put a finger on it.

“What, what, what, what, what,” Kiba whined as he hit his head hard repeatedly on the desk, hoping that he could force the memory out.

“You know, you’ll get a concussion if you do that, Kiba-kun,” a familiar amused voice chuckled.

“AAAAA!” Kiba jumped in his seat and a hand on his frantic heart. The other person laughed audibly, passing by the teenager and rummaging through a stack of files in another set of a file cabinet. “Minato-sensei! I’ll die out of heart attack if you keep doing that!”

Namikaze Minato, IPF’s criminal psychologist, hummed thoughtfully, his back facing the teenager. “Perhaps. But I believe that it is a part of your training to be vigilant. Or is Ibiki-san being soft on you?” he pondered aloud, pressing his fingers to his lips as he feigning a serious look.“I guess I should ask him to upgrade your training regiment.”

“OH KAMI! NO!” Kiba pleaded, feeling horrified. “Please, please, please, no! I—I was just …tired. I didn’t mean to,” he justified, looking around desperately. “P—Plus, you’re the one who sneaks like a ghost, sensei! No one can hear you coming. Not even Itachi-senpai and—and he’s the best!” Minato laughed when Kiba’s voice broke.

“I’m only joking, Kiba-kun,” he jested, turning to look at the panicky teenager. Kiba pouted and folded his arms across his chest. The older man couldn’t resist to ruffle the teenager’s hair, which earned him another indignant grumble from the boy. “So, what are you doing here instead of going out on a date on this beautiful Sunday, hmm?”

Kiba turned red at once. “I—I don’t have a girlfriend!” he spluttered.

“Eeeh… I was so sure that I heard you have a crush on someone,” the man speculated, “A bird told me that the girl was pretty and kind.”

“Hi-Hi-Hinata-senpai is very beautiful and very gentle!” Kiba stammered, his arms flailing around. “She’s great and wonderful. She’s incredible at baking, loves gardening and very kind to small animals.”

“Wow, Hyuuga Hinata?” Minato asked and Kiba nodded in reply, crestfallen. “I—I don’t think she’ll like me. I think she has someone she likes,” Kiba’s voice was small and sad. “Sai-senpai said so…”

“Hey, hey,” Minato gently consoled, patting on the boy’s back. “Don’t say that. You’re a great guy. From where I stand, I think you suit her very much.” Kiba glanced hopefully at the psychologist.

“You really think so, sensei?” the boy asked.

“I know so,” Minato assured earnestly. Kiba grinned happily.

“Thank you, sensei! I guess I’ll give it a go,” he resolved.

Minato nodded and smiled at the teenager before he went back to his task. Kiba began arranging the files and keep them back into the cabinet. He was startled when he heard the man sighed forlornly. “What’s wrong, sensei?” he asked.

“Oh, sorry, was that loud? I didn’t mean to,” Minato apologised as he flipped through the papers.

“It’s okay. It’s just that you sounded quite troubled. I can help you if you want to,” the teenager offered. His tone was sincere.

“No, it’s alright,” Minato reassured. He sighed again and looked at a corner of the room. “It’s just that… talking to you reminded me that I missed talking to my daughter. It has been a while since I last saw her…”

“Ah, yes, I totally forgot you had a—” Kiba went still. He stared at the man in disbelief. The same blond hair and similar bright azure eyes. Best friend of Uchiha Fugaku. Had excellent connection with the Uchiha Clan. Only child of the mayor of Konoha. A Senju who took up his father’s family name upon entering the field.

Suddenly, everything clicked. Just like a switch was flipped and all the answers revealed. “Oh Kami, Naruto.”

Minato brightened at the name. “Oh, you know my girl?”

Kiba’s speculation being confirmed, he nodded in reply, “Very much so, sensei.” He couldn’t stop the sigh escaped his lips, “Very much so.”



Present day


Tuesday, 22nd January 2008

When Naruto wanted to talk to Kiba about her true identity yesterday, he just smiled benignly at her with a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Naruto. I know. And just so you know, you’re still my friend no matter what. In all honesty, Sasuke-senpai’s an idiot.” Naruto was baffled, but she giggled when Kiba continued in his usual jest, “Oh, and a jerkass too. Kami, he’s the biggest idiot the world has ever produced! Aho-suke-senpai. Yes, that name suits him!”

“Hmm, I’ll go for Boke-suke-senpai. It rhymes,” Shikamaru gave his two cents, smiling slightly when Naruto burst out laughing. She had been quite depressed lately that it was quite refreshing to see her laugh and smile freely again.

Naruto smiled at the memory, muttering a silent “Boke-suke” and giggled quietly.

“What’s so funny?” Gaara asked as he took a seat beside her and passed her a warm can drink from the dispenser. After the fight at the indoor swimming pool, Gaara thought that the school garden was secluded and serene enough for Naruto to compose herself.

“Ah, it’s nothing,” she smiled, plucking the tab. “I just remembered yesterday. Boke-suke sounds really funny.”

Gaara frowned, but hummed in reply. It was obvious that he didn’t like the senior at all.

“You know,” she smiled bitterly, “even with all these things happening, in the end, he’s my family.” Naruto sighed dejectedly, “Like it or not, he’s my husband. But at least, he’s keeping his promise not to tell others about our relationship for now. I like this freedom while it lasts.”

“Tsk,” was Gaara reply. There was a pause before he continued, “He better keep his promise, or else.”

Naruto chuckled amusedly. She felt warm how protective Gaara was towards her. She felt so lucky to have reliable friends. When Gaara saw she shivered when the cold wind blew, he stood up straight and gestured for her to follow. They fell into a comfortable silence as they walked back to class to retrieve their bags. The corridor was quiet because school ended a while ago and only those who had activities after school stayed in their respective places.

So, it was confusing when they arrived at the class, only to be filled with Sasuke’s fan club. They were looking at her with mixed emotions of hatred, anger and resentment.

“What’s going on here?” Naruto asked boldly.

The vice-president of the club, her classmate, Yamanaka Ino took a few steps forward towards her and stood with a hand on her hip. She was staring at her with squinted eyes before shifting momentarily to Gaara and then back at her again. With a determined gaze, she inhaled deeply and asked, “Is it true you’re married to Uchiha Sasuke?”

Naruto heard her world shattered behind her. Like a glass smashed into a million pieces.

How could he.



1 day before Uchiha Sasuke realises that he is in love
338 days before Uchiha Naruto falls in love


Chapter Text

A toddler aged one and a quarter stumbled on his little feet as he looked around excitably. There were a lot of white walls everywhere, the child noted and grinned. Usually, white walls meant he was allowed to colour on them, as what his mother had told him when she pointed positively at the white sheet and negatively on everything else including his otou-chan's appointment book and workplace.

"Sasuke-chan. Slow down, sweetheart," Mikoto admonished her youngest child who shrieked playfully. He toddled in awkward and shaky strides with two hands supporting himself against the walls. He nearly fell twice and conceded to what he did best when it came to running away from watching eyes: speed crawling. On his knees and hands, little Sasuke was devastatingly quick and an adorable menace, tiring anyone out who had to look after him. The woman smiled when she saw the mischievous glint in his eyes before the toddler disappeared into the right corridor.

She saw an old couple who was sitting on the bench and cooing at the child, looking impressed at his progress. Pride swelled in her chest. She knew her children were quite ahead than most children were. She took a glance at her six-years-old eldest son who was walking beside her, oozing calmness and grace unlike most of his age. His eyes sparkled with high intellectual as he observed his surroundings with palpable interest.

"Sasuke is awfully quiet, Mikoto," a husky voice piped up. A hint of worry in his voice.

She met the knowing gaze of her husband, frowning, "He wouldn't." It was the hospital, a public place for God's sake. He wouldn't be doing something she thought he would, would he?

"He would, and you know it," Fugaku chuckled, seeing the dread dawning on her pretty face.

Mikoto cursed inwardly, walking briskly towards the corridor her youngest had disappeared into. She sighed with exasperation when she saw Sasuke's hands were wet with red watercolour and he gleefully smudging his fingers on the wall. A nurse was squatting beside him, trying to pry his hands away from the wall while gently talking to him, but Sasuke ignored her.

"I'm so sorry, miss. This is my child," she apologised, pulling out a wet tissue to clean up Sasuke's little hands. The child whined, but allowed his mother with her cleaning.

"It's alright, ma'am. He's very cute and creative," the nurse gushed, standing up with a clipboard pressed against her chest.

"Thank you. His name is Sasuke and he loves hand printing," Mikoto giggled quietly, and then gesturing at the wall, "We'll clean this up too." Sasuke began to whine louder and struggle in her arms.

"No worries, ma'am. I've called for the janitor. He's on his way," she assured and bid them goodbye.

"I should have known when I heard that whiny shriek." Mikoto swivelled to the amused voice and saw a blonde haired man walking towards them. Minato laughed when he saw Sasuke's masterpiece in the hospital corridor, catching the child's attention with his peal of laughter. "Oh, the little terror strikes again," he hunched down and pinched Sasuke's cheek, who pouted huffily at the man.

"Tell me about it," Fugaku groaned, rubbing his face in chagrin when he saw the smudged wall. Mikoto and Minato laughed heartily at Fugaku's lament. Itachi giggled quietly and saw his little brother hastily crawling away to freedom. He wasn't worried because Sasuke had followed a nurse carrying a white bundle into a room where he knew Kushina was in. He listened to the adults talking about the upcoming Uchiha family dinner that will be held that night and how his parents were worried about Madara's indifference and negligence for his own health.

Sasuke quickly crawled into the room before the door closed shut and looked up. He saw the lady was giving the white sheets to Namikaze Kushina. He tried to stand on his feet again, nearly jumped in fright when the nurse cooed aloud at him. He fell on his bottom and glared at the lady.

"Please put him on the bed," Kushina requested, smiling at the child. Sasuke wriggled hard and wailed when the nurse scooped him up, only to quietly sob once he was placed beside the red-haired woman. He crawled towards her, sniffing and pouting as he stared at the white bundle. Kushina gave him a half hug and planted a kiss on his head.

"Sha-ke-cha ka-er? (colour)" Sasuke asked, pointing at the white sheet and fishing out a red and blue watercolour tube out of his pocket. Kushina laughed, ruffling his hair with adoration.

"No, no, Sasuke-chan," she tapped on his nose when the child pouted grumpily, "come meet my baby." Sasuke perked up at the word 'baby' and saw a small sleeping face as Kushina peeled the sheet.

He gasped aloud, pointing at the small baby, "Wed baby! Wed baby! (red baby)" The infant began to stir awake, whimpering and clenching her tiny fists. Kushina hushed and rocked the child in her arm, stopping the baby from wailing aloud. Sasuke slapped both his little hands on his mouth and mumbled a muffled apology, "O-ey. (Sorry)."

"It's okay, sweetie," Kushina beamed and shifted the baby nearer to the toddler. "Sasuke-chan, meet my baby girl, Naruto," she breathed, her voice thick with love. "Sweetheart," she caressed the baby's cheek and the baby moved slightly in the layer of sheets, "this is Sasuke-chan."

Sasuke squirmed as he stared at the sleeping baby. There was a confused look on his face.

"What's wrong, Sasuke-chan?" she probed, wondering what the child was up to this time. Sasuke fidgeted a little more before voicing out his thoughts, "Baby wed. Ku-cha angwy baby? (Baby red. Kushina-chan angry baby)"

Luckily, she understood what he meant. Last week, Sasuke took his love for red too far and drenched himself with the colour. Mikoto nearly had a heart attack, thinking that her youngest was bleeding heavily. Sasuke was shocked with her reaction and had bawled.

"No, I'm not angry. Naru-chan is just born. She's a new baby, see? She's very, very small," she explained, holding out her finger where the baby had a firm grip on. "Sasuke-chan was tiny too when you are a new baby."

"Awwh," the child nodded, "Sha-ke-cha ig naw (Sasuke-chan big now)." His chest puffed up with pride, "Sha-ke-cha baby ni-cha (Sasuke-chan baby's nii-chan)." Kushina gasped, feeling touched and surprised, and smiled at the older child.

She kissed the toddler's hair again and murmured a positive reply. She then pressed her lips to the baby's cheek, breathing in her scent and smile again.

"My beautiful daughter, Namikaze Naruto," she whispered in awe and her eyes watered with happiness. She chuckled when she saw Sasuke crouched nearer and brought the infant closer to him again. Sasuke smacked aloud on her cheek, earning a soft whine from the rousing baby.

Suddenly, the door opened and Minato's eyes softened at the precious scene before him. He took a step backwards, halfway outside from the room and nodded, "Ita-chan's right. The little terror is here."

Grinning proudly, the blonde man walked towards the occupants in the room. He hooked his hands under Sasuke's armpit and leant softly beside his wife, placing the toddler on his lap. Minato kissed Kushina gently on her lips and looked fondly at the little bundle of sunshine in her arms. He caressed her little blonde tufts and planted a kiss on her forehead.

"Aww… Sasuke-chan saw the baby first," Mikoto bemoaned playfully and pinched on her youngest son's cheek just to annoy him a little. Instead of pouting as she had expected, Sasuke perked up and clapped his hands happily.

"Sha-ke-cha shee baby fersh. (Sasuke-chan see baby first) Baby mine," the toddler declared smugly, earning a chortling laughter from Kushina, a giggle from his mother, a torn reaction between amused and exasperation from his father and a hearty chuckle from Minato. Baby Naruto squirmed in her sleep, whining as she was about to cry.

"My baby is barely a few hours old and she has her first marriage proposal already," Minato joked, thumping on Fugaku's back good-natured.

"Kami no," the Uchiha man feigning a horrified look, "the day we become in-laws is the day the world end, Senna." He pointed an accusing finger to his best friend and stared in mocked disgust at his wife, "I've had enough of him growing up, Mikoto. I don't want to grow old with him too. I've had enough Senju nightmare for a lifetime."

"Aww… Fuuuukuuu… I'm so touched," Minato crowed, teasing him by clinging on his back which he knew well Fugaku disliked. Fugaku was slapping his attempts away as Minato continued, "I wanna grow old with you too."

"My son is never going to take your stupid Namikaze name," Fugaku hissed, attempting to push an elbow hard into Minato's gut when the blonde-haired man succeeded and laid his chin on Fugaku's shoulder.

"Aww, so, you're okay with our kids marrying with each other," Minato sniffed, wiping away non-existent tears away as he allowed the incoming hit. Fugaku smug at his childhood friend's pained whimpers.

"I still haven't forgiven you for changing your surname, Senna. Senju was a better option," he criticised and nearly snarled as he spoke again, "rather than taking up your father's surname."

Minato lamely ducked away from the smack on of his head as he still refused to let go of Fugaku's shoulders, " Ah, well... I can't complain about his choice of writing, but you have to admit he can write well." Minato gave him a cheeky look.

"Honey!" Mikoto scolded, looking betrayed at her husband, "You said you never read it!"

"I-I-I" Fugaku stuttered, looking mortified and clenched his jaw before turning to the laughing man, growling angrily—intention lost as his face red with shame, "You're a dead man, Minato."

Mikoto and Kushina laughed at their husbands antic. Giggling silently, Itachi looked away to see what his little brother was up to. He wasn't surprised when he saw his baby brother staring at the baby in wonder and envy. Sasuke was patting the baby to sleep, just like how he saw Kushina did earlier. He predicted that Sasuke might pull another stunt of colouring himself red soon. From the look of it, Itachi reckoned it'd be really soon.

Little did he know that instead of colouring himself, he'd be colouring on a very strict and difficult man that night which would melt the icy heart of one Uchiha Madara.

.

.

Continue: 22nd January 2008

Namikaze Minato stared grimly at the reports before him and heaved a deep sigh at the findings. A large burly man stood up, putting on his dark coat on as he walked towards the door. He heard Minato's phone vibrated and stopped, waiting for his partner for their latest report.

"The target was contacted again. Four times, but no progress as usual," the blonde man informed. Morino Ibiki grunted in reply. "It's getting frequent," Minato's azure eyes sharpened, turning to look at his partner who was checking on his guns and wallet.

"That's the seventh today and it's barely afternoon. They're getting impatient," the larger man sneered in a gruff tone.

Minato pressed his lips together, feeling displeased. It felt different this time, and ominous. He just hoped his gut instinct was wrong.

"We need Kiba-kun," Minato spoke, almost quietly and sharp, and Ibiki hissed at him for pulling in their future boss into this dangerous mission. The taller man knew defeat when he met the dangerously calculating blue eyes. He knew how large the margins of defeats and victories when he was against the blonde-haired man. People called Ibiki the devil, but no one realised that real demons lived in the dark—observing, planning, manipulating and executing so cleverly in the shadows. If Ibiki had a say, if he was a demon, Minato was the King.

He punched the wall, Minato didn't even bat an eye to his vexation, and roared, "That baby boss better show progress or I'll triple that brat's bloody training!"

.

When Sakura stirred into consciousness, the first thing she was aware of was the sound of the steady ticking clock on the wall. She then heard the soft humming sound from the air conditioner and the cool breeze grazing on her skin.

She didn't need to open her eyes to know where she was. The faint smell of antiseptic was a given.

A surge of painful emotion along with the growling whisper of Sasuke's voice echoed in her head. She remembered his murderous glare as his finger was pointing warningly at her face. He had nearly snarled but was trying to rein his temper as he spoke those painful words. Each word had struck like a knife into her already bleeding and disfigured heart.

"Don't you ever dare say that about my wife!"

She whimpered painfully as the word 'my wife' played in her mind like a broken record, echoing in a haunting murmur. She threw an arm over her eyes as hot tears stung, running down from the corner of her eyes. She couldn't hold back the sharp sob escaping from her lips.

'My wife!'

Hearing the very voice that had plagued her dreams, the very person she heartily believed was her future husband and her only true love saying those words made her feel so broken and agony. Everything inside felt like a mess. She didn't know what to feel and focus on: anger, distraught, despair, pain, grief, revenge.

"Sasuke…" she cried. His name used to be her favourite word, her mantra, her reason to smile. Sakura clenched her jaw, remembering the incident at the pool that morning.

'My wife!' Sasuke's voice was so possessive and resolute. His words were as sharp as a katana that swiped through her throat and she was choking on her own blood.

Why was this happening to her? She had been meticulous with her planning for Sasuke to fall in love with her. She had exhausted every means, resorted to blackmailing at times just to get a date from him. All for the sake to get him to see her, to know her better, and a chance to fall in love. She had studied hard to be the best student and made sure that she was his closest female friend. She had never heard of Naruto before and that-that blonde bitch- appeared out of nowhere and had the princes dancing to her will. No matter what she did, Sasuke had never raised his voice at her or pushed her away. He had catered to her wishes, even though he was reluctant most of the time.

She knew she meant something to him. She knew she did. Sasuke never did the same for anyone else but her.

Today, however, he had pointed an accusing finger at her and seethed as he spoke to her.

"Don't you ever dare say that about my wife!"

Sakura couldn't help the roll of hatred and anger she felt at the damned blonde. She sobbed quietly, pressing the balls of her hands into her tearful eyes. It was that bitch's fault. Ever since she came. Ever since—

An amused chuckle broke her mental tirade and she snapped her head towards the intruder. Her vision was blurry with tears. The pressure of her hands pressing on her eyes earlier made it worst, but she could see a figure in a white coat sitting near the desk with his back on her.

She was about to spit a rude comment when the person suddenly spoke, "Peculiar."

Sakura blinked her eyes, befuddled.

"Love… is such a peculiar emotion, isn't it?" he snickered, pausing at his writing only because he was pressing his fingers on his lips. It was a habit whenever he wanted to hide a dark smirk.

Sakura was about to snap at him, but blithely, he continued, "Love brings out the best of you. Love can also bring out the worst of you. Even things you never thought you could do." His eyes never left the notes he was writing. "Peculiar, indeed," he nearly whispered, half amused half deriding, and the rose haired girl was having goosebumps.

"Shut the fuck up," Sakura growled, sitting up right immediately and blinking the dark spots away.

"Whoops, careful Sakura-chan," the school doctor chided with barely concealed gleeful tone. A helping hand was on her back, making sure she didn't fall back. The way his hand lingered, silky soft caresses, made her skin crawled and she pushed him away, roughly. "Only trying to help, Sakura-chan. You're my patient, after all," he chuckled, didn't even sound remorseful, as he held his arms up defensively, trying to pacify her.

"Don't fucking touch me, you freak," Sakura seethed, wishing that she didn't press her eyes so hard that it got so blurry.

"Alrighty, I give, I give," the doctor laughed, walking back to his seat and watched her struggle on her feet. "You know, if you need any place to vent out…" he began, smirking as he waved a black card at her.

Sakura froze when she saw that card. Despite unable to see the words properly, she knew what it was. She had seen it being flashed a few times when she illegally entered a pub with some of her friends. There was always a dark and alluring rumour with a glint of dangerous excitement whenever the card was given to selected individuals. 'Seek and hide' was what the members would say at every greeting and leaving. She only knew that the card was related to an exclusive and elite place, strictly open to members only regardless of age. Without it, the bouncer will beat the crap out of you, even when you didn't protest on leaving.

Her throat dried with curiosity. She knew it was dangerous but she had been waiting to get that card for so long. Kiba had mentioned about it during the first assembly every year as a representative of Inuzuka Private Force. She understood the danger implied when Namikaze Minato-sensei had warned them about exclusive underground pubs where an active yet slippery Yakuza group was managing in her last year summer training by the said IPF. She was fascinated. Captured by its exclusivity, enamoured by its coterie. Her green eyes flickered from the black card held at the near tip of the doctor's fingers to the speculative and challenging eyes staring back at her.

"I'm a minor," Sakura argued, levelling a glare at him.

The silvered haired doctor snickered, "You and I know that. And I know that you know what this is, Sakura-chan. Don't lie."

"Why do you have that?" she asked cautiously. "I heard there are some requirements and only certain peo—"

"Yada, yada, yada… minor details, boring details…" he waved his hand dismissively. With a knowing smirk, he was giving her the same look she had seen when recruiter stared meaningfully at its potential customer.

"Seek and hide…" his voice was the same alluring whisper that carried danger and excitement as she had heard once before.

She didn't want to come across as too eager. She was also afraid at the prospect that the invitation had finally come to her. There were many exciting rumours about the place as the dark ones too. She heard that the place was quite sacred, and wishes were granted. She heard there were murders involved too.

The doctor lip tugged slightly and a dimple was formed on his cheek as he studied her intently.

Sakura sighed, deeply and aloud. It was getting overwhelming with everything that had happened so far. She stood up abruptly.

"You're a sick bastard," she snapped as she walked out briskly, missing the dark grin on his face as the light caught on his glasses. The moment the door clicked shut, he fished out his phone and dialled the first number on his contact list.

There were two ringing before the line was connected.

"It's Kabuto. It's done," he chuckled darkly. He rubbed his finger where a paper cut was made when Sakura snatched the black card from him.

.

If there was a teacher any student of Konoha School would seek for despite which division they were in, that'd be Umino Iruka-sensei. It wasn't surprising to find even a high school senior in the elementary division teacher's room, be it to be taught, reprimanded, counselled or for a mere chat with the said teacher. It wasn't because other teachers weren't capable, but it was because he was known to be kind, strict yet gentle, fair and passionate. Their first impression on him was always a scary teacher but once they got to know him better, Iruka-sensei was easily their favourite.

Being a dedicated teacher, Iruka was frequently found in his cubicle after school hours. He was leafing through some materials for his next classes. His phone suddenly vibrated and he tsked, feeling annoyed before he saw the word 'Private Number' flashing on the screen. Just like the previous phone calls he had gotten with the same ID, he grudgingly let his phone vibrated at a corner until it stopped. With a brief conflicted look, he went on to his work.

"Hmm, are you sure it's not a stalker, Iruka-chan?" a playful voice piped up, spooking him terribly. Iruka glowered at the intruder. The intruder's hand reached for the mobile phone, earning a scowl and a slap on his hand from him.

"What are you doing here, Hatake-sensei?" Iruka asked, nearly growled, irritated.

Kakashi mocked a dramatic, painful hiss, clenching a fist on his heart, "Ouch, Iruka-chan, being so distant. Your beloved senpai is very worried about you. I shall accompany you home today too. Who knows your stalkers would kidnap – you." The silver haired English teacher from high school section was pushing his chair nearer and nearer to the other teacher, much to his growing annoyance. When Kakashi blew into his ear when he said the last word, Iruka's pen broke under pressure. Kakashi whooped when Iruka turned to glare at him. His face red with rage and embarrassment.

Iruka kicked the other teacher's chair away and Kakashi gleefully cheered as his chair twirling across the room. Iruka stabbed the end call button on his phone when it started to vibrate again and sat properly in his cubicle again. "The only stalker here is you. No thank you, Hatake-sensei," the scar-faced man huffed, inwardly wishing he felt more insulted than mirth, "kindly, leave. You're disturbing me working."

Kakashi sighed pathetically, twirling in his chair while staring at the ceiling, "Eeehh, but you'd be bored and looonely. Then, your stalker might use that chance to kidna—"

"Hatake-sensei," Iruka spoke firmly, which made Kakashi to freeze at the strict tone, "have you completed today's paperwo—"

"Aaaa," the older man quickly stood up, "I forgot to buy chillies for my ice cream!" Iruka choked at the ridiculous cheerful remark and stared bewildered at the older man as he disappeared behind the sliding door. Kakashi peeked in again, eyes crinkled as he grinned widely, "Don't forget to call me once you're done, darl. I'll pick you up."

"Go away!" Iruka shrieked skittishly, looking abashed. Iruka heaved a heavy sigh, rubbing his red face.

Kakashi always appeared as quiet as an eagle swooping down for its prey, causing a havoc in his life and leaving him in a bout of confusion. The man was a weirdo, Iruka mused as he bit his lip and blushed, a striking weirdo. "Aargh!" Iruka ruffled his neatly tied hair at the thought. His hair band fell on the floor as he hunched over his desk, trying to calm himself down. Both heartbeat and his warm, red cheeks.

All he ever wanted was a peaceful, honest life. Thus, him being a teacher. Teaching had always been his passion and he felt he should overcome every hurdle he faced because he believed that in every person lied potential that yet to be crafted.

He believed everyone deserved a chance.

He took a few deep breath and smiled at the serenity. No annoying silvered hair weirdo slash borderline stalker who always wear only turtle neck sweaters which covered half of his face. No stupid anonymous phone calls. He stretched a little before sitting down again.

An expensive black ball pen with a fancy decorated card placed in the middle of his table caught his attention and he picked it up, confused. He flipped the card.

This represents me. Bring it everywhere. Even in the toilet. -pervy/lenny emoji drawn-

K

"Baka hentai," he murmured and chuckled, shaking his head and feeling amused. He carefully peeled the card away and kept it in his wallet. Admiring the pen, he stirred his cooling coffee distractedly. He was taking a sip from his sweetened coffee when the door to the teacher's room slid open again.

"Good afternoon, Iruka-sensei," Iruka heard the polite voice greeted and he couldn't help to smile as he placed his mug down.

"Good afternoon, Sai-kun," the teacher greeted back with a grin, sparing a glance at the youngest Uchiha sibling before he organised his papers a little, "come, come, take a seat." Sai complied after shutting the door. Picking up his hairband, he tied his hair again while subtly studying the teenager.

Iruka had to admit that Sai was one of his favourite students—not that he would openly show favouritism to his students of course. The boy was emotionless and a prodigy like his siblings. It had been a challenge to make him open up more sincerely and seeing the subtle emotions playing on his face, the teacher felt accomplished. There were still habits which both he and Itachi tried to break, but at least they could see that Sai was changing for the better.

He was about to say something when his phone vibrated again. Iruka couldn't help rolling his eyes when the screen flashed 'Private Number' for the umpteenth time since last week. He nearly slammed his phone down into his drawer.

"Ah, sorry about that," Iruka chuckled sheepishly when Sai nearly jumped in his seat, "Just some annoying people." He straightened his back and gave the younger boy his full attention. "Anyway, are you ready to talk? You know I wouldn't judge no matter what you say, Sai-kun. Take your time. I will help you the best I can."

Ever since last week, Iruka had noticed that the boy had been staring at him whenever they met briefly, be it in the parking lot or the school's cafeteria. If it were other people, Iruka would have freaked out. However, he had taught the boy before and he knew his eccentricities well. He could see the hesitancy and worry in his dark eyes. The teacher had approached the boy but the young Uchiha had been tight-lipped. At least, Sai agreed on meeting him after school in the guise of having tea together and Iruka hoped he would open up eventually.

Iruka poured him a mug of warm tea, which he knew Sai liked, and prepared a little snack for him—and yet, Sai hadn't spoken. He heard the boy visibly gulped, eyes downcast, hesitating and afraid. What's he afraid of, Iruka pondered. Concerned, he made a mental note to keep a closer eye.

The fact that Sai came to him, trying to talk was enough for now. It wouldn't be long before he could tell what was troubling him. Inwardly, Iruka felt quite disturbed at how uneasy the boy was. It had to be something big, something important. He wondered if he should give Itachi a call soon. Maybe he would know.

When his phone vibrated with the same caller ID again, Iruka turned off his phone immediately. He gave him a kind smile and started to talk about his mischievous students instead.

Outside the brightened corridor, the cheerful demeanour slipped off Kakashi's face, replaced with a frown and seriousness that none of his colleagues had seen him with. He fished out his phone and wrote a cryptic message to a number he never saved. As always, he then deleted it out of his phone once it was delivered.

He glanced at the closed sliding door of the teacher's room. Briefly, he looked conflicted at it before his attention was caught by the shrieking teenaged girls who were running out into frosty winter in their swimming suits.

.

Right after the incident in the pool, Sasuke barely hid his surprise to see Sai waiting for him with a towel and extra clothes in the boys changing room. Sasuke always believed that Sai had some spy network in the school area because no matter where he was, his youngest brother would know and be there whenever he needed him. Nodding his gratitude, Sasuke started to peel the wet clothes off. Sai immediately turned the other way and sat on the bench nearby.

The air thickened with unspoken words and barely restrained emotions. Sasuke held back a sigh, knowing that he was the cause of it. Sai was becoming quieter and aloof. He knew his youngest brother liked—no, with the way how Sai kept glancing at Naruto, eyes softened and a faint, unguarded smile on his face, it was more than just mere liking. That made his jaw clench as an unknown ugly feeling surged in his chest and swelled in his throat.

He strangely felt nauseous. His vision swam a little, and he hunched forward towards the locker—a hand against it supporting his weight and another covering his mouth—and his head bow. What's going on, he ruminated, Naruto seemed to be his centre of confusion, the reason why he was in a maelstrom of wild, uncontrollable emotions.

He felt hate but it wasn't truly 'hate' that he felt. He wanted to scream at her, but he wanted to keep her safe. He wanted to strangle her, make her see reasons, but he wanted to hold her in his arms, warmly and long. He didn't want her to look at others with that smile, speak to people with the flair of charisma that only she had, catching attentions and sometimes, hearts too. He didn't like the way other guys leered at her, trying to catch her gaze, even briefly, because it felt like they won a bet and was coming closer to obtain their exclusive prize. She meant more than that. Naruto was a person, a girl, a respectable person, an Uchiha, his best friend, his childhood friend, despite being loud and annoying most of the time, but she wasn't a goddamn prize. She wasn't a thing, but a precious friend. A precious something-more, his forehead creased with confusion at that thought.

Sasuke hunched his back and leant his head against the locker, staring at his hands and clenched his fists.

He was disappointed with himself. He knew Itachi was too. He knew his parents were too, especially he had seen the hesitance in his mother's face before she gave him a kind smile and a knowing look that she believed he was able to fix whatever it was between him and Naruto. He tried, but most of his efforts were thrown out the window the moment he felt that ugly feeling again. He couldn't stop allowing that feeling reining his rationality. It felt right, but it felt wild and uncontrollable.

"A-aniki," Sasuke froze when he heard the soft whimper and swivelled at Sai who had his face in his hands, sitting dejectedly. How long had it been since he wished Sai would look at him as a brother rather than a branch member serving the future head family. Sasuke was immediately at his side, a comforting hand on his back.

"Aniki…" Sai muttered again, gulping and slowly turning to look at him.

Sasuke was taken aback at the look of devastation in his eyes. He had never seen Sai looking so broken. Not even on the day of his parents' funeral and when everyone was fighting who will be taking care of the orphan. Sai had a dead look in his eyes at that time. He hadn't spoken a word. He had merely nodded or shaken his head as replies. Sai didn't even shed a single tear. None of the adults noticed how the smaller boy was flinching at every loud or sharp remark. They didn't even realise that the child was shaking.

Sasuke had had enough with the adults and screamed, silencing everyone and catching their immediate attention. Taking Sai's smaller hand, which Sasuke hopelessly noted was so cold and felt so fragile in his own little hand, he told his father to take him into their family and dragged him into the play room. Once they were alone, Sasuke hugged the smaller boy and told him to cry on his shoulder.

The smaller child was stunned at first. But Sasuke kept his arms firmly around him, bringing him closer. There was a high pitched hiccup at first. Then, the smaller child had a confused look on his face as he touched his cheek when it felt wet. Sai stared at his wet fingers, befuddled.

"Baka..." Sasuke's voice was kind and Sai met his eyes for the first time, "It's okay to cry. I'm here. I'll protect you." He patted the small back gently, just like how okaa-san did when he had nightmares. Sasuke was a little surprised when smaller hands were gripping strongly onto his clothes. He pretended not to feel affected when he heard the broken snivelling which was growing louder. Aniki had told him that one had to be strong when another couldn't. As the eldest, he had to try. Sai's grievous crying was breaking his resolution. His bottom lip trembled but he refused to cry. Instead, he held onto the smaller child and pray as hard as he could, hoping that his late grandmother would help Sai's okaa-san and otou-san in heaven and help him protect the smaller child.

That was the first and last time he had seen Sai cried.

"Sai, otouto, what's wrong?" Sasuke asked, masking his panic with concern and held him closer in a half hug. What happened to Sai that he was looking so fragile? He had ignored everything around him ever since that Sabaku bastard came and he was horrified that he had missed Sai's distress. Sasuke wanted to fix that. He vowed he would. There was something ominous about this that scared him.

"Sai, please," Sasuke knelt in front of his crying sibling and his hands gripped tightly on his shoulder. Sai met his firm and probing dark eyes. The older sibling saw many emotions swam in his eyes, the hesitancy of his breath, and the dawning defeat hunching on his frame.

"No…" Sasuke grieved, feeling that his precious brother was closing himself. Sai broke their gaze, eyes downcast. "Sai, Sai! Don't do this, otouto. Please, talk to me. Sai!"

The moment Sai met his eyes again, Sasuke knew that he had lost him. Sai pried his hands off his shoulder gently and stood up, "You have to control your temper, Sasuke-sama. Please do something about Naruto or you'll lose her indefinitely."

Sasuke was terrified. The fading echoes of Sai's shoes made him realised that there was a something larger at play. A very dangerous game was threatening his family. He had been side-tracked by that bastard. He fished out his phone, only to realise that it was permanently dead because it had been thoroughly soaked with water. He punched the locker with growing frustration, "Fuck!"

.

Sasuke felt like banging his head on the nearest wall. It was only after two o'clock and he declared that this was his worst day in his life.

At first, he was confused why there were still plenty of students in the corridor when the last bell had rung half an hour ago. Usually, the school would be quite empty on Tuesdays. Then, he noticed that many were looking at him, be it subtly or blatantly, and they were talking in loud whispers. He noticed many girls were crying as they were looking at him, some even ran away wailing aloud as though he had cruelly killed their puppies.

"Ooookay," Sasuke muttered, feeling bewildered when a tearful girl just looked at him longingly and ran away, crying at him, "How could you?!"

The ex-president of student council thought that maybe he was having a nightmare after what had transpired in the locker room, and he had to admit it really felt surreal and terrifying until he heard something that made his blood chilled.

"…married at 17?!"

Sasuke swivelled at the voices, silencing the two boys with a dark glare. He was then aware of his surrounding and their mutterings suddenly got clearer.

"…aww, to that babe Naru-chan?"

"…sniff.. My Sasuke-sama… was taken away…sniff,"

" …oh, for God's sake! Married? This century? Hah! What a bluff!"

"…who is this Naruto, really? Her family must—"

Sasuke felt light-headed. He felt awful, dirty, worse than trash, a stupid, stupid fool. He had betrayed her. Oh kami-sama, he had betrayed her.

He had been overwhelmed with violent bouts of emotions. He felt rage when he saw that red-haired bastard holding his Naruto as though she belonged to him. It got worse when he heard the girls, especially one of his good friends Sakura, had insulted her.

He was supposed to protect her. It was what the arranged marriage was supposed to be. For her to take his family name and able to live with more freedom, less worry, less afraid, less paranoid. The Uchiha name was powerful in many ways, even darkly. Before, the name used to sent people scurrying and screaming with fear, until a few decades ago. Some still did, but many were wary. At least, until she graduated from high school, she would be protected under the guise of being his relative.

It was what Naruto had wanted too. She didn't want people to know about their marriage as well. Not until they were older.

It was the second time that day that he felt terrified again. He was going to lose Naruto too. He had to find her. He had to explain what was going on. He had to talk to her.

He took a quick glance at his watch and decided that she might be waiting for him in the foyer. He ran, ignoring the others around him.

When Sasuke arrived at the foyer, panting hard and frantically looking around for her, it was to the scene where she was about to enter that red-haired bastard's car. Naruto eyes were red and puffy when their eyes met.

Sasuke nearly shivered when he saw her eyes narrowed with resentment—something he never saw her with and it didn't suit her at all.

"Wait! Naru!" Sasuke called out desperately, running towards the car. She didn't even hesitate as she entered and closed the door. The car started to move right before he could reach it. "No…" he gasped, "wait, Naru!" Sasuke felt like a failure. He felt lost. He was losing both his brother and Naruto. "Naru..."

.

Sasuke's hope was crushed when he arrived home, only to be informed by one of their maids that Naruto was staying over at Izuna-ojisama's place. The Sabaku siblings were staying with his granduncle while they were in Konoha as they were his wards.

He sat miserably at one of the benches. His body hunched, his face buried in his hands and his elbows on his knees. That was how Itachi found his little brother as he entered the house.

"Sasuke?" Itachi's voice was thick with concern that Sasuke felt like a small boy again. It didn't help that his large warm hand was stroking his back soothingly, made him feel like crying like a child. He was stricken with painful emotions and lost.

"A-aniki…" Sasuke whimpered, holding back a sob. He refused to cry. Not yet at least. He knew there was hope, but everything felt a little too clouded for him right now.

"What's wrong, otouto? Where's Sai? Naruto?" Itachi asked, looking around for his two other little siblings. Sasuke bit his lips. He felt like a failure and weak. His brother would be very disappointed with him for not being able to solve his own problems. He was already seventeen years old for God's sake. He was supposed to be the next head of the family. What good would the family be if they had a weak-willed person as the head?

Sasuke took a deep breath and another. When he opened his eyes, his eyes shone with resolution. He sat straight, startling Itachi with his sudden change.

"Aniki. Did you notice any changes with our otouto lately?" The mention of Sai in a worried tone made Itachi's face paled. Just earlier he had a call from Iruka who had voiced his concern about his youngest sibling.

"Tsk, I need to make some call but urgh…" Sasuke wrung his useless phone. Itachi had an eyebrow raised at droplets of water on the floor.

"I'll handle Sai," Itachi clasped a firm hand on his shoulder, looking at his younger brother expectantly.

"I'll take care of Naru, aniki," Sasuke affirmed, standing up and walking towards his room. Itachi was already dialling some numbers and out of the house in two strides.

.

A few hours later, Sasuke found himself in a corner of a café with his head leaning back against the chair, eyes closed. How did so many things happen in just one day? It was only four thirty-six and he just wanted the day to be done with.

He thumbed his new phone, thinking hard how to approach Naruto without having the door slammed on his face. He had made a few calls in regard for Sai. He knew he could trust his older brother but he was too paranoid to not do anything for his otouto. The mere thought that Sai was being dragged into the other side of the society made him glare at the ceiling. He just hoped he was wrong. Once Sasuke was made the head of the family, he was supposed to bring a new face for the family's name instead of the old mantle which had lasted over hundred of years.

His phone beeped and a message was received. Sasuke nearly scrambled looking at it, only to growl in irritation when it was only a message for a necessary installation which he grudgingly did.

He stirred his tea, musing how he had developed the liking to drink it only because Naruto liked it. He always found her either at the piano room's window seat or in the library. Wherever she decided to spend her time with her homework, the place would smell of tea. Sometimes, she would quietly sneak eating a cup ramen when she thought no one was watching her. He had caught her eating at inappropriate places, even under her blanket in her room, just to eat that silly ramen because his mother had forbidden her. He had teased her mercilessly, even blackmailing her into doing things just to spite her. It was fun back then. Everything was interesting and fun, sometimes thrilling and exciting when Naruto was involved. There was always some little-intended squabble, light hearted and teasing, and some name callings which were more to endearing than insulting. There were also mischiefs, ill-planned ones, but those spontaneities were thrilling and even when they got into trouble, there were always barely muffled giggling and many exchanges gleeful looks.

Things had been quite tense between them lately. He hadn't heard her laugh for a while and see her smile. He ran a hand through his hair, thinking how horrible of a friend he was to her. That cold look she gave him earlier was still haunting him and his heart twisted in pain.

He placed his chin in his palm and browsed through the books beside him. There were many ranges of reading materials, from magazines to comics and even novels. One book caught his eyes and he picked it out from the book case. He thought he must be crazy to even consider this, but he had to try something. Maybe he could find some inspiration on how to approach his blonde dobe.

'Approaching failure in relationships: looking underneath the underneath' the title said. The book seemed quite used and there were a few lines of reviews at the top of the cover by several famous critics.

The book was only for those who were in relationships, but friendship and siblings counted too, right? The introduction was a brief summary on how it will identify, analyse and suggestions on approaching the matter but never a true solution. He had nothing better to do for now. He was waiting for results from his friends, his older brother had yet to inform him anything, Sai's not picking up any of his calls and going home without Naruto there made him feel a little lonely and depressed. So, leafing to the first chapter, he began to read.

.

Sakura couldn't believe what she was doing. Dressing up in a knee-length black dress and a matching bolero, her silver high heel clicked on the pavement and the sound muted on the red carpet towards the threshold of the modern dark-coloured building. Her heart was hammering in her chest with anxiety and excitement. Flashing the black card at the two burly men in dark clothes who was guarding the door, two heads who both wore similar black glasses nodded with a whisper of 'Seek and Hide' and 'Enjoy'.

She didn't know what to expect but the sound of classical music as she entered wasn't what she thought she would hear. There were a couple, heavily dressed in a masquerade ball gown passed by, giving her a sweet smile and a mutter of 'seek and hide' which she returned. Sakura suddenly felt under dressed until she saw a woman who barely had any clothes on came out from a room, there was a brief sound of loud screaming when it was opened. Her eyes nearly bulged out when she saw the woman strut without a care towards the bar, ordering two crystal flutes and a bottle of wine. She smiled flirtatiously at the bartender and walked back into the room, her hips were swaying seductively.

Sakura decided she didn't want to know what was in that room.

Because the place was quite dimly lit, she belatedly realised that there were quite a number of people gathering in the place. There was no light above each table, but there was at least one in between, hiding the customers in the almost dark with privacy.

Didn't know where to go, she decided to go to the bar to get some drink instead and searching for an empty table.

"New here?" the boyish gruff from the bartender caught her attention to him. She didn't notice it earlier but now that she was looking at him properly, she had to admit that the guy was quite cute.

"Yeah," She nodded in reply, giving him a smile, "An acquaintance recommendation." She ignored the bitter taste at the word 'acquaintance'.

The long haired guy, whom she believed was only slightly older than her, gave her a charming smile, "Well then, welcome to 'Red Dawn'. I hope you'll find whatever you seek in here and hide away the mask you wear outside. This is the place you can be yourself, be anything you want, find anything you need. Be respectful to others and others will be to you too. And, whatever you see and hear here, stays here."

"Ah, so that's what 'Seek and Hide,' is all about," Sakura laughed, amused.

"Mmhm, there are many kinds of people here and I am glad to see people are being true to themselves," his eyes glinted in delight as he looked at her, "I hope you'll find yours too, ojou-sama."

"Thank you," she said gratefully, her eyes flickering to his golden name tag, "Haku-san."

"My utmost pleasure, ojou-sama," he replied, giving out a thin tablet, "you'll find whatever you need here. After you're done, just leave it anywhere and if you need to find this tablet, it'd be on every floor at each corner and under every table. Would you like to be at the bar with me or would you like to get a table, ojou-sama?"

Sakura gave him a flirty smile, "My name's Sakura and I guess here is nice."

"Hmm, I wonder," Haku began, face glowing, fascinated. She stared at him, perplexed, and followed his gaze to a corner of the room. Unlike other tables, that table had a light shining on it. There was a handsome red-haired man in his twenties was staring openly at them, specifically at her. "Looks like Sasori-sama is interested in being your company tonight. Do you wish to join him?"

Sakura hesitated for a while, green eyes still lingered unsurely at the smiling man. He walked towards her, his strides were confident and cool, and she blushed when his lips tugged deeper at a side, accentuating his handsome feature. He held out a hand towards her, where Sakura placed her hand in, and he bowed slowly. His alluring greyish brown eyes held hers steadily, staring intently that she had to look away and blushed furiously. "Ojou-sama, my name is Sasori and welcome to my establishment." He bowed deeper and kissed her fingers lightly.

"You're the owner?" she gasped, staring at him in awe. Someone so young owned such a famous yet stylish place.

"I am, and if you don't mind, I hope you'll be my date tonight?" he bowed slightly, looking at her teasingly.

"What a charmer, do you do this to all your patrons, Sasori-san?" she chuckled, following his lead to the table.

"No, ojou-sama," he smiled, but she sneered, half teasing half disbelief, "Alright, just a few, honestly." That earned an amused laughter from her, "But none ever caught my eyes as you did when you walked in."

Sakura was blushing again and she felt slightly overwhelmed with the sweet-talker. She knew she was falling for his charms, and rationality was trickling away slowly and silently. Was this what seek and hide meant, she mused, smiling shyly when Sasori pulled out a chair for her to sit on. She felt like a princess, cared for, valued, something she never felt when she went on dates with Sasuke—no matter how forceful their dates were. She began to understand the charm of going out with older, experienced guys.

"Your drinks," Haku served their respective drinks and Sakura was surprised to have hers prepared.

"I hope you will find your drink is to your liking, even for a minor, ojou-sama," the owner smiled at her, mirthful.

"You knew?" she gasped.

"Of course. I have to know all my patrons, and in Red Dawn, you are allowed to drink as much as you want. Seek and hide, after all," Sasori raised his glass to her, which she clinked with her own, and he stirred his glass a little before taking a sip. His greyish brown eyes were prompting her to drink hers too. Sakura didn't know what was in her drink but Haku's decoration on it was pretty. She took a small gulp and surprisingly, it tasted good and wasn't too strong for her.

"Tonight is all on me, so feel free to try anything you want," he encouraged and Sakura swore that he had one of the most alluring voice she had ever heard.

"Anything?" she giggled and bit her lip.

"Anything, Sakura-hime," he assured her with a knowing smile.

.

Sakura was having a splitting headache and she groaned as she tried to move. The soft silk around her was lulling her back to sleep but she needed a drink to quench her thirst.

A gentle hush and a soothing large hand were guiding her to sit up slowly. She felt a glass was on her lips and she drunk the water in large impatient gulps, spilling them a little.

"Slow down, ojou-sama. Slow down," the alluring voice reprimanded her with an amused tone. She pried her eyes open slowly, thanking that the room was quite dimly lit. He wiped the water that spilt from her lips with a white cloth and ran a hand through her hair. "How are you feeling, Sakura-hime?"

"Kay…urgh..W-where?" she moaned, trying to adjust herself up in vain. He placed a more comfortable pillow at her back and gave her a pill to swallow. She complied and drank more water. If she was more rational, she would have inquired about the pill. She just hoped that it was painkiller because the headache was unbearable.

"In my suite. I wanted to send you home, but I didn't want to confront your parents and face charges," he chuckled and earned a mix of giggle and whimper from the teenager.

"Wha-what time izzit?" she slurred slightly, blushing that she sounded funny.

"Around three A.M," he answered, "do you have school today?"

Sakura nodded and groaned when she realised she needed to go to school. What would people say when the ex-vice president coming to school and smelling of alcohol?

"I can send you to school. Just go to sleep and I'll wake you up at seven, ojou-sama," he planted a kiss on her forehead and put her back to sleep. Once he was sure that she was asleep, he picked up a wine flute and walked towards his glassed wall, enjoying the late night view.

He stirred his crystal flute twice and his phone rang. At its second ringing, he picked it up and leant against the wall with a smirk on his face.

"What took you so long to call, boss? We've found her," he grinned darkly with a tint of impatient in his tone. "Can we start the operation, now?"

"Relax, Sasori-kun," a deep voice chuckled, "Job well done. The gear has already shifted."

He snapped his phone shut, feeling pleased. Honestly, how stupid can one be to destroy something so sacred and beautiful after years and years of blossoming and priming?

Sasori's face wrinkled with disdain. Beauty should be preserved everlasting, not being destroyed by a mere whim.

-:-

A few hours before Uchiha Sasuke admits that he is in love
337 days before Uchiha Naruto does too

-:-

Wednesday, 23rd January 2008

"Oh my god! That's so cool, Sakura-senpai!" Yamanaka Ino gushed as she waited for Sakura to change in the locker room. "Can I please, please see the card? I've always wanted to see it!"

"No," Sakura smirked at her friend's dramatic whimper, "It's sacred and for member's eyes only." Sakura tugged the borrowed uniform, feeling thankful that the only thing that belonged to Hinata was the scarf which indicated she was in her senior year.

"Aww… please, please. And gosh, that guy was so hot! So, did you guys… do it?" Ino asked unabashed and giggled when Sakura spluttered. The senior flung the door opened, scoffing at her friend. She stood in front of the large, wide mirror and fixed her hair.

"Of course we didn't," she rolled her eyes at Ino's outrageous look through their reflection. Picking up a lip-gloss, she smeared a little on her lips evenly, "I told you I'm saving myself for—"

"He's married, senpai," Ino muttered bitterly. "…to that lying bitch! Urgh, if only that handsome Gaara-sama wasn't there, I'd—I'd pull her hair out!"

"Ditto, Ino," she laughed, "but yeah, I wish you guys did something to her. It's annoying to see our princes are protecting her. She's got to be a witch, I swear."

"Wuuuu… avada kadavra…" Ino feigning casting a spell on Sakura, waving her fingers at her and putting on a silly face. Sakura laughed heartily along with Ino.

"If you would like, I can get rid of her for you, ojou-sama."

Sakura's abrupt silence worried Ino. Sakura wasn't sure if it were a piece of her imagination or was it a figment of a memory she had last night. She was so drunk that she couldn't remember much after her third glass. It was only because of Haku's special mix that she had sobered up nicely.

"Sakura-senpai? Are you okay?" Ino asked.

Blinking in uncertainty, she nodded, "y-yeah. It's nothing. Just a little headache."

"…well, that's what you get for drinking under the table!" Ino snickered gleefully, "Pour yourself a bottle of perfume. I still can smell alcohol from you." Sakura huffed indignantly. She had showered twice at Sasori's place that morning and yet she smelled.

As she sprayed her perfume all over, she sincerely prayed that it was just an imagination because those words and his alluring voice felt real to her. She could feel the phantom lingering of his finger caressing her cheek as he spoke. The glint in his eyes was frightening, enough to make her paled in fear. She dismissed the worrying thought, berating herself for just being silly.

She may hate Naruto, but she didn't want anything unbecoming to come to her.

.

Ever since Sasuke came home late last night, he was silent and deep in thought. He didn't even flinch when his mother was approaching him with the intent to scold, her face disappointed and upset. It wasn't until his mother called his name in a strict tone and started to reprimand him that Mikoto realised something was wrong with her son.

She was about to shake his shoulder since he didn't respond to her callings when Itachi appeared, holding her arm gently. He met her worried dark eyes, eyes similar to her sons, and he shook his head, smiling softly.

"Go back to your room, otouto, and brood there," Itachi spoke with a slight smirk on his face, his usually deep and suave voice was with a tinge of mirth. Sasuke merely nodded, obviously distracted, and left. Mikoto gasped incredulously, staring at her younger son with panic and worry etched on her face. She knew how much Sasuke hated to be associated with the word 'brood.' It always ended up in a dirty jujitsu match when it escalated.

"What's wrong with him, Ita-chan?" Mikoto questioned, her eyes staring at her younger son with concern.

"Don't worry, Kaa-chan. I'll handle this," he assured her. She took his hand, clasping it warmly and looked up to her eldest son.

"I trust you, Ita-chan," she smiled gently and then gave a warning look at him, nearly hissing, "I know that look, Itachi."

"What look, Kaa-chan?" Itachi asked, blinking innocently, "I honestly don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm your mother, Itachi. Stop teasing Sas'ke-chan, he's feeling troubled enough," she reprimanded, twisting his ear and dragged him to her eye-level.

Itachi grunted in pain inaudibly, feigning an honest look at her, "I'm always trying to help him in the best way I can, Kaa-chan, truly."

Mikoto didn't believe him, but she shook her head and sighed exasperatedly, "Boys will always be boys." There was a hint of longing in her voice when she spoke quietly, "I miss Naru-chan already." She let him go, slightly dejected and worried.

"Kaa-chan, it's going to be okay," he told her confidently and she believed him. Even though future was unpredictable, seeming obscure and bleak, what with the way the young married couple were acting—both were holding in their thoughts and emotions, and something thick, invisible and impregnable reinforced with excessive stubbornness and some issues she wasn't sure of what had transpired between them since none would tell—and then, she looked at her eldest son again. Her sons might try to hide things from her, an infuriating yet noble trait of Uchiha men, but they kept forgetting that she would know or guess what was going on. She was their mother, of course, she knew.

Giving him another warning look, she warned him, "behave, ita-chan. For Kami-sama's sake, stop bullying your little siblings." Itachi gave a wounded face and nodded reluctantly before she left. Mikoto nearly gave in before she reminded herself who she was dealing with.

If Mikoto bothered to take another glance at her eldest before leaving the hallway, she would find him smirking with a playful glint in his dark eyes. How would Itachi pass up the chance to use many forbidden teasing words on Sasuke and get away with it?

Turning to the hallway his younger brother had gone through, he walked purposefully towards Sasuke's room.

As much as it was funny to observe his family's reaction—even Fugaku choked and coughed hard on his coffee as Itachi spoke nonchalantly—upon using 'taboo' words such as 'brooding, baby brother, tantrums, tomato-chan,' and even more dangerous (babyish) word like 'keke-tan' to Sasuke and the teenager responded distractedly, Itachi was torn in between boredom and perturbed.

Itachi decided that he was more worried than bored. The way Sasuke was biting his thumb, thinking deeply and at times, glancing at the empty seat belonged to Naruto.

Sasuke didn't even register what he was doing as he hopped off Itachi's bike and passed his helmet to his older brother who was still observing him quietly. Sasuke didn't even realise that it was the first time Itachi had offered a ride on his precious bike.

It took Sasuke a while to realise that he was still standing in front of his brother and the man had yet to leave. Itachi even had his helmet off, as though he was waiting for Sasuke to say something. Seeing his little brother was still withdrawn, he placed a hand on his shoulder which caught his attention.

"If you cannot get over the hurdle, get around it or be better. Sometimes, you have to look underneath the underneath in order to see the whole picture, otouto," Itachi gave him a gentle smile, ignoring the younger Uchiha's stunned look as he ruffled his hair just to annoy his younger brother. Sasuke slapped his hand off, glaring at him while trying to fix his hair properly again.

"H-hn," he grunted, refusing to mutter his gratitude aloud.

"You're welcome, keke-tan, for allowing me to ruffle your hair," he chuckled and teased his hair again.

"I meant the advice!" Sasuke protested, stepping away from his reach and fixing his hair again. "And don't fucking call me that!" he roared, throwing a punch at his older brother.

Itachi caught his fist and tightened his grip over the fist. Sasuke flinched in pain and glared up at his older brother. He startled when he saw a smirk on his face.

"Baka baby otouto," he sneered, "then, don't be pathetic and weak." Sasuke was about to retaliate when Itachi pushed two fingers hard on his forehead, making him fall back a few paces. He rubbed his sore forehead. "Look underneath the underneath, otouto," he reminded him, "be better." He smirked and put on his helmet again. With a practised kick, his bike roared to life and he twisted the handle, attracting more students to gather, and left in a loud speed with trails of dust behind.

He stared as Itachi left, ignoring all the muttering and staring from others.

"Uchiha Sasuke," a voice piped up with a dull tone and the crowd began to scatter upon seeing the approaching figure, "code 18.1 and 6.5. Yellow," Sasuke rolled his eyes at his successor's lazy yet precise comment. Figured Shakamaru would give him yellow for breaking the rules on fighting on school ground and noise disruption, only because he was lazy to issue a warning at orange or conduct the detention at red. He even told him in codes instead of its full charges. Sasuke was an unrepentant offender ever since Gaara entered their school, yet the lazy Nara found it too troublesome to punish him. Something about it being a daily thing and he had no energy to do it every day. 'Why bother?' Shikamaru once said when he was questioned about Sasuke's offences.

He was about to walk away when Shikamaru gripped his hand and pulled him towards him. Sasuke was met with a glare from the usually bored president of the student council. He had to admit, it was quite frightening.

"you know," the younger boy began, eyes downcast, "when I fetch a very distraught Naruto from your house on first day of winter break that day, I didn't say or do anything to you. Not even many times after that." Shikamaru dusted Sasuke's blazer lightly and slowly fixing his necktie, "because, who am I to interfere another's dysfunctional marriage?" he hissed and bored into the dark eyes, tightening Sasuke's necktie warningly.

Sasuke grasped Shikamaru's hand firmly, maintaining their gaze with equal fury and fearless, spoke with a coat of threat, "never," and he came slightly closer but the Nara heir didn't even flinch, "mess with the Uchihas." Especially me.

The unspoken threat hung heavily between them, but Shikamaru smirked instead, "perhaps, but have you tried the Naras before?" Specifically me.

There was a moment of heavy silence before Shikamaru sighed, still glaring. "Naruto's my friend," he declared, tone challenging.

"She's not," Sasuke countered, almost growling. Shikamaru's eyebrow raised, a calculating look with a hint of incredulity.

The Uchiha gritted his teeth and looked away with frustration. "I'm doing it again," he criticised exasperatedly, mostly to himself. Sasuke never knew how revealing reading that book was. It got him on overdrive, calculating the similarities of some situations given to his own. The revelation; the dawning understanding and the disconcerting conclusions, he was left baffled and stupefied.

Sasuke was ashamed and remorseful. Itachi was right; he was an idiot. Karma had finally caught up with him for calling Naruto an idiot for a lifetime, and now, he was punished as a lifetime-worth an idiot. That was how bad he had screwed up.

He was almost afraid that he might have lost his best friend. She had grown on him and just a day without her waking him up made him feel disoriented. How did Naruto had messed up his life by just not being there? He tugged a handful of hair out of frustration.

He just hoped that he could hold Naruto long enough for an explanation. He ruffled his hair in annoyance, grumbling under his breath which caught the attention of a few students who were passing by.

He had explanations to do to and didn't know where to start.

"Urgh, fuck my life..."

Shikamaru left the troubled Uchiha with a satisfied smirk on his face.

.

Ever since Sasuke entered Konoha Private School, he never felt the school was too big to explore or too far apart to walk around.

Today, however, he cursed the vastness of the school. No matter where he went to or which department he was in, he couldn't find Naruto. Sai was missing too, and that made it worst. Why didn't Itachi informed him of Sai's whereabouts yet?

He stilled, pondering a moment as though he was leafing through his memories for any hint if Itachi had ever mentioned Sai in their conversation since yesterday. He tsked, frustrated when none came up.

He scratched his head, feeling vexed and tired. His usual bright dark eyes dimmed a little. He felt so tired. Sasuke unconsciously walked towards the music wing of the school. When Sai didn't want to be found, Sasuke knew he would be there. Staring at the quiet long corridor, his eyes glanced to the slightly ajar room at the near end of the corridor, third last to the left. No one would bother to use that room because the students believed it was haunted—well, according to the school's rumoured seven legends. To Sai, that room became exclusively his.

This was his last place he had yet to find Sai and hopefully, Naruto too. What would he say if they were there? He was fighting against the possibilities that he was losing his family; his otouto and h-his w-wi—his cheeks burned red and he rolled his eyes in exasperation. He couldn't say the word. Although he had spoken it nonchalantly, most time with conviction—because they were married, after all—sometimes, a means of blackmail. But he never thought—truly contemplating and comprehending—its meaning.

What did it mean to him? What did the marriage certificate actually meant to him and Naruto? Initially, it was for her safety.

Minato's older brother, Kurama, was a strong fighter, the famed Senju heir who had everyone talking about how he would follow his grandfather's footstep to be the next minister—even the aging prime minister had an eye on the brilliant and well-liked teenager—and a daredevil who didn't own the word 'fear' in his dictionary. Kurama relished and blossomed under the public's eyes since he was a child, but there was one thing that left the public exasperated upon probing: his mysterious younger sibling.

Kurama had been very protective and secretive when it came to his younger brother. Minato was almost never mentioned in public and Kurama drew all spotlight to him. Even when the public got a glimpse of Minato, he was well hidden from the covertly placed lens or was forced by Kurama to dress as a girl when they were together outside. For many years, people spoke of 'the mysterious Senju princess'—Fugaku still teased Minato for that, calling him Senna-hime at times— and ever since Kurama's death, everything changed.

Kurama was killed protecting his younger brother in a kidnapping attempt by the infamous Akatsuki group. It had been an accident, but the Yakuza had retreated and left Minato with his dead older brother in his arms. Minato became withdrawn. Tsunade turned alcoholic and Jiraiya took up writing porn again. No one knew, except for close friends and relatives, that Senju Minato changed his name to Namikaze Minato.

Although Akatsuki was unaware that Minato was the Senju they were looking for, they were pursuing him for a different reason: vengeance. As an investigative psychologist working with Detective Ibiki, he had compromised many of Akatsuki's dealings. Minato had been very cautious when it came to Naruto. He made sure she was always hidden away, even if it meant that he couldn't be with his beloved daughter. He would do anything to make sure that she was protected, even marrying her off in such early age of sixteen to his best friend's youngest son, just so that she could carry their family name and be protected under that name.

Sasuke understood that clearly, having witnessed to one of a few attempts on Kushina's life when he was younger. The attempt was foiled the moment they saw Sasuke in her arms. They hesitated when they saw the Uchiha crest at the back of his shirt and ran away with palpable frustration. He still remembered the warm tears falling on his face as he looked up worriedly at the crying and shaken red-haired woman who was hugging him tightly.

He didn't want the same to happen to Naruto and conceded to the arranged marriage. To protect her was his initial intention.

Until he realised that she was his wife, and their relationship had upgraded into marital instead of a mere childhood friend. His cheeks warmed again and he felt awkward at the thought. How would he approach her now?

"Naruto…" Sasuke startled at the name spoke in a strict, muffled voice came from the music room. He heard her muttered a reply, sounding exasperated.

"According to–," That was a new voice Sasuke had never heard before, tone resolute and deep as he spoke.

Sasuke silently paced closer and the door was ajar enough for him to listen and peek inside. He saw Naruto first, sitting on the piano's chair and her back against the grand piano. Relief swelled inside his chest upon seeing her and she looked better than he expected. She had been so distraught and upset the last time he saw her. The new voice continued to talk but nothing he said was registered in his mind as he stared at her. She looked slightly paled, her usually radiant blue eyes was a little darker with uncertainty and when she tucked in a few strays of hair behind her ear, he had to look away and blushed. He breathed deeply to calm his sudden erratic beating heart.

He heard another voice belonged to Kiba who interrupted the new voice in his talking, and they were starting to bicker.

"Ba-ka," Shikamaru scolded, tone amused, "Let Neji-san talk for Kami's sake, Kiba." Kiba squawked in retaliation and mumbled a grumpy reply.

"Neji?" Sasuke mouthed, bewildered, "The Hyuuga Neji?" Sasuke got closer and could see the backs of the boys in the room gathering around in a circle. Shikamaru was leaning against the wall beside the window, Kiba had his back to the door Sasuke was peeking and was sitting on the table, and a long dark haired guy dressing smartly was sitting on a chair in between the two boys and in front of Naruto.

"So," Gaara's voice piped up, and Sasuke knew that he was near the wall opposite Shikamaru's, away from his sight, "Naruto is able to file an annulment since they haven't consummated yet."

Sasuke suddenly felt faint, floating and the blood drained from his face. He missed the positive nod from Neji who then took a glance at his watch. He didn't even hear Neji informing them that he had to leave.

It was only when Neji opened the door and everyone in the room went silent. Sasuke breathed in, and he felt a slight sense of normalcy, but he was beginning to hyperventilate. Sasuke ignored every staring pairs of eyes to meet Naruto's and gulped silently. He wanted to say something, a thousand questions ran through his mind yet it felt so scrambled and empty too. It was so confusing, constricting and frightening.

He wanted to come closer to her, but a hand on his shoulder was holding him back. It was then he noticed that Naruto was standing up when she took a step back, looking distrustful at him.

No, he wanted to say, please don't look at me like that, Naru.

It hurt. His heart was aching, felt like it was bleeding and he could feel the warm gush of blood was leaking out from the wound in his heart.

Don't look at me like that, Naru, please. Please, I beg you. I'm sorry.

His throat felt constricted, but only a soft choke came out. He tried to walk towards her again, but the hand on his shoulder tightened warningly. Naruto became warier, and broke their gazes to walk away from him.

No! Don't go. Look at me, Naru. Look at me!

The way she had to look away, unhesitatingly walking towards Shikamaru and looking outside the window broke his heart. She didn't want to see him. She didn't want to acknowledge his presence. She didn't want… him. The very thought Naruto didn't want him was severely unsettling and nightmarish. Be-because he always wanted her, even if their meetings usually ended with a brawl or teasing or laughing or-or-

Sasuke didn't blink as he stared pleadingly to her. He was afraid she might disappeared if he did, and that too was frightening. He was so used to have her beside him, from waking up to her teasing smile every morning, her occasional presence throughout the day in school, then they were almost always together at home because he was usually bored and loved to tease her, and before he went to bed, he would go to bed with a warm, happy feeling in his chest especially when she bid him goodnight with that smile he liked.

He wanted her not because she was his friend, wife or anything, it was because he... he adored her.

Kami-sama. Don't be too late. Please, not when I just realise—

"Naru," Sasuke's voice was soft, pleading and painful to Naruto's ears. She nearly flinched and closed her eyes, hoping that she could harden her heart against his pleas, against her judgement, against sound reasons.

This isn't the Sasuke I know, Naruto reminded herself, I don't know this person. Her eyes pinched with pain and began to water slightly, or maybe, I don't know him at all.

Gaara's heels clicked towards Naruto and he stood at Sasuke's line of sight, blocking Naruto away from him.

Sasuke seethed. He never liked the youngest Sabaku. From the way he was sneering back at him and glowering, he knew the red-haired didn't like him too.

"Enough, Uchiha," Gaara spat, "You've done enough damage to Naruto."

"It's none of your business," Sasuke retorted and turned to look at Naruto's back, his voice softened, "I can fix this, Naru. I can fix us."

Naruto didn't reply. She didn't even bother turning around to look at him.

Sasuke inwardly panicked, perhaps if he apologised enough and confessed she would listen to him, "Naru, I—"

"Enough!" Gaara growled, "She doesn't want to talk to you."

Sasuke wanted to rebut, but when he saw Gaara stood beside her and held her shoulder comfortingly. She placed a hand over his and her head bowed.

"Leave," she whispered. Her voice was almost quiet but to him, it was so loud that it shook him to his core.

Neji pushed his shoulder, guiding him out of the room and walking away with him. They walked in silence until they went out of the building and entered the parking lot.

"Naru-chan doesn't take well on betrayals," Neji spoke up, brushing off his probing stare.

"Naru-chan?" Sasuke questioned possessively. "How dare you call someone you've just met so intimately."

That earned a glare from the taller man and he scoffed at him, "She was my junior back in Suna and I was also her tutor."

Sasuke clenched his jaw, refraining himself from rebutting some thoughts out. Why didn't Naruto mentioned about him? Now that he thought about it, Naruto rarely spoke anything about her time in Suna. He didn't bother to ask either.

There was only a handful that Naruto disliked and Naruto rarely trusted anyone, what with the way her father always warned her about people always warned her about people and their intentions. For the Hyuuga to know that she disliked betrayal was enough to show him that Naruto trusted this man.

Naruto trusted Hyuuga Neji, but she had lost her trust on him.

Sasuke flinched, belatedly realising how deeply troubled he was. He had never tried like others did to gain her trust. He was naturally accepted in her small circle of people she cared the most. He took her mostly for granted, growing up together, teasing her, bullied her, playing together, and got married to each other. Trust had been established from the day she was born. Everything else had come naturally and simply.

But now, everything was broken. Their relationship too. Was he truly too late? Did things go so bad that annulment was the only way out?

"Is she truly serious with the annulment?" Sasuke asked quietly, eyes downcast as he followed the man to his car.

Neji hesitated and then nodded, "She is." He turned to look at the Uchiha, eyes uncritical, "She also believed that the marriage is unhealthy for you."

Sasuke stood there, stunned at the revelation.

Neji gripped the handle gently and the car beeped open as he entered. The hardtop retracted as the engine started, and Neji turned sideways to look at the teenager. "You have to think for the best for the both of you. I owe Naru-chan my life, and I'll save her even from a bad marriage," he told him seriously.

"I-I'm not letting her go," Sasuke declared as he stared at the man unflinching. Neji looked unimpressed. "I love her. I'm not letting her go," Sasuke said again, resolute.

Neji looked startled for a while, judging him, and smirked.

"Good luck, Uchiha Sasuke," Neji bid him with a hint of mirth and taunt in his voice, and he left the teenager alone in the parking lot. Sasuke knew convincing Naruto to trust him back would take an enormous effort on his part, and another Herculean struggle for her heart.

He would mend this. He promised he would.

Even if it would take him years, he would.

.

Iruka was happy. He was usually happy, but he was happier now. Kakashi was right, he wouldn't regret leaving the school earlier than he used to. Just one afternoon to go for tea was a real treat. Plus, he had completed all his duty for the day and he didn't have anything else to do.

"Ah, ah, ah," Kakashi chided, shaking his forefinger at him, "you're thinking about work again, Iruka-chan."

Iruka blushed, pressing his lips into his palm and propped his elbow on the table, glancing away with guilt. "I wasn't entirely," Iruka confessed, picking up his cup and staring at the warm liquid, "I was just thinking that this tea is heavenly." Iruka looked up, meeting his eyes and inwardly cursing his unwilling warming cheeks, "Thank you for inviting me to this café, Kakashi-sensei."

"You're welcome, Iruka-chan. I am enjoying our date too," Kakashi gushed, his eyes crinkled in happiness. "Although, I'd be more pleased if you can just call me by my given name, without honorific perhaps?" he asked, brushing his fingers against Iruka's gently and eyes staring intensely at the other man, "I'd like to call you without it too." Iruka spluttered and his face turned red at once. Instead, he called the waiter over and asked for the bill.

"Am I ...too forceful?" Kakashi asked, catching his attention as he took the bill instead from the waiter. Iruka saw the emotions in his eyes and felt guilty. They walked together out of the café after Kakashi placed money on the table.

"I-it's not you, Kakashi," Iruka began with a whisper and Kakashi had to come closer. His chest warmed with happiness when Iruka spoke his name, but Iruka was hesitating and met his eyes, looking troubled, "You're a great guy, Kakashi. Truly. But…" He bit his lips, unsure how he should tell him about his predicament when his phone vibrated again. Even Kakashi looked annoyed when Iruka fished out his phone from his pocket and instead of the usual 'private number' calling, Iruka received an SMS.

Feeling perturbed with the sudden change, Iruka clicked and read the message. It was short but ominous, and he gasped, horrified.

'Does Uchiha Sai ring a bell?'

.

.