Two weeks later saw Sakura doing her katas by herself again, but this time she wasn't bothered by it. The day after she and Shino met again for the second time, she had successfully managed to nag Kakashi into doing his duty as a teacher and he had working with her independently. Today he had been summoned by the Hokage early on in their "team training" session and left with a vague warning to keep working. She had shrugged and kept at it, ignoring Naruto and Sasuke's bickering interspersed with the heavy thumps of hits being landed.
"Oi, Shino! What are you doing here? You wanna fight?"
Sakura went through the motions of her last kata and then turned to see Shino walking toward their training ground. She squinted at the sun, realizing much more time had passed than she had realized. She was late meeting him at their usual spot and he was here to fetch her. It gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach to know that he enjoyed her company that much.
"While I never like to turn down a good spar, I do have a prior obligation." He nodded in her direction and she smiled at him.
"Shino-kun! Are you implying I'm not a good fight?" She put her hands on her hips and pouted mockingly while Naruto goggled at their behavior.
"I would never do such a thing in your hearing."
"Pft, mean! So mean to me, Shino-kun, after all I've done for you."
"I did not realize that eating half my dango was a favor, Sakura-chan."
"That was one time! Plus, a good shinobi should never let himself be distracted."
They had naturally started walking away toward the merchant area of Konoha, forgetting entirely about her teammates as Sakura teased Shino into revealing his exceptionally dry sense of humor. It had become something of a hobby for her, especially when she would get him good and his lips would crease into a smile.
"H-hey, Sakura-chan, where are you going? I thought we were gonna have a date today!"
She touched Shino's arm to stop and rolled her eyes with fond irritation. Sakura turned around to Naruto's flabbergasted face, staring at the finger pointed directly at her nose. Sasuke didn't say anything, but he was watching the proceedings with something that could almost be called curiosity.
Huh, to think all I needed to do to get his attention was ignore him. That never would have occurred to me before.
"Naruto, I don't know how many times I have to tell you, I will never go on a date with you. You're my teammate and we shouldn't mess with that." He pouted.
Aw, so cute. Like a puppy.
At her statement, Sasuke's curious look had grown into a full grown smirk. "Does this mean you're going to leave me alone now, Sakura?"
She felt herself blush slightly, but just crossed her arms and sniffed disdainfully. "If you'll recall, Sasuke, I have not bothered you in weeks. I'm past such foolish infatuations." She dropped her arms and gave him a dangerous glare. "Besides, it never would have worked between us. You're too single-minded."
She spun around to leave, but not before she saw his shocked, wide-eyed reaction.
Good! That'll teach him to underestimate me!
Without a word, Shino kept pace with her as she marched out of the area in high dudgeon, walking for nearly ten minutes before she realized that she wasn't headed in any particular direction.
"I don't think tomorrow's team training is going to be any fun, Shino-kun. I might have just broken Sasuke and Naruto."
He made a small sound that could have been amusement or perhaps a strangled cough. "They certainly looked surprised." He glanced at her. "I was also surprised to hear you speak to Sasuke-san in that manner."
"My crush on Sasuke is now a thing of the past, an embarrassment of my childhood."
Shino gave her a flat look. "We're thirteen, Sakura. I don't think you can claim old maid status quite yet."
"Hmph." With that witty rebuttal, she grabbed his hand and dragged him through the crowded merchant stalls. "I'm in the mood for barbecue today. What about you?"
"As always, I do not have much of an opinion on the matter. Barbecue is acceptable."
She and Shino had taken to meeting up after their respective team trainings to work on his jutsu and spar together. After their first day of dango, they had established a pattern of enjoying a meal after training or before more cerebral work. They had agreed yesterday to do research in the Aburame archives this afternoon, so Sakura felt justified in steering Shino toward Yakiniku Q.
"Ino-Pig says that this is the best place in Konoha, though she diets so much I can't imagine she's eaten half a plate of food in all the times Asuma-sensei has brought them here."
"Depriving yourself of proper nutrients is a dangerous habit in our line of work."
"I know, believe me. I've been where she is and it sucks, but boys like a svelte figure."
"I imagine boys also tend to like their girlfriends alive and uninjured, which is not something that would happen if you fainted mid-fight with an enemy."
"Hey, hey," she waved her hands defensively, "like I said, a thing of the past. I was only ever trying to get Sasuke's attention, anyway. You like me the way I am, right, Shino-kun?" She batted her eyelashes at him in an exaggerated fashion and was highly amused by his red face.
This is way more fun than trying to impress Sasuke.
"I do." Sakura smiled at his blunt honesty. "But the way you are now is still terrible at taijutsu." Her smile faltered and she smacked his arm hard as he gave a genuine laugh and rubbed at his injured limb.
Shino opened the door for her and they entered to see a cheerful looking hostess working studiously on a book of crosswords. As she led them to the side of the restaurant, Sakura heard someone call her name. Or something like it.
"Forehead? What are you doing here?"
She came to a stop at the call and looked at Shino questioningly. He indicated that he would go back to their booth while she stayed to speak with Ino and left silently.
Sakura turned around to see Ino looking between her and Shino calculatingly. "Ino-Pig, it's a restaurant. What do you think I'm doing here?"
Ino ignored that jibe in favor of squealing at her, "Are you on a date? With Shino?"
"I am having dinner with a friend. I'm sure you've heard of that term once or twice." She nodded to Ino's team who were being ignored by the blonde girl thus far. "Hello, Choji, Shikamaru, Asuma-sensei."
Choji waved through his mouthful of pork and Shikamaru just grunted in response. Asuma greeted her with a lazy smile. "Hi, Sakura-chan, was it? You're on Kakashi's team, aren't you?"
"That's right, we're Team 7. A disaster waiting to happen."
He laughed heartily. "I'll be sure to tell Kakashi you have such a high opinion of him."
"If he doesn't already know, I'll be very surprised." She looked back over her shoulder to see Shino sitting stiffly in their booth, clearly waiting to order until she arrived. "Look, Ino-Pig, I have to go. I don't want Shino-kun to starve just to satisfy your curiosity."
She waved at the boys again and left Ino sputtering about "Shino-kun" as she swiftly joined him at their table.
"Did you have a productive conversation with Ino-san?"
Sakura snorted and reached for the tea that had been set in the middle of the table. She poured for him and then herself, blowing on the cup. "Ino is just sticking her pig nose where it doesn't belong, as usual."
"Ah. That does seem to be a habit of hers."
"Hah! Got that right. Just so you know, she's no doubt going to spread word that we're on a date right now. I just wanted to warn you."
Sakura could actively feel the nervous energy coming from his kikaichu at her words. He fidgeted unusually and quietly said, "Are we?"
She flushed a bit, but tried to be as honest with him as he always was with her, no matter how embarrassing. "Well, as you said before, we're only thirteen. I don't think dating is really a thing we should focus on right now. But I'm not totally against it in the future." Sakura's eyes brightened. "And that means you'll have to pay for dinner!"
"As a strong, capable kunoichi, I would think you would want our relationship, whatever it is, to be entirely equal."
She wagged a finger at him and said, "Oh, I see what you're doing. Trying to ply me with flattery to get out of paying. I'm onto you, Aburame."
"Did it work?"
She sighed in resignation. "Yes, fine. You win this time!"
Their server came to take their order and arrived in short time with platters of vegetables and strips of beef. The two busied themselves with grilling and were soon enjoying the fruits of their miniscule labor.
"I hate to say it, but Ino-Pig was right about this place." She grabbed a piece of beef out from under Shino's chopsticks and he gave her a mildly affronted look, which she ignored. "Say, Shino-kun, why do you wear your glasses inside too?"
"The contract we have with the kikaichu has evolved to interfere with the chakra channels behind our eyes, leaving them very sensitive to light."
"That doesn't seem very efficient for a shinobi."
"It's a small price to pay for the abilities we are granted. If we cannot keep an enemy from knocking off our eyewear, we're not worthy enough for the kikaichu's power."
"If you say so," she said doubtfully. "So what did you do with your team today? I bet Kurenai-sensei is a great teacher."
"She is a skilled jonin and Konoha is lucky to have her in their ranks."
"Oh, sounds like someone has a crush, Shino-kun~"
"Now you're being ridiculous. Regardless, Kurenai-sensei is attached to Asuma-sensei."
Her eyes lit up. "Really? Well, I don't blame her one bit. Or him. They're a good looking couple."
"If you say so." He ignored her muttered "hmph, I do" and went on blithely, "Team 8 has been vetted as a possibly tracking squad, which is probably why we were all placed together. Today Hinata-san and I were to aid one another in concealing ourselves from Kiba and Akamaru."
"Tracking, huh? I wonder what they were thinking when they made my team." She tapped her fingers on her chin. "I nearly forgot that Kiba always has Akamaru with him. It's almost like having a fourth teammate, isn't it?"
"It's more often that between Kiba and his dog, we have one vaguely competent shinobi."
Sakura giggled, "Surely he's not that bad!"
With a nearly imperceptible sigh, Shino conceded the point. "No, he has gotten much better since we have been assigned, as has Hinata-san. But she is still exceptionally timid and he is still exceptionally reckless."
"And you, Shino-kun? What's your big flaw in this team?"
"I'm sure it exists, though I cannot see it for myself."
"It must be so nice to have such confidence!"
They finished their meal soon after, with Shino paying. She teased him for making a big fuss over not doing that very thing earlier, but inwardly she was pleased. Even if they weren't dating (yet, she thought) he was already proving himself to be a thousand times better as a companion than Sasuke could ever dream of. Regardless, she was pretty sure Sasuke's dreams were filled with killing "that man", which left no room for her or her need for dinner dates and actual conversation with words, instead of non-committal grunts.
Really, it's a wonder I was stuck on him for so long! Was it the pretty face?
She caught sight her two teammates when she and Shino left Yakiniku Q, with Naruto dragging Sasuke behind him toward the ramen stall. The Uchiha had a mulish look on his face as he petulantly allowed himself to be maneuvered.
It was definitely just the pretty boy factor. He has such a terrible attitude toward everything.
A thought came to her and she giggled helplessly. When Shino looked at her in askance, she nodded in the direction of the boys and stage-whispered, "Looks like Naruto got his ramen date after all!"