Chapter Thirteen: Cherry Smiles
There was nothing better than Sakura’s smile. For Naruto, seeing her smile was like basking in sunlight on a Summer’s day. It was blazing and glorious but it wasn’t her special smile.
It was the smile when she scored a point with a spike in volleyball. It was the smile when she beat him at Brawl or Mario Kart. It was the smile when she found one of the medical journals she was looking for at the bookstore. It was the smile when Ino and Sai made her laugh. It was her smile for everything.
But there was a smile of hers that was more gentle, a lighter pleasant warmth, like that of sunshine on a Spring day. It was his favorite smile of hers. There was only one way for Naruto to ever see it. He called it Sasuke’s smile.
Usually Naruto ate in the senior courtyard during lunch. He would sit in one of the booths in the cafeteria during inclement weather which meant on days like today when it was snowing he wouldn’t be in the courtyard because everyone else would be hiding out indoors. If the snow was already settled on the ground he could have convinced Kiba and Chouji to have a snowball fight with him.
Naruto wasn’t in the mood to squeeze into a booth with everyone and then get into a fight when someone elbowed him causing him to spill his instant ramen. Ever since they set up the tank of hot water in the salad line in the beginning part of the year he had been bringing more cups to school. He use to have to bring ramen in a thermos and deal with that until he got home and had to sneak ramen behind his mother’s back.
Normally, Naruto didn’t go to the library but it was the one place he could go during his lunch block without a hall pass. He went for school work and he use to go when he was following Sakura around everywhere.
He avoided the library after the incident before their junior year for a while. It was Sakura’s territory in his mind and he felt weird infringing on it the first few weeks after she had turned him down.
Naruto felt his upper thigh vibrate and pulled out his cell phone. The screen read that he had one new message from Hina.
It’s snowing! (*^_^*)
Attached to the text was a picture of Hinata’s bedroom window, a flurry of white falling all around. A second text popped up.
I heard you guys are getting released from school early. I have to finish my day. The joys of being home schooled (_ _”)
Naruto smiled softly. Hinata was a lot more talkative through text. Sakura gave him simple responses and sometimes even forgot to text him back.
Naruto frowned to himself. He needed to stop doing that.
Ever since he first met Hinata at the veterinary office he worked at part-time, thanks to Kiba hooking him up with a job, he had been comparing the two girls. Hinata was a shy girl, like Sakura had been when they were much younger, and although she didn’t speak much she still seemed sweet. And although she wasn’t a stunning beauty, her round face was adorable even if it took a while to get use to her silvery eyes. It amused him when she would turn bright red, red as his mother’s hair, when he squished her face between his hands, causing her round cheeks to distort her face.
If he did that to Sakura, she wouldn’t blush. She would just get irritated at his actions and then they would play fight. Just enough for her to get her revenge but not enough for either of them to get injured.
Naruto thought they were flirting when they did that. He was wrong.
But he was use to it. To being wrong.
Roses. A dozen red roses, seemed only fitting. Everyone knew they were the flower of romantic love. Sakura was turning thirteen and he wanted to give her flowers since she loved them so much. She was always off with Ino learning about arrangements. Although it wasn’t important to know their meanings for flower arrangements, Ino and Sakura learned as much as they could.
Sakura was becoming cuter and cuter and he wanted to show his feelings for her. Kushina said she would give him the money for the bouquet if he helped with chores around the house. He did them all with no complaints.
“What are those?” Naruto asked rudely. Sasuke was standing next to Mikoto holding a bouquet of trumpet shaped flowers, wrapped up all pretty with green tulle and a white satin ribbon. “They look like the highway flowers. You know, the ones that grow everywhere, like in the medians on most streets, in the beginning of Spring.”
“Don’t be rude,” Kushina snapped at him. Naruto winced at the harsh sound of his mother’s voice and looked anywhere but at Sasuke. He knew his mother expected an apology but he wasn’t going to give him one. Naruto was still upset that he took all the credit for helping Sakura when the thugs from his school were the ones that attacked her.
Not that he actually took the credit, it was just him that got all of the thanks from Sakura. Naruto ignored the fact that Sasuke did in fact do most of the actual helping.
“You’re wearing your school uniform?” Naruto raised an eyebrow at Sasuke’s white button shirt and black and purple trimmed sweater vest. The first time he saw Sasuke’s purple necktie he had burst out laughing. Sasuke punched him in the back of the head and they started wrestling.
“I came straight from school, moron. It is Monday.”
“That’s not how we talk to our friends, Sasuke,” Mikoto scolded him, straightening out his collar. Naruto’s eye twitched, realizing that no matter how dorky Oto’s school uniform was, Sasuke still looked like one of those kids they chose to model clothes for fashion magazines.
But that didn’t matter. Sakura was going to love his flowers way more than Sasuke’s weird trumpet flowers that could be found literally popping out of every corner of town.
Mebuki Haruno opened the front door to the Haruno home and smiled brightly at the two boys. She stepped aside and let them all file into her home. They could hear Ino Yamanaka blowing gum bubbles in the kitchen as she gushed to Sakura about how pretty the cake her father had made her.
When they entered the kitchen, Sasuke hid his bouquet behind his back. Naruto smiled smugly to himself. He was sure Sasuke was now regretting his flower choice.
“Wow, Sak. You look so cute.” Naruto practically shouted when he saw Sakura. She had worn a new peter pan collar, light blue knee length dress to school under a soft white cardigan but he never got to say anything since it was the day they didn’t share the same lunch block or had gym class. There was a matching bow in her hair, holding back her new short hair cut away from her face. Naruto ignored the fact that the hair ribbon in Sakura’s hair looked like it was made of the same material and was the same color of the ribbon that Sasuke used to dress his bouquet.
“Thank you,” Ino said proudly. “The outfit was my birthday gift to Forehead. I also helped with makeup. You can’t even see any bruises, right?”
Naruto heard Mikoto gasp behind him. He was positive she wasn’t sure how to respond to the strange nickname the blonde girl had used for Sakura or how easily she spoke about Sakura’s still visible injuries. Sakura didn’t react though so no one said anything.
“Oh, right! For you!” Naruto thrust his roses into Sakura’s arms. Ino giggled and nudged Sakura in the ribs which had Sakura hissing at her to stop.
“Thanks, Naruto.” Sakura beamed at him and handed the bouquet to her mother who had just finished fishing out a vase from one of the cupboards.
“Sasuke. Give her yours.” Mikoto pushed Sasuke forward. Naruto noticed the red tint to Sasuke’s ears and had to hold back from laughing in triumph. There was a small part of him that couldn’t wait to see Sakura’s look of disappointment.
Hesitantly, Sasuke pulled his bouquet out from behind his back. Sakura’s eyes went wide and sparkly. Her mouth formed an ‘O’ shape as she gently took the bouquet from Sasuke.
“Daffodils are the March birth flower,” Sasuke muttered, ears turning even redder.
“That’s not all they mean,” Ino muttered low enough only for Naruto to hear. “Plus, they also just happen to be her favorite.”
“I thought that was cosmos!” Naruto whispered back.
“No. Those are my favorite.” For some reason Ino flushed pink when she said that. She fiddled with the hem of her blouse and snuck a peek at Sakura. “Especially pink ones.”
Naruto barely processed the look on Ino’s face when she admitted her favorite flower to him. He had looked back over to his best friends, a heavy, sick feeling in his stomach.
Sakura cradled the daffodils gently in her arms. She looked up at Sasuke, who was already growing past all of them in height, and gave him a soft smile, cheeks flushed a delicate pink.
‘Thank you,” She said softly. Sasuke nodded, averting his gaze, cheeks now the palest shade of pink ever. Sakura’s smile was gentle and warm.
Naruto’s chest constricted. That was the smile and face he wanted Sakura to make for him, that he was so sure he could get.
It was the first time Naruto realized that it was a smile that was never directed at him.
Naruto turned into an aisle and sighed. He wasn’t that surprised to see Sakura and Sasuke at one of the tables but he had hoped that neither one of them would be in the library. Although he held no feelings of resentment toward Sasuke, it was still weird to see the two of them together.
From an outsider’s perspective he couldn’t help but think that they were well suited for each other. Sakura was a beautiful girl and Sasuke─he hated to admit─was a really good looking guy. Hinata had even commented on that fact. Knowing them better than most people he had to begrudgingly agree that although they were opposites it worked in their favor. Naruto had always thought that he and Sakura were more suited for each other because they both had sunny dispositions but Sakura disagreed.
“I can’t do it. Can you press send for me? I’m too nervous.”
Naruto looked over at their table from the gaps between the books on the shelves. Sakura had her fists balled into her hair and Sasuke was smirking at her. Naruto frowned. It was highly inappropriate for him to make fun of Sakura when she looked so stressed.
“You’re such a dork. Here.” Sasuke took Sakura’s hand in his own and guided it over the touchpad on the Macbook they were using. Naruto noticed all of the band stickers on it so it had to be Sasuke’s laptop. Using little force, Sasuke pushed down on Sakura’s finger so that she clicked the button for whatever she was trying to submit. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
Sakura pouted, puffing out her cheeks. She sighed and nodded, muttering a small thank you. Really quickly, she poked Sasuke’s cheek which left him wide eyed and confused.
“You didn’t have to make fun of me though.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“No but you were thinking it.”
Sasuke snorted and Sakura gave him a quick peck on the cheek and then stuck her tongue out at him. Sasuke looked taken aback and Naruto was sure he was going to reprimand her for the sudden display of affection but instead Sasuke stood up and pulled Sakura by the hand behind a set of shelves. Curious, Naruto crept over to the aisle nearby and peeked through the gaps again. The back of his neck heated up when he saw Sasuke cup Sakura’s face in his hands and kiss her deeply.
“Still mad at me?” Sasuke teased.
“I wasn’t mad,” Sakura muttered, cheeks pink. She pulled him down by his collar to give him another kiss.
Naruto felt a hard tug on his ear and had to bite his lip to keep from crying out. He looked down and saw Ino glaring furiously at him. Still holding onto his ear she dragged him away from the aisles towards a more isolated part of the library. On their way there Shikamaru spotted them and shook his head.
Naruto raised his hands in front of his chest in prayer, begging for help but Shikamaru just shrugged and turned away.
“Ino let go!” Naruto hissed. Ino finally let go of his ear and pushed him against the back corner of the library.
“I see you’re still a peeping tom.”
“That was once! Wait. I wasn’t peeping!”
Ino crossed her arms in front of her chest and tossed her long hair over her shoulder. Her right eye was twitching the more she glared at him.
“And what do you call watching your best friends making out from behind a bookcase?”
“I wasn’t─I mean, dammit Ino! That’s not what I was doing.”
“Sure it wasn’t,” Ino scoffed. “You know you need to get over it, right?”
“I am over it!” Naruto could feel the heat creeping up his neck again. “Why do people assume I’m not?’
“Because you don’t act like it. You’re going to hurt someone that way.”
Hinata’s face came to the front of Naruto’s mind and his stomach dropped.
“I mean, Sakura is going to feel like crap all over again and I would like to avoid that.”
“Sakura?” Naruto asked confused. He had momentarily forgotten that she was the subject of the conversation when he felt the guilt over Hinata. It was one of the reasons why Karin hated helping him with work. He got distracted easily.
“Isn’t that why you were spying? Because you’re still into Sakura?”
“No!” Naruto cried out. Shikamaru popped his head out from three aisles away and shushed them. “I mean no. I was just…”
Naruto sighed and averted his gaze. When he looked back to Ino she was staring at him expectantly
“I wanted to know if I could see them being together without it feeling weird. I miss when it was the three of us.” Naruto clutched his shirt, right over his chest. “I don’t feel the same way for Sakura like before. I really, really, like my girlfriend but it’s just…”
“But it’s still hard because she’s your first love?” Ino gave him a soft smile. It was sad, but filled with the gentleness that Sakura always assured him Ino had. He never believed it because she was always shouting at Chouji, Shikamaru, and him.
“Yeah.” Naruto nodded in agreement. “It’s a kind of bittersweet feeling. I’m sad because it wasn’t me she wanted but I’m happy that she’s happy. That they’re both happy. And I don’t want to be that person by Sak’s side anymore but I can’t help that strange ache in my chest.”
“Don’t call her that. She hates that nickname.” Ino frowned and shook her head. “And don’t worry about that ache. It will go away eventually. You just need time.”
“How are you so sure it will?”
“Because I’ve been in the same boat.”
“Really? You have never even dated anyone but Sai before. I thought he was your first love.”
“No. Sai’s probably my true love. But not my first love.”
“It wasn’t Sasuke was it?” Naruto’s face twisted up in disgust. Just about every girl he knew had a crush on Sasuke at one point. That was part of the original appeal of Hinata. She had never even met Sasuke and wouldn’t compare the two of them to each other.
“I had a crush on him for like a minute but he wasn’t my first love.”
“Shika?” Naruto gagged. There was something about it that seemed really wrong.
“Ew! No. He’s like the brother I never asked for.”
“I wouldn’t ask for you to be my sister either,” Shikamaru called out from the same aisle he was in previously.
“Wait. Then Chouji?” Ino gave him an unimpressed look.
“How heteronormative of you to assume it would have to be one of my guy friends.”
Naruto choked on air and his face flushed deep red. Ino smirked at how flustered he became.
“Sakura?” Naruto’s voice dropped even lower so that only Ino could hear him. She nodded and patted his head for finally coming to the right conclusion. “You like girls too?”
“Wow. Of course that’s straight where your brain goes to.” Ino sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Gender isn’t something I care about or that I could help. Sakura just happens to be a girl and she just happens to be the one that I first fell in love with. But yeah occasionally I do find a girl really attractive. And Sai always disagrees heavily with me because we have different tastes. So you could say I’m bi.”
“Does she know?”
“Yes, of course. And I didn’t even have to kiss her against her will to tell her.”
“Of course you would know about that,” Naruto said bitterly. It was the worst moment of his life. Sakura’s face afterward haunted him for the longest time. It was a very bad period of his life and no matter how often he was assured that it was a moment of immaturity he couldn’t forgive himself for it. “Kind of weird to think that you were also my rival in love back then. Does Sai know about Sakura? Like your old feelings for her?”
“Of course he does. I don’t hide anything from him.”
“Really? So you’re going to tell him about cornering me in the library?”
“I don’t need to.” Ino pointed behind him. “He’s right there.”
Naruto turned around and jumped when he saw Sai standing a few feet away holding a book. Sai smiled at him and waved.
“When the fuck did you get here?”
“I was here the whole time.”
“You two really go everywhere together don’t you?” Naruto muttered, slightly frightened by the couple.
“Except the restroom,” Shikamaru said from the next aisle over. “Although he has followed her in a few times.”
“No more comments from the cheap seats,” Ino scolded Shikamaru.
“Whatever. We gotta go. Our lunch block is almost over. Sai? Where are you even supposed to be?”
“I needed to get away from the studio. Too many fumes from the oil paints.”
“I told you to open a window, Sai.”
“But it’s so cold out, Beautiful.”
Naruto walked away from Shikamaru and the weird couple and made his way out through the aisles to reach the exit. If he stuck around he would just be caught up in more Ino and Sai weirdness. He had no idea how Shikamaru and Sakura could handle being around them for long.
On his way out he caught Sakura and Sasuke still cozy in their own aisle. He inwardly thanked God that they were just whispering to each other. There was something weird about watching Sasuke act like a normal teenage boy with hormones.
Looking behind him first to make sure Ino wasn’t anywhere in sight, Naruto took another peek at his best friends. Sasuke had caged Sakura with his arms, hands on the bookcase on either side of her. She was looking at him, smiling all warm and soft. Smiling Naruto’s favorite smile.
Smiling the smile he would forever thank Sasuke for causing.
Looking in the mirror was a hard task. But Karin always managed. It wasn’t as if she was ugly. There was just parts of her she couldn’t help but think were ugly.
She tilted her head from to side, examining her reflection. She frowned at the awkward tan line she still had in even in the middle of winter. Her arms were milky white with scars running up and down them while the skin on her chest and her face was a nice peachy color. The effects of never letting the sun shine on her arms.
“Are you leaving already?”
Karin turned around and saw Suigetsu sitting on his bed, not even bothering to cover up. She rolled her eyes at him and pulled her tank top and then her sweater over head.
“You know I have somewhere to be.” Karin grabbed her peacoat, a really nice black one that her aunt had bought for her, and slipped it on.
“You stay less and less nowadays,” Suigetsu muttered, reaching for his clothes all piled up at the foot of his bed.
“Are we really doing this right now?” Karin glared at him as she grabbed her backpack. “I’m going to miss visiting hours if I don’t leave soon.”
“Just go. Manny will be home soon anyway.”
Karin frowned. That was a lie. Suigetsu’s older brother wasn’t due to come home from work for hours. She clamped her mouth shut, refusing to start arguing with him about the lie like he was fishing for.
“Yeah. See ya.”
Karin practically ran down the steps of Suigetsu’s fourth floor walkup. She turned the corner and headed into the area parking garage and as soon as she got to her car she threw her bag into the passenger seat of her car and took a moment to take a deep inhale and exhale.
“I ain’t got time for this shit,” Karin muttered to herself as she started up her Camry. She pulled out of the parking garage.
Karin knew she shouldn’t have wasted time fooling around with Suigetsu but she felt she needed to give him some attention in order to pacify him. She had been busy with her part-time job as a custodian for a law firm and using all of her free time to visit her mother who was receiving palliative care forty-five minutes away in the city of Kusa.
The drive was long and used up a lot of gas which was what most of her money from her part-time went toward but it was worth it. After she had received a scholarship to attend Oto Prep as a boarding student she never had time to visit her mother but after she convinced Minato to get her a car she took trips at least twice a week. She usually had enough money just for those two trips because Minato provided her with gas money as long as she drove Naruto to school and back. When that became not often enough she started working in order to fund her trips.
She never told her Aunt Kushina or Minato about visiting her mother because then they would offer to pay for her trip expenses and that was the last thing she wanted. She already felt like a burden to them and she still felt guilty for being rude to Naruto when she first started living with them. It was common for them to act that way towards each other but what she had told him was uncalled for.
Naruto had been fascinated by her hair and how different it was from Kushina’s hair even though they were related. It wasn’t a vibrant tomato red like his mother’s or her own mother’s hair but a rich and deep cinnamon color and her eyes weren’t grey-blue like most Uzumakis but russet, a red-brown, like her estranged father’s eyes. Karin was insulted, thinking he had implied she was a washed out variation of what an Uzumaki was suppose to look like and snapped at him, telling him he shouldn’t be allowed to be called Uzumaki since he sure didn’t look like one at all.
That fight had established a boundary between the two cousins that neither one of them ever brought up.
The two of them didn’t speak for a few weeks when she first started living with his family which led to a pretty lonely existence at home and at school. Sure she had Suigetsu, Jūgo, and Sasuke, but they weren’t in a majority of her classes or in Sasuke’s case, too quiet to be considered quality company most of the time. It wasn’t a new experience, just the same as when she was in foster care and when she attended Oto Prep. Mostly ignored by everyone else. Karin thought it would be a nice change as long as nothing like what had happened in the dorms happened again.
Everything was going fine until one day after gym class.
“Shit.” Karin scrambled, blind, looking for her glasses. “I’m going to kill you, you little shits.”
“Look at the old lady.” A squeaky high pitched voice cackled. “Guess this is where she heads to after class. Too good to talk to any of us and too good to use the same showers, huh?”
Karin sighed and sat down with her back against one of the plastic dividers of the shower stalls. She had become accustomed to sneaking into the girls team locker room to shower in peace in the more private showers than the communal type in the gym locker room. She didn’t want anyone to see her scars and bite marks from the torment she received from her old roommates, especially not the underclassmen.
“Eww. What’s wrong with her arms?”
“I don’t know but it’s creepy.”
“Come on, let’s go. Just leave her glasses and clothes somewhere high where she can’t find them.”
“She’s so blind I don’t think it would matter.”
Karin sat there for a moment, trying to calm down. She didn’t cry during her abuse and she wasn’t going to cry now. Tears wouldn’t solve anything. There was the pattering of hurried footsteps and giggles and then the lights went out before the door to the locker room slammed shut.
“Overkill, assholes,” Karin muttered to herself.
A moment later there was the sound of shrieks and apologies coming muffled through the walls of the locker room. An incoherent voice was shouting and then the sound of the door opening and the lights flickered back on.
“Hello?” A melodious voice called out. It was the kind of voice Karin hated because it was overly feminine and sweet.
Karin remained silent, not wanting to draw attention to herself. She would just wait until the stranger left.
“There you are.” A pink blob had pulled back the curtain. Karin was about tell her to go away when the stranger wrapped her up in a soft towel that smelled of lavender, covering her shoulders and arms. “You’re going to get sick sitting her in the cold after a shower.”
Why do you care? Karin grumbled inwardly.
“Wait one second.”
The pink blob left her line of sight. All Karin could hear was the sound of metal doors opening and what sounded like rubber soled shoes squeaking against metal, then a triumphant “Aha!”, and then the thump of someone landing on their feet.
“I believe these are yours?” The pink blob came back and placed Karin’s glasses in her hands. Karin immediately placed them on her face to look at the person helping her.
“Holy shit you’re really pink.” Karin had no filter and said the first thing on her mind when everything came back to focus.
“And you’re really red,” the strange pink girl giggled. But she wasn’t really a stranger. Karin knew exactly who this pink haired kid was. The greener than green eyes gave her away. Even if someone dyed their hair pink they couldn’t replicate the color of the eyes of the girl sitting between Sasuke and Naruto in the photo Sasuke used as his phone’s lock screen.
Sasuke didn’t talk much but what he did share always had a common theme: two people. One of them was her own cousin Naruto and the other was a girl named Sakura. Karin thought herself very observant and couldn’t help but notice the pleasant aura around Sasuke whenever he briefly mentioned her.
“I’m going to go guard the door, okay?” Sakura handed Karin her clothes. Karin snatched them away, not completely trusting the pretty girl in front of her.
“What are you even doing here?”
“I play volleyball. I came to store my gym bag away.” Sakura turned back to smile at Karin. It was an easy casual smile that had Karin blinking rapidly in confusion at how calm she felt from seeing it. “Lucky, huh?”
“Yeah. Real lucky,” Karin bit out sarcastically. It wasn’t that she was trying to push her away. It was just something she did instinctively with people. There was something about the calm, familiar feeling settling in her body that made her uncomfortable to be around Sakura.
“Almost done? The bell’s going to ring soon.”
Karin slipped her cardigan on and watched Sakura for a moment. She just realized that Sakura had not once looked at her arms after she had covered her with the towel that Karin assumed was from her own gym bag. Sakura didn’t cringe or ask about them or made any sort of comment.
“You know, I’ve only ever seen one person with hair this red.” Sakura reached over and twirled a strand of Karin’s locks with her index finger. “My friend Naruto. His mother has really, really red hair. It’s so unique.”
“It’s not the same red!” Karin snapped, flustered by the ease Sakura displayed in getting close. Karin usually felt jealous when girls were able to get all touchy in a casual manner. She didn’t have the social skills to do anything like that properly. With Sakura, she just felt embarrassed by the longing feeling in her chest. Like she didn’t want her to go away.
Sakura’s eyes went wide in shock at the outburst but then she burst into a fit of giggles.
“No. Your hair is so much better. Really pretty.” Sakura gave her a wide, toothy smile. “But it is pretty similar. Like you could be related.”
The two girls left the locker room and headed down the hall together in silence. After a while, Karin broke it.
“She’s my cousin. Like three times removed or some shit,” Karin muttered. Sakura’s green eyes became all sparkly at the new information. “But I call her Auntie because she’s, well, much older than I am and she acts like one.”
“Your Naruto’s cousin! I’ve been wanting to meet you.” Sakura hooked her arm with Karin’s and Karin gaped, surprised at how happy and easy Sakura was with a stranger. “We should totally hang out after school. Maybe get something to eat. Have you been around town much? I can show you the best shops.”
Karin’s eye twitched. Sakura was just as much a chatterbox as Naruto and Suigetsu were. The only consolation was that although she rambled on and on, her voice wasn’t as annoying as she once thought her type of voice was.
“Okonomiyaki. It’s my favorite but I don’t know the stores around Konoha. Do you have any recommendations?”
Sakura beamed at her and started prattling on about a restaurant near a café her family owned. Karin’s mouth twitched upward on one side as she started to recognize the calm feeling she was getting. She had felt it only once before in the past few years, when Sasuke and the others found a way to get her away from Oto.
It was the sensation of feeling safe.
Visiting her mother always felt awkward. It was her mother and she was only seventeen, she shouldn’t have to visit her. She should have been living with her.
“I should get going, Ma.” Karin packed up her school books and handed her mother the envelope of photos she had recently had developed. Mariko took them with a gentle hold. She would spend her time adding them to her scrapbook the next day. “I need to go talk to the man in finances about the bills.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Mariko took Karin’s hand in her own and stroked the top of it. “The payment has been taken care of for this month already.”
“By who?” Karin frowned. She had been funneling money from her college savings to help pay for her mother’s palliative care, against her mother’s wishes, when Mariko was no longer able to support herself. Her congestive heart failure had only gotten worse over the years and instead of just being unable to care and give the support Karin needed, now she was falling apart on her own.
Karin cursed her father every day. He better pray he never saw her again. If he had only stuck around Karin could be in her own home with her own family.
“Here.” Mariko pulled out a folder from the drawer in her night stand. Karin took it and opened it up. Skimming through all of the billing information she reached the bottom where there was a messy scrawl for a signature. The ‘N’ and the ‘U’ were the only legible letters.
“He’s a very nice boy.”
“He’s visited you?” Karin stared at her mother wide eyed. “And how did he even have access to your account? That’s gotta be illegal or something.”
“I’m not sure. But he does visit sometimes. Whenever he can. I’m surprised you two haven’t crossed paths when you come here.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Karin walked slowly to her car, trying to process everything that had happened during her visitation to her mother.
Naruto. Naruto with his Namikaze blonde hair and blue eyes that she wouldn’t let him forget about had been visiting her mother. Not only had he been spending time with her but he had helped make a payment for her care.
Karin sat in her car, not even bothering to put the key in the ignition, and her head collapsed onto the steering wheel. She did something she hadn’t let herself do in a long time, not since the state terminated her mother’s parental rights for failure to support her. Not since she lost her family.
For the first time since she was fourteen, Karin Uzumaki cried.
Naruto had a goal. He was going to spend more time with Sakura and Sasuke, just like they use to. If Ino could get over her feelings and continue to be Sakura’s best friend without complications, he sure as hell could.
Which is why he proposed a day out in the snow since school was cancelled. They had received seven inches of snow which was just decent enough to play in.
“Care to explain what we’re doing, moron?” Sasuke looked even more like a pissed off cat than usual, arms crossed in annoyance. Sakura stood as close as possible to him, shivering. “It’s cold.”
“You never feel cold,” Naruto scoffed. Sasuke deadpanned and then looked over at Sakura who was bundled up completely, scarf hiding the lower half of her face so that only her eyes could be seen. “Oh. Right.”
“You guys are idiots.” Karin shouted down at them from her bedroom window. Naruto stuck his tongue out at her and Karin shut her window.
“So what do you guys want to do first? I think we should make─”
Naruto was cut off when a snowball hit his face. He looked over at Sasuke, flabbergasted, and saw him smirking. Sasuke raised his gloved hands and showed him how clean they were. Naruto was confused since he thought it had to have been Sasuke. He looked over at Sakura who was already packing another snowball.
“Every man for themselves!” Her cry came out muffled behind the wool scarf and she threw her next snowball at Sasuke who wasn’t expecting her to attack him.
After a few minutes of fighting in Naruto’s backyard, the snowball fight ended up on the street. Sakura and Naruto had teamed up after his short alliance with Sasuke. The two boys had originally needed to gang up on Sakura because of the odd way she easily evaded any snowballs thrown at her, even in all of her extra clothes, but Naruto ended up breaking his alliance when Sasuke dropped his guard.
Sasuke had taken the first opportunity to swiftly hop over Naruto’s waist high fence to avoid anymore hits. Naruto quickly followed and Sakura stumbled in all of her bulky clothes over the fence after them. Tired of chasing and throwing, Naruto tackled Sasuke into one of their neighbors’ snow covered bushes.
“What the hell, Naruto?” Sasuke pushed Naruto off of him. The two of them sat in the bush, stuck. They both squirmed, trying to find a way to free themselves.
“I got caught up in the moment,” Naruto replied, sheepishly. The whole act of tackling Sasuke had been mostly impulsive. There was a need to win that had taken over.
“You’re such a dumbass.”
Their bickering was cut short by the sound of Sakura laughing. Naruto looked over and saw her doubled over, clutching her sides.
“You guys look so stupid.” Sakura wiped at her eyes, a tear from laughter escaping. “Hold on one sec. I’m going to take a picture of you guys.”
“No.” Sasuke gave her a disgruntled look that reminded Naruto of the grumpy black cat that roamed the streets at night and hissed at him whenever he tried to get near it.
“I’m doing it anyway.” Sakura took out her phone from somewhere inside of her parka and prepared to snap a photo. Sasuke kept squirming, not wanting to take any embarrassing photos.
“Hey Sakura.” Naruto got her attention and then he shoved a scoop of snow into Sasuke’s face. The shutter went off and Sakura burst out laughing again.
“I’m going to kill you.” Snow fell from Sasuke’s face with every movement he made as he talked. Sakura’s laughter increased in volume which caused Naruto to burst out laughing even more.
This, Naruto decided, was worth the heartache.
Chapter Fourteen: Lace And Other Things
When Sakura woke up she wasn’t in her own room and she wasn’t in Sasuke’s. The walls weren’t black and lined with posters but there was a quality to it that felt very much like the Uchiha home. The light blue of the walls with the white molding running through the center of them and the plushness of the bed she lay in was such a Mikoto quality that Sakura could only come to the conclusion that she was in the Uchiha guest room.
I was in school. And then I passed out. I woke up and Mikoto was the one that picked me up.
Sakura nodded to herself, catching herself up with what had happened prior to her waking up. She snuggled deeper into the sheets, the smell of the laundry detergent Mikoto used easing her troubled mind.
Sakura had completely forgotten that Mikoto was her emergency contact for when her parents couldn’t be reached. Her mother had listed her as such so long ago it was easy to forget. She never really needed her parents to be contacted except for the rare emergencies in elementary school. She was usually a very healthy person and rarely came down with any sickness.
“Sakura?” Mikoto had entered the room with a cold compress and a bottle of Tylenol. “I called your mother at the café. You were sleeping so I couldn’t ask if I could give you Tylenol for your fever but she says it’s fine so I brought some up. I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to keep you here until your mom can come home. I told her I didn’t mind watching over you if it was too busy at the shop.”
Sakura nodded slowly, too tired to speak and too sore to make any big movements. She sat up slowly so that she could take the medicine Mikoto had brought for her.
“Are you fine in your school clothes for now? I can always pick something up from your room if you don’t mind me rifling through your drawers.” Mikoto’s face flushed a dull shade of red. “I’m sorry that I can’t provide you with any of my clothing but I don’t own sweats or bed clothes appropriate for a teenage girl.”
Sakura held back from giggling over how flustered she had made Mikoto Uchiha just by needing a change of clothes. Growing up she had never seen Mikoto dressed in anything as frumpy as sweatpants or cotton shorts and she always had the suspicion that the elegant woman had a more risqué side to her than she let on. It was kind of cute and she hoped when she reached Mikoto’s age that she was completely secure and confident enough in her body to wear satin slips and negligees every night for sleepwear.
But then again she was always complaining about the cold and wouldn’t be able to pull it off for that reason. Sakura guessed that Sasuke wasn’t the only Uchiha with fire in his veins.
“If you need anything I’ll be in the study working on some designs.” Mikoto brushed Sakura’s hair away from her face and made a soft tutting sound. “You shouldn’t overwork yourself. You stressed your body out so much. Remember, our bodies can only handle so much.”
Sakura tried to protest and argue that her body didn’t have limits but her mouth didn’t want to cooperate with her. Mikoto just gave her a knowing look and smirked when Sakura could only pout to voice her disagreement.
“Unfortunately you can’t use the restroom in the guest room because it connects to Itachi’s room. It seemed like a much better idea at the time for his room to be that way because he’s much more agreeable than Sasuke but Itachi can’t come into contact with you or anything you touch right now because of your fever. You can use Sasuke’s bathroom so you don’t have to walk down to the powder room.”
Mikoto waited for Sakura to lie back down so she could pull the sheets and duvet up to underneath her chin. Sakura hid her face underneath the blankets and closed her eyes. She almost didn’t notice the feather light kiss that was placed on her head. As soon as she heard the door close she let out a long sigh.
I’ve really done it now.
On top of overworking herself with her packed work and volunteer schedule, Sakura had been stressing over her recommendation letters. She didn’t want to hound her teachers but some of them were really cutting it close. It was a shame that she needed so many for all of the scholarships she was applying for.
Mama is going to cut back on my work hours now.
Sakura knew she could always apply to work somewhere else but the bonus to working at Budding Cherry Blossom was that she could see her parents more often. Spending time with her parents, especially her father, was something she use to take for granted.
I should just try to sleep…
Sakura woke up two hours later, irritated by how gross she felt. She smelled of sweat and she was soaked. The medicine was working, helping her break her fever but it was disgusting to feel so hot and sweaty. The roots of her hair and the back of her neck was drenched.
Throwing the duvet off of her body, Sakura groaned at how sore she still felt and pulled herself out of bed. Feeling the back of her neck and how wet her scalp was, Sakura made her way out of the room and down the hall. There was a smell of something cooking so she assumed Mikoto was in the kitchen. She turned her head to the left and looked at the installed shelves full of photos and awards.
Sakura nodded to herself, remembering that Mikoto had called this hallway on the upper floor a gallery. It reminded her of art museums but she felt silly bringing it up to a pro. Mikoto was an interior designer and had a heavy influence in the building and then remodelling of her home.
Sakura traced the edge of a middle shelf with her finger and then tapped at a trophy. It was one of Itachi’s for a taekwondo tournament. In the same row were many more of his and Sasuke’s ribbons and medals hanging off of trophies for kendo or taekwondo or basketball in Sasuke’s case.
Sakura smiled as she looked at different framed photographs from different events. Her favorites were from Sasuke’s piano recitals. He was so small and dressed up in tuxedos. In photos with awards, Mikoto was in the photo, beaming brightly with her hands on his shoulders. Looking closely, she could see the pink on Sasuke’s face, the only sign that he was embarrassed by how excitable his mother was. Sakura felt her cheeks heat up when she noticed a photo with Sasuke holding a bouquet of daffodils. He was scowling with red ears, heavily embarrassed. She had asked Mikoto to give him the bouquet after one of his recitals when they were eleven.
She liked plenty of Itachi’s photo’s from when he was a lot younger but that’s because in all of those Sasuke was standing next to him, smiling from ear to ear. He use to smile really big when they were younger.
Sakura frowned when she noticed a significant difference in Sasuke’s and Itachi’s photographs. In almost every single competition photo of Itachi’s, Fugaku was standing next to his son. In Sasuke’s photos, he was either alone or with his mother. In some rare ones Itachi stood next to his younger brother. She knew Fugaku was a busy man but it was frustrating to know that he obviously made time for the eldest son and not the younger one.
With a huff, Sakura marched further down the gallery and opened the linen closet at the end of the hall to grab a towel. She grabbed a fluffy towel and marched into Sasuke’s room to his bathroom to freshen up. She desperately wanted a shower to rid herself of her sweat.
Forgetting that she should have acted more reserved about entering a man’s bedroom, Sakura rifled through the drawers and shelves in Sasuke’s walk in closet for a new set of clothes. Sakura grimaced when she realized she didn’t have an extra set of undergarments and looked for a pair of boxer shorts without an opening up front. She wasn’t going to wear her already used underwear and she wasn’t going to ask Mikoto for a pair or for her to head over to her house to grab some for her. She didn’t want to receive any more shocks from Mikoto’s wardrobe nor did she feel comfortable with her boyfriend’s mother knowing what she wore under her clothes even if most of her undergarments consisted of innocent boyshorts with only a few rare lacy hipster panties.
Would these fit me? Sakura held up a pair of black boxer briefs to her crotch and tried to measure it out. Sasuke is much taller and bigger than I am but I have pretty thick thighs. Hopefully that helps despite the extra room at the waist.
Shrugging her shoulders she added them to the pile of clothes she chose for herself. She wasn’t going to wear them long anyway. Just some fresh clothes so she wouldn’t have to sleep in sweat drenched garments.
After a quick shower Sakura shimmied her body into Sasuke’s baggy clothing. She would usually lather herself up with lotion but there didn’t seem to be any which was fine considering how tired she was after only showering.
I wonder if this is how Itachi feels after his showers. I have no energy left.
When she first found out about Itachi having Lupus she had researched as much as she could, knowing that Sasuke was still out of it because of the initial shock of his brother being hospitalized. She wanted to help him further understand what was going on with his brother but she never got that chance due to him closing himself off and the little incident involving her calls and texts being blocked.
Sakura shook her head and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She wiped the glass when it continued to fog up from the steam and frowned at how splotchy her face looked. She was pale from feeling ill but the shower caused her skin to heat up and she had awkward red patches on her cheeks.
Sakura jumped when there was a knock on the door. Mikoto must have come to check on her. She unlocked the door and Sasuke leaned against the doorway, arms crossed in front of his chest and eyebrow raised.
“Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping because you’re sick, not in my room stealing my clothes?”
“I was sweaty and it was gross.”
“You’re not that gross when you’re sweaty actually. Salty. But not gross.”
Sakura’s face heated up and she pushed past Sasuke who was smirking at her. She slipped on his navy blue Konoha Police Academy hoodie. It was Sasuke’s favorite hoodie that he had originally stolen from Itachi.
“That’s an interesting look for you.”
Sasuke pulled her toward him by the hoodie’s pockets. Sakura could feel his hands groping at her waist and hips through the material of the sweater. His hands slipped out of his pocket to slip under the hoodie so he could place his hands on the small of her back. He bent his head down and leaned his forehead against hers.
“You’re really warm,” he murmured. A shiver ran down Sakura’s spine.
“Of course I am. I’m sick, Sasuke. And your mom’s somewhere in the house.” Sakura pushed lightly against his chest, not really wanting him to pull away from her. “I didn’t realize it would interest you to see me in men’s clothing.”
“Not men’s clothing,” Sasuke scoffed. He pulled on the hem of his Brand New shirt that she was wearing. The hem reached past her waist and settled on top of her legs around mid-thigh. “My clothes. There’s a difference. Why this one?”
“Deja Entendu has my favorite cover art. And it’s not like you wear your band shirts anymore.” Sakura crossed her arms in front of her chest. She had picked the shirt from a pile of perfectly folded shirts that looked like they had never been touched. She almost expected the shirt to feel stiff the way some t-shirts felt when they were brand new and never worn before.
“Yeah.” Sasuke pulled slightly back, a frown on his face.
Sasuke use to wear all sorts of band shirts as his casual clothes, most of his clothing leaning towards being punk. His father wasn’t a big fan of it and would make an odd sort of grunting sound when he saw Sasuke dressed in any way he thought wasn’t presentable. Sakura hated it. It was like he was trying to suffocate Sasuke and mold him into just any other Uchiha.
Which made Sakura terribly sad. She loved Sasuke just the way he was, Uchiha having nothing to do with it, and couldn’t see why his father couldn’t accept him the way he was.
“You’re making a face.”
Sakura was pulled away from her thoughts by Sasuke pressing kisses to her throat, his lashes tickling her skin. She hadn’t even noticed that he had sat down on the edge of his bed and pulled her between his legs.
“Sasuke. I’m sick.”
“Yin-yang…taoism…cures sicknesses…” Sasuke murmured on her skin, now pressing open mouth kisses to her stomach. Sakura was tempted to take the shirt she was wearing and put it over his head to cut him off.
“Yes, because I of all people am going to believe that shit works. You don’t even believe that works. We’re not taoists.” Sakura yanked Sasuke’s head away from her stomach and he glared up at her. “And I’m sure in that practice it’s men that are suppose to reap the benefits. You’re not thinking with the right head.”
Sasuke wrapped his arms around her torso and buried his face into her stomach. He mumbled some complaints that Sakura couldn’t hear and she rolled her eyes.
“You smell like me. Minus the deodorant.”
“I’m all minty. I kind of like it.” Sakura giggled and placed a kiss on Sasuke’s head. “I’m going back to the guest room before your mother walks in on us.”
“Naruto’s coming over.”
“You guys had plans?”
Sasuke gave her one of his unimpressed looks and she was overcome with embarrassment when she finally realized why Naruto would be coming over to the Uchiha house.
“It was just a slight fever. All I needed was some sleep. You guys make such a big deal about everything.”
“You passed out. And you’re suppose to be a doctor in the future? God help those kids that walk into your clinic.”
Sakura made a clicking sound with her tongue, tossed her hair over her shoulder, and then marched haughtily out of his room. She poked her head back into his doorway and glared at him.
“That was mean. I’m going to be an amazing doctor. And kids are going to love me.”
“Sakura?” Mikoto called up from the bottom of the stairs. Sakura peeked down over the gallery railing to the foyer. Mikoto was smiling up at her. “You seem a lot better. You’re not feeling nauseous are you? I’m going to bring something up for you to eat. You and Sasuke can eat in the media room.”
“Sakura!?” Naruto walked in through the front door and stood next to Mikoto who looked at him with wide eyes. “How are you doing?”
“I forgot to lock the door when I came home,” Sasuke muttered coming to stand next to Sakura. Naruto bounded up the stairs, lugging his backpack with him.
“I guess I’ll bring up food for the three of you,” Mikoto giggled and walked out of view.
Sasuke took Sakura by the hand and led her to the media room. Naruto burst in after them and dumped his backpack on the coffee table. He unzipped it and pulled out different video game cases and a console. He started to plug it into Sasuke’s wall and connect it to the oversized flat screen on the wall.
“Loser. What are you doing?”
“We’re going to play Pokkén. We’re all here and you have a bigger TV. Much bigger TV. It will look awesome.”
“Did you even do your homework?” Sakura asked in a tone that made Naruto grimace. She was sure she sounded motherly and cringed a little. She thought she had grown out of being the “mom friend” of their trio but apparently she hadn’t.
“First Sasuke, now you? I already have parents, guys!” Naruto’s face squished up in the same way it always had when he pouted out of actual frustration instead of when he pouted to act cute.
Sakura raised an eyebrow at Sasuke, silently questioning him about what Naruto had just said.
“I’m his tutor. I’m suppose to ask,” Sasuke grumbled. He left the room for a moment and came back with the pillows and a crocheted throw from the guest room. He fluffed them up on the L of the couch and gestured for Sakura to curl up there. As soon as she lied down he threw the throw over her and tucked it under her legs and feet to trap her body heat in.
“Wow.” Naruto gaped at the two of them. “You’re a lot more cutesy than I thought Sasuke.”
“Shut up and hand me the controller.” Sasuke slumped on the couch next to him. Sakura had a good view of the back of his neck and saw the familiar red blush that adorned it whenever he was flustered.
Barely into the first round, Mikoto came in with a tray laden with three bowls of tomato soup and a plate of cheesy bread.
“Pause the game. Time to eat.” Mikoto said sternly to the two boys as she placed the tray on the coffee table. Like a switch had been flipped she smiled softly to Sakura and brought her bowl to her, speaking to her in a gentle tone. “I know you’re a vegetarian like your father so I made tomato soup since it would work for both you and Sasuke. Sorry Naruto. I didn’t know you were coming over.”
“That’s fine Mamakoto. Trust me, your cheesy bread is worth the lack of meat.”
“Alright you three. Be careful not to make a mess. I have to go and call Itachi and see if he’s getting something to eat with Izumi and Shisui. Can you believe he invited Shisui along on what could have been a date? I swear that boy is so clueless sometimes.”
Mikoto shook her head and let out a sigh before leaving them to eat their dinner. Naruto practically inhaled his soup and used his sleeve to wipe his mouth. He looked up at Sasuke and Sakura who gave him identical disgusted faces.
“Do you even taste what you eat?” Sakura handed her bowl to Sasuke who placed it back on the tray. She had eaten quickly too but in a much neater manner. She just remembered that she hadn’t had anything to eat the whole day. There was no way she was going to say that out loud. Not only would Sasuke be upset but Mikoto would be outraged. She was the first one to find out about her dieting when she was in her middle school years and the lecture Sakura received was traumatizing.
“Hey guys,” Naruto went blank in the face and stared into space. “What do you usually do for Valentine’s Day?”
Sakura took a moment to think about it. She was apparently unaware that she was even in a relationship but Sasuke thought they were without even discussing it so she had to wonder if maybe he did something small for the day while she treated it like any other day.
She remembered sneaking out in the middle of the night last year around Valentine’s Day. There was a long hike while they listened to Sasuke’s iPod. She remembered Sasuke putting his jacket on the floor so she wouldn’t scrape her knees while she sat in his lap, riding him. Then they walked back home holding hands.
The year before that, Sasuke convinced her to go stargazing, telling her that it was the perfect time to see Comet Lovejoy with the naked eye. The moon was full on Valentine’s then. They took Itachi’s telescope. It was her idea to go down on him in the middle of their clearing that year.
Sasuke had played her the first song he learned on the guitar the year prior to that. He was embarrassed because he had taught himself and it was the first time he was playing for anyone. Their relationship hadn’t progressed beyond kisses and occasional heavy petting so all she had done was made out with him.
Shit. We did stuff? Wait. Did those count as dates!? I would have counted them! I don’t care about being bought dinner or going anywhere really nice. I’m a cheap date and I am not ashamed about it!
“Why are you asking?” Sakura asked, face flushing pink. There was no way that she was going to explain to Naruto the intimate details of her relationship with Sasuke. For a moment she felt awkward. There’s no way she was going to tell someone she viewed as her younger brother that she was sexually active. If he assumed that would be fine but she wasn’t going to tell him. Sasuke cleared his throat. Sakura looked over at him and saw that he was trying to contain a smirk. From the look on his face she could only assume she was making faces to match her train of thought.
“I was wondering what to do about it this year. Technically, Hina is my first real Valentine.”
“Do you have any ideas?” Sakura leaned forward, taking interest. Sasuke got up and cleared the coffee table. He didn’t even try to mask his disinterest in the subject and took the dirty dishes downstairs.
“Well…yeah. It’s kind of stupid.”
“It can’t be that bad. Tell me!” Sakura clasped her hands together in her lap and waited eagerly.
“Well, apparently she’s a huge Kyu fan. Her cousin has a friend that use to go to KSS─that Lee guy that wore a lot of track suits─and they all went to watch one of our home games for football together and she really liked the mascot.”
Sakura’s brow wrinkled as she tried to figure out for herself why Naruto would bring up their school’s mascot Kyu the Fox.
“I was thinking I could dress up and bring her flowers and balloons, like in costume? Maybe even do my routine for her?”
“That’s so cheesy Naruto. But I love it!” Sakura burst out into laughter. It was such a Naruto thing to do.
“So what’s your plan? What do you even get for Sasuke? It’s not like he eats chocolate.”
“Same as every year? A carton of cherry tomatoes.” Sakura just needed to make sure they lasted until she was able to give them to him. Ino loved cherry tomatoes, not all tomatoes like Sasuke did, but only cherry tomatoes. Sakura was sure the major difference for Ino was because they were bite sized and the texture was different than slices of tomatoes. Either way, Ino was likely to try and snack on them if she found the box like she attempted to do the year before.
“Ugh, you smell even more like Sasuke than usual.” Naruto’s nose wrinkled in disgust as he slid closer to her on the couch.
“Do I usually smell like him?” Sakura knew that it was unavoidable for her to smell like him at the moment but she didn’t realize that she carried his scent around with her all of the time.
“Yeah you do. He smells like you too sometimes. I don’t think other people notice but I’ve always had a pretty strong olfactory senses. Kiba said I could have been a bloodhound in a past life or something.”
“That’s a big word for you. Olfactory.” Sasuke came back in and he sat himself between Naruto and Sakura. Naruto sniffed him and Sasuke pushed him away, palming Naruto’s face in his hand. “Stay away from me.”
“Don’t be a jerk,” Naruto grumbled picking up his Wii U controller. “Come on, let’s play. I could whoop your ass all night.”
“This isn’t a sleepover, idiot.” Sasuke snatched the controller out of his hand, obviously offended by the idea that Naruto could beat him at anything. “It’s a school night. You gotta go home soon. Preferably before Itachi gets here. I don’t want you bothering him.”
“Aww. But that’s not fair, Sakura’s sleeping over!”
“No she isn’t. She’s going home as soon as her mom can come pick her up.”
“Uh-huh, sure. You just want to get rid of me.”
“Well, yeah, but that doesn’t make what I said any less true.”
“Well, I’m not leaving until Aunt Mebuki comes. How do I know if I leave you won’t take advantage of poor, sick Sakura.”
Sasuke stared straight ahead, pressing options on the menu to prepare for their next match. Sakura tried not to give him a look just in case Naruto saw it.
The three of them continued to play for another hour. Sakura started to get sleepy and curled up into a ball. Sasuke grabbed the duvet from the guest room to toss over her body and she was finally able to relax.
“I think that’s Aunt Mebuki.” Naruto paused the game and tilted his head so that he could hear the voices in the foyer better.
Mikoto could be heard giggling and speaking in a gentle, reassuring tone. Sakura could hear her mother sounding haggard and apologetic. She could just picture her, blonde hair falling out of place, worried lines on her forehead.
“I should go put my own pants back on.” Sakura groaned as she pulled herself up from the couch and stretched.
“I’m not getting my stuff back am I?”
“Nope. Well, your underwear but I’ll wash that first.”
“You guys are weird.” Naruto shuddered as he packed up all of his stuff.
Sakura ruffled his hair on her way out to get her stuff. She spotted her mother talking to Mikoto. Her arms were crossed in front of her chest, hugging her body protectively. She had the same problems with the cold that Sakura had. There was a pleasant smile on her mother’s face as she listened to Mikoto’s gossip.
Her mother, Mikoto, and Kushina had been close friends in their children’s early years. Mikoto and Kushina had been friends since childhood but when Mikoto moved in next door after the Uchiha house was finished being built she quickly became friends with Mebuki. The three women had been pregnant at the same time and had bonded through motherhood. Mikoto being the veteran was a big help to the other two since it was the first child for both Mebuki and Kushina.
Mebuki had really needed help after Sakura was born. She and Kizashi were all alone with no family in the country. When Mebuki decided to runaway with Sakura’s father when she was younger she had become estranged from her parents. Kizashi’s parents had passed away. Sakura’s grandfather had died while Kizashi was a teen some time after they moved from Japan and her grandmother passed away some time before Sakura turned two.
Sakura’s parents had never been the traditional sort. Mebuki was seventeen when she ran off with Kizashi. Mebuki’s parents were more traditional and not as accepting of her hippie lifestyle or of her nineteen year old punk boyfriend. Sakura never met her grandparents on her mother’s side because Mebuki ran away from home when she became pregnant out of wedlock as a teenager and her parents demanded she either abort it or give it up for adoption. Unfortunately, Mebuki had a miscarriage and at the time it was believed she wouldn’t be able to conceive again.
Instead of returning to her parents, she continued to live with Kizashi and his mother who had welcomed her into her home. They were happy and years after the loss, they found themselves expecting a child again. Mebuki and Kizashi married later on when Sakura was one. Although they loved each other greatly, a document that stated that they were bound together in marriage was never important to either of Sakura’s parents.
The deciding factor was Kizashi’s mother who wanted to see them officially wed before her time. Mebuki couldn’t deny her wish, especially considering she was more mother to her than her actual mother had been. They had a small intimate ceremony with just the small Haruno family. There were many photos but Mebuki always told Sakura that her favorite was of Sakura standing between her parents, clinging to her mother’s simple white cotton dress, as Kizashi’s friend who was ordained married the two of them.
Sakura’s parents didn’t have a traditional love story but it was one that made her chest feel warm whenever she heard the story. Her mother loved her father and her unborn baby so much that she turned her back on her family. She chose love over blood and she didn’t regret a single day that she didn’t speak to her grandparents.
“Why are you just standing there?” Mebuki asked waspishly. Although she had frown lines on her forehead and her lips were turned down at the corners, her eyes were full of concern. It was a typical look for Sakura’s mother. “Let’s get going. Button your coat all the way up. Thank Mrs. Uchiha before you leave.”
“Thank you Ms. Mikoto.”
“It was no problem at all. I don’t mind looking after her at all. It was really nostalgic.” Mikoto smiled cheerfully and helped Sakura wrap her scarf around her neck and tucked it into her red peacoat.
Mebuki took Sakura’s bag from her and led Sakura by the arm back to their house. As soon as they were safely inside their house, Mebuki felt Sakura’s cheeks with the back of her palm.
“You still look really pale. Even for you.” Mebuki tossed Sakura’s bag into the front hall closet and helped her out of her coat and other warm accessories. “No school for you tomorrow. No arguments Sakura Haruno. And you’re grounded.”
“What!? What for?”
“For being so careless. You’re grounded for two weeks. So that means no working or volunteering at the hospital.” Mebuki pushed Sakura on the small of her back until she turned to march up the stairs. Mebuki followed and continued to hand out Sakura’s unique sort of punishment. “You’re going to come home and rest after school. I’ve already spoken to Mikoto and she would be more than happy to watch over you just like when you were twelve. Is that what you want Sakura? To be treated like a child?”
Sakura groaned in frustration and turned into her bedroom. Her mother followed after her and rifled through her drawers to find a pair of warm pajamas. Mebuki tossed a set of flannel pajamas onto her bed and then searched for socks. Sakura grabbed the socks and stuffed them back in the drawer. If she let her mother continue she was going to end up sleeping in every article of clothing she owned.
“I can get dressed on my own. And I’ll stay home from school tomorrow but I’m not pulling back from volunteering.”
“It’s funny how you think you have an actual choice,” Mebuki laughed sardonically. After a moment she let out a sigh and rubbed her shoulder. She placed her hands on Sakura’s cheeks, cupping her face. “It’s just two weeks. Just give yourself time to relax and only focus on school. Please try and enjoy your last year in high school. You have all of college to be a stressed out student.”
“Fine,” Sakura grumbled. “I’m going to change now. So, uh, can I have some privacy?”
“Pfft!” Mebuki snorted. “Like I haven’t seen all of your bits.”
As soon as Mebuki left Sakura collapsed on her bed and rubbed her temple. She laid there for a moment until she started to get sleepier. Reluctantly she stripped off her pants and slid on her flannel pajama bottoms. She opted to keep Sasuke’s shirt on and curled up under blankets with her face tucked in the collar.
The smells of the Uchiha house lingered on the fabric and the relaxing smell of the citrus and floral scented fabric softener Mikoto used lulled her to sleep.
The sound of cursing attracted Itachi to his younger brother’s room. He knocked on the door and waited for Sasuke to give him permission to enter. After a long pause Itachi called out to him, telling him who he was. He had forgotten how paranoid Sasuke had become within the last few years and wouldn’t just let anyone in.
“Are you alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Sasuke’s eyebrows were furrowed in confusion.
“Well there’s paint splotches on your desk and I believe you called your computer a ‘mother fucker’. So I’m just assuming you’re not alright.”
Sasuke sighed and ruffled his hair. Itachi noted how long it was getting. Soon enough Sasuke was going to be able to tie it back, not in a comfortable low and long ponytail like Itachi himself wore it, but in a small and high do with a little tail. Izumi was right. Sasuke needed a haircut.
Not that Sasuke would ever let Izumi near his head with a pair of scissors. The only thing he allowed was for Izumi to replace his shampoo and conditioner to help keep his hair healthy.
Itachi’s chest lightened when he smelled the slight vanilla and mint scent of Sasuke’s new hair product. It meant that Sasuke was making some attempts at self-care even if they were small and mostly about his looks. It also warmed him to know that Sasuke didn’t completely reject Izumi’s gift or her advice.
“The stupid CD didn’t burn properly and it was my last empty disc.” Sasuke scowled at a blank CD on his disc before taking it and tossing it in the bin by his desk.
“I think there’s some blank ones in the study. I’ll go look for one. You…continue your art project.” Itachi tilted his head, trying to get a better look at what Sasuke was drawing with Sharpie paint pens on a different CD. Catching his brother trying to sneak a peek, Sasuke slid the disc and the sheet of paper it was on out of view.
Itachi rolled his eyes and left him to continue his DIY cover art for whatever he was trying to burn onto CDs. He could only assume that it was his younger brother’s gift to Sakura for Valentine’s Day.
Usually Itachi only ever went into the study to pick out a new book or put one back. Luckily for him, his mother kept the room really neat and everything was easy to find. In one of the cabinets along the wall a box of tapes sat inside right next to a stack of discs. The CDs were already prepackaged in cases. What threw Itachi off was that there were quite a few cases with labels on them already.
Pulling a few out Itachi read the covers. He chuckled to himself as he read the titles. The CDs were the audio to all of Sasuke’s old piano recitals. For a moment Itachi thought his mother had decided to make CDs with his brother’s playing but the handwriting on the cases didn’t match his mother’s delicate and curly script.
The writing almost looked liked Sasuke’s neat but slanted and sharp letters but there was no way Sasuke would put effort into conserving his old compositions when he could redo them and record them as an MP3 file if he ever wanted to record himself. And if Sasuke had been doing the converting he would have known that there were blank discs in the cabinet in the study.
There was only one other person in the house that could have made the CDs and the thought confused Itachi. Fugaku had never gone to any of Sasuke’s recitals that he knew of. Their father was either busy or showed no interest.
So what was he doing with CDs filled with Sasuke’s old competition pieces?
Sakura sat on the bench in the dressing room stall and blew a raspberry at the lingerie hanging on the hook. She hated shopping with Ino because it was so hard not to give in to temptation whenever she found something really pretty. She didn’t want to try on anything and fall in love with how she looked in it knowing it would cost more than she was willing to spend.
Especially if she didn’t know when she would ever get the opportunity to wear it. Or if it was even something that would interest Sasuke to see. He seemed to not care about whatever she wore.
“Fuck it.” Sakura pulled of her garments to toss on the mesh cami and shorts Karin had picked out for her.
“That’s the spirit!” Ino chirped from the stall next to her.
“I kind of hate you Ino,” Karin grumbled. “You could probably wear a sack and look good. Share the boobs.”
“Ugh, don’t even start. I’m going to sag so much when I’m older.”
“Are you guys in the same stall?” Sakura slipped on the camisole and turned to face the mirror. She knew it would leave nothing to the imagination with how sheer it was but it still felt weird to be wearing clothes and still be able to see everything.
“Some of us aren’t complete and total prudes, Forehead. What’s it look like?”
“Really pretty. My wallet hates you guys.” Sakura turned to look at her back and nodded at how her bottom looked in the lace shorts. Even with her panties on underneath them they still looked amazing. “These are going to be the most expensive pair of pajamas I own.”
“Pajamas. Yea, sure. You’re definitely going to use them just to sleep in,” came Karin’s sarcastic retort.
“Trust me. It’s more likely that Sasuke will just ask me if I feel cold.” Sakura giggled just imagining it. When he got the chance to see her new cami and short set he was probably going to end up wrapping her up in her duvet. She would just have to wait until there was no longer ice and snow everywhere to see his reaction.
“So are you going to get it?” Sakura could hear the excitement in Ino’s voice. Sakura rolled her eyes. Ino knew that Sakura was going to give in and make the purchase.
“Yeah I am.” There was a squeal and then a curse shouted by Karin who complained about the volume. “So hurry up. I’m going to go pay now.”
Sakura quickly changed back into her clothes and neatly folded the set she was going to buy. She turned in the other stuff that was picked out to the rack of unwanted or ill fitting clothes in the dressing room area.
She was about to head to the counter when she saw a familiar head of long, silky brown hair. As quietly as she could she snuck up to Izumi and wrapped her arms around her waist and squeezed her into a tight embrace.
“Hello Sakura,” Izumi giggled lightly.
“You knew I was behind you the whole time didn’t you?”
“Yep. How are you?”
“Fine. Just shopping with some friends. You?”
Sakura let go of Izumi and looked at the two lace trimmed silk panties in her hand. They were Valentine’s Day in theme, red with white edging and a single black bow on the front.
“Aren’t those too big?”
Izumi was taller and more willowy in shape in comparison to Sakura who was petite and had a slight, sort of pear shaped figure. The underwear that Izumi was holding onto was at least three times her size.
“Yep. I’m not going to be the one wearing them.” Izumi gave Sakura a sly grin that left her flushing red. She was learning a lot more about the Uchiha family than she needed to know recently. Izumi eyed the sheer garments in Sakura’s hand. “But how are you doing? You’re practicing safe sex, right?”
“Yes. Of course! I’ve definitely learned my lesson.” Sakura felt heat creep up her neck from the shame. Izumi never tried to make her feel bad but Sakura was still embarrassed about the favor she needed to ask Izumi for when she was sixteen.
Izumi didn’t ask any questions. She just went to the pharmacy and asked for Plan B at the counter. She was the only person Sakura knew over the age of eighteen at the time that she trusted to get her the morning after pill. She and Sasuke hadn’t been careful their first time and she panicked. Sasuke couldn’t be reached at all the day after and Sakura never told him about it but Izumi made her promise that she was going to make an appointment to discuss birth control with her OBGYN.
Izumi was exactly what Sakura expected an older sister should be like. She never asked Sakura who she had sex with or made any judgements. She just bought her the Plan B and comforted her through the side effects.
“Good! I’m sorry but I’m in a rush. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?” Izumi hugged Sakura goodbye and made her way to the register.
Why did she get two of the same large panties?
Mikoto let out a deep sigh and placed her knife carefully onto the cutting board. Wiping her hands on her apron she made her way to the the back porch. She usually never had any complaints about either one of her sons but one of her biggest pet peeves was when one of them left the back doors open in winter. A cold draft would enter the home and put out the fire in the great room fireplace.
“Sas─” Mikoto stopped her tirade before it could begin.
She watched curiously as Sasuke squatted by the bushes that lined the fence between the Haruno home and their own. He stood up and examined the bush and nodded to himself seemingly satisfied with whatever it was that he had done. When she saw him turn to come back inside she ducked back into their house and returned to the kitchen.
“I’m heading out Mom.”
“What time does the game start again?” Mikoto asked him, acting as if she never noticed him go outside. “I can’t believe the season is almost over.”
“It should start at five-thirty. There’s only a few games left. Then play offs.”
“I’m going to leave something for you to heat up when you come back, okay? Your father and I have dinner plans tonight so I won’t be coming home after the game is over.”
“Please eat. Not just that carton of cherry tomatoes you brought home after school but real food.”
“I will. Bye Mom.”
Mikoto gave her son a sideways glance and a small cough. She tilted her head to present her cheek to him. Sasuke bent down and kissed his mother on the cheek, his cheeks warmed to a pale shade of pink.
“Bye Sasuke. And good luck!”
Mikoto went back to chopping vegetables and listened carefully to the sound of her son’s Jeep making it’s way down the drive and out of the cul-de-sac. As soon as she was sure he wasn’t coming back she slipped out of her house slippers and into a pair of her warmer fur lined boots.
Curiosity had gotten the best of her and she needed to know what her youngest son had been doing in the backyard. She found the bush Sasuke was squatted at earlier and ducked down to examine it. It appeared empty until she saw the corner of a brown paper envelope sticking out through the fencing in the back, creeping into the Haruno side of the fence.
What is that?
“Okay, I’m in my backyard now.”
Mikoto ducked behind her bush when she heard the back door to the Haruno house swing open and Sakura talking. She sat completely still on the ground in a spot she was sure Sakura wouldn’t be able to see her.
“The bush? Which one exactly?”
Mikoto heard the crunching of the frozen grass underneath Sakura’s feet. The sound came sounded louder as she got closer to her hiding spot and then stopped. There was a rustling sound of something being yanked out of the bush’s branches and then a light giggling sound.
“Sneaky. I like it. Did you find your tomatoes? Yeah I got Naruto to open up your locker.”
There was a pause and then a ripping sound. Mikoto assumed that Sakura was opening the package.
“Aww. You made me mix CDs! That’s so cute. You shut up. I can call you cute and things you do cute if I want to. You’re super cute.”
Mikoto bit her lip to contain the giggle that wanted to escape. She could picture her son’s scowling face on the other line. It was starting to dawn on her that the package was a Valentine’s Day gift. She clapped a hand over her mouth when the urge to squeal almost took over. The cherry tomatoes were his Valentine’s Day gift from Sakura! It was a cute thing that Sakura had done in the past and it made her feel giddy to now know that the tradition had carried on.
“I’ll listen to them later. What kind of music did you put on them?” The sound of crunching frozen grass returned and Sakura’s voice started to sound far away. “I’ll slap you next time I see you if it’s all songs you’ve played while we’ve had sex Sasuke Uchiha. What do you mean some of them!?”
Mikoto started to choke on air and her face flushed with heat. What was originally just a cute moment took a sudden turn on her. As soon as she was sure Sakura was back in her house she stood up and dusted herself off.
She walked back into her house and took off her boots and exchanged them for her house slippers. Mikoto returned to kitchen and washed her hands before resuming her task of chopping vegetables. After a moment of trying to act normal she cracked and let out a squeal and a giggle of joy.
Sasuke has a girlfriend!
Mikoto hid her face in her hands, overwhelmed with how happy she was. She was so worried that Sasuke wasn’t enjoying his high school years and now she had proof that he was experiencing at least a little bit of happiness.
That’s all she wanted for her children. For them to be happy.
Chapter Fifteen: Confrontations And Requests
Out of both of her pregnancies, Itachi was the easiest. Even going into labor was a pleasant and quick experience. Mikoto joked that Itachi had decided that he was going to come out on his own terms. With no effort on her part, Itachi pushed himself out on June 9th in the early hours of the day.
He was a small but healthy baby. He only cried when dirty or hungry but he was fine with being left alone for long periods, never caring if he was being held or not.
Seven months later, Itachi was walking. Proper walking, not the waddling of toddlers with chubby legs, and he was climbing out of his crib, ready to take on the world. Fugaku found it amusing, calling him a little genius. It just made Mikoto sad. She saw it as a premonition. Itachi was ready to escape the confines of his mother’s nurturing and be his own person. He didn’t need anyone nor did he care for them.
Until he was five and Sasuke was born.
Sasuke was the opposite. Mikoto was tired more often and he kicked like crazy, always making his presence known. He was born the evening of July 23rd, after making his mother go through a lengthy labor. He almost didn’t make it. The umbilical cord was wrapped around Sasuke, almost strangling him if it weren’t for the placement of his left arm. The doctor had to dislocate his poor little arm in order to get him out safely.
Mikoto couldn’t put him down unless he was sleeping─if she could get him to sleep─ and it was like he could sense in his sleep if she walked too far from his location. He would wake up screaming until his little face turned red and thrash his arms around and kick his legs out.
Itachi was the biggest help. Sasuke would stop crying the moment he felt his brother pulling him into his arms. He would murmur softly as Itachi hummed to him, unable to sing any of Mikoto’s lullabies. Itachi would rock his brother in his swing as they both sat in a corner of the kitchen, not far from their mother.
Not far from their mother until Itachi grew more confident in the way he could care and watch over his brother. He would wander around the house and yards carrying Sasuke in front of him in a baby wrap carrier, even going as far as visiting the Harunos next door. It always fascinated him how the pink haired baby would chirp as soon as he was nearby and the way she would gurgle happily and her hazy green eyes would twinkle with mirth when he brought Sasuke to her.
Mebuki would lie Sasuke next Sakura and Sasuke would mumble a little and lift hooded sleepy eyes towards his crib mate and then close his eyes in peace. Itachi would watch the babies as he ate whatever sweet treat Mebuki offered him that day until Mikoto picked him and Sasuke up.
Sometimes Sasuke would protest, giving them soft cries of discomfort until Mebuki either packed Sakura’s diaper bag and joined the Uchihas for the rest of the day or handed Sakura off to Mikoto so that the two infants could nap together in the Uchiha home.
It was a nice peaceful first three months with Sasuke. That is until Naruto Uzumaki was born. He joined the other two babies, causing them all to get into shouting matches with his loud random outbursts for attention. Sakura would crawl away or lift herself off the ground with whatever she could reach to try and toddle away from him and his cries. She would fall only a few steps into her attempts, not quite ready for walking yet.
Mikoto wondered if she would have been an early walker like Itachi if Sakura weren’t so attached to Sasuke. She never seemed interested in crawling too far if it meant Sasuke couldn’t follow. Mikoto burst into a fit of giggles once watching a baby Sakura take her first few steps in her home and then look back at Sasuke still on the ground. She dropped to her bottom instantly and then crawled back.
When Sakura was ten months, Mebuki told Mikoto she could walk fine. It was only in the Uchiha house that she didn’t walk. So it didn’t surprise Mikoto that when Sasuke was ten months old and stumbling around that Sakura was walking with a toddler type of grace, leading him by the hand. Sasuke would hold on tight, only letting go when Itachi came home from school or taekwondo.
Mikoto joked to herself that it was too early, much too early for girls. Sakura couldn’t win when it came to Sasuke’s older brother. And she never dared to wonder if one day that would change. It was almost too much of a fantasy, love between neighbors.
Too much of a fantasy but one she wouldn’t have minded if it played out.
Mikoto snuck glances at her youngest son as he sat at the kitchen island, peeking down at his phone every now and then. Sasuke would type out a text, phone cradled protectively in his hands.
She had so many questions but she didn’t know the best way to approach him. How did one talk to their closed off teenage son? Mikoto never had any luck with Itachi and the downside of puberty was how it seemed to take her youngest away from her as well. What would she even address first?
How long have you liked Sakura Haruno?
Is this a recent thing? When did you start dating?
Are you making sure to practice safe sex? Do you use condoms? Please, for the love of all that is holy in the world, please tell me you are nothing but a gentleman and─
Mikoto was brought out of her thoughts by Sasuke’s concerned voice. She looked up from the tomato she was chopping for him, a small reward for finishing his lunch, and saw his eyebrows furrowed in worry and slight confusion.
“Here you go, Sasuke.” Mikoto salted the slices and dumped them into a small bowl before handing them over. Sasuke took the bowl from her reluctantly. Mikoto smiled at his pout as he ate. It was such a small thing but there was always a pleasant warmth around him when he got his favorite snack.
It was what she use to get him to cheer him up. It had the same effectiveness of a bandage. It covered the problem for the moment but it was still there.
Which was exactly what was going on right at this moment. Mikoto needed to say something, anything, to her son.
“How’s school?” Mikoto inwardly cringed at the generic question. “You think you’ll make the honor roll again this quarter?”
Sasuke blinked at her. He stared at her, silent, for what seemed like eons before he finally said anything.
“It’s fine. And yes.”
Short simple answers. Eyes downcast, Mikoto started to clean the island of the mess she had made chopping the tomato.
Mikoto’s head whipped up fast, eyes wide and pleading for more words.
“─want to go on a trip for Spring Break. Camping. Can I go?”
“Of course!” Mikoto dumped her knife and cutting board into the sink. “Are you going to need anything? Well of course you will, duh! We have sleeping bags, tents, and a cooler in the garage. You’ll have to dust those out. I’ll wash the sleeping bags and the cooler. How much money do you think you’ll need for the trip?”
Sasuke chewed on the corner of his lower lip and looked at his mother with upturned eyes. It was reminiscent to the look he gave her when he was younger and found stray kittens. The look where he wanted something he knew he couldn’t have.
“I want to fund the trip on my own. I want to get a job.”
Mikoto turned her back on him and rinsed the board and knife before sliding them into the dishwasher. It wasn’t that outrageous of a request. What kind of a parent didn’t want their child to become independent and show a sense of responsibility?
Mikoto. Mikoto was that parent. He wouldn’t need her for cash and that was just another way he was slipping away. But a job could be good for Sasuke. He would be out more and he would be making his own money to buy things he wanted.
Pay for dates he might want to go on.
“I would have to talk to your father. You know he has that rule. No work until after graduation and only if it doesn’t affect you when you start college.” And no dating until after graduation. From college even, if Fugaku had his way.
The sound of his disappointment was a knife to her heart. Was she really going to deny this? Was she really going to be complicit in her son’s further downward spiral? It wasn’t as if he was going to use the money to be buying ritalin or adderall. He just wanted to go camping and pay for it on his own.
And maybe even pay for future dates.
“I have a client. With a twelve year old daughter.” Mikoto turned around and gave Sasuke an encouraging smile. “She wants piano lessons,” Sasuke straightened up on his bar stool, “but she’s pretty stubborn and hates all the instructors that go to her house. I could see if they’re willing to give you a shot and how much the pay is. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with giving a few lessons. And in the meantime, I’ll try and convince your father that letting you get a job would be good for you.”
Mikoto sighed. It was a wonder how her son even got a girlfriend with his conversation skills. But then again, Sakura Haruno seemed to have had a soft spot for her son since they were in diapers.
I can’t even tease them about how cute they are.
It was obvious to Mikoto why Sasuke hadn’t said anything. His father was so traditional and didn’t think high schoolers should be pairing off and dating when they should be focusing on their studies. Although Mikoto grew up with parents that were traditional as well─her parents had introduced her to a twenty-one year old Fugaku and his family when she was sixteen in the hopes that the two of them would wed in the future─she didn’t think there was anything wrong with dating when young. She loved her husband and her kids but sometimes she wondered if she and Fugaku would have married when she was so young if their courtship wasn’t so formal.
“So who’s going on the trip?”
“Naruto, his cousin Karin, Sai and his girlfriend, Sakura─”
“Girls are going on the overnight trip?”
“Yes. Sai insisted on bringing Yamanaka and then she insisted on bringing Sakura along. Aunt Kushina wants Karin and Naruto to spend more time together and the only way she would go is if the other two girls went. So it’s kind of unavoidable.”
Mikoto almost smirked at how casually Sasuke gave her the explanation. It was the most he said the entire day which was the only thing that gave him away with how forced his nonchalant attitude was coming across. She expected him to just tell her that it wouldn’t be a big deal and that the conversation would end there.
“Suigetsu is coming because Karin is and Jūgo is going because he likes camping.”
“Jūgo? Jūgo Sakaguchi?”
“It’s the only Jūgo I know.”
“I hope he has fun.”
Mikoto was being honest. She really did hope he enjoyed himself. The poor child had been through so much when they had all gone to Oto. Fugaku had told her that the teacher that had been abusing him by locking him away whenever he had a manic episode had been arrested. Most of the abusive teachers at Oto were terminated and removed from the staff but that was one of the teachers she refused to believe anyone would condone the actions of and just quietly let them go.
She knew that Inoichi Yamanaka offered to help him with his bipolar disorder. He offered his services to all former Oto students, especially the boarding students, that had been neglected and their mental illnesses not taken seriously.
It made Mikoto’s heart ache to think what could have possibly happened if her depressed child wasn’t one of the students that returned home every day.
“Your hair is getting pretty long.” Mikoto changed the subject. She was going to get as much conversation as she could. “It doesn’t stick up anymore.”
She walked around the island and fluffed the end of his short ponytail. He had the habit of tying it up when he was doing something like eating or working out. He had refused to let Izumi cut his hair except to give him long, comb swept bangs. Mikoto didn’t like how Sasuke hid his face but she didn’t argue if he liked the style.
“It’s still pretty thick though.”
Mikoto chuckled as she felt the ends of his ponytail. He was right. The thickness of his hair made his hair feel almost like a paintbrush when she brushed it along her palm. His hair did have a healthy shine to it and was pretty soft when let down though. Izumi had gotten into the habit of bringing in hair products she was becoming fond of at school for the Uchihas to try for themselves.
“Are you going to grow it out as long as Itachi’s hair?”
“No. Just didn’t want it to stick up anymore. And I wasn’t going to buzz my hair short.” Sasuke got up and rinsed his bowl, stuffing it into the dishwasher. “I’m going to my room. I have homework.”
Mikoto stood alone in her kitchen feeling conflicted. She was elated that Sasuke spoke with her, but it just wasn’t enough.
After sitting at his desk doing paperwork for six hours, all Itachi wanted to do was go to sleep. His back hurt, his legs hurt, his ass hurt, and his brain was dead. His eyes were starting to cross from staring at the computer monitor all day.
One more hour. One more hour and I can go home and take a percocet and knock out until tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll let Mother massage my legs.
Itachi grabbed the reports he was busy transferring into a digital format and filed them away in their boxes. On days that he wasn’t feeling well enough to interact with people, he typed up the written reports of the week. A lot of the older staff members still didn’t work with computers but it made it harder to search for reports if everyone had to rifle through cabinets and boxes.
Itachi grabbed his next box and pulled out officer reports for the day. He looked down and sighed. The only thing he was able to read was the officer’s information at top. He rifled through the rest of the files and noticed the same trend of illegible content. Itachi packed the box up and made his way out of his cubicle to the pod of desks.
As soon as he reached Taiko’s empty desk he dumped the box on top of it. He stared at the desk for a moment. He was in pain and irritated and everything he was feeling had bottled up and couldn’t be contained in his state. He turned away from the desk and headed to the back office, throwing the door open and slamming it shut behind him.
Fugaku looked up, eyes widening a fraction at the intrusion.
“How low will you go Father?”
“I beg pardon?” Fugaku pushed the papers he was looking through away from him and braced his hands on the desk. He looked up at Itachi, giving him his undivided attention.
“What is your problem with the Harunos? What is your problem with Sakura Haruno, a little girl?” Itachi seethed. “Taiko, Father? He’s vile and I am surprised you even allow him to work here.”
“What does Taiko have to do with Sakura Haruno?” Fugaku’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Itachi opened his mouth and then closed it. He was taken aback at how confused his father was.
“He’s been following her around.” Fugaku’s eyes went wide. “Shisui caught him harassing her at the mall. He stalked her and then claimed she was shoplifting when he was confronted. He followed her around for hours. Taiko was targeting her and I want to know why.”
Fugaku was silent for a moment. There was a flash of something across his face that Itachi could only describe as disappointment before his mouth settled into a hard line.
“I was unaware of this,” he said softly. Itachi could hear the honesty in his voice and could see it in his expression. His father wasn’t a liar. But he was too frustrated and continued on.
“I find that hard to believe. You have Sasuke followed.” Itachi watches his father sigh and rub his temple with his index finger and thumb.
“That’s because I’m worried. I wanted him followed by Shisui because he was someone that would steer him away from trouble but cared enough about him to be gentle and not try to arrest your brother if he saw him doing something he shouldn’t be. But Shisui gave him too much leeway and there was time that couldn’t be accounted for. But I didn’t ask for anyone to interfere with Sakura Haruno’s life.”
“Sasuke wants to be a cop when he finishes school. He wants to eventually be a detective. He knows better and you’re being way too hard on him.”
“You’re so soft with your brother.” Fugaku brushed a knuckle on a photo frame on his desk. Itachi couldn’t see what the photo was from where he was standing. “I don’t want him to fall into the same habits he did when he was in Oto.”
“He’s better,” Itachi said firmly. “But you know that it wasn’t completely his fault, right Father?”
Fugaku averted his gaze, narrowing his eyes at a spot on the area rug in his office. Itachi took a moment to breathe deeply as he watched his father’s tense expression. He sometimes forgot that raising his voice and getting angry made him even more tired, made it harder to breathe, and made his heart race painfully.
“He was stressed. He is stressed.” Itachi took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. “He has anxiety and clinical depression and you’re stressing him out. You need to let him be seventeen. That involves fun with friends and getting his first job and falling in─”
“No.” Fugaku snapped out of his daze and stood up, glaring at Itachi. He braced his hands on his desk and leaned forward. “He is too young and he doesn’t know what is good for him yet. We’re not discussing that.”
“Why do you hate her so much? Sakura’s the kindest and brightest─”
“She is.” Fugaku nodded in agreement. “She is a sweet and smart girl. And she doesn’t deserve the mistreatment she’s been receiving from someone of our department but she isn’t the right fit for your younger brother. It’s better if he figures that out now.”
“What does being the right fit mean to you?” Itachi’s throat started to ache. His chest constricted painfully. He had to remind himself that he was talking about Sakura and Sasuke. “What about feelings? Shouldn’t that matter? Did you marry Mother because she was the ‘right fit’? Did she match your criteria so you made her your wife? Young woman to stay home and care for your house and children?”
“Watch yourself Itachi.” Fugaku’s eyes flashed with anger. Itachi stared deeply into the deep deep brown, almost black, of the eyes that matched his own. “Do not talk about your mother that way.”
“That was uncalled for,” Itachi agreed. He tried to take another calming breath but he ended up gagging on air. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes from the pain of breathing. “I shouldn’t have,” Itachi wheezed, “brought her into this.”
Fugaku’s face softened and he walked around his desk. He placed a hand on his son’s back and rubbed circles. He muttered softly to Itachi, telling him to relax and that he was there, just to breathe, just focus on breathing.
“You should go home. Shisui should be finishing his patrol soon. He’ll take you home.”
Itachi sat down in one of the chairs in his father’s office wheezing and mentally cursing his body.
How was he going to get anything done if his body was fighting against him?
Mentally drained, Sasuke collapsed on his bed. Girls were hard enough to deal with, twelve year old bratty girls that would rather bat their eyelashes at him instead of learning how to play the piano properly were even worse. At least he had job security. He was sure his mother’s client would face hell if they tried to get rid of him.
Sasuke’s cell phone chirped but he refused to move to reach it. He just wanted to lie down and relax for a moment. It chirped two more times but he ignored it. He could deal with whatever the texts were in a moment. He was starting to get sleepy when his ringtone went off.
“What?” Sasuke huffed out in irritation.
“Rude. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait, what?” The phone clicked and Sasuke entered his passcode to call Sakura back. Finally looking down at his phone he noticed that the messages were from her. He dialed Sakura’s number and put it on speaker. He walked into his closet to grab clothes to relax in and opened up the text messages. He almost dropped his phone when the images popped up on his screen.
“Are you going to be polite now?”
“Uh…” Sasuke’s eyes were drawn to the bare, lightly freckled shoulders on his phone’s screen. Sakura had sent him a photo of her sitting on her vanity, taking a picture of herself and the reflection of her back. His eyes dropped down to the lower curve of her back. Sheer mesh shorts were the only thing in his way from looking at her lush, lush─
“Sasuke? Are you still there?”
“I think so,” he mumbled. He scrolled down to the next photo. Sakura was lying on her back on her bed, waving at him. The straps were falling off of her shoulders but it made no difference if her top fell loose. It wasn’t as if it were doing anything to preserve her modesty. He didn’t even bother to look at the next photo.
Sasuke turned speaker off and closed his messages.
“You know I can’t keep these on my phone, right?”
“They were more like an invitation. Neither of our parents are home right now. But I’m actually really tired…maybe I should just take a nap.”
“Uh-huh.” Sasuke almost snorted at the teasing lilt in Sakura’s voice. He changed out of his long sleeve shirt and put on a random shirt from his shelf. He then slipped out of his jeans and into a pair of basketball shorts. He went into his bathroom and put on more deodorant and tied his hair up neater. “A nap would be good.”
“A nap would be good for the both of us. We should both take a nap. Maybe even take a nap together?”
“I’ll be there in a sec.”
Sasuke headed down the stairs, taking them two at a time. He sent a text to his mother that he wasn’t going to be home when she came back from her errands because he went for a run. Checking to make sure the coast was clear he made his way to the Haruno’s backdoor and walked into the den. He knew from experience that if both of their families weren’t home that she would leave that door unlocked for him.
Once he was in the safety of the Haruno home he relaxed his posture and moved more casually. Sasuke always acted like that when it came to sex, acted as if he could take it or leave it. He continued to act that way even though Sakura could see right through him because she let him do it. Sasuke was sure she found amusement from they way he so easily came undone when they were alone after acting nonchalant about their activities.
“Hey.” Sasuke found Sakura sitting on the edge of her bed, biting her lower lip through a nervous smile. He sat down next to her, hands in his lap. There was a weird aura around them, almost like how they were after their first sexual encounter.
“Hi.” Sasuke’s neck heated up, embarrassment taking over. He felt sixteen all over again. Sasuke fingered one of Sakura’s straps, hooking his pinky under it. “So what’s up with this?”
“Hm? Oh, I just wanted to do something different.” Sakura tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Nervous habit. “Got new pajamas. What do you think?”
Sasuke snorted at the word ‘pajamas’. The flimsy mesh material couldn’t constitute as any sort of sleepwear. He turned to Sakura and easily pulled her onto his lap so that she was straddling him. He pressed a kiss to the hollow of her throat and then down her sternum. With his hands on her back, he pushed her even closer to him, suckling on her breast through the mesh. Sasuke pulled away when Sakura let out sound between a whimper and a whine.
“These aren’t pajamas. I wouldn’t be able to see this if they were.” Sasuke took two fingers and stroked Sakura through the mesh, his actions pushing pale pink hair against the sheer white fabric. “It’s more like…pretty gift wrap? Special occasion? Your birthday’s the only thing close enough and it isn’t even for another two weeks.”
“It’s just been a while and I thought it would be nice,” Sakura murmured. “Don’t I look cute?”
Cute would have been putting it mildly. Cute was a more accurate word to use for her reasoning behind dressing up or dressing down in the case at hand. Sasuke knew she was aiming more for sexy but that still wasn’t the right adjective. It was…too crude of a word in Sasuke’s opinion. The warmth in his chest from how much effort Sakura put into this moment wouldn’t allow for the word.
Beautiful. Sasuke would have to say that Sakura was beautiful. With flushed red cheeks and dusty rose hair tumbling over creamy shoulders, she was the most wondrous sight he ever laid his eyes on. Green, greener than green, eyes staring down at him with complete adoration had everything to do with the feeling of wanting to be closer than their bodies allowed.
Sakura leaned her forehead against his, their eyelashes brushing against each other. Her pouty pink lips parted slightly as she looked into his eyes. She cupped his neck with her hands, rubbing her thumbs along his jawline. Sakura pressed a gentle kiss to his mouth and Sasuke reciprocated, allowing their kisses to remain slow no matter how heated he got with the lazy manner her tongue swirled against his.
Sasuke slid his hands underneath her camisole feeling how her stomach clenched when his fingers ghosted on her skin. Sasuke smiled against her lips and Sakura made a small whining sound. In retaliation she mirrored his actions, her small hands causing his stomach muscles to tense.
“You have way too many clothes on.” Sakura tugged his shirt over his head and then giggled. “Your hair’s a mess now.”
Sakura removed his hair tie and massaged his scalp, gently scraping it with her blunt nails. Sasuke’s hands slid down to the band of her shorts and he snapped at the elastic. Sakura clicked her tongue and stood up to remove the shorts. She got back onto the bed, pulling on Sasuke’s hand to get him to lie down with her.
“Touch me?” Sakura pleaded. She reached over and palmed Sasuke’s crotch rubbing him through his shorts. Sasuke nodded and reached between her thighs to stroke at the velvet softness of her nether lips. He went at a slow pace until Sakura pulled his cock out of his shorts and began to stroke him. He slipped his ring and middle fingers inside of her and thrusted at the same pace she stroked him.
“Enough,” Sasuke panted, pulling Sakura’s hand away from him. She pouted when he stopped her from her fun but gasped when Sasuke fondled her little bundle of nerves with his thumb.
“You’re so unfair,” Sakura sobbed between her moans. She buried her face into his arm, squeezing his bicep with her hands, nails digging into his flesh.
“Deal with it.” Sasuke kissed her again to swallow her cry as she came on his hand. He sat up on his knees and helped Sakura sit up to help her remove her camisole. He got off of the bed to remove his shorts and as soon he got them off, Sakura was sitting on the edge of the bed again, pulling him towards her by the hips.
Sakura gave him a saucy wink and then gripping him with one hand, licked him from the his base all the way up his shaft. She swirled her tongue around his tip and gave it a long suck before letting him go with a loud pop!
“I want you now. How about you?” Sakura scooted back on her bed and beckoned him to join her with a finger.
“You get really impatient.” Sasuke settled himself between her thighs and propped himself up with his forearms on either side of her head. Instead of doing what she wanted, Sasuke grinded his hips against her hips, rubbing his cock against her, and went back to kissing her, tracing his tongue on the parts of her mouth that gave him the most reactions. He dragged his tongue slowly along her frenulum and the roof of her mouth behind her teeth.
Sakura whimpered into his mouth and sank her fingers into his thick hair, tugging on it, trying to pull him closer to her than he already was. She slid her legs up his and wrapped them around his waist.
“You’re being kind of gentle today.” Sakura narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. Sasuke chuckled inwardly, knowing that it was throwing her off. He was only ever gentle when he was sleepy.
“It’s been a while and I thought it would be nice,” Sasuke teased her. Sakura opened her mouth to retort but let a low moan when he sank into her at that exact moment. He began a slow and steady pace with his thrusts and Sakura let out a frustrated huff.
“It’s going to be like that today isn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sasuke continued to rock slowly against Sakura. Sakura’s brows furrowed in confusion but soon enough her expression melted into one of pleasure as Sasuke made his thrusts deeper despite the slow pace. It would be easy to take her hard and fast, especially when there was no chance of anyone hearing them no matter how loud they were. But it felt like he needed to be gentle and sweet. Like how Sakura was.
“Let’s just take our time. There’s nothing or anyone for us to worry about right now.” Sasuke snaked his hand down Sakura’s arm, taking her hand in his and interlocked their fingers. Sakura squeezed his hand and nodded.
Sasuke adjusted their position so that he could mold his body with Sakura’s better. Sakura followed his lead and hooked her arms under his and around his back, pulling him down closer to her. There was a slight look of frustration on her face as she clung to him, pushing his body more towards her. She gnawed at her lower lip and looked up at him with eyes full of desperation.
Sasuke guessed he wasn’t the only one frustrated with how that was as close as they physically could be.
He pulled back and sat up. Sakura scrambled to sit on his lap and he helped guide his cock inside of her. She sighed contently when he filled her up again and began to grind down on him. Sasuke helped her move by guiding with his hands on her hips. He slid his hands down to her ass and cupped it, squeezing it and pushing her closer to him so that her breasts rubbed up against his chest.
After a beat, Sakura decided to take the lead, pulling herself up and back down on his length, gradually picking up a faster pace. She gripped onto Sasuke’s shoulder until she no longer could hold back and wrapped her arms around his neck to give him a fierce kiss that was all tongue and teeth.
Thrown off by the new aggressive tone to the act, Sasuke fell onto his back, Sakura falling with him and bumping their heads together.
“Ow…” Sakura frowned and rubbed her forehead. Sasuke grunted and rubbed his jaw. Sakura bit her lip but it did nothing to hide the fact that she was smiling. Sasuke raised an eyebrow at her and she giggled. “My bad?”
“We aren’t in any rush, Sakura.” Sasuke wrapped his arms around her waist and Sakura settled against him, snuggling against his chest. “We can take our time.”
They lied like that for a moment in silence before Sasuke cleared his throat.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t continue.”
“R-right!” Sakura sat up and braced her hands on his chest. She went into the slow grinding pace she enjoyed and Sasuke let her have the lead. “Let’s just take our time. We’re the only ones we have to worry about.”
“Exactly. Just us.”
Sasuke kicked off his tennis shoes and lined them up on the rack in the front hall closet. He was out a lot longer than he intended and didn’t want to do anything that could upset his mother even more.
It was obvious how his mother wanted for him to open up more like how he use to but it was much more difficult now than when he was a pre-teen. There was something that made it harder to talk to her freely. Something that gnawed at Sasuke’s insides. He wasn’t even sure he deserved any of her attention. What in his life was more difficult than what was going on with Itachi? Nothing. So it made more sense for everyone to allocate any care or free time to his older brother.
“That was a long run.”
Sasuke stood up and closed the closet door only to see his mother standing in the middle of the foyer with her hands on her hips. There was a wrinkle between her eyebrows that Sasuke came to associate with her being upset more than any other form of body language.
“I got caught up in the trails and ended up near the Cherrydale neighborhood,” Sasuke supplied, having already come up with a probable distance he could have run. “Got tired and walked most of the way back.”
Mikoto took a few steps towards him until she was close enough to reach over and pinched at the shoulder of Sasuke’s shirt. She plucked something off of it and held it up to him.
Sasuke’s eyes widened as his mother held up a long, pale strand of pink hair in front of his face. His mother’s face was blank but she balled up the hair in her fist.
“You should go wash up for dinner.”
Sasuke swallowed hard and nodded. He started to make his way up the stairs when his mother called out to him.
“I wish you would trust me more. Talked to me more.”
Sasuke continued up the stairs, not sure if he wanted to look back and see what kind of expression his mother was wearing on her face.
Mikoto couldn’t help but be jealous of her friend Kushina. Mikoto had two sons and neither one of them had a close relationship with her. There were no secrets between Kushina and Naruto but it seemed like that was all there was between her and her own children.
She knew Fugaku was strict and overbearing at times but did her sons really find it that difficult to separate their parental figures apart from each other? Wasn’t she always the gentle one of the two? The easiest to approach?
In the case of Itachi, he had always been withdrawn, but when he was nineteen and needed to see a doctor for his various ailments he at least confided in his mother.
When Sasuke became withdrawn she had to rifle through pamphlets and books to find out what was going on with her young teen. If it wasn’t for her insistence that he see a therapist, he would have talked to no one.
But what was the likelihood that perhaps he had a confidant in Sakura? Unless she misconstrued the nature of their relationship and it wasn’t as emotionally intimate as she would hope.
Her youngest son being just a hormonal teen was not something she had bothered to contemplate. It would have been out of character. And not a single one of her memories from when the kids were younger led her to believe that Sasuke wouldn’t care for Sakura deeply.
One of her favorite memories was the flustered look on his face when he gave Sakura Haruno a bouquet of daffodils. She thought it was an unusual choice until she saw how brightly Sakura’s face lit up. They were obviously her favorites.
It reminded Mikoto of Fugaku and how he use to bring her potted plants when he was courting her. His mother looked so disappointed when he handed over the first pot of succulents but they made her so happy. Mikoto didn’t like cuts of flowers. Bouquets withered and died but she could continue to nurture any potted plant she received. Different but perfect for her. And obviously a sign of effort in getting to know her.
She wasn’t just a girl introduced to him by his parents. Mikoto felt like so much more than that. So she continued to let him come over to her house and talk to her.
Almost all of the house plants in the Uchiha home were potted plants Fugaku brought home to her or had delivered if they were too large. If he continued to bring her more it would appear as if they were living in a rainforest.
Mikoto sighed and closed her book. She looked over at her husband who was reading over some documents while he sat on the edge of their bed. Smiling to herself, she slid behind him and began to massage his shoulders.
“Mikoto?” Fugaku turned to face her, startled at the sudden act of intimacy.
“You’re doing it again. No work in the bedroom, remember?” She placed a kiss to his nape and he sighed, tossing the forms onto the nightstand on his side of their bed. “A difficult case?”
“That would be easier. I have to suspend Taiko indefinitely.”
“Ryuichi’s son?” Mikoto frowned at the mention of Fugaku’s friend’s son.
Mikoto could feel his muscles relax under her hands and smiled to herself. Her husband was such a tense man. She wasn’t giving him as much attention as she probably should be but she was so preoccupied with what was going on with her sons. There was a slight drift between the couple after Itachi was hospitalized. They acted like partners more often than husband and wife.
“I feel bad about this but I will have to add to your stress.” Mikoto paused in her massage and placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder, willing him to turn to face her. Fugaku removed his reading glasses and covered her hand with his own.
“What is it?”
“Sasuke wants to apply for a job and I think we should let him.” Fugaku sighed and Mikoto quickly spoke up again to cut of whatever retort he had. “It would be good for him! He’s so antisocial and this would help him interact with other people.”
“He should focus on school. He can wait until after graduation.”
“That won’t be for another few months. Please reconsider,” Mikoto implored. Her hand slid off of his shoulder and into her lap. She stared at the lines in her palms and said softly, “He never asks me for anything anymore. This is the first thing he’s wanted that he’s actually voiced in a long time.
“He’ll grow up and move out and his memory of home will be that his mother didn’t care enough to help him with the one thing he asked of her when he was seventeen. How sad would that be, Fugaku?”
A strong hand cupped the side of Mikoto’s neck and she gazed up at her husband. His lips were pursed as he stared off into space, deep in thought. After a beat he sighed in defeat.
“He can apply for jobs but, and this is important, he must first clear where he’s applying to with me and as soon as his grades start slipping he has to quit.”
“Okay.” Mikoto pressed a kiss to the palm of his hand and smiled sweetly at her husband.
“Let’s go to sleep.”
“Yes. Good night, dear.”
Mikoto pulled up her duvet to her chest and folded her arms beneath her breasts. She blinked away a happy tear, glad that there would be something to discuss with Sasuke about the following day.