Sand Trails Ch 9: Damage Control

“I don’t like it,” Naruto said, glaring at the silver Camaro sitting in the parking lot of the school. Leaning against its hood was Sakura-chan, and leaning against her was Uchiha fucking Itachi. Fag.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. “And you think I do? What’re you gonna do about it? Either one of them can kick your ass up and down the street.”

“Shuddup.” He pouted, and then turned his puppy dog pout on Shikamaru and Ino in hopes of gaining their sympathy.

Shika snorted. Like he was going to step between those two or in front. Since Itachi had started to hang out around Sakura, whenever the two of them were near each other, there seemed to be a zone that developed around them. It was at least ten feet in radius, and it was lethal to the mental health of anyone who so much as nosed about the couple’s plans for the evening. Ino had been the only one to successfully walk into that kill zone and out again. And that was only when Itachi was by himself.

Ino gave Naruto a very sweet smile. “Why don’t you go over there and talk to them? I’m sure they’d love your company.”

The male blond appeared to be thinking about it, but Sasuke elbowed him. “Rock Lee told me, he went up against Itachi in a fight, Naruto. He said, Itachi was as quick as him. Itachi was going easy.”

Naruto opened his mouth, was elbowed again, and glowered at his best friend. “Doesn’t matter! I’m sure that if all of us jumped him, Uchiha will go down just as fast as anyone else!” he spouted out, uncaring that the couple had noticed the group. And the irate blond that was gesturing at them.

“Shut UP, DOBE!” Sasuke grabbed the back of Naruto’s head and frog-marched him around the corner and out of sight. “They noticed us, you idiot,” he hissed and watched as blue eyes widened.

“Sakura-chan—” Naruto whimpered.

“Would end you right after Itachi mopped the floor with your face,” the younger Uchiha said firmly, letting go of blond hair.

Naruto’s lip trembled. “But… but Sasuke!” he said, thankfully lowering his voice. “You know how I feel about her! It was obvious! And he just—” He closed his mouth, looking down.

Ino peeked around the corner. “Itachi keeps smirking this way,” she commented idly. “Oh, and your shirt’s backwards, Naruto.”

There was a strangled laugh. Shikamaru walked around the corner and leaned up against the wall. “What Ino failed to mention,” he laconically added, “is that Itachi is smirking, but Sakura-chan is glaring.”

The lanky Nara shivered and looked at Ino. “I don’t know how you can just stand there in plain view.”

“I’m not scared of Forehead girl,” she replied, not bothering to lower her voice (though it wasn’t raised unnecessarily either). “Or Uchiha Itachi.” She suddenly smirked. “I do have dirt, though. My good friend Temari went to the same party that they did, you know, Friday?”

Naruto blinked, then widened his eyes. “Eh? Dirt? Did someone fall?”

“Oh, don’t you dare play dumb,” Ino retorted, glowering at him.

The other blond gulped. Sasuke sneered. “I don’t want to know.” But Ino was already talking.

“They were playing Kiss or Tell, a huge group of them. Itachi and Sakura were both asked rather big questions.” The gleeful blonde girl scooted around the corner, giggling. “Looks like Itachi is looking to get serious with a girl and—”

Naruto exploded, “WHAT!!! NOT MY SAKURA-CHAN!”

And before anyone could stop him, the blond had darted out, Sasuke yelping his name in a sudden surge of horror. Someone was about to die.

Meanwhile…

Sakura was complaining about nosy friends to her attentive listener when she heard Naruto’s voice rise, saying something about ‘his Sakura-chan’. She blinked and leaned to the side to see past Itachi.

And saw Naruto running toward them with Sasuke in hot pursuit. Itachi, realizing something was happening, turned. His eyes narrowed and his body tensed, his center of gravity lowering as he shifted to defend himself.

Thankfully, just under ten feet away, his little brother caught up with the enraged blond and promptly tackled him.

Itachi tugged Sakura off to the other side of the car, just in case.

For a few minutes, Naruto and Sasuke wrestled on the ground. Sasuke’s face was surprisingly pale, and Naruto’s was red with fury. The blond almost escaped his assailant, scrambling to his feet, and yelled—“GONNA MURDER YOU!!!”—before Sasuke tripped him again.

Itachi’s eyes were mere slits, but he allowed the two to continue their scuffle—it was rather interesting. The elder Uchiha was able to pinpoint the exact moment Naruto’s rage took control of him. While before, Naruto had been more focused on escaping; now he was lashing out at the dark-haired boy in anger for his interference.

Ino and Shikamaru were both pale and standing off to the side, looking like they wanted to do something, but weren’t sure what. Shikamaru’s gaze darted toward Itachi, then Sakura, then around them and back to the two on the ground.

Itachi could see the wheels turning in the boy’s head. He looked at Itachi again. His eye twitched. Naruto rammed his fist into Sasuke’s face hard enough to free himself…

The lazy boy abruptly turned around and left.

Ino didn’t notice. Neither did Sakura, Naruto or Sasuke. Itachi lifted his hand to catch the blond’s fist.

“NARUTO!” Sakura’s fist planted itself into the cheek of the raging boy, knocking Naruto off-balance and leaving Itachi with a raised eyebrow.

The blond stumbled back, fury momentarily derailed. He looked up at her, gritted his teeth, and vibrated with the force of his anger. Itachi did a quick sweep of the area. Shikamaru was nowhere in sight, Ino had knelt beside Sasuke…

Sasuke… His nose was broken, and bleeding. Itachi’s eyes flickered from his brother’s face to Naruto, in time to see the boy pull back his fist. “Stay out of this Sakura,” Itachi hissed, and sidestepped. As Naruto’s wrist passed within inches of his cheek, he grabbed, twisted, and pulled.

Naruto was spun around and locked in place with his arm held painfully, tightly behind his back. The blond made a sound that was eerily like an enraged animal—perhaps a canine of some sort—and ducked further. His free hand scooped up a handful of dirt and rocks and then tossed it back into Itachi’s face.

Itachi, surprised, automatically released his hold and stumbled away from Sakura (and his car). His hands lifted to rub his eyes, trying to clear his vision. That hurt!

A fist rammed into his stomach. He knocked it away, struggling to open his eyes.

His ire had been invoked—cheating bastard! Then again, a faint hint of admiration shone through as well. Itachi received another punch, grazing his cheek, but he was too good for Naruto to get his face. The faint admiration flashed and died like one of Dei’s flares.

Itachi’s own fist flashed out, caught the blond on the jaw and—

A hand caught his wrist. A cry from his opponent made Itachi realize that someone had intervened. “What is this? Fights like this aren’t allowed on school property, y’know. I’ll have to call your parents.”

Naruto made a sound between a growl and a hiss, while Itachi was trying to bring a face to that voice. The male continued. “Ah, sorry Naruto! Caregivers, then. Uchiha, can you see? Sakura-chan says you got something in your eyes?”

And a face registered: Hatake-sensei.

The older boy cautiously relaxed his eyes and slit one open, only to squeeze it back shut. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “Hatake-san?”

“Yo.”

“If I open my eyes, I risk damaging them,” Itachi gritted out. “Need to wash them out.”

“Okay,” Hatake Kakashi agreed slowly. “We can stop by the bathroom on the way to the office.” He released Itachi’s wrist in favor of gripping his upper arm, and turned his attention to the others. “Alright, Yamanaka, Sakura-chan, Nara… get lost. I’ll swing by to talk to you guys later.”

“Are you sure?” Sakura spoke up, sounding worried. “Itachi-kun, Naruto, are you guys okay?”

A sniffle, and Naruto shot Itachi a glare. “I’m okay, Sakura-chan,” he said. Kaka-sensei had gripped the back of his neck in a way that said he would personally be telling the Ero-nutcase later. And he would make sure Naruto was right there with them.

Itachi’s free arm twitched and his fingers curled into a fist, and he jammed the whole hand into his pants pocket. “Sensei, I need to wash my eyes,” he reminded the teacher. His whole body was tense with the need to get the grit out of his eyes, but rubbing would not help.

“Itachi-kun?” Her voice was so small.

He shook his head. “Later,” Itachi said shortly.

“Okay,” she replied, as Hatake moved both boys along.

True to his word, Kakashi marched them into the closest bathroom and nudged Itachi toward the sink. He seemed to be taking this all rather coolly, without a single outward emotion that didn’t say he was exhaustingly bored.

While Itachi leaned over to wash out his eyes, Kakashi watched in well-hidden amusement as Naruto glared daggers at the older boy’s back. He didn’t need to ask; it wasn’t like the rumors weren’t on everyone’s mind and coming out of their mouths these day.

Every time said mouths opened:

“Did you hear…”

“And Itachi-kun is…”

Can’t believe she

“So stupid! What does he…”

It was everywhere. Nobody seemed too happy with it, aside from Yamanaka. But she got her kicks out of getting into everyone else’s love life.

Kakashi moved his hand from the back of Naruto’s neck to his shoulder, and squeezed. The boy looked up at him. He smiled. Naruto made a face like he’d tasted something bad and averted his gaze.

Itachi had hoped that a few splashes, and a few blinks into handfuls of water would quickly remove the grit, but he hadn’t expected it to sting as much as it did. Blinking hurt. Rotating the eyeballs hurt. The only thing that didn’t, was the tears that constantly flushed the remaining grains of sand out from the sockets. He hissed as he opened his eyes and looked into the mirror.

“Fuck,” he muttered softly as he took in the reflection. Everything was blurry. Everything. His heartbeat picked up and he felt light-headed for a moment.

He glanced side to side and noticed in morbid fascination that the blurriness wasn’t even uniform. His right vision was clear at the top and blurred at the bottom, but his left eye was completely useless. Shadows and general shapes and colours could be seen, but… Itachi closed his right eye with a wince and held up a spread fingered hand before the mirror. He could make out his palm, but not the fingers.

He dropped the hand, and closed the last eye. Damnit. It was going to be more disorienting with his eyes open than closed. He may as well be bl—

Itachi snorted. The scratches would heal. Nothing was bleeding. He took a long breath through the nose and hissed it back out through a locked jaw.

Turning, he addressed Hatake-sensei, “I should keep my eyes closed for now, I think. They are scratched.”

Kakashi hummed. “Okay. I’ll lead you by your arm, then.” As if he’d do otherwise. He grasped Itachi’s bicep again and led the boys from the room and down the hall to the office. He smiled at Shizune, sitting behind a desk.

“Hello, Shizune-chan~” he greeted in a sing-song tone. “I have a couple of fighters here to speak with Sarutobi-sama.”

Shizune looked at the two boys and sighed. Really, she was surprised they hadn’t been dragged here sooner, with what she’d heard and knew about both of their personalities. “Uchiha-kun? Are you alright?”

“He got dirt in his eyes,” Kakashi said with a cheerful smile. Naruto cut him a glance, eyes narrowed. Sadist.

“Oh, I see,” Shizune murmured, and got up gracefully. “Please wait here. I’ll see if he is able to take them right now.”

Naruto watched the lady leave, and sighed. Ero-Sennin was gonna murder him!

Uchiha let his ears track the movements of the secretary and noted the shifting sounds of Naruto. Hatake-sensei was humming under his breath, but otherwise stood still.

Taking another breath in, Itachi registered and catalogued the different signals his body was telling him, now that the danger had been flushed from his eyes. Naruto’s blow to the stomach had been a good one, but nothing but a faint bruising would occur. Itachi dismissed the tender feeling there as trivial. Kisame hit harder. The graze to the cheek held a few faint stings from the water earlier, but didn’t even rate as scratches.

By the time he had determined all other offenses insignificant, Shizune had returned.

“He’ll see you both, one at a time. Uchiha-kun? Could you come with me, please?” Her hand touched his gently, fingers cool and soft. She clasped his fingers and pulled gently, directing him carefully.

Itachi followed her obediently and was soon enveloped with the vaguely familiar scent of rain and pine. Somewhere, there was the sound of water flowing softly. A body shifted, and Shizune gently lead him to a chair, waited for him to sit, and then backed away.

The door closed with a quiet snick behind her.

“Uchiha Itachi-kun. I don’t believe I’ve ever had you in here, aside from that incident the first year with Hoshigaki-san. You two are friends now, aren’t you?” Sarutobi-sensei asked. There was a soft clunk. “Cookie?”

The blind boy nodded. “Yes, Kisame and I are close,” he paused. “And, no thank you. Sensei.”

“Suit yourself.” The soft slide of porcelain against smooth wood followed. “I’m glad. It pleases me to know that two enemies can become such close allies. It gives me hope for the future.” There was a shift and a soft creak; Sarutobi was sitting back in his chair.

Itachi snorted. Naruto didn’t even rate as a rival, much less an enemy. Soft dreams, old man. “Hnn.”

Sarutobi chuckled. “That was funny? Aah, you must think I was being sneaky and talking about Naruto-kun. No.” He sighed. “I do wish to know what that was about, however. Care to enlighten me, Itachi-kun?”

He gave a slight shrug. “Uzumaki took exception to the rumors. His friends attempted to dissuade him from confronting me directly. He ignored their advice.” Itachi tilted his head, hearing Naruto’s voice rising in the outer office. “He confronted me.”

“Aah, I see.” Sarutobi hummed thoughtfully, listening to the soft sound of Kakashi scolding Naruto for his racket. “Why did he confront you? Do you know?”

A death wish, Itachi thought darkly. Not only did the boy attack him, but he did so against Sakura’s wishes and, further, after she had shown her displeasure. He wasn’t sure it had been a show of courage and determination, or plain bull-headed idiocy.

He turned his face towards Sarutobi-sama. “I am dating Sakura-san,” he said bluntly.

Sarutobi didn’t bat an eyelash, not that Itachi would have known anyway. “Aah. Yes, I see. Well, that would make him rather irritated, wouldn’t it?” he mused to himself. “Very well. Please step outside and send Naruto-kun in, mm? Do you need assistance?”

He considered taking the steps out on his own, but the sudden image of him randomly feeling for the doorknob was too embarrassing. Itachi sighed and nodded. “I think it would be best if Shizune-san could lead me back out, Sensei.”

There was another shifting, and soft footsteps. A hand, softer than Shizune-san’s, with loose skin and wrinkles, touched his elbow, then gripped. “Come, then. Perhaps you should have someone else drive you home? I’ll be giving your parents a call, of course,” Sarutobi-sama informed him.

The teen nodded absently. His thoughts, however, had already come up with a possible solution and he smirked, amused. Sakura would finally have the keys to Shiori. For today.

With Sensei’s help, Itachi made his way to the door and waited, while Sarutobi opened the door. Shizune was instantly standing in front of him, her faint perfume wafting in the air.

Itachi groaned to himself. An invalid. Passed from caretaker to caretaker. Kisame was going to have a field day with this.

Shizume took his hand again as behind him, the higher authority called Naruto to enter the office. Itachi moved forward as the younger boy moved past.

“Whatever he said,” the boy was saying, “it’s all a lie…”

The door closed.

“Sit, please,” Sarutobi instructed.

“Aww, but Sensei—”

Sit, Naruto. That was not a request.” Sarutobi lifted a brow.

Naruto grumbled but knew better than to argue. Once he’d sat, though, he started up again. “He’s a rotten girl-stealing bastard, Sensei!”

“Is he, now,” Sarutobi replied rhetorically.

Naruto didn’t catch on. “Yes! He stole Sakura-chan from me!”

“I see…” Sarutobi sat back in his seat and picked a cookie from the green-porcelain bowl sitting on the large oak desk. He didn’t offer Naruto one of the chocolate covered sweets; the boy was hyper enough without it. “And did Sakura-chan protest?”

The blond mumbled for a moment, then hissed, “No.” He paused, then straightened. “He’s like bewitched her or something! I heard he was a ninja; and they can do those stuff.”

Sarutobi snorted. “Hm. Tell me, Naruto-kun… What was Sakura-chan’s reaction to you attacking her boyfriend?”

Naruto paused, then admitted, “Uh… she hit me?”

“I thought so.” Sarutobi nodded sagely. “And what does that tell you? Aside from that she’s no different in personality than usual.”

Naruto took a few more minutes to answer this. “… She didn’t like me attacking Uchiha?”

“Very good. Which means…?”

“She doesn’t want him hurt?”

“Uh-huh.” Sarutobi gave him a praising smile. “What else?”

The blond was thoughtful for a moment. “She… uh… She likes him?” he ventured, hating to say it.

Sarutobi nodded. “Yeesss. Very good! One more thing?”

Silence. Naruto was now being stubborn.

Sarutobi sighed and tried a different tactic. “If Sakura-chan were… say… attacked on the street—” Naruto sucked in a breath “—what would she do?”

The breath whooshed out, and Naruto’s eyes closed in confusion. He thought it over a minute, before peeking at the principal and asking, “Hit them?”

“Uh huh. She would hit them. And if someone precious to her were being attacked?”

Really hit them,” Naruto declared, envisioning Sakura punching someone for coming at him with a knife.

Sarutobi beamed. “And when you attacked Itachi-kun… what did she do?”

Naruto paled. “Hit me?” he squeaked. The blond looked terrible: his breath escaped all in a rush, and his eyes watered, his nose wrinkled, and his lip wobbled.

Sarutobi didn’t bat an eyelash. “Which, if we were going by that little attacker scenario, would make you whom?”

The boy’s eyes dropped to the desk, staring unseeing at the seemingly random assortment of papers and files. His shoulders slumped and he muttered something. At Sarutobi’s request to repeat himself— “An old man’s ears aren’t as good as they once were!”—he peeked at the man’s face.

“The attacker.”

“Yes.” Sarutobi sighed. “Meaning, the bad guy. Sakura-chan hit you to defend Itachi-kun, whom she cares for. Don’t you think it’s best to let her decide his worth? Without your interference? It’s only fair, to both of them.”

While Naruto didn’t care about fair to that jackass… Sakura deserved better. So he nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good. Now, I believe you’ve missed your bus home, so maybe Hatake-kun would give you a ride. I can only assume he wishes to inform your guardian personally of what has occurred this afternoon.”

Naruto nodded again. “Yeah,” he repeated and got up. He bowed to Sarutobi. “Thank you, Sensei.”

“Any time, Naruto.”

A firm knock on the door interrupted the peaceful atmosphere of teacher and student. The door swung open to reveal Haruno Sakura holding a bright orange backpack. Behind her stood Yamanaka Ino, a look on her face that said she was trying to appear to be solemn and reluctant… and completely failing at it.

Sakura flicked a glare at Naruto and then respectfully bowed to the man behind the desk. “Sarutobi-sama, I have come to give an accurate—and clear—accounting of the events of this afternoon.” She straightened and stalked in, her blonde friend trailing in after her, a stifled skip to her step. “And if my word is not enough as a witness, I have Ino-chan here too.”

“Sakura-chan,” Naruto stepped forward and the girl swung around to face him, fists clenching.

“Not a word, Naruto!” she hissed. “Itachi is sitting out there blind. Blind!” Sakura threw the bag at his chest. “Get out!”

He wilted. “Okay, Sakura-chan,” he said, and slowly walked out, like a puppy with his tail between his legs.

Ino closed the door behind him, and turned to grin at Sarutobi. “Oh man. You must have it rough,” she said instantly.

Sakura groaned. “Ino Piiiggg…”

“What, Forehead?”

“Ladies,” Sarutobi interrupted. “If you could sit please…”

Sakura blinked and straightened her spine. With a lift of her chin, she strode over to one of the chairs situated in front of the oak desk and sat down.

Sarutobi smiled once Ino had mimicked her friend. “Now, you said you were willing to tell me what specifically transpired, hm? Please start at the beginning, Sakura-chan.”

She frowned and looked down at the desk. “I was coming out of school and ran into Itachi-kun.” Her irritated expression smoothed out and she smiled slightly. “He offered me a ride home…”

Sakura trailed off for a moment, remembering the grin that had graced his lips when he had teased her, saying that Shiori was in the parking lot.

Ino coughed and the pink-haired girl snapped back to attention. “And, of course I said yes. I mean, it’s Shiori—er, I mean, it’s… well, it’s a silver Camaro, Sarutobi-sama.”

Beside her, the blonde rolled her eyes.

“Aah, I see,” he said, hiding his amusement. “That is a big deal. So you were standing around talking about getting a ride? Then what happened? As the fight transpired in the parking lot, I assume you moved to that location at some point?”

The girl nodded. “Yes, Sensei. We walked together to the car, but I had forgotten that I was supposed to meet up with Sasuke-kun and Naruto-kun, and the others.” There, she gave the amused blonde an apologetic smile. “Usually, we meet near the parking lot. So, I thought that when they showed up, I could tell them that I would be staying for only a little. Then Itachi-kun would drive me home.”

The man nodded. “But this didn’t happen exactly the way you’d thought.”

Sakura growled. “I was talking with Itachi-kun, when I noticed my friends at the corner of the North building. They didn’t do anything but stand there, talking about us!” This time, the glance she shot Ino was annoyed. “No friendly wave, no smiles, nothing.”

Sarutobi lifted his brows and turned his gaze to Ino. “Ino-chan?”

“Naruto and Sasuke-kun were complaining about it,” Ino explained. “Me and Shika have last period together, as you probably know. He and I were heading out to the parking lot to meet everyone as usual. Sasuke-kun and Naruto came around the building and arrived at about the same time.

“We basically all saw Forehead,” she gestured to Sakura. “Walking with Itachi-kun at the same time. They are so uber cute, you know! It’s like—”

“Ino-chan, the facts, if you could,” Sarutobi interrupted gently.

She blinked, and then shook her head, unbothered by the chiding. “Oh, right, duh. Anyway, so we just sorta stood there, the guys and I, watching them walk to that sexy Camaro…”—She bit back the urge to make an orgasm comment there—“And then Sasuke-kun was all ‘I should have known’,” she said, deepening her voice to mimic Sasuke.

“And Naruto, looking like he totally wanted to burst a vein, asks what Sasuke-kun should have known. Sasuke-kun tells us that Itachi-kun and Forehead”—another gesture toward the pink-haired teen—“had gone out to a party Friday night. Naruto was all ‘What? Dumb Itachi’ and muttered about how he didn’t like it, and him and Sasuke-kun argued about it for a while… Shika made a comment…

“Naruto, not giving a crap that they could hear us, starts talking about him, Sasuke-kun and probably the rest of us—or maybe Lee-kun, Sasuke-kun mentioned him…”

“Ino-chan,” Sarutobi prodded.

“Oh, right. Well, anyway, he was talking about the group jumping Itachi-kun, since Itachi-kun would beat their as—er, butts in one-on-one. Sasuke-kun drags him off around the corner of the building, and they’re talking, but of course all I could hear was Naruto’s half of the conversation.”

She suddenly stopped, and gave Sakura a nervous look.

Sarutobi quirked a brow at the long-winded blonde, curious. “And then…?”

“Well…” the blonde hedged. “You see, earlier in the day, I got this huuuggee excited text from my fr—passing acquaintance Temari. She was like totally ecstatic, and was telling me about the party, and how it came out during said party that Itachi was seriously pursuing Forehead.” Another gesture. “Well, I was so excited about this that I told the guys the first chance I got—it was totally amazing! And sweet, don’t forget that! And I told them, right after Sasuke-kun had dragged Naruto off and well…”

She cleared her throat. “He uh… Naruto, that is… he didn’t take that so well…” She grimaced and fell silent.

Sarutobi, brows raised, looked at Sakura. “Sakura-chan?” he said, drawing her gaze from Ino, whom she’d been glaring at.

She muttered, “Always so nosy, can’t keep—argh!” Sakura turned forward and tried to look calm and collected. Nope. “I guess that’s when Naruto yelled and came charging around the corner,” she said. “Sasuke-kun was running after him, and then Ino and Shika.

“Sasuke-kun took Naruto down before the idiot could get to us”—Sakura winced—“and got a broken nose for his troubles,” she added woefully.

“After that Naruto jumped up and swung at Itachi, but he didn’t connect.” Sakura flicked a lock of pink hair away from her face. “And then I swung at Naruto and I connected.”

“Oh, she totally decked him hard, but Naruto didn’t have a scratch!” Ino inserted, and pouted. “Well, he’s resilient, at least.”

Sarutobi smiled slightly. “I see…. So the two started to fight after Naruto-kun was… ah, punished by Sakura-chan?”

Ino nodded. “Oh, he was like shell-shocked. I—Oh, you can go on, Forehead,” she suddenly said, realizing she’d stolen the lime light.

Sakura blinked and peered suspiciously at the blonde by her side. “Well…” she started slowly, looking back to Sarutobi. “Yes. I was trying to get Naruto to stop, but he wouldn’t listen, the idiot. He jumped back at us and Itachi-kun caught him.” She made some vague twisting motions with her hands, but soon gave up, shrugging. “He grabbed Naruto and put him into an arm lock, but then Naruto managed to reach down and that’s when he tossed the dirt into Itachi-kun’s eyes.”

Sarutobi nodded slowly. “I see, and that is why Itachi-kun cannot see.” He considered this for a moment, and then sighed. “I think I know what I need to know. Now, there is something I must discuss with the two of you.”

Ino blinked, her half-baked plans foiled, but this could be more interesting anyway. “What?”

Biting her lip, Sakura nodded. “What do you want to talk about, Sarutobi-sama?” She couldn’t think of anything that would need both their input.

He smiled grimly. “I will of course be speaking with Shikamaru-san and Sasuke-kun later… but since the two of you are here, and witnesses, I have decided to start with you. As you know, the Uchiha family is a very prestigious family, and the family head is not fond of Naruto-kun… There is a chance that, with the extent of the injuries done to Sasuke-kun and Itachi-kun, he may take legal action.”

Ino had paled. “Oooh.”

Sarutobi sighed and nodded. “It seems you’re a quick one, Ino-chan. Uchiha Fugaku-san may call on the both of you as witnesses.”

The other girl slumped in her chair. “But—” she began and then moaned. “Sasuke-kun got hurt fighting with Naruto-kun to keep the baka from getting hurt himself. Then Itachi-kun gets hurt trying to restrain Naruto.” She slapped both hands over her eyes. “Sensei, this is so messed up.”

She sat up suddenly and dropped her hands into her lap. “And it’s because of me!” she wailed softly. She turned tragic eyes to Sarutobi. “Mikoto-san was just starting to like me too,” she added dully.

His eyebrows lifted. “Oooh?” A small smile quirked his mouth, then was tucked away like an unused garment. “You know Mikoto-san, then. Perhaps you could tell her hello for me? It’s been an awful long time.” He lifted his porcelain bowl. “Cookie?”

Ino, wide-eyed, was reeling from the sudden diversion of the topic. Her eyes narrowed and darted between Sarutobi and Sakura. Sakura was gaping at Sarutobi, who was beaming back. Ino remembered his expression when Sakura had mentioned the Uchiha Matriarch.

The sly smile slowly tilted across Ino’s lips. “Mikoto-san, eh? Itachi-kun’s favorite parent, you say, Sarutobi-sensei?”

“Yes, Ino-chan.” His eyes were dancing. This one was very smart. Or perhaps the word was crafty. “Tell her ‘hello’ for me, hm? And perhaps tell her that her sons are modern marvels, while you’re at it. Amazing grades, those two.”

“Are we done here, Sensei?” Ino asked, but then Sakura regained her voice.

“Mikoto-san”—Sakura spoke softly, slowly—“is Itachi’s favourite parent. And you’re happy that I know her. And that she likes me. And you want her to remember you.” Her eyes narrowed. “And to know that you think the world of her sons—”

She blinked and her head jerked up. “And that they are modern marvels… You think she will help with Naruto-kun?” Sakura asked in a rush.

“Cookie?” he repeated and winked.

Ino grinned. “I’d love one!” she chirped, taking a cookie. She had to lean forward to do so, and Sarutobi leaned close. She blinked. “Eh?”

“Mikoto-san would do anything to benefit her sons.”

They both straightened, Ino’s eyes wide. “Oh, wow, I didn’t even—” She stopped and looked at Sakura. “Oh, honey…” And she burst out laughing.

The pink-haired girl’s cheeks were blazing pink and she was gaping at Sarutobi. “But, I said I wasn’t ready…” she said dazedly.

“Wasn’t ready for what, Sakura-chan?” he asked gently. Had he made a mistake in his assessment? “For a relationship? Is that it?” She nodded dumbly, and he sighed. “I see. Well, I will not tell you that you have to take my suggestions. But I will urge you to think with both head and heart, not either-or.”

“Aah,” Sakura sighed. Without another word, she reached forth and snagged a cookie. She frowned at it. It had better be one damned fine cookie. All this fuss, all at once, and all so important. Was he worth it? Who was “he” for that matter? Naruto was important to her, but she had decked him for Itachi’s sake. Itachi was… serious—and she appreciated it! She just wasn’t ready.

The troubled girl shook her head suddenly. She reviewed her last thought. No, she wasn’t ready, but goddamnit she was willing to see if eventually, with Itachi, she might be.

Sakura bit down on the cookie. She might be, yes. But, just—not right now!

“Good cookie?” Sarutobi asked cheerfully. He could read the girl like an open book.

xXx

Chapter 8 | Table of Contents | Chapter 10

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