Author's Note: Updated June 24, 2017
For those of you who have read this chapter before the update, I have added in a bit more to clear up the story. If you're interested, the main section of change is toward the end, in Italics. It is a flashback memory of how Naruto and Sakura met.
It was mid-day and the shadows of the forest's trees shaded the path leading to Northern Solaris. Small patches of light peeked through the leaves and shone on dewy grass and paved silt. A cool breeze, carrying promises of fall on its coattails, rustled the branches in time to a songbird chirr. Along the path, a luxurious carriage lead by four great stallions broke against the horizon, moving unhurriedly toward the town. The beautiful detail of silver and onyx metal twined the outer boarders, a symbol of high class and regality. Light curtains hid the four passengers from prying eyes, all sitting in a tense atmosphere.
"Boys," said the man with gray in his hair, "you understand the purpose of this diplomatic meeting, yes?" His eyes were set firmly on the two brothers across from him, neither looking particularly impressed. The slits of his eyes grew narrower as neither son regarded him without so much as nod, both still watching the scenery that passed the carriage windows.
"Boys," he pressed again, this time impatience coloring his tone. The older of the two smirked, tilting his head only enough to view his father from behind his bangs.
"Father please, you insult me with your distrust."
Itachi Uchiha was easily the most devilish sort of bachelor in any woman's fantasy. His long silky locks and deep velvet voice were as sinful as adultery itself. It was no wonder why there were so many scandals of him with nobleman's daughters. His status, dominance on the battlefield, and rakish good looks were enough for any woman to follow him to bed. In fact, it was a mystery even to himself exactly how many notches he had on his bedpost.
Although, he pointed out smugly, I only take the best for myself.
Along with his reputation as a notorious flirt, Itachi was dubbed as Vianesse's second most terrible personality. Most of his subjects would describe him as a shallow, self-interested, poisonous prince who would no doubt only use the crown as a means to satisfy his own lust for materials and luxury. There were few supporters who were eager for his ascension. Most of those who did advocate on his behalf were the women who begged to entangle themselves in his sheets. However, Itachi himself was unperturbed by the people's lack of enthusiasm toward him. As prince of Vianesse he was already receiving everything he could want without the weight of responsibilities, which suited him just nicely.
Itachi spared a glance at his younger brother, who had not said anything the entire morning. Sasuke Uchiha, the youngest son of the royal family, was dubbed as Vianesse's first most terrible personality. When Itachi had initially heard that bit of information from the Duke of Winfield's daughter (another nameless pair of legs), he had nearly laughed her out of his chambers. Though he cared about his brother more than he cared about most other people, he did have to admit that Sasuke's company could teeter on the edge of unpleasant. And that was when he was in a good mood.
Sasuke was very particular in the kinds of people he engaged with. If they did not benefit him in any way, there was no point wasting his breath on them. Unfortunately, with this view and his social standing, there were very few people in the world he considered useful. More often than not, he would buy off tutors from around the world, masters of the sword, experts on the sciences, only the best of the best could have the honor of his presence.
It is very easy, Sasuke grimaced, to be tainted by the blood of the inferior.
Peasants, colleagues, even royalty from lesser countries were not important enough. They only held him back with their cries of woe and jealousy. And, to be absolutely candid, Sasuke couldn't give less of a shit about their insignificant problems. They intruded on his time, on his patience, when it could be better spent perfecting his form for combat. So to be told by his father that they were going to travel to god knows where for god knows how long infuriated him. The more they approached the border, the more sour he felt himself becoming.
A week of ugly, annoying peasants. Father must have completely lost his senses.
"I do expect you both to attend our meetings. All of them. You and your brother have been shirking your responsibilities incessantly as of late, and forcing you both out here is a good lesson," Fugaku eyed both of them. "A week without your royal maids will do you good."
At this, Sasuke stirred and returned a look of muted anger at his father, not quite challenging, but outwardly displeased.
"Father," Sasuke droned, "you cannot mean tell us that the reason you dragged us out into this disgusting countryside is to punish our behavior."
Itachi barked a laugh in agreement, "We are not boys any longer. It is unreasonable to treat us like we are five-"
"What is unreasonable is how you two continue to act like you are five!" Fugaku let out a rare burst of frustration, effectively cutting off Itachi's previous comment. Both brothers immediately shut their mouths and faced forward, listening to their father as he continued to scold them.
"This is no longer a matter I can ignore. Putting your reputations aside, someday one of you will take the thrown. And if you are crowned as you are now, this country would undoubtedly crumble. I will not have my own sons disgrace the Uchiha name. So, this week, you two will attend each meeting. You two will be paragons of royalty. And you two will not embarrass me anymore. Am I understood?"
"Yes." "Yes Father."
After a moment of studying both boys, Fugaku reclined in his seat and placed a tired hand on his wife's, who had supportively been stroking his shoulder.
"Boys, I believe we are nearing our destination," Mikoto hummed despite the tension, pointing at a small cluster of houses in the distance.
Right at that moment, the driver announce that they would be arriving at Norther Solaris within the next few minutes. Fugaku sighed at the prospect of the upcoming week. Surely his sons would not cause much of a ruckus, but he doubted that they would wordlessly simmer in their unhappiness, especially Sasuke. That boy would likely ignore every single person but Itachi during his stay. Stubbornness was a skill Sasuke had perfected from infancy after all.
The path began to widen and even out, allowing the carriage to travel smoothly. Sasuke caught a glimpse of purple flowers growing some ways down from the path, with a small wire fencing around it to keep animals out. It was fixed like a miniature garden, and obviously, even from where he was, quite well tended to. More bushels of flowers growing around the tree line caught his eye, but he quickly lost interest. Nothing else noteworthy in the entire town.
After ten minutes' travel, the carriage began to approach a large palace settled near the back of the town, easily fifteen times as big as the houses they'd passed previously. The sheer luxury of it seemed at odds with the humble setting of the village, and Sasuke found himself relieved that Father hadn't been delusional enough to resign their family to living in some grubby shack. The rhythmic patter of horse hooves slowed, carefully pulling the carriage to a halt before a wide entrance. Sasuke looked on with mild interest at the white pillars several stories tall and the brightly colored tapestries that hung in view.
Decent, he decided.
The footman came to the door and swung it open easily, announcing their arrival as the royal family. Fugaku was the first one out, followed by Mikoto, Itachi, and finally Sasuke.
"Welcome Your Highnesses! Thank you for gracing our humble village. I trust that your journey was well?" the sound of an overly jubilant man grated on his eardrums immediately, and Sasuke felt the tendrils of a migraine begin to form. His cuff on the bottom of his trousers was ruffled from sitting in a carriage all day, so he bent down to fix it.
"Very well, thank you Duke Haruno. We appreciate your hospitality for this upcoming week. We will be under your care," his father spoke with practice, the same line he fed every noble family.
"Wonderful news! Please, if there is anything you need, do not hesitate to inform us. My daughter Sakura here will be of great assistance."
"It is an honor, Your Highnesses."
A voice, like crystalline water, spoke just as Sasuke was lifting his head and he felt his eyes widen marginally. Suddenly the migraine from before vanished, and all that was left was a weird sensation pooling of the pit of his stomach. At the entrance, next to who Sasuke could only assume was the Duke his father was scheduled to meet, was the most… peculiarly attractive woman he had ever seen. Peculiar because he had very little way of describing her.
Her hair, a unique shade of light pink, was gathered elegantly up and away from her delicate face. The white flowers that were woven in made her look more fairy than human. Her eyes, a bright emerald, shone like priceless jewels and both pierced and invited him at the same time. Her petite frame was wrapped in a draping fabric, synched at the waist to hint at the telltale sign of womanly curves. Sasuke, preoccupied in his own thoughts, was late to notice that his family was already moving ahead of him, into the palace.
When Sakura noticed at the youngest prince was not moving, she glanced in his direction, about to ask if he was feeling well. The moment they locked eyes, Sakura felt a shiver crawl down her spine. The young master was already staring at her, and for some reason, she felt completely exposed. Sakura resisted the urge to move and cover her arms, hoping to escape the calculating gaze of Vianesse's merciless Prince Sasuke.
"Brother, are you going to follow or must you be escorted in?" a deep voice purred teasingly from behind. It took all of Sakura's will not to whip around in surprise at the sheer proximity. Standing not two feet behind her was the infamous Itachi Uchiha, watching her with a curious eye, expecting some type of reaction. Luckily, Sakura was just stubborn enough not to let him have it. She turned around slowly, an expression of neutral politeness smoothed over her features.
Itachi smirked, "My apologies, Lady Sakura. Did I startle you?" His tone did not betray an ounce of guilt. Ignoring his obvious attempt at familiarity, Sakura gave a small smile.
"No, my Lord. I am quite alright. However, I must ask if there is something I can help you with?" She looked down the now empty corridor, "It seems my Father has already left with both the King and Queen." Why are you still here, remained a silent question between them.
Itachi did not skip a beat, "Yes. It seems I lost them while waiting for my brother. I must ask if you could kindly show us the way to the meeting hall." Then, Itachi expertly leaned down, taking ahold of Sakura's hand, and kissed the dainty knuckles with a glint in his eye, "Also, I am terribly sorry for my lack of manners. My name is Itachi Uchiha, first son of the crown."
The way Itachi peered up at her set Sakura on edge, but again she refused to show it. Keeping her hand in his hold, she dipped her head and gave a slight curtsy.
"Sakura Haruno, daughter of the Duke of Northern Solaris. It is a great pleasure to have met you, my Lord."
Something about how Itachi's grip didn't loosen as she rose made Sakura's heart quicken unpleasantly. There wasn't a single person who didn't know of his royal flings. And she, for one, did not want to be another chapter in his long narrative of romantic evenings.
"Brother, let us go," a flat voice came from her left. She looked up, and there was Sasuke Uchiha, impatiently watching his brother. He stood tall and handsome, white collared tunic perfectly pressed, golden medals proudly displayed on his chest. No doubt Sasuke would have been quite the handsome bachelor if not for his perpetual grimace.
Sakura took Itachi's momentary distraction to pull her hand away and move in the direction of the meeting hall.
"Please, Your Highnesses. If you would follow me." Without another word, Sakura turned and began to walk down the corridor her father had disappeared down. She did not check to see if they were following, deep down hoping to lose them permanently, but the soft, muted sound of shoes on rug assured her that they were not far behind.
Sakura relished the thirty seconds of silence before she heard a suggestive, "So tell me, Lady Sakura, in your village what are the best things to do while visiting?" Itachi, confident as ever, soon caught up to her left. Sakura tried to feign contemplation, as she was finding it increasingly unpleasant to converse with the older of the two brothers.
"I assume that you have been to a great deal of different villages before, my Lord. My humble town no doubt pales in comparison to the Capitol, however…" and Sakura could not help the fondness that tickled her tone, "the sea is beautiful at dawn." A movement to her right caught her attention, and she glanced over to see Sasuke had also fallen into step next to her, though he did not spare her a look.
"Lovely," Itachi smirked. "Accompany me tomorrow." It was not a request, but a command. And everything about it – his flirtatious smile, his haughty demand, his entitled attitude – made Sakura falter in her pleasantries. The edge of her smile quivered, ready to drop and start a heated argument, but Sakura caught herself and immediately plastered on her gentle front again.
It wasn't fast enough to fool the second prince, however. He raised an eyebrow at her quick cover-up. There was a flash of something, something Sasuke couldn't put a finger on, that appeared in her eyes. But just as quickly as it had come, it had vanished, and the pinkette politely offered an official escort instead, excusing herself because of urgent business.
Quite a fake façade, Sasuke mused. He mulled over her reaction as he slowly walked on her right.
Irritatingly, while heading over to the meeting hall, Itachi had gone ahead to chat up the pink haired woman, and being ignored suddenly made Sasuke irate. He did not take kindly to others disregarding his presence: he was usually on the other side of that scenario. And when neither his brother nor the pink peasant girl deigned to consider him, Sasuke stomped up to walk alongside them. In any other situation, Sasuke wouldn't have stooped to walking next to such an inferior person, but today he was already reaching the end of his tolerance. Besides, it wasn't as if he had to talk to the creature.
It was not long until the trio had reached a set of heavy wooden doors, build high and impressive. The Duke and the King were already discussing when they would have their official meeting while the Queen stood next to her husband, a quiet, feminine shadow.
"Ah! My Lords! I see that my daughter was able to assist you," the Duke greeted them. He nodded at Sakura, who took it as her cue to fall back and watch from a distance respectfully. Both Uchiha brothers nodded in affirmation, before taking the spot next to their father.
"Well then, I assume that your travels have left you weary. Please, rest for now, and we shall celebrate your arrival at dinner. Our servants will show you to the rooms we have prepared."
Just then, four maids stepped forward and curtsied lowly.
"Please follow us, Your Highnesses," the one at the head spoke up. "My maids have also already arranged your things. They will be outside your doors should you ever need anything." The King nodded one last time, before all four members of the royal family exited.
Silence followed briefly after the doors shut, neither the father nor daughter saying anything until they were sure the four had completely left.
"So," Duke Haruno smiled, "how was your first meeting with the two Princes of Vianesse?" He laughed at the look his daughter shot him.
"I have already almost been coerced into a date, Father."
It's been you for as long as I can remember.
Everyone else has just been another failed attempt
at perfecting the art of pretending you're not.
I miss you.
- Beau Taplin
The embers from the large flames twirled in the air, dancing to the sound of hammer on metal. The air was thick with heat, coating the man's shoulders, already slick with sweat. Even with the doors wide open it felt like he could suffocate, perhaps because the pleasant breeze had died. Clink, clink, clink.
"Hey Naruto, have you seen where I left my mask?" someone shouted form behind a rack of swords. The blond laughed, taking a break to plunge the bright red metal into a barrel of cool water.
"Have you checked atop your head yet, Kiba?" Naruto heard shuffling behind him as a man, around his age, maneuvered around piles of scrap.
"Har har. Very amusing Naruto. You know, if this profession does not earn you enough coin, perhaps you should consider being the village fool."
The brunette paused, giving Naruto a once over before saying, "Oh, I see you've already gotten started." Naruto made a face, about to retort when a loud booming laugh interrupted.
"Now, now lads, I leave you two for a minute and you are already ruffling each other's feathers."
An older man with greying hair and solid build appeared by the front of the open doors. He wore loose clothing, meant to keep him cool in his metal workshop. Lines of age decorated his youthful face, the only evidence of maturity he had. Jiraiya, or as Naruto lovingly nicknamed him, Pervy-Sage, was standing with his arms crosses, an amused look washed over his features. His large frame cast a shadow, nearly covering the entire doorway. He laughed again.
"In any case, that is not how gentlemen act in front of a lady."
A smaller frame chose just that moment to pop up from behind him and Naruto almost dropped the metal he was working on in surprise.
"Birdie!" he yelped. The pinkette giggled and stepped around Jiraiya, thanking him for escorting her, and walked into the workshop, being mindful of the still glowing embers that fell to the floor.
"Hello to you to, Naruto." Sakura turned her attention to the grinning, feral-looking boy next to him.
"And hello to you to Kiba. It's been a while since we have last seen each other. How are the allergies?"
Kiba pulled a small sack full of herbs from his pocket and lifted it under his nose, "All taken care of! Thanks to you Sak. My sensitivity doesn't even bother me anymore!" He gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up, to which Sakura smiled and nodded happily.
"I'm glad to hear it."
"Naruto, why don't you take a break. Kiba and I got it from here," Jiraiya winked and took the metal from his hands. Kiba nudged the blond forward, giving him a suggestive eyebrow giggle, before taking the hot metal from his hand. Naruto mouthed a 'thank you' and followed Sakura out the door, both starting toward the square.
"How have you been Little Bird? We heard the royal family just came in this morning. Is your father okay?" Naruto strolled next to her, the pair wandering with no particular destination in mind.
"Yes, they have, and my father welcomed them nicely. They royal family is…" she struggled with how to put her first impressions of them, "…as expect. And that is a stupefying fact in person."
Naruto furrowed his brows, not quit understanding what she meant. They reach the middle of the square, lively and bustling about with people looking to buy supper. Sakura traded a gold coin for two apples, one for her and her companion, and took a grateful bite before explaining.
"The King and Queen are splendid people. Blinding, almost, with their beauty and poise. I had the great honor of introducing myself at their arrival. And all four members of the royal family are simply stunning. No portrait could do them justice, I'd say. Simply regal. Shining."
The two of them continued forward, past the bright marketplace, through wide alleyways, and down toward the sea. As the smell of saltwater hit their nostrils, Sakura slowed her pace into one more leisurely.
"But those two princes," she said with the faintest hint of annoyance. "The rumors that surround them are all accurate." She took another aggressive bite from her apple and Naruto tried not to laugh at her fuming expression.
"What had they done?" Sakura looked up at him, eyes glowing in righteous fury, no doubt coming out now after being suppressed within the palace. Not many knew of Sakura's quick temper. To everyone else, she was motherly and kind, only ever interested in caring for others above herself.
While that is still completely true, Naruto chuckled inwardly, hell hath no fury like Sakura Haruno's scorn.
"The First Prince, His Royal Highness Itachi Uchiha," Sakura wave her hand in an exaggerated sweep, mimicking the voice of the footman, "what a pompous, overconfident, shameless man! No doubt he has his brain in his trousers. Unbelievable, the looks he was giving! Why, if the King and Queen were to have been there to see his actions, they would have flushed in embarrassment."
She flailed her arms so wildly that Naruto had to duck backward out of her reach. He laughed when she stomped her foot into the rock they had arrived at, right at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
"Luckily I had the excuse of my apothecary to save tomorrow morning. Otherwise, who knows what that deviant man might try," Sakura buried her face in her hands, missing how Naruto's shoulders stiffened.
"What exactly had he asked of you?" he croaked nervously. The sound of waves crashing against boulders filled the otherwise awkward silence between them, Sakura being oblivious to her companions growing tension.
"He had asked me what the best things to do while visiting where. Naturally, no other town can claim to be nestled so perfectly near the ocean. When I suggested he see for himself, the man practically ordered me to accompany him. Mind you, up until this moment I had upheld myself to a manner of lady Mother would have been proud of. His attitude nearly broke me, Naruto. Broke me. Thinking of Father was the only way I could keep composed."
Sakura turned to face him, expression pathetic. "I understand that my temper is not the most ladylike, and I have reproached myself to keep a pleasant disposition. However, I fear that I may not be able to keep it up. And it's only the first day!"
The pinkette dejectedly dropped to the ground, folding her legs beneath her. Naruto followed suit, watching as she played with her half eaten apple.
"Well that does seem like quit a plight," he started. "What of the other prince, the second heir?" Sakura threw him a deadpanned look and he chuckled weakly in response.
"The second son would like to have nothing to do with me. It was quite clear, from the moment he first arrived, that he did not view us on the same level. At least his brother tried to make conversation. I feel as though the Second Son would rather let this village crumble than stick his nose into our affairs."
She took another bite of her apple, "At least, that was what I had gathered anyway, from the zero times we had spoken." Naruto took a final bite of his apple before throwing it in the sea.
"So the rumors are true then. And they will be staying with you for a week." He gave her a supportive smile, "If you ever need anything, I'm just a holler away."
This eased some of Sakura's worry, and she nudged his elbow in thanks. "Just be ready for my complaining. Heaven knows I can't do it while at home." She took one last bite of her apple before she threw her core in the ocean as well.
Seeing her tired figure, Naruto decided to officially change the subject, claiming that the two "Iceberg Princes" were a source of unnecessary negativity. The blond began telling her about the chaos that was happing in the workshop. Apparently, a neighboring village a few days south had requested a shipment of training swords by the end of the month. The blond started to recount how the Pervy-Sage nearly keeled over looking at the shipment load. He included an incredibly dramatized reenactment of the older man clutching his chest in agony, face turning a deep shade of purple.
Naruto then began to pantomime Kiba's struggle of hammering metal while sneezing every other strike, continuously complaining about his allergies.
"It was like some weird, rhythmic beat that wouldn't stop! Eventually I had to take a break from the iron because Kiba's sneeze-song was getting stuck in my head!" Sakura laughed until her sides hurt. Naruto was the only one who could get her to loosen up so much; it was no wonder why she always looked for him when she went into town. It was in the middle of the fourth sneeze, when the brunette was finally reduced to hitting the steel blindly with tears and snot running down is face that Sakura double over, laughing hysterically. Begging him to stop and let her breath, she gripped the bottom of his trousers tugging until he landed back down next to her.
A few seconds passed where Naruto just watched her with his signature grin. She wiped the tears from her eyes, playfully hitting his arm in mock annoyance. He just chuckled, watching her sigh in content while the sparkle of the sea reflected in her irises.
There was a reason why all the boys in the village had a crush on her. Besides the fact that she had status and smarts, she was easily the fairest among all the women in Northern Solaris. The color of her hair and eyes were not only unique, but fashionable. Her skin was supple and untouched by the sun. Her frame lithe, smile stunning. And the most beautiful gift heaven could have bestowed upon any human: the voice of an angel. Naruto's expression softened in fondness, remembering his first encounter with his Little Bird.
She had been seven at the time, a year younger than himself, and shyly staring at his group of friends from the edge of the meadow. He, Kiba, and a few of the local children were playing a game of Damsels and Demons (a version of tag they had made up where the person playing 'it' chased others while imitating a monster). The girls were shrieking in glee as Kiba ran after them, playfully snarling with his "claws" in the air.
From his hiding spot under the roots of a tree he watched her scuff the toe of her shoes into the dirt. As she lifted her chin to call out to them, a gust of wind knocked the sunhat off of her head, and she fumbled cutely to try and grab it. Without warning, as Naruto stepped out to invite her, she fell face forward into the tall grass, tripping on a half-unearthed rock.
He had sprinted across the field, to the surprise of his companions, and was about to kneel and help when the pinkette shot her head up suddenly.
Naruto fell backward on his rump, caught off guard, but Sakura had not seen him. With her eyes scrunched up and a bright flush against her cheeks, she yelled out earnestly, "Can I please join you!"
The field was completely silent, all the children looking on at the unexpected visitor. Naruto's voice was caught in his throat as he stared at her, a bit shocked. Slowly, the pinkette opened her eyes, revealing pair of bright jade. Naruto thought that they were more beautiful than the shards of sea glass he would sometimes find along the shore.
After a few more seconds, Naruto realized he had been gaping, and frantically told her that she was welcome to play anytime. His arms flailed, and he remembered how the other kids giggled at his panic, but he could not keep himself from rabbling. Sakura just kept watching him, which deepened his blush even more. He probably blabbed for a solid minute straight, without breathing, before he was able to finally shut himself up.
Then, she laughed. It was a quiet, sing-song kind of laugh. It reminded him of the morning birds that twittered by the forest-line.
They introduced themselves (Naruto enthusiastically offering her the nickname Little Bird), and he helped retrieve her sunhat before spending the rest of the afternoon playing Damsels and Demons. They had been close ever since.
Naruto smiled at the memory.
The sun was halfway between midday and sunset when they decided to head back to town. They walked in comfortable silence all the way to the blacksmith's, where Sakura bid the blond a goodbye with promises to try and visit even with the royal family occupying her time.
"Don't worry, my dear Naruto, you are infinitely better company than them."
She smiled, bowing her head slightly to the three gentlemen in the shop, and made her way to the palace for their royal welcoming dinner.
Hello again. I am sorry this chapter came so late. I know I said I was working on it already, but unfortunately my previous laptop broke, so all of my work was lost. Aside from that, school and life has just gotten in the way, and sadly this had to take a backseat. But fear not! I promised to see this project to the very end. I will aim to get another chapter uploaded by the end of this month. Please stick with me until then!
Your reviews validate my work and continue to motivate me to write. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them.
Until next time,