Chapter Six: Back-Talk
Inuzuka Hana slid into the available seat next to Izumi. The other brunette tutted at her and tapped a finger on her wrist.
“Sorry. My idiot brother ate chocolate again and I had to wait for his medication to start working.” Hana had a way of sounding affectionate while still being annoyed with Kiba.
“When is that kid ever going to remember that he’s allergic to it?” Shisui’s voice came out sounding thick as he had just stuffed a piece of meat into his mouth. He had gone ahead and started cooking the meat while they waited for Hana to arrive.
“Hopefully before the next false alarm.” Itachi served the girls some of the more choice grilled meat slices before taking any pieces for himself.
“There was another false alarm?” Hana’s jaw dropped.
“We didn’t head home until the sun was already up,” Izumi let out a large yawn.
Hana patted her shoulder sympathetically. She had been friends with the Uchiha trio long enough to know about how the entire clan would stand vigil whenever their ancient former clan head seemed as though he were about to finally pass away.
The wizened old man was practically senile at this point but it was as if he refused to die.
“Obito-nii was freaking out because he thought Madara had finally croaked but the old man just turned over and asked him for his breakfast and then got up and walked around complaining about how useless his caretaker was.”
Shisui paused in his explanation to stuff more meat into his mouth.
“He called Sasuke Izuna again. I never get tired of that. The little guy just sighs now and peels his tangerines. Doesn’t even grumble about it not being his name anymore.”
“Speaking of Sasuke,” Hana rolled her eyes and let out a breathy laugh, “I heard he’s going to be named rookie of the year.”
“Let me guess,” Izumi examined her nails to try and hide the smug grin creeping onto her face, “Kiba has been complaining about our little guy?”
“Wow, how did you know?” Hana asked sarcastically. She let out a sigh and pouted. “I swear Kiba has ADHD. He could have been rookie of the year if he applied himself.”
Shisui snorted which earned him a glare from Hana. Itachi tried to frown at him but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. Izumi just gave Hana’s shoulder a comforting pat.
“Sasuke is a dork but I wouldn’t have expected anyone else to take that spot.” Shisui leaned back and patted his stomach. “I am stuffed.”
“You ate two thirds of the meat on your own,” Itachi noted. “And all of the pickled daikon.”
“Ita-kun had to fill up on rice because of you,” Izumi scolded Shisui.
“Well maybe you should just cook us up something later. I know Hazuki-san has been teaching you how to cook.”
“That would be nice,” Itachi agreed.
“Come on guys,” Izumi protested, “I’m still terrible at it.”
“I’m sure you’re not that bad. You do everything well.”
“And you probably look super cute in an apron too,” Shisui added with a wink. “Give Itachi a run for his money.”
“Will you three please stop flirting in front of the single mess over here,” Hana feigned a glum tone as she joked.
As she was Izumi’s best friend she was trusted with the status of their relationship. She would have had to have been blind not to notice. Hana always teased Izumi about how she smelled of both boys after any of them came back from a long mission. Izumi’s face would flush red and she would stammer as Hana barked out a laugh at her in embarrassment.
“Awww!” Izumi wrapped her arms around Hana and brought her into a tight embrace. “You’ll always be my favorite.”
“Hey!” Shisui turned to Itachi for backup but was ignored by him in favor of drinking his tea.
The girls laughed at him and Izumi slid the bill across to him.
“You did eat the most.”
“Now that’s just mean Izumi.” Hana shook her head and pulled out her wallet. “I’ll pitch in too Shisui.”
“You know what, you’re my favorite too.”
Ino was digging through Sakura’s bag for a hair brush when she found a neat little carton of the best fruit in the world.
“Yum! My favorite,” Ino chirped pulling out the box of cherry tomatoes. “The perfect snack for break time.”
“Those aren’t for you Ino!” Sakura snatched the box out of her hands.
“If not for me than who?” Ino snatched the box back.
Ino watched as Sakura’s face practically glowed red. Flustered, Sakura averted her gaze and muttered something under her breath. Ino heard her but decided to tease her by pretending she hadn’t.
“I’m sorry I still can’t hear a thing you’re saying.”
“Sasuke-kun, okay?” Sakura snatched the carton of tomatoes back. “He got rookie of the year and I wanted to give him something and he doesn’t like sweets.”
“What about my gift? I got top scores too!” Ino pouted and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“But did you get rookie of the year?”
“No,” Ino said glumly, still pouting. Sakura wanted to roll her eyes. Ino was taking this so seriously.
“Fine,” Sakura sighed. “I’ll make you some pudding later.”
“Yay!” Ino threw her arms around her neck. “Now come here so I can get those tangles out of your hair.”
Ino reached back into Sakura’s bag. As she grabbed the brush her hand brushed against a jar. Curious, Ino pulled it out of the bag as well.
“I also made a salve…for burns,” Sakura mumbled. “I use it for burns I get when I work in the shop. I thought I might, I don’t know, give him some?”
Ino stifled a groan. This was what always made her so frustrated with Sakura! She was doing so well with breaking out of her shell but then there were these little clouds of self-doubt and Sakura would draw back into herself.
“Give it to me then.”
“Well, I technically helped make the salve. I knew where all of the ingredients you needed could be found.” Ino shrugged. “I could give it to Sasuke-kun. It’s not like he’s any less cute now that I’ve met Sai-kun.”
Sakura’s jade eyes went wide and her jaw dropped open. Her right eye was twitching and it was obvious that Sakura wanted to say something but she was holding back. It was a hilarious sight but laughing would ruin Ino’s little game.
“Don’t you think giving such a practical gift would show Sasuke-kun such a mature side of me?” Ino shook her head slightly to shake out her long ponytail in a flirtatious manner. “Like I’m sure he already knows how gorgeous I am but what a way to remind him of how smart and considerate I am, right?”
It was Ino’s turn for her jaw to drop.
Sakura’s pale pink brows were drawn forward in a glare, her round cheeks puffed out and flushed red. It was the angriest look Sakura had ever sent in Ino’s direction.
“Stubbornly draping yourself all over him all of the time and squealing like a little pig despite his obvious discomfort,” Sakura huffed. She puffed her chest out, hands on her hips. “Really attractive Ino, really. Just so appealing.”
Ino scoffed, absolutely insulted. She wanted Sakura to be more honest but not that much.
“I at least do something.” Ino jabbed Sakura’s forehead with her pointer finger. “The brain behind this giant forehead is only good for books but not for real life apparently.”
Sakura sucked air in and puffed her cheeks out more, face turning an even darker shade of red. She snatched the jar out of Ino’s hand and stormed off mumbling under her breath something that sounded like “I’ll show that pig doing something.”
“Finally,” Ino exhaled feeling exhausted. Grabbing her bag she headed into the Academy building.
I can’t believe she called me a pig!
Exhausted as he was, the graduation test was a breeze.
Sasuke packed up his hitai-ate into his pack and stifled a yawn. He was ready to head home and have a cat nap out on the engawa with Shiro and all of the cats.
Naruto had originally wanted to drag him along to celebrate graduation. Sasuke was almost willing to go along with the hyperactive kid. There was a part of him that was relieved that his friend had shaped up enough in the end to graduate, but there was another part of him that wanted to go home and rest.
And there was a bigger part of him that wanted to rush home and show off his new hitai-ate to his family.
He didn’t graduate early like his brother or Izumi. No one graduated early anymore but there was always hope to be the exception just to prove that he could be just as great as Itachi. But he was the top of his class and now officially the youngest shinobi in the Uchiha clan. A shinobi like his loved ones. He finally had the forehead protector that put him one step closer to his older brother’s level.
So he was a little proud of himself.
All he had to do know was get home without being stopped by anymore people trying to congratulate him.
Almost as soon as he thought he was in the clear and was heading down the road that lead to the far side of the village to the Uchiha district someone called out to him.
He would have ignored it and pretended he hadn’t heard of it weren’t for the fact that the voice sounded familiar. A good kind of familiar.
All day it seemed as if Sakura had something she wanted to say to him but couldn’t get the words out. It was such a contradiction to the usual chatter that flowed out of her.
Sasuke slowed to a complete stop to allow her to catch up. He was avoiding everyone but it didn’t seem right to ignore Sakura.
There was also a part of him that was kind of hoping maybe Sakura had come to congratulate him. There was something pleasurable about her acknowledgement that was different than the recognition from that of his family.
It was a kind of pleasure that made the back of his neck heat up and his stomach go light and airy when her eyes sparkled as she beamed up at him.
Sakura’s gaze was averted but there was a pretty bloom of pink flushed on her cheeks. A bashful tuck of her hair behind her ears brought his attention up to the hitai-ate tied on top of her head where her red ribbon was previously.
No more bunny ears…
Sasuke looked at her expectantly. There was no way she had traveled to the far end of the village just to stand in front of him.
“I, uh, got you something.”
Sakura swung her pack off of her shoulders. For the first time that day Sasuke noticed that it was misshapen, a different sort of bulk than it usually had when it was filled with her books and journals.
“Just to say congrats, you know? It’s really amazing that you got rookie of the year—not that I doubted you would get it! It wasn’t a surprise at all, really…”
Now she was rambling. Sakura did that often but usually it only took a look from him for her to realize she was straying from the point and she would get right on track. But she wasn’t looking at him, keeping her eyes trained on the ground.
Sakura thrust out her arms in front of her. In her hands was a carton of cherry tomatoes and a flat, circular jar.
“It’s an ointment for burns,” Sakura explained. “You favor your katon and well, your forearm protectors don’t really do anything for your cheeks so uh…”
Her voice trailed off and that’s when Sasuke realized he still hadn’t made a move to take the gifts she was offering.
“Thank you,” he said softly, finally taking the gifts.
That was the magic of Sakura.
Naruto was his first friend, fated to be his friend since the day Kushina made that wish, but Naruto didn’t really understand him. They were always at each other’s throats and arguing but that’s just how they were.
Barbaric as it was, they were friends that spoke with their fists.
And then there was Sakura who seemed to be able to get him even with how little he contributed to their conversations in comparison to how much she filled them.
“I hope you find it to be soothing.”
Sakura smiled so sweetly that all Sasuke could do was nod in response. He was the one receiving a gift and yet Sakura was the one that looked overjoyed. It was strange making someone that wasn’t his mother or his brother so happy by doing so little.
It was strange but he wanted to do it again. He swallowed and quickly thought of the first thing that came to mind considering where they were standing.
“We’re pretty close to that senbei shop I told you about. Do you want to—“
Sasuke stiffened at the call of his name. There was no mistaking that voice.
“Hey Little Uchiha!” Shisui ran up to the pair and ruffled Sasuke’s already disheveled feathery hair.
“Cut it out!” Sasuke grit his teeth and elbowed his older cousin. Shisui always had the worst timing. Or convenient timing as it seemed like it was his life mission to embarrass Sasuke whenever possible.
In retaliation for the elbow to his ribs, Shisui placed Sasuke in a headlock.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Sakura-san.”
Sasuke turned as much as he could to see his brother bowing in greeting to Sakura, having missed when she had introduced herself.
“So cute!” Shisui dropped his hold on Sasuke and proceeded to ruffle Sakura’s hair with both hands.
“Shisui!” Sasuke hissed. Normally so polite, Shisui was being overly familiar and rude.
“Hands off the prepubescent girl, Shisui,” Izumi scolded knocking his head with her knuckles.
Hypocrite, Sasuke griped inwardly. She has reacted the same when she first met Sakura.
“I’m pubescent,” he heard Sakura mutter under her breath.
“Izumi is going to make us an early dinner. Would you care to join us?” Itachi smiled pleasantly, holding up the shopping bags in his hands as if they further explained what he meant.
Sasuke choked on air at his brother’s invitation. How did he make everything seem so easy? The words came out so smoothly while they were trapped in his own throat.
“Izumi-nee knows how to cook?” Sakura clasped her hands together in front of her chest, beaming up at the older girl in admiration.
“We’re about to find out,” Shisui answered while giving Izumi a smirk.
“I wish I could but I have to go help my parents in their shop today. I keep running out of allowance.” Sakura rubbed the back of her neck, giving them a sheepish smile. “It was nice meeting you all though. Bye Sasuke-kun, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sakura turned and jogged down the road, her long hair trailing after her. Sasuke was watching her until she turned the corner until he felt the eerie sensation of being watched.
“What?” He glared at his brother’s lovers. They snickered into their hands, not taking him seriously.
Itachi emitted a sigh, causing Sasuke’s head to snap in his direction.
“That’s just too bad, Sasuke. I guess your invitation for senbei would have been turned down as well. Better luck next time.”
Sasuke’s cheeks heated up. He didn’t think they were close enough to hear him!
“It’s none of your business!” He snapped at them before marching into the Uchiha district.
“What did I say?” Itachi blinked at his younger brother’s retreating back.
“Don’t worry about it Ita-kun.” Izumi rubbed his upper arm in a comforting manner. “It’s just puberty.”
Shisui cringed at Izumi’s words and held himself tightly.
“May the gods be with us.”
Sakura was wiping down a table when Nara Shikamaru strolled in.
“They’re in the patio,” she answered his unasked question. Besides picking up satchels of his mother’s favorite jasmine tea, Shikamaru was also tasked with locating his father who was most likely hiding in the Haruno’s tea house, playing shogi with Haruno Kizashi.
“I’ll let him play another game. I don’t feel like heading home yet. You free for a round?”
“I can’t play today.” Sakura gestured to the apron she was wearing. “I’m working. Want a cup of tea?”
“Do I gotta pay for it?”
“Nah. I’m in a pretty good mood so it’s on me.”
Sakura went back into the kitchen and prepared some Shui Hsien tea. It was a favorite in the store amongst the villagers that preferred the tea from the far, far away land her mother’s family had immigrated from generations ago.
Brewing tea was Sakura’s favorite part of working for her parents. Playing with the fire to make the perfect cup of tea was down to almost a science. Just like how creating the environment for their different leaves was down to a science.
When she brewed teas she could imagine herself brewing antidotes and creating new medicine to assist those that needed her help.
Sakura thought about her hitai-ate sitting on her desk in her bedroom and inwardly squealed with excitement.
She was a genin now and that was the first real step to becoming a shinobi others could rely on. She was on her way to achieving her dream.