Chapter Four: Only When I’m Homesick
The clothing carousel couldn’t possibly move any slower. Sakura had to resist sighing as the worker waited for the clothes that matched her ticket to appear.
She was glad it was a day off because it meant that she could go home and relax after being in class all day and after running errands. It was to be her last day off for the next two weeks and she wasn’t looking forward to going back to work.
The past couple of days were awkward—no other word could encapsulate the vibe of her last two shifts at Wisteria Place.
It was difficult to try and avoid someone you had to see face to face every thirty minutes for five to six hours. And that was the minimum amount of interaction she could possibly have with Chef Uchiha.
Of all days for anyone to see her in her underwear it had to be when she was wearing the ones she reserved for laundry day. And Not only did it have to be one of her supervisors, but the attractive one that saw her in her teeny bikini panties with the string ties.
He probably thinks I wear that kind of thing everyday, she had whined inwardly, banging her head against one of the poles on the train car. The embarrassment had made her want to cry the entire metro ride home.
Ino knew something had happened. Nothing could escape her keen eyes and she promised to get to the bottom of the awkward tension between her and Sasuke. Sakura just didn’t want her to know that it was her bottom that was the root of the problem.
She couldn’t tell her, “The weird way we avoid eye contact as much as possible and try not to say more than three words max to each other? Oh, that’s just ‘cause I flashed our boss.”
Sakura had no idea how she was going to survive going to work anymore. It wasn’t as if she could apologize to him because he got a good eye full of her ass and there was no way she was going to demand one from him.
Who needs an apology? A voice wheedled its way to the forefront of her mind. He can just touch you again.
It had been so gentle and Sakura hadn’t had that in a long time. There were hugs from her mother and father, full on glomps from Ino who didn’t quite understand physics and what her weight being thrown at such speeds could do to the receiver, but nothing like that.
He only touched my arm, how backed up am I? Sakura tossed the bag of dry clean over her shoulder and sighed as she waited for the light at the crosswalk. It was only a touch on my arm.
And yet at the same time it wasn’t only a touch to the arm. He was so close and heat radiated from his clothed figure in a way that made her lower stomach get all airy.
“NothappeningNothappeningNothappening.” Sakura muttered the chant under her breath as she crossed the street, the words running together as she repeated them. The sooner she stopped thirsting over the restaurant’s tyrant the better.
The slacks fit too well.
Neji snapped his fingers in front of Sasuke’s face and exhaled through his nose. It was the fourth time that he had to bring Sasuke’s attention back to him.
“Can we go over the Valentine’s Day menu? We need to post it online soon.”
“I was thinking we do Italian because that’s the usual fare for date nights.” Sasuke rubbed at his forehead with his thumb and index finger. “And of course we keep to the usual French dishes we always have.”
“What Italian dishes?”
“Lobster fra diavolo, maybe a seafood risotto using clams, shrimp, and the catch of the day? Perhaps a red snapper crudo.” Sakura sneezed from across the dining area. “Maybe a seafood stew with a saffron zabaglione.”
“You’re not serving the last one.”
“Well, why not?” Sasuke snapped, taken aback that Neji would reject one of his menu options. Neji’s job was to sell the dishes, not approve the dishes.
“Because you’re not thinking about romantic date food.”
“It would have lobster.” Sasuke rolled his eyes and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Nothing screams romantic to people more than lobster. Well, maybe oysters.”
“Yeah, but what you were thinking about was warming Haruno’s stomach.” Neji raised his pen threateningly when Sasuke opened his mouth to retort and cut him off. “Don’t deny it, you were watching her the entire time we were supposed to be discussing this. Anything else?”
“Fuck you.” Sasuke exhaled and turned in his seat at the bar so he was facing away from the dining area. “If they have it in the market we could do a cuttlefish and cardoncelli tartare. Seafood en brodo with a tarragon pesto?”
“A warm broth that could keep a cold at bay, hmm…” Neji pursed his lips but wrote it down. “Luckily for you I know it would be delicious, so it stays as the soup. Anything else to add to the menu before I post?”
“A squid ink pasta would be good…with mussels of course. And a second risotto option with squid ink.”
“Alright. I’m done with you, head back to your kitchen.” Neji rapped his notes against the bar top and waved Sasuke off.
“I’m making that stew, Hyuga.”
“It’s already a large menu for the day and if you make it I’ll let Haruno know you’ve been eyeing her all day.”
Only Neji Hyuga would dare speak to him that way and honestly, it was what made working with him amusing. If only the other Hyuga could grow the same backbone, maybe then she wouldn’t have all of those problems with Naruto.
And only Neji would notice how strange he had been acting in regards to a certain waitress.
What am I going to do about that? Sasuke wiped his hands down his face. Sakura was too cute for both her and his own good. She was someone he would see everyday until she decided to quit. And it would be a shame to lose someone so competent while they were understaffed just because he couldn’t keep it in pants.
Sasuke had a policy never to get involved with anyone he worked with. Usually he followed it with extreme ease considering there was no one he found attractive at Wisteria Place.
Correction: there used to be no one he found attractive.
For a moment Sasuke wondered if this was some belated revenge from Ino, whom he had never given the time of day unless it involved cooking. She was vindictive enough to bring her much prettier friend to work at the restaurant and watch him crash and burn with her, but she also wasn’t stupid enough to do so or would ever admit that her friend was much prettier than she was. And there was also the matter of her being completely head over heels all over the Sai, the pale bartender, and no doubt had completely forgotten about Sasuke’s lack of interest.
Sasuke told himself that he would never get involved with someone he worked with and he planned to stick to that. He didn’t need a repeat of being fifteen and kicked out of his first kitchen because the nineteen year old daughter of the owner lied to her father because he didn’t want to join her for an “afternoon nap.”
But the slacks fit too well.
Whenever Sakura was in his line of sight, Sasuke’s eyes would quickly drift down and then back up. The slacks fit too well, stretched tight against her rear. It didn’t help that her apron was tied in a bow at the small of her back, not only reminiscent of a present but also a reminder of the skimpy undergarments he had seen her in the other night.
Things will just get worse when it gets warmer and the waitresses start changing into pencil skirts. Sasuke ran a hand through his hair, pushing his bangs back and letting them fall back against his face. She’s probably seeing someone too.
Sasuke constantly debated if she were. Sakura stayed really late—later than someone that relied on public transport should—on days she worked, so it seemed she had no one to go home to. But it was hard to believe that there wasn’t someone in the picture.
The first night he cooked for her, he did it purely out of annoyance. How did one work all day in a Michelin Star restaurant—two star rated!—and then eat a can of corn at the end of the day?
The second time he cooked for her it was because he knew he was sending her home early when she could have raked in a lot of tips. She was also hurt and probably would have gone to bed without eating and the more he watched her the more he thought that Sakura looked far too skinny in his opinion.
She stayed late often and even though he didn’t have to, Sasuke would beckon her into the kitchen and make her something to eat. He didn’t do it often, only when she looked like she really needed it, like when something warm would do her some good.
Shaking his head, Sasuke rolled the sleeves of his smock up to his elbows. Neji was right. As much as the menu was set by his whims, he couldn’t afford to take the same liberties with one of their biggest days of the year.
Sakura Haruno would just have to find that something warm somewhere else.
“You’re being fucking weird, you know that?” Sakura tossed a throw pillow at Ino’s head. Ino ducked but continued to stare Sakura down.
“I want a night alone with Sai on Valentine’s Day.”
“Then have a night alone.” Sakura rolled her eyes and grabbed her bowl of easy mac and cheese. She was in the middle of an online practice quiz and didn’t have time for Ino’s nonsense.
“I want to have a romantic dinner in the apartment after work and I need you to go stay with Karin for the night.”
“Did you consider that maybe Karin has Valentine’s Day plans as well?”
“Ino. She sent us a detailed itinerary of her plans because she was somehow convinced to go on a boat ride for dinner and you know she’s afraid of boats and can’t swim. Karin wanted us to know exactly where she would be at all times and to keep an eye on the news for any capsized riverboats.”
“Wow. She must be in love,” Ino grumbled sarcastically.
“I just wanted the apartment to ourselves,” Ino whined, collapsing on the couch. She curled up in a ball, her head on Sakura’s knee. “Without that depressing ass music coming from your room. Nothing kills the mood more than hearing all of that screaming.”
“How else could I block you guys out?” Sakura rolled her eyes yet again at Ino’s antics. Sakura knew she could be annoying when she had experimental rock blaring out of her speakers but it was also selfish of Ino to corner Sakura into her bedroom.
“You really have no plans for Valentine’s Day?”
“Nope. Just gonna finish my shift and come home and have a date with my bed like I deserve.” Sakura submitted her quiz and waited for her results to load. She cheered when it came back at a ninety-five percent and went to see what question she had missed.
“When was the last time you had a date?” Ino turned so she could look at Sakura from where she was lying down.
“Uh…does Renee’s party count?”
“Disgusting.” Ino slapped Sakura’s arm. “Do you even remember what that guy looked like? Banging dudes in the bathroom of one of your roller derby friends’ houses doesn’t count as dates!”
Ino huffed and chewed on the inside of her cheek. Sakura was almost finished with her easy mac when Ino sat up, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, and knocked over the cup.
“The last time you got laid was almost two years ago. I remember ‘cause Renee got knocked up and couldn’t have anymore parties after that. What the fuck Sakura?”
“What the fuck Ino that was my last mac and cheese cup.” Sakura got up to clean the mess, no longer paying attention to whatever it was that Ino was going on about.
It sometimes seemed like whatever she did wasn’t good enough. She didn’t date or want to go out, she was a prude and a bore. Sakura went out to a party, got smashed and hooked up with a guy that she didn’t want to know beyond the thirty minutes it took for him to get her off, and she was making horrible decisions. She decided she would rather focus on school and maybe never talk to another guy again and Ino acted like she was doing something criminal.
“I don’t have to date to be happy, Ino.” Sakura cleaned up the last of the cheese sauce and dumped the paper towel into the trash can. “I don’t have to be in a relationship.”
“Well, no you don’t. But you’re too young to just give up.” Ino sighed, standing up and stretching her arms over her head. “Especially because I know that’s something you actually want.”
Sakura closed her eyes and willed away the stomach cramp forming in response to Ino’s words. Ino didn’t say it but she could hear her mother’s reprimands echo through her words. Could hear the complaints that she wasn’t looking for a nice young man to settle down with. See the disappointment when she said she just wanted to focus on school and becoming a nurse.
She heard it enough from her mother she didn’t need to hear it from her best friend too.
“I gotta get going to work.”Sakura felt a pair of thin arms slide down her shoulders wrap around her. “Don’t be mad at me. I just worry that you don’t make time for yourself and to have fun.”
“I was having me time but you interrupted me,” Sakura grumbled but returned the hug. “You owe me some mac ‘n cheese.”
“Please eat something that’s not instant.”
“Shut up, mom.”
The day was going well.
That was bullshit, but Tsunade insisted on chanting that it was even though she had to toss on a smock and join him in the kitchen. It wasn’t often that she worked in the kitchen but during the holidays she never had much of a choice, even when Dan was still alive.
“You just had to get on that stupid list, didn’t you brat!” Tsunade cursed at him as she set something to flambé.
“You’re the one that has those 30 Under 30 clippings hanging up,” Sasuke hissed back, grabbing a plate that was on its way to service and scowling at the line cook. “It’s still raw, moron. Do it again!”
He was sure the dining hall was nothing but the blissful romantic atmosphere they advertised, but none of that serenity transferred to the kitchen. It was one of the busiest days of the year for them. The kitchen would be more hectic than usual, but this year was the worst it had ever been and Tsunade wouldn’t stop reminding Sasuke who she blamed for it.
“Ready for service, Mr. James Beard nominee.” Tsunade shouted out sarcastically.
“Is she bragging or is she actually mad?”
Sasuke looked up from his plates to see Sakura waiting at the window. It had been a while since she spoke to him directly without averting her gaze.
“She’s the one that nominates me every year.”
“So she is bragging.” Sakura gave him one of her cheeky grins before taking off with her order.
“Look alive, Chef Uchiha.” Ino reprimanded him as she pushed more of her completed orders at the window. She matched the glare he sent her and went back to preparing the red snapper crudo tickets that were sent her way.
“How bad is it out there?” Sasuke asked Sakura when she appeared at the window again.
“It would be fine if we were only dealing with those that were smart enough to reserve a table. We have lots of people waiting to be seated that just showed up.” Sakura looked behind her and then leaning into the window whispered, “Lots of singles. Wonder who they’re here for?”
She winked at him before picking up her orders and heading back out to the dining hall. Sasuke stared after her until he felt a hand smack him between his shoulder blades.
“You can gawk at her when you’re off the clock,” Neji scolded him and went to check on the bread for the bread baskets.
Sasuke snatched him by the back of his vest and hissed lowly so no one else could hear him, “Will you knock it off?”
Neji usually didn’t take on this role, not with him, and it was starting to piss Sasuke off. He didn’t appreciate the looks Neji gave him, as if he could see right through him and knew all of his little secrets.
“What am I doing?” Neji quirked an eyebrow and pried Sasuke’s fingers off of his vest. “Do you have time to be asking questions?”
“Uchiha!” Tsunade barked at him from the other side of the kitchen. Rolling his eyes, Sasuke was forced to turn back and return to his station.
The night continued that way, the kitchen even louder than usual. Hinata Hyuga almost had a breakdown from all of the cakes she had to plate for service on her own after the head pastry chef had to sit due to a dizzy spell. She was the first one downing a glass of wine when the last ticket was closed.
“Pregaming, Hina?” Naruto asked as he walked through the kitchen doors with the dirty linens. “Don’t hit the wine too hard or you won’t be able to keep up with us tonight.”
“I beg pardon?”
Sasuke looked down at Sakura who had snuck up behind him with another bag of linens. She grimaced as she looked on at the interaction between the dense moron and Hinata whose lips were set in such a tight line that they seemed to disappear completely.
“Who said I was going out drinking with you all tonight?” Hinata narrowed her eyes, clutching tightly to the plates she was returning to their storage.
“I’m a little worried that she’s not stumbling over her words right now,” Sakura whispered to him.
“She’s weak to alcohol and she only has two modes afterwards: either she passes out or she has a shift in personality,” Sasuke explained, more out of shock that Sakura was on speaking terms with him again than out of interest of what was going on with the junior pastry chef and one of the busboys.
The last time they had a conversation was before the incident almost two weeks ago when he caught her in the middle of dressing. She hadn’t even said good night to him after he had given her her privacy. Sasuke had gone to his office to cool off and heard the back door slam shut when she ran out.
“I have plans actually.” Hinata turned her nose up and stalked away, getting back to her closing tasks.
“It’s almost midnight, what plans could she have?” Naruto grumbled. Sakura took the bag she was carrying and whacked him against the back. “What was that for!?”
“For being a dumbass.” Sakura pushed him against his back, moving him toward the laundry closet where they stored the dirty linens before they could be picked up. “Now hurry up! I don’t wanna be here all night cleaning up.”
“It’s Valentine’s Day, she probably has a date,” Ino taunted Naruto as she took back prepped vegetables into the walk-in.
“A date?” Naruto’s jaw dropped in horror. “But it’s late already, what kind of date━?”
“You know exactly what kind of date,” Sakura joined in on the taunting. She made an up and down gesture with her hand that had Sasuke choking on his own tongue. “You should have asked her sooner to go on a real date instead of trying to drag her out to drink with your friends.”
Not interested in Naruto and the Hyuga girl’s relationship, Sasuke went back to taking stock of what was left at the end of the night. There was a lot to get finished before he could head home for the few hours of sleep he was going to get. He could always skip the morning run but that’s usually when he swung by the fish market and got dibs on the best of the early catch.
He could always get some shut eye in his office while the kitchen staff ran around, rushing to get things done and then do his paperwork.
It’s not like I have anything to do tonight.
It was too much to ask for thirty minutes to himself. It felt like he barely put his head down on his desk before someone was knocking on his door.
Sasuke still wasn’t quite sure how it was that he ended up with both Sakura and Hinata at his apartment, but both of the girls were sitting in his living room when he got out of the shower so it wasn’t something he had imagined.
He had tried to take a nap and he must have succeeded because there was no other way Hinata and Sakura could have finished up inventory unless he had knocked out for at least twenty minutes.
When Sakura has first asked that he let them hang out with him, his immediate response was to reject them. He didn’t care if Hinata had to hide out in case Naruto wanted to swing by her townhouse. He didn’t care that Sakura needed to go somewhere so that Ino and Sai could have the apartment to themselves—at least he didn’t care for the reason. Sasuke was tempted to tell them to find a hotel for the night until Neji showed up looking like the cat that ate the canary.
“Tenten set me up tonight with a friend of hers and would be upset if I canceled my plans to take care of Hinata,” Neji sighed, pretending to be troubled. “If only there was someone that could help me out of my predicament. Someone that I know would be the perfect gentleman and not even think about touching my cousin in her vulnerable state. Someone—“
He mainly agreed to the whole thing just to shut Neji up. If he had let it drag out, Sasuke was sure Neji would start hinting about what had been happening lately with him staring at Sakura.
“You can hang your coat up,” Sasuke offered. He knew Hinata wouldn’t want to shed her layers because she had low blood pressure and was constantly cold, but he hadn’t expected Sakura to still be in her pea coat.
“It’s cold in here,” she mumbled, hiding her face into her scarf.
Sighing, Sasuke set a pot of water to boil. He would have prepared tea but from the way Hinata’s lower lip kept trembling he was sure she needed something else. As soon as the water boiled he turned the heat off and placed a decanter of sake into the hot water.
“I even made chocolate,” he heard her explain to Sakura. “The worst part is that I wouldn’t have minded going out for drinks but Ino told me I had to be firm about this.”
“I think Ino’s right.” Sakura patted her on the arm. “It seems like Naruto is taking you for granted. He should have asked you if you wanted to do anything for Valentine’s Day.”
Bringing out cups and the decanter on a tray, Sasuke set it down on the coffee table. He poured into the cups and handed them to his guest before serving himself some.
“I’m guessing that you’re hungry because you didn’t eat real food today?” Sasuke watched as red bloomed on Sakura’s cheeks. She opened her mouth to retort but her anger fizzled out with the growling from her stomach.
“All I ate was some cake,” she confessed. “I kind of forgot about eating.”
Sasuke scoffed but turned back into his kitchen to pull out some ingredients. He had begun preparing dashi for some miso soup when he heard one of the bar stools at his island scrape against the floor.
“I didn’t expect you to make miso soup.”
“It’s too late for something heavy like we make in the restaurant.” Sasuke turned on the rice cooker that sat on the countertop near the stove. “You’re fine with mackerel right?”
“If you’re cooking it, I would probably eat a boot.”
“It’s a good thing I would never serve a boot,” Sasuke said dryly, setting mackerel to grill in a pan as he prepared eggs for a rolled omelette. “You didn’t leave Hyuga alone with the rice wine did you?”
Sasuke looked back into his living room and spotted Hinata curled up on his couch and cuddling with one of the throw pillows. If he checked the decanter, he was sure it would be empty.
“My bad.” Sakura grinned sheepishly, resting her chin on her fist. “Didn’t expect you to have any to be honest. Or to prepare a washoku style meal.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sasuke’s brows drew down in confusion. He would have turned to face her but he never burned food and he wasn’t going to risk it now.
“I’m used to seeing you make western dishes, that’s all.”
“I’m trained in classic French techniques, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to cook other types of food,” Sasuke scoffed. He plated the mackerel and tamagoyaki and sliced the rolled omelette. He placed them both on the table and grabbed bowls for rice and soup. “I didn’t feel like pickling anything so I hope you don’t mind—“
“Again, I would eat a boot if you cooked it. I’m not going to complain just because there’s a side dish or two you could have added.”
The words shouldn’t be flattering, not with his awards and nominations. Not with the fact that Sakura would gladly eat canned corn and microwaveable meals if no one was stopping her.
He gives thanks for the meal, because no matter how many years have gone by and no matter what type of foo he’s eating, proper manners—proper Japanese manners—would never escape him.
“So this is what you eat at home, huh?” Sakura asks, following his lead.
And maybe it’s how she’s smiling or how the lights in his apartment are dim but he feels himself being more honest than he usually would be.
“Only when I’m homesick.”
Some boundaries shouldn’t be crossed. Sakura reminded herself of that constantly as the night carried on.
If it weren’t for Hinata there was probably no way she would even know where Sasuke lived or what the inside of his apartment looked like.
She should have figured he wouldn’t live in a walk up like she did and that he was lucky enough to not need any roommates. Sasuke lived in a single bedroom apartment that overlooked the harbor, away from the rowdy bars that Sakura’s shared flat was above.
Sitting in his bathroom she scrolled through the links listed when she searched his name. There were tons of articles and reviews. Even some spotlights from cooking competitions he had entered. At the bottom of the first page she found a link to a profile for a rheumatologist with his same last name but Sakura didn’t bother clicking through it. It wasn’t a common last name but it wasn’t what she was interested in.
I knew he was older but not by five years…
Sakura locked her phone up and finished using the restroom. She opened up the medicine cabinet in search of mouthwash. Even without her toothbrush she could massage her gums and rinse her mouth.
Right by the mouthwash was a box of condoms. It sat there as innocently as it could in the lineup of items. Just deodorant, condoms, mouthwash, toothpaste and yet it unsettled her.
“He’s twenty-seven, I would be more shocked if he didn’t have a sex life,” Sakura muttered, grabbing the mouthwash. The sight made her feel as if she were being even more intrusive than she originally thought. Perhaps he had plans and Neji had ruined them by pushing Hinata—and by association, her—onto him.
There was a knock on the door that made her jump. Opening it a crack, she was met with the sight of Sasuke’s plain black v-neck shirt.
“I’ll be out in a sec.”
“I figured you might want something to wear.” Sasuke handed her a simple gray shirt and black sweatpants through the small opening. “They might be way too big but you can tighten the drawstring. I left blankets out on the couch for you and Hinata.”
“Thanks.” Sakura nodded. “For everything. The clothes, the food, and letting us stay here.”
“You shouldn’t have let Hyuga drag you into her thing with Naruto.”
“And you shouldn’t have let Neji drag you into it either,” Sakura shot back. “Does he have something on you?”
Sasuke stared blankly at her a moment and Sakura was tempted to just shut the door on him if he was going to be so cryptic.
Sakura’s face scrunched up in confusion. The answer didn’t help much in clearing up anything. What could Neji possibly—
“I’m just going to change now.” Sakura giggled nervously and shut the bathroom door. She didn’t need a repeat of him seeing her in her undergarments.
She had just gotten over the embarrassment and didn’t need it to come creeping back. Seeing Sasuke so professional in his kitchen and not bothering her about seeing her almost naked had helped. She kind of missed when they chatted at the service window and when he would pretend that it was a waste of his time to cook her something even though she never asked him to, he just did it on his own.
“You weren’t wrong about the pants being too big.” Sakura tugged and tugged on the drawstring as she exited the bathroom. She left her clothes on an empty shelf by the spare towels so they would be there ready to be changed into when she woke up.
“Here.” Sasuke batted her fingers away and pulled tightly on the strings before knotting them. His knuckles brushed against her flat, taut stomach and Sakura’s breath hitched at the touch.
Maybe she wasn’t over the incident in the locker room. At least not the low simmer of want that came with Sasuke’s close proximity.
Sasuke’s fingers didn’t let go of the strings, he held on to them even after he had finished knotting them and how Sakura wished he would undo the knot he made and flatten his warm hands on her cold stomach.
Hinata murmured from down the hall and Sakura’s head snapped up at the sound. Instantly, Sasuke pulled away and was bidding her good night before he shut the door of his bedroom.
Sighing in resignation, Sakura found the blankets where Sasuke said he had put them. She tucked Hinata in, one of her arms thrown over head and the other one hugging her stomach. As gently as she could, Sakura adjusted her body so that she wouldn’t wake up with muscle aches.
Sakura curled up on the extension of the L shaped couch, just small enough that she fit perfectly on it when she curled up without any limbs hanging off. She plumped one of the throw pillows and laid her head in it, closing her eyes and hoping sleep came quickly. At least Hinata didn’t witness anything that had happened between her and Sasuke. She was a quiet girl and wouldn’t talk but Sakura liked having her little secret.
“You guys are pretty cute.”