Stoicism is the new in thing by angrypixels

Summary: Where Itachi is a sweet, gentle medic, Sasuke is a touchy feely needer, Naruto is a self-acclaimed artist with a fake smile..and Sakura is suffering from permanent facial muscle paralysis.

Genre: AU. Non-mass. Obvious OC.

Paring: Sakura/Itachi.

Chapter 1 - It all began…

It all began on a fine, sunny afternoon.

The trees were green, the sky was blue and the wind was gently blowing the wispy clouds across the horizon. Even the birds were singing, the rivers were running, the rabbits bouncing…

It was obvious to all that it was a very beautiful day.

And a fateful one too.

Konoha was a large shinobi village with majestic gates that could be spotted miles away. However, it did not mean that all of its villagers lived within the confines of its wooden walls. Some choose to live away from the hustle of ninja village life and choose a more quiet life outside the walls farming or taking up some trade.

A cheerful tune hummed softly in the vicinity of a well worn path leading out of Konoha. A small figure wearing a bright red cape skipped as she held a basket in her hand. The figure did not wear a hood, so anyone could see a small round face with bouncy swirls of pink floss and bright green eyes. An innocent smile adorned the face of this small child who was in fact a girl and not a day over 7 years of age. Why, it was just like a picture out of a child's tale. Little….Pink Cape? Or was it Petite Cotton Candy Shawl? Some hippo or giraffe with a bad toothache and some mean uncle who ate people were also involved …or something along those lines.

Anyhow. Moving on.

It was a sweet scene. And coincidentally, this little girl had a sweet name. Sakura. Haruno Sakura.

Sakura was on her merry way to collect some pastries her aunt had prepared. Her aunt made the best-est pastries with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and all sorts of sweet fruits stuffed inside. Oooh. Just thinking about it made her mouth water. Sakura giggled happily and continued to sing her merry tune. Her mother allowed her to embark on this journey due to the fact that she had been this way so many times. The path was a popular one and was frequently patrolled by shinobis. No enemy nin would be stupid to stray along this well guarded road.

Soon, Sakura saw the village entrance and promptly turned left at the fork of the village to the forest where her aunt resided.

It is a well known and obvious fact that Sakura Haruno was not the only child in the world. Another child of roughly the same age as Sakura was in fact in the same area.

To be correct, he was in the same forest and about a few minutes away from the cheerful pink hair child skipping into the forest.

"Stupid monster! Stay in the hole where you should be! Ha ha!" shouted a spiteful boy.

"Yea! We don't like you! We don't want to ever see you!" shouted a mean girl.

"You don't even have parents! My father told me to stay away from ! You are evil and bad!" taunted yet another boy.

Ah. Children. So much anger yet such limited vocabulary. Education these days.

The target of such ill mannered teasing was a dirty little boy sitting at the bottom of a hole in the forest ground.

The little boy mutedly looked up to watch the jeering faces of his captives. And looked down again. He picked up a piece of crumpled leaf and stared at it and sighed quietly. It was the third time this week. Or was it the fifth? While foraging the forest for edible berries and mushrooms, he fell into a poorly disguised hole in the ground. How he failed to notice a stack of leaves and sticks strangely placed in the middle of the ground was beyond his understanding. Perhaps it had to do with the strategically placed berries just a foot away from the said trap?

The little boy sighed again and bowed his head. A lock of dirt-riddled hay fell into eyes. His hair to be in fact. Yes, this sad little boy with dirty blond hair and dull blue eyes was Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto.

Everyone hated him. Civilian adults despised him. Children taunted and teased him. Shinobis ignored him. And the saddest part was he had no clue why. Naruto had given up and trying to find the reason and settled for reluctant acceptance. He was hungry and rarely had enough to eat, which was why he would go to the forest and search for edible food. Somehow, the children took note of his almost daily journeys into the forest and followed him. In time, they managed to devise some trap to further make his pitiful life miserable.

Yes, his was a sad existence indeed.

"And stay there! Ha ha. Have fun, loser!" One boy shouted once more and the group of children left, laughing and congratulating each other for a successful prank on the reject of Konoha.

Naruto continued to sit and stare wordlessly at the sticks and branches around him. The first time he fell into such trap, he shouted and screamed for help. Only till nightfall did some masked shinobi come and silently hauled him out and dumped him at the gates of Konoha. Since then, Naruto just had to wait silently at the bottom of the hole and the hokage would at some point send some unlucky shinobi to fish him out when he went missing too long. Naruto learnt to not shout or cry or cause any ruckus when something similar happened. It would not help him in any way. The best way was to focus his attention somewhere else.

For example, when civilians were throwing trash at his face in the streets, he would focus his attention at the pebbled streets, wondering how the founders of the village managed to find different pebbles to lay the road. Or when other children threw stones at him, Naruto would start staring at the sky and search for oddly shaped clouds. It was hard at first, but Naruto was somewhat proud to say that he had became very adept at ignoring physical pain and cruel words and zoning out.

Back to his situation in the forest hole, Naruto picked up a stray branch and absently-mindedly started to draw circles in the dirt. By the looks of it, he would have to wait at least 5 hours before a disgruntled shinobi came to search for him at night and he might as well entertain himself. Hmm. Now that looks like a sheep. Ah, if he shifted a piece of leaf on the top, it looked like a pig. Odd. What if he added a few strokes here…and a circle there….

While skipping and singing a slightly out of tune song, Sakura noticed a few giggling children carrying shovels and ropes rush past her. She frowned slightly. She did not like those children. They weren't very friendly and liked to pick on others. They tried to pick on her once for her attention attracting pink hair and large forehead but she retaliated by saying mean things about their appearance instead. Hmph. She had a shinoni father and learnt a few mean words that weren't meant for a child's ears. She could be quite sharp tongued if she wanted. Ignoring those children who appeared to give her a wide berth once they noticed her, she continued along her way. Suddenly, she saw a hole to the right of the forest path. She stopped. That was odd, forests usually didn't have holes in the ground. A few seconds later coupled with the memory of seeing shovels, she came to the conclusion that someone had dug a hole in the forest. Curiosity won over and Sakura carefully walked over to the hole to take a look. One must be careful after all being in the forest, as her mother always warned her. Animals roamed around and she didn't want to be faced with an angry bear stuck in a hole.

Sakura first placed her basket on the floor and kneeled down beside the hole. She slowly peered cautiously over the rim of the hole. Instead of seeing a rabid bear clawing its way up the hole, she see a large clump of dirt at the bottom. The clump of dirt moved. Oooh a branch and some leaves also moved. Odd. Was it some odd animal she hadn't heard of before?

She continued to stare down. Suddenly, the branch stopped moving and she saw a pair of eyes in the clump of dirt staring back at her.

Naruto was surprised and he hadn't been surprised for some years. While drawing figures in the floor and walls to past time, he became quite emerged in bringing the odd images bouncing in his mind into dirt art when he noticed that something had blocked the light from above. Raising his eyes to the sky, he saw a pink haired girl staring back. After an odd silence, the girl called out to him and apparently thought he was some weird mutant racoon. After a few exchanged words, the girl, who introduced herself as Sakura, understood the situation.

"That's horrible! Let me find something to pull you up with!" she said indignantly and disappeared. Naruto blinked his eyes and cocked his head to the side for a moment. Someone was willing to help him, someone who looked to be the same age as him. He didn't recall seeing her before though. However, Nartuo did not give her much though afterwards having learnt a hard lesson in getting his hopes up when he was younger. With a shrug, the girl was lost in the back of his mind and he went back to his half finished circles on the dirt wall.

"I got it…just a little bit more…argh!" hissed Sakura as she lay flat on her stomach on a large branch and tried to grasp a slender long branch at the end. She tugged. The branch didn't move. She tugged again, this time harder. The branch remained unbroken. Sakura, after hearing the dirty boy's short account of his sad encounter, felt a rage of fire burn in her body. She had to help him! The poor boy! She knew those bad children were up to no good. After quick scan of the area, she found herself climbing a large tree and reaching for a branch which was seemingly long enough to reach the boy.

"Almost! Must…help…him!" she told herself while tugging more fervently.

Snap! The branch finally gave in and broke into her hands. However, Sakura had no chance to giggle happily. Her last tug was too forceful and with both hands on the broken branch, Sakura lost balance and fell.

She screamed and flayed her arms trying to hold something. Thump! Something painful caught her jaw. A sturdy and thick forked branch had somehow caught her jaw and held her dangling in the air. The rough wood bit into her jaw. Sakura grabbed the branch and tried to remove herself. However, Sakura did not have enough energy to lift her whole body up and backwards to release herself from the narrow and fork. She could only hold onto the thick branch to lessen the pressure on the jaw. Oh how was she going to get herself out of this painful situation?

As mentioned above, the world did not only consist of Sakura, Naruto and a bunch of ill mannered twits.

There was yet another little child. An adorable, black haired child. Sasuke. Uchiha Sasuke. And this little boy was running excitedly into the forest path, one that a little girl wearing a red cape had taken not so long ago.

This was the day his beloved aniki was coming back from a month long mission. His strong, perfect aniki, Uchiha Itachi. His brother graduated from the Academy at the tender age of 7, became a chunin at 10 and was an ANBU when he was 11. Sasuke was not even 7 and was due to attend the Academy in a few months. Envious of his dear aniki's accomplishments, he was eager to start his own journey and surpass his dear aniki's record! Of course, that didn't stop him from looking up to his brother and awaiting his arrival with longing every time he went on a mission. Today was not an exception. On this fine, sunny day, Itachi was coming home and likely by way of the forest path, courtesy of his mother's understanding.

Sasuke wanted to be the first to greet the Uchiha clan's genius heir and had rushed out to the forest in anticipation upon successfully obtaining said information from his mother (by using his ultra cute eyes!). Yes, Sasuke knew he could get anyone to do anything once he widened his eyes and blinked and grinned like those nin dogs asking for treats. His mother and the elder females of not only his clan but those outside were unable to defend themselves when he batted his eyelashes and tried with all his little heart to convey what he wanted with his eyes! Of course, his smile and the way he wrapped his tiny arms around his targer's legs helped the process too. Sasuke knew that he was loved and dotted on by everyone and he used it to his advantage.

Anyhow. Moving on.

Sasuke panted while he raced through the forest. Hmm, which path would aniki take? Aniki was a great ninja and would definitely not take the main path. He would have to be stealthy and unpredictable! Yes that was it. Sasuke nodded to himself proudly and steered himself off the path and into the dirt ground of the forest.

And promptly fell into a hole. Said hole was covered in branches and leaves.

Sasuke screamed and his back shortly hit against the ground. A little berry smacked into his forehead and rolled away. Ouch. Sasuke blinked slowly as pain roared into his body. Tears welled up in his large, onyx eyes.

"That…hurt." He muttered to himself as he painfully pushed himself to sit up. He massaged his temple with one hand and his back with the other. After some moments, the pain receded slightly. Sasuke got up slowly and looked around. He was in a hole. A hole that was covered by branches and leaves. He looked down and saw some berries on the floor. Was it a trap for some animal? Sasuke tried to jump and climb up the dirt wall and unsuccessfully slid back down. Tears started to flow out of his eyes again. Sasuke furiously used his hand to wipe them away. He would not cry.

Sadly, more tears continued to leak out uncontrollably. He didn't want to cry. He was to be a great ninja, greater than aniki and great ninjas didn't cry. Great ninjas also did not get stuck in some hole for animals. He would not cry.

"Help! Aniki! I am in this hole! Can anyone hear me! I am Uchiha Sasuke! Help!" Sasuke shouted. No one replied. He kicked and punched the wall in anger. He then shouted some more. He even threw a few branches and berries out of the hole to get someone's attention. No one replied. It became apparently after shouting for an hour that no one was around to hear him. Not even his aniki. His eyes were hot and tired from crying, his fists were tender and red from punching and his throat was painful due to his shouts and sobs.

Frustrated and tired, Sasuke sat down heavily on the ground hugged himself tightly. He felt cold. He wanted his aniki now. He wanted his mother. He even wanted his stern father or playful cousin Shisui. Anyone. He never felt so alone in his life. Never.

"….Aniki…" Sasuke whispered quietly as tears dropped onto the ground. "Come find me."

The Uchiha compound was a large place in Konohagakure. The main house where the head of the Uchiha clan resided stood proudly in the centre of the compound. It was made of dark wood and oozed of power, strength and authority. All members treaded carefully in the premises of the main house. It was not only the home of the clan head, Uchiha Fugaku and his gentle yet strong wife Mikoto, it was also the home of the clan's genius, Uchiha Itachi.

Itachi was the pride of the clan. Never had any child accomplished as much as he did at the mere age of 11. Not even his cousin Shisui, who was very talented in his own way and a year older than Itachi, was comparable.

Thump. The Uchiha's genius slightly landed on the roof of the main house and silently slide down onto the court yard. His mother was gracefully drinking tea while sitting on a marble stool placed in the court yard.

"Itachi. You are back. How was the mission?" Mikoto sipped her tea serenely without turning her head. She was a formidable kunochi in her own right and had sensed Itachi's presence before he landed on the roof.

"Successful." Itachi replied quietly while he padded towards his mother. "Where is little brother?" he asked. Normally, his little brother Sasuke would be rushing over the moment he arrived home, shouting his name while running in the corridors for all to hear.

"Sasuke?" Mikoto frowned and turned around to look at her eldest son. "Did you not encounter him on your way back? He went to meet you in the forest outside Konoha."

"I did not take that route back. I took a detour to collect something. I shall fetch him" replied Itachi who frowned as well. He bowed to his mother and leaped into the air towards the direction of the forest. Hopefully his little brother had not tripped and injured himself. The animals of the forest would not take kindly to a human child bawling his eyes out for his aniki to help him.

Within a blink of an eye, Itachi's shadow was seen sprinting across roofs, walls of building and past the towering gates of Konoha. Itachi had unrivalled speed and chakra wells. As an ABNU operative, he was known for his almost perfect battle stance with weaknesses only known to himself. His powerful sharingan, once turned on, granted him impeccable perception of every single detail in battles and despite having to deal with his own opponents, Itachi always knew when a comrade was failing or required help. It was as if he had an eye on the back of his head. And on top of his head. Temples. Forehead.

Why, there was no need to shine an oversized torchlight with a clan symbol in the sky to get Itachi running over with his swift and clean-cut kunai stabs into the heart, unlike some incapable shinobi wannabe who could not fly without the help of tools. And he was handsome. Younger. More popular. Stoic and silent. He was better than that owl wannabe. Or was it sparrow wannabe?

Anyhow. Moving on.

Soon, Itachi arrived in the forest that Sasuke had allegedly headed off to. He landed on a branch and scanned the area with his twin sharingan while listening carefully for sounds.

Yes, he could see some sign of life up ahead. Human chakra signals, although faint. Nodding inwardly, Itachi launched himself in that direction.

Naruto was having an interesting day. Never had he thought that scribbling drawings on walls on dirt would be so entertaining. He drew wobbly pictures of the hokage, the shinobis that watched him, the nasty people who spitted at him, the children who hated him. They all looked funny with ugly faces and distorted limbs. While pondering what to draw next, Naruto had totally forgotten about the pink haired girl who promised to help him.

"Why are you here." A toneless male voice echoed behind him. Startled, Naruto jumped up and dropped his drawing-branch. Turning around, he saw a looming figure standing in front of him wearing a porcelain mask with markings. Ah, those masked shinobis who rarely said a word to him but hated him like the rest of them. They were strong and silent. Naruto didn't even notice the said masked shinobi when he landed into the hole with him.

Naruto calmed down from his surprise within a few seconds and cocked his head at the masked male. "I fell into this hole. Can't get back up. " The masked man watched him silently for a second, then stepped forward and gripped Naruto's arm. The next moment, Naruto saw himself being dragged upwards and dumped on the forest ground outside. Squinting in the warm light of the setting sun, Naruto got up. The masked shinobi was already gone. Typical.

Naruto scratched his dirty hair and saw a few pieces of root fall out. Now he had to find a river to bath before trudging back home. Naruto signed. Not only was he still hungry, he had been interrupted while he trying to replicate the hokage monument into dirt and roots. Perhaps he could try again at home? The memory of the hole and the masked shinobi tumbled to the back of his mind quickly as Naruto continued to wonder to himself while dragging his weary feet towards the river than ran in the forest, occasionally stopping to pop a mushroom into his mouth.

And a basket that original sat next the hideous hole that housed the formidable monster was gone.

Sakura was in living hell. Her arms throbbed painfullu from their exertion, her jaws felt like they were being detached manually with hot tongs and her neck felt as if needles were pricking down every time she swallowed and breathed.

If it were another day, the proud shinobis of Konoha would have admired this little girl for her strength and willpower. Not every little child could avoid hanging themselves while having their neck stuck in the same way for over an hour. Sakura wished with her heart that the world despised her just so that she did not endure this pain at this moment. Sakura whimpered as the branched scratched her raw skin again. More blood tricked down the somewhat dry red trail down her throat and into her clothes. She was tired and did not know how much longer she could hold on. She gave up shouting and it seemed that no one could help her. The dirty boy in the hole wouldn't be able to save her either given his own situation. Where was her mother? Her father? Her aunt? Where was everyone? Shouldn't they be looking for her right now?

Sakura felt tears springing from her eyes and run down her cheeks to mingle and mix with her blood. Fear was long gone and her body was racked with exhaustion instead. She wanted to give it, she was tired and in pain. She wanted to close her eyes, release her grip on the branch and leg her body sag downwards with her weight.

Crack! The branch she had gripped with all her life suddenly broke.

Sakura felt herself falling downwards. Something caught her waist almost immediately and placed her gently on the ground. Sakura coughed and sputtered while pushing the forked branch away from her throat. She used her trembling aching hands to gingerly touch her raw skin and winced at the pain. She was alive and away from the wretched branch.

Thawp. Something was placed in front of her. She weakly gave a glance and found that it was her long forgotten basket.

"Do not move. I will be back." An emotionless young make voiced echoed at the top of her head. And with a whish, he left the scene. Sakura groaned and lay down on her back while massaging her wrists and throat. That must have been her saviour, a shinobi no doubt.

Itachi had found the hanging girl by the scent of her blood. He immediately saw the cause of her pain and with a quick slash of his kunai, the offending branch broke and he caught the falling child gently before placing her on the ground. She was a sad sight, tears and blood flowing freely down her throat and into her clothes. She also had a very bruised and raw throat. She would have nightmares to come of his encounter. However, he had no time to comfort her. Itachi was not one to comfort. No he left it to the family of victims. He dealt with death and pain instead. And at this moment, he had a missing brother to find.

Muttering a warning to the pink hair girl, he swiftly leapt into the air. He saw the faint trails of his brother's chakra nearby and followed it. While following, his mind pondered on the hole where he found the dirty jinchuriki. He knew about the antics of the civilians and some shinobis towards the boy. Itachi did not approve of it and would not partake in it. Selfish elders allowing the son of the fourth to be reduced to such a pitiful existence. Itachi felt a surge of anger towards Konoha and allowed it to extinguish immediately.

A problem to be dealt with at another time.

Itachi landed beside yet another hole in the forest ground. What imbecile dug holes in the floor for unsuspecting people to fall into. He knew his little brother was inside and after quickly scanning the area for threats and finding none, he dropped into the hole and landed beside a small motionless figure that was curled up against the dirt wall.

"Otto." Itachi murmured. His brother did not move despite showings signs of life. Frowning, Itachi bent down on one knee and reached out to touch his brother shoulder. He felt his brother's muscle tense under his hand and slowly, very slowly, Sasuke turned so that an eye peered back. A bloodshot eye which was almost as red as the sharingan yet not quite the same. Wet trails ran from his eyes to his chin. His brother had been crying.

"A..aniki?" a small hoarse sound was emitted from the now trembling figure. Itachi gave a quick nod.

"Aniki? You are ..here?" Sasuke turned his face so Itachi could see his face fully. His brother's skin was pale and covered with dirt. His arms were rigidly hugging his own small body and his knees were drawn up to his chin in a defensive position.

Itachi leaned forward to gather his brother into his arms. "Come." He reached and hugged his brother by his waist and hoisted him up. Itachi felt his brother slowly reach and encircle his neck tightly. Sauske's body felt cold and tense. Was he sick? A stab of worry flashed through Itachi's mind and he quickly leaped out of the hole.

Itachi sprinted towards the cleaning where he left the pink hair girl. She was lying on her back, eyes closed with her hands lying limply at the sides. Itachi stopped before her. "Come." He said to her. The little girl slowly opened her eyes and gave a glance to Sasuke who was clutching to his neck with all his might. The girl pushed herself, wincing from the pain and picked up her basket from the ground. Itachi stepped forward with the intent to grab the girl and allow her to hold onto his neck while he brought them back to the village. However, the moment the girl reached forward to touch him, Itachi felt Sasuke tense up and gripped his neck almost painfully.

"No…aniki…is mine." Sasuke muttered into Itachi's neck. Itachi blinked.

"Otto, we need to bring both of you back to Konoha now." Itachi replied stoically.

Ignoring Sasuke feeble resistant to hoard both his shoulders, Itachi allowed the girl to gingerly place her arms on his shoulder. Itachi gripped her waist and with a push of chakra, he set his body into a blur towards Konoha.

It was a beautiful sunny day. And a fateful one.