They pulled into a large parking lot–normally used for beach-goers later in the season–and parked beside a big black Dodge truck. There was a railing in front of the vehicles, separating the parking lot from the beach itself, and a familiar figure sat on this.
Akasuna Sasori stood up as they climbed out of the car, and upon seeing their cargo, turned to hail Kisame, Tobi and Zetsu from a fire pit down on the beach. Konan glanced up from trying to start the fire, assessed the situation, and dismissed it. She wasn’t interested enough to watch.
Further on down the beach, Deidara and Pein were standing by a picnic table, going over Deidara’s papers. Also standing with them was an unfamiliar brown-haired boy, wearing a hoodie and possibly make-up. Or maybe face paint. Who knew.
Sakura shook her head and decided she’d look again later, then turned and pointedly took a box from Itachi. He gave her a tiny smirk, and let her take it.
With the whole work force–including the boy with the hoodie, as he’d hurried over the moment he realized what was going on–moving their assortment of alcohol and the leftover pizza, they easily finished in five minutes flat.
Itachi walked down to the fire pit and solemnly extracted two bottles of black glass from a red box. The labels flashed bronze in the light and almost as if summoned Kazuku materialized by his side.
He tilted the two bottles, admiring the smooth liquid barely seen through the smokey glass and calmly handed them over.
Kazuku did not quite snatch them out of his grip, but it was a bare difference. “Pleasure,” the big teen said, and walked away.
Sakura walked up to Itachi as he stooped down to pull another bottle from the box. “Is that the stuff from the back of the store?” she asked, curiosity biting.
He smirked. “Hnn, family brand.” He handed the bottle to her and she peered at the label. “Think of it like Guiness.”
She made a face. “Ugh…” Handing it back quickly, she shuddered. “Like drinking liquid beef.”
He snorted. “Baby.”
“Hey!” She smacked him on the upper arm.
Itachi stilled, then blinked at her. One eyebrow slowly raised as he watched her.
“I–” Sakura blushed. “Sorry. Bad temper remember?”
Instead of retorting, Itachi slipped the bottle back into the case. Then he turned to face her full on, stepping into her personal space. “I don’t mind the violence, Sakura-san.” Motioning to the teenagers around him, he continued. “You won’t be any more dangerous than the people I already deal with on a regular basis.”
She took a step back, but he followed her. In fact, when she stopped, he didn’t. Itachi crowded her and backed her away from the fire pit until they were no longer in it’s bright light.
His eyes didn’t glitter, so much as they gleamed, Sakura decided and nervously licked her lips. She watched those eyes narrow and focus on the seam of her mouth.
“You don’t have to hold back on me,” he went on in a low voice. “All you have to realize is that I will retaliate in kind.” He suddenly grinned and shook a finger in front of her eyes. “No free hits.”
Sakura opened her mouth, then shut it. Then tried to speak again. “What, are you charging currency like a certain someone?” she tried to joke.
Itachi tilted his head and considered it. “There may be a certain amount of build up for an equally large amount of “currency”.”
“What does that mean exactly Itachi-kun?”
He widened his grin and narrowed his eyes. She swore his breath evened out and his stance changed, though she couldn’t pinpoint why or how.
“It means, Sakura-san, that I will let you abuse me for a certain length of time without retaliation, until I decide to strike back.” He took a smooth step back. She bit back a gasp. Itachi didn’t just step back, he glided.
“Oh?” She rather missed his closeness. The way she could feel his breath on her cheeks.
“Hnn.” He raised an eyebrow. “Are you willing to confirm to those terms?”
Sakura gave him a measuring glance. “I can hit you… without guilt. You will – what – hit me back?!” That didn’t sound good. She hit hard!
He snickered. “Do you hit in malice?”
“No,” she answered quickly.
“Neither will I.”
This time it was Sakura to take a step back. “If I am to spend time with you. I will hit you… I have hit you. But that’s what I do.” She tilted her head and frowned at him. “You just want me to not feel guilty about it?”
Her hands fisted by her side and tugged her shirt hem. “Can I call a stop to it when I want to?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You may designate a safety word if you’d like.”
Sakura giggled suddenly and shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.” She smiled up at him, in a way relieved and hopeful. She didn’t think he’d be a push over and the idea of him lowering himself to her punching bag was laughable. “Alright. I agree.”
Itachi’s grin turned smug. “You agree that you do not have to hold back against me, and I will be free to return the treatment. In essence, an equal trade?”
She shrugged, ignoring the warning bells in her head. “Sure.”
The teen in front of her slowly seemed to sink closer to the ground, “Good,” he said, satisfaction warming his tones. “In that case, I should point out something.”
“Equal exchange does not mean you are the only one to go on offensive, Sakura-chan.” A vibrant tension seeped into his frame. And Sakura’s heart beat kicked up.
“Ita-” She got that far and no further. Itachi-kun tackled her into the sand.
There was a sudden hoot from beyond them, and Sakura turned bright red. Itachi had pinned her to the ground, fingers around her wrists and thighs locked around her hips… when Kisame happened to draw close enough to see.
“Oh, boy! Shoulda brought my camera,” he said, very loudly.
Sakura’s expression darkened. “Is there a stipulation against murdering him?”
Itachi smirked down into her face. “Well… he’s useful…” he said, drawing it out thoughtfully. “But he’s also incredibly dangerous…”
She gave him a bland look.
“Are you guys going to do something, or am I wasting my time?” Sasori asked, wandering over after hearing Kisame’s shouting.
Sakura heaved a sigh. “Can you let me up? Please?”
He quirked a brow. “Make me.”
She blinked. Oh. Duh. “Well…” She shrugged, and took a moment to feel how he was holding her. Her brow furrowed. He was straddling too high for her to successfully roll them, and he had her hands. She was essentially trapped. Except…
“I’ve always wanted to try this,” she said, and twisted her wrist sharply, then slid it neatly from his grasp. Then she wrapped her arm around his, focused her weight lower, and heaved. He was essentially rolled enough for her to stomp one foot down and further roll them to switch up their positions.
A couple others had moved to watch, curious.
Now she was on top of him, and he was moving his free arm. She rolled off, twisted her other wrist out of his grip, and surged to her feet. “Ha! That was so cool,” she said, grinning.
And the grin dropped.
There was a rush of bodies as a younger boy came bulling into the scene. Sakura opened her mouth to explain, but her breath whooshed out of her lungs as strong arms hauled her several feet away.
“Lee?!” she wheezed out. The tight band around her rib loosened and she was turned to face her friend. She’d have taken his head off right then if not for the priority of getting her breath back. “Wha–”
“Sakura-san! I have come to help! I do not know who brought you here–but a beautiful flower should not be harmed in any way!” The hands on her shoulders vibrated with tension. “I am sorry, Sakura-chan, that I was not here earlier to save you. However! I will punish he who would raise a hand at such a perfect example of youthful femininity!”
Breath not coming fast enough! Sakura thought brokenly as Lee dropped his hands and spun on his heel to face her “attacker”. He called out, “Neji! Stand guard–for I go to defend my … friend!”
And then he was off.
“Not–” She desperately pulled in a lung full of air and coughed hard. “Don’t–FUCK–don’t need…” Staggering, she fell against a chest that suddenly appeared in front of her. “Don’t!” She almost sobbed in furious frustration.
A sigh rumbled the chest she pressed against and she raised bleary eyes. “He’s already committed, Sakura-san.” An older, smoother, voice addressed her. “Don’t bother.”
Sakura managed to ease her coughing enough to reply. “That’s what I’m trying to tell him!”
Itachi had assessed the situation with ease, and when Lee flickered into view before him, he just as quickly ducked and skittered to the side. Lee wasted half a second in surprise, nodded and went after him again.
And dammit, this guy was fast. Maybe even faster than Itachi. And he was very good at hand to hand. Itachi spent the first thirty seconds of the fight blocking, dodging and diverting the younger boy’s attacks.
He had heard Sakura’s swear, and frowned. His fist parried Lee’s. Lee was her friend–he glided smoothly to the left, ducking underneath the boy’s leg (barely)–and she was distressed. Meaning that she probably didn’t want them to get hurt. Either of them. He hoped.
Itachi stepped back, avoided Lee’s punch, caught his leg and spun him. The boy landed in the sand, and was half up again when Itachi’s foot snapped out, knocking him back down. He pressed said foot against the green-clad youth’s chest.
“Listen?” he queried.
“You attacked Sakura-san! That is unyouthful,” Lee protested and knocked Itachi’s foot away. He surged back and up, in the flicker of half a second, and his fist was too close to Itachi’s face. Itachi stepped back, avoiding it.
Something passed through Lee’s expression, but it was too dark to tell what. Lee swung his fist again, this time catching Itachi on the shoulder.
Itachi lashed out automatically, the back of his fist hitting Lee hard on the jaw. Lee stumbled, face clearly showing surprise, and then… stopped. “You did not fight back until I hit you,” he said, rubbing his jaw.
“Hnnn.” Itachi took a step back, wary.
“I will listen.”
“LEE!” Sakura shrieked. Her breath was back. She charged up and grabbed his ear, jerking him around. “Rock Lee, I am going to murder you! How dare you attack my date!?”
Lee heard one thing, and one thing only. “Date?” he squeaked.
“YES! DATE!” She roared back at him, calming an infinitesimal bit when she saw how stunned he was. He stood there wide-eyed and shell-shocked.
Sakura sighed, and glanced over at Itachi. He quirked an eyebrow and shrugged. Her show then. She nodded. Fine by her. She grabbed Lee’s hand and pulled him over to where Neji stood with Tenten. Her friend stumbled after her, wondering why his world seemed to be crumbling like sand castles.
“Look,” Sakura said as she shoved Lee between the two other teenagers. Tenten automatically put an arm around Lee’s shoulders, while Neji settled on putting a hand on the nearest one. “I agreed to go on a date with Itachi. So far, it was going well.”
Lee opened his mouth, Sakura glared at him until he relented and shrunk back.
“Yes, he tackled me. Yes, I was surprised. But!” Sakura put two fingers under Lee’s chin and lifted so that he made eye contact. “I had agreed to it. And, I used the skills you taught me, Lee. And, that’s how I won my way free.” Well, essentially she had agreed to it. Her friend’s eyes had stopped looking betrayed though. Now they looked bright and shiny, and proud.
“It was a friendly sparring- er, wrestling match,” she ended lamely.
There was a moment of peace, then Lee was launching himself out of the arms of his friends and onto Sakura. “You won the match! Against that opponent!” he congratulated her. “Using the skills I taught you! Truly you are an example that all-” Sakura slapped a hand over his mouth.
“I swear, Lee,” she jokingly groused. “Turn the volume down for once.”
He made an embarrassed face. Someone cleared their throat, and Pein stepped close enough for them to see. “Glad that was worked out. Any more fights, and I’ll be pissed. Now, we’re here to have a party, right? So lets have a goddamn party.”
Lee beamed. “Right you are, Akatsuki-san!” he chirped, and gave Sakura the same smile. “Well… I suppose I must leave you to your companions, as I have worked up an appetite! I also wish for you to come to the dojo Sunday, if you can.”
She nodded, relieved. “Absolutely.” Good. He was leaving. She loved him to death–like a friend–but he was damn nosy. Waving, she said, “We’ll talk later.”
“Yes!” he agreed and turned to drag his two companions off toward three tables piled with snack foods and booze.
A hand fell on her shoulder, much like a boulder would fall on a bear. “Well, well, your life is interesting,” Kisame teased.
She turned and tossed him a look. “Thanks,” she said blandly.
“Not that I’d want your life; but it’s interesting. You should write a book.”
She rolled her eyes. Looking past the blue guy, she spied Itachi by the fire pit, lounging on the sand and an open bottle his hand. Speaking of those… Where was Kazuku? Or Hidan?
The older boy nearly choked on his own beer. ‘Kun’? “Ye-ah?”
The young girl turned on her heel, surveying the dark beach. “Where’s Hidan?”
“Oh, he’s around somewhere.” He waved a hand vaguely up the beach. “Probably helping Deidara.”
Sakura snorted, remembering Deidara’s possessive and protective behaviour at the table. “Not bloody likely.”
This time Kisame was the one to roll his eyes. “You’re just snarky because you got interrupted.” He pushed her towards the fire. “By all means, continue.”
The pink-haired girl gave him a scowl, but nonetheless headed over to Itachi and plopped down in the sand beside him. “I’m really sorry about Lee,” she said. “I did not know he was going to be here.”
She gave him a narrowed-eyed look. “Are you gonna go all ‘silent ninja guy’ on me now? It’s not my fault,” she said, annoyed. “I did not tell him to do that, and if you’re thinking that there’s anything between us, while he is a good guy, and we’ve been friends for a while, that’s never gonna happen,” she ranted. “And he won’t get it through his thick skull. He’s just so dense about it and–”
The sudden hissing sound of a bottle depressurizing cut her off, and she glared as Itachi let the cap tumble off into the sand. He lifted an eyebrow, and looked at the bottle, then back at her. Silently, he extended his arm until the freshly opened bottle hovered below her nose.
“Alcohol is not going to…” The bottle waved under her nose and a tantalizing scent came wafting out of the opening. Sakura took a sniff. Chocolate?! She blinked.
Itachi smirked as he watched cautious fingers slowly wrap around the base of the bottle. He let his fingers unwrap one by one, until Sakura held the bottle steady by herself.
He waited until she carefully took a sip of the homemade brew until speaking. “Stressed much?” he said lightly.
She mocked glared at him, but raised the bottle to her lips once more. She took a pull at the liquid and lowered it to mumble something into the glass.
Itachi grinned wider. “What was that?”
“Good stuff,” she muttered out the side of her mouth.
He gave her a smug look. “Yes, it is,” he replied.
Sakura chuckled. “Oh, jeez. I should just forget about it and have fun,” she decided. “You know…” She stopped, frowned. “Oh, never mind. That’s just dumb.”
“Hnn.” Itachi tilted his head and quirked a brow. “Spill.”
“Um…” She shifted, and shrugged. “Well… Uh…” She stared down at the drink, and coughed lightly. “Well, I just had this thought, is all. About these… people.”
Both his eyebrows were up now. “You’ll have to elaborate on that, Sakura-chan.”
She grinned. “Well, I just thought that they all seem pretty nuts. Where does that leave you?”
“Oh, just as nuts probably.” Itachi pulled another bottle from the case and popped the cap. “The question you should be focusing on is this: all these people are nuts, including me. However, you’re the one to agree to date one of them.” He smirked, bringing the bottle to his lips. “Where does that leave you?” he echoed the question back to her and took a sip.
“Oh, I’ve been off my rocker for years,” she replied with a dismissive tone, and took a drink from the bottle in her hand. She lowered it and stared into the fire. “Hm… But… your friends are totally insane. Especially Deidara and Hidan.”
“Perhaps I’m used to them,” Itachi mused. “How are they insane to you? You seemed to be fine with Dei earlier, and Hidan, well…” he trailed off, then shrugged.
“Hidan looked close to an orgasm after being stabbed with a toothpick,” she deadpanned, slanting an amused look his way. “And Deidara was the one that stabbed him. With a toothpick. In the middle of a restaurant.” When he continued to look unworried, she shook her head. “That doesn’t happen often, in normal society.”
Itachi hummed and took another swallow. He held up a finger. “One is a masochist. The other is an artist.” He knocked his bottle into hers, reminding her to appreciate it. “And finally, there is no such thing as normal.”
“You know what I mean,” she retorted, and obediently took a sip. “They’re strange, and Hidan is a pervert–Oh, that reminds me!” She straightened and slid her hand into her back pocket, pulling out a phone. As if on cue, it went off. She ignored the call and turned it off. “Nosy blondes…”
He ignored the phone and focused on her instead. “I know what you mean, but you don’t understand what I am saying.” He rolled onto his side and stretched out along the sand, his lips barely a foot away from her own. “You say they are insane. However, you have chosen to spend your time here. With us. With me. And for the most part, you are matching us, stride for stride.”
The older teen rolled on to his stomach and planted his bottle in the sand by his elbows. “Why define them as insane, when you get along with them so well?” He laced his fingers in front of chin and watched her expressions. “Your normal is the blonde you just ignored.”
She blinked and looked down at the phone in her hand. “Aa…” But he’d inadvertently pointed out something else to her. She bit her lip, and looked up into the fire while putting her phone back. The light flickered in her eyes. “You’re right.” Of course. She looked at him.
Abruptly, she climbed to her feet and turned to face him. She smiled. “Itachi-kun, let me ask you something, if I could?”
Oh, now that was an interesting smile, Itachi thought. From his stomach, he rolled on to his back and half sat up. “Am I going to regret letting you?” he countered.
Her smile deepened, and there was something almost teasing about it. “Maaayybeee,” she said sweetly, drawing the word out. When his eyes narrowed, she tried to contain her glee.
Itachi was abruptly reminded of Okaa-san. Careful of the bottle, he rose to his feet in one long smooth move. “Ask,” he challenged.
“Itaaachhiii… Can you run really fast?”
And, abruptly, a pail of water was dumped on him from behind. Sakura burst out laughing, and squeaked, “Now run!” she cackled and darted off toward the lake.
His mind went white numb in shock, the only phrase booming through his mind, ‘What the fuck?’ He shivered once and turned around to the mad giggling of Tobi. The lunatic was standing there, unabashedly dangling a tin bucket from one hand, holding his sides.
Slicking his straggling hair back from his eyes, Itachi eyed the quickly distancing white halter top that Sakura wore.
“You, I’ll deal with later,” Itachi muttered at hooting boy.
Stripping off the sodden jacket, he strode off. This girl wanted to play? He’ll play.
Sakura was giggling softly when she glanced behind her. She drew to a stop. It was so damn dark, and that man always wore black… and anyway, he was no longer near the fire. Carefully, eyes narrowed, she backed up, eyes darting around. She glanced above. No moon; it would figure.
Pursing her lips, she took another step back, the soft sloshing of the water in the lake the only close sound. There was music from somewhere, muted conversation, laughter (mostly from Tobi, whom was still giggling by the fire like a loon)… but nothing from her date. Oh dear.
Briefly, she wondered if she’d made him mad. Then she decided she didn’t care. If he got mad over water (or she hoped it’d been water…) then… well… She shook her head and glanced around again. Nothing.
Then a very faint shift of the sand. She whirled to her right. Nothing. “Itachi-kun?” she said, squinting slightly. Another shift, and she spun around. Again, nothing.
Itachi watched through wet strands of hair as Sakura twisted one way then the other on the beach. As dark as it was, his precautions were probably not needed, but every artist had their own styles. He swam closer to the shore, soft and subtle as the waves around him.
As Sakura wandered further along the shore, she nearly came feet away from where he lay submerged. The edges of the lake ended on a rock bed, the soft sand making the stone ledges a hazard. But the girl wouldn’t know that. And Itachi stayed close.
Itachi rolled his eyes at his situation. Sitting in the cool water, watching a young teenage girl wander up and down the beach, scaring herself into seeing things. Drawing this out would be pointless.
Besides, he grinned. She was wearing a white top to a beach party. It was obvious where this was going.
Sakura heaved a sigh and crossed her arms over her chest. “Itachi-san, I know you’re not just going to let that go. Where the hell are you?” she demanded.
He shook his head. Right under her.
Itachi reached up, slapped a hand around her ankle, tripped her backwards–away from the ledge.
She shrieked and went down flailing. Itachi grunted as a foot connected with the side of his head, but caught it the second time as he rose out of the water.
“You wanted to know where I was?”
He grabbed the other foot going in for his midsection and wrangled her legs into the crook of one arm.
“I’ll let you know where I was,” Itachi ground out.
Firmly turning over the limbs he held, the older teen flopped Sakura over onto her stomach. Ignoring her hollers, he pivoted in place and looked outwards to the water again.
“In fact, Sakura-chan. I think you’ll enjoy experiencing it,” Itachi said with finality. And walked, arm full of legs and all, back into the water.
Sakura made one last shriek before she was plunged into the water.