Author: Rashaka
Disclaimer: noun – a) piddly little statement squeezed into the top margins of a fanfic, with no legal fortitude whatsoever, that supposedly protects one from being sued by richer people whose property will be blatantly stolen and exploited in the pages to follow, but really just amounts to a poor college kid begging.
Date: January 2004
Spoilers: episode 5 of anime
Summary: Sakura goes on her first date, and endures a long overdue conversation. [principal characters: Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto]  Spoilers for early episodes only.

Time Setting: ambiguous future, but not too far ahead


Some Days You Feel Like A Nut, Some Days You Don't

          When the Hidden Leaf village appeared at the end of the road, the members of Team 7 breathed a sigh of relief.  Home again, at last, with another mission behind them.  Kakashi muttered something about meeting the next morning and then released his students for an afternoon of much-deserved downtime.

          Naruto broke away first, shouting a goodbye that was half undistinguishable squeal at the thought of ramen, and half sincere and gleeful parting salutations.  Sakura shook her head at Naruto's leaving, but did smile at his earnestness, which was endearing despite his other annoyances.  Kakashi himself was already wandering off with his head in a book, and Sakura turned to watch as Sasuke started his own march home.  Cheering herself internally to have courage, Sakura darted after the boy, wearing her best smile.  They had been on the same ninja team now for months, and she decided that if the power of true love was going to win the day, then it was about time she at least asked him out officially.

          "Sasuke-kun," Sakura began.  "Would y--"

          "Yes."

          She faltered, and gaped.  "Uhh..."

          The sable-haired boy looked over his shoulder at the her, making her stomach clench in sudden shyness.

          "You were going to ask me for lunch, weren't you?"  She nodded.  "Yes.  Let's go."

          Sakura stared in awe for another half second, and then squealed internally as she sped up to catch him.  Sidling up to her teammate's shoulders but careful not to touch him, she smiled and tried to make conversation.  She had done it!  This otherwise abysmal day was officially renamed Sakura's Very Best Day Ever. 

          "Sasuke-kun, I think we should eat there," she said, pointing to the village's little day-restaurant that most of the kids their age frequented.  It was perfect: not too serious as to scare him away, yet everyone (Ino!) would see her there on a date with the wonderful and genius Sasuke!  Happy, happy day.

          "Fine," he said.  Sakura's internal parade wilted for a moment at the flatness of his voice, then redoubled its applause when it remembered the most important fact here: date with Sasuke!  All that mattered.

          "Great!" Sakura replied, and took his hand to lead him inside.  The atmosphere of the restaurant was artificially cooled and smelled of rice balls.  The lights were off to keep the temperature down for customers and save on the electricity in midday heat; inner-Sakura imagined they had walked into a tunnel.  A tunnel of love perhaps!  Sakura was ever optimistic on these matters.  They sat down on opposite sides of a shady window booth, and ordered soup for each.  He had ordered the very same food as she!  In a booth in the tunnel of love no less.  Sakura was in heaven.

          Over the next quarter hour, the young and beautiful ninja of love tried various methods of conversation starting, all catastrophic failures.  The only thing Sasuke even blinked an eye in interest at was their training, and even then all he said (when she'd eventually prodded it out of him) was "We should be given better missions.  These are boring and beneath my skills."

          While external Sakura smiled her brightest in agreement and drank her soup, internal Sakura was not fairing near as well.

          Why won't he look at me with normal eyes!  All he does is stare at me over his bowl.  Like he's expecting a frog to pop out of my forehead or something.  My forehead's not big enough for that! 

          Oh shit, now he's not looking at me at all!  And he's not talking.  Does he even want to be here?  Of course he does-- he said yes before I asked! 

          Then why won't he talk?  How can he stand this silence; isn't he bored?  Oh no, he's bored!  I'm boring Sasuke-kun and ruining my one chance at true lo—

          Sakura realized then that he wasn't looking at her or the soup anymore; he was glaring savagely out the window at a blur of orange and yellow that bounced up and around in the middle of the road with a smile big as the sun.

          Naruto?  Sakura thought.  She tilted her head and looked through the glass at his acrobatic display.  He jumped, pun, twirled mid-air, bounced off signposts and leaped from fences, only to hit the ground and start anew.  The simple freedom and joy in his movement was infectious.  Her eyes became caught up in his motions in that instinctive ninja-trained way, and Sakura wondered, as she watched him, why he was so happy.  Naruto was always giddy to some degree, but now it didn't look like bluster or blissful self-denial.  He just looked...  happy.

          Naruto ceased his erratic aerial abuse of the street and nearby building walls, and settled in place for a moment as a dark shape slid off his back.  With more surprise than she should have felt, really, Sakura realized that shape was Konohamaru.  The younger boy hugged Naruto's waist, and beamed.  Naruto himself looked horrified and tried to push the boy off, but the little kid stuck, and finally the older boy gave up and patted him shyly on the head.

          That boy is so cute the way he idolized Naruto, Sakura thought, as her gaze refocused on her teammate himself.  And Naruto likes it, I can tell.  As she watched he pushed his forehead guard up into his hair some more, and stood with his hands in his pockets to listen to Konohamaru talk.  His feet were tapping, however, and every few seconds he'd shift his weight.

          Naruto can never stop moving, she realized.  It wasn't just his energy during missions or in school-- even now, relaxed into conversation with a friend talking to him and the warm sun on his skin, Naruto was still piqued, looking as if he'd burst out of his skin from an overabundance of restless adrenaline.  Sakura wondered how he ever got to sleep at night.  And too, she wondered what, if anything, could make him calm down, make him stop trying to be a part of every particle of the room and just be content within himself.  From a distance, through the glass of the window and unrelenting sunlight that she couldn't feel in this cave of a restaurant, she wondered if Konohamaru's worship and ramen and training were the only things that made Naruto happy.

          "Why are you here?"

          Sakura froze up, as suddenly she was back in the booth with Sasuke and soup and not looking at Naruto.  Inch by inch Robot-Sakura rotated her head and her shoulders away from the window.  She wanted to scream in horror at herself.  Mentally, she did.  How long had she been staring outside at Naruto?  One minute?  Two?  Oh shit—as much as FIVE?  And Sasuke was looking right at her now, probably wondering why she wasn't paying him her full attention.  Sakura, you moron!

          "Eh...  hai, Sasuke-kun?" she replied, eyes wide as she smiled again, staring at him and ignoring the window completely.  Perhaps there is still time for a recovery!  She finally had Sasuke here on a lunch date and she would let nothing distract her from the mission of true love.

          "I said, 'Why are you here?'"

          "Eh...Sasuke-kun, because we are having lunch together, remember!" She held up her bowl and smiled at it as if it held the fountain of youth.

          Without turning his head the slightest, Sasuke's eyes slid to the window, and then slid back to Sakura.  He gave a derisive snort under his breath.  Sakura started to panic inside.

          "Ne, Sasuke-kun, I'm so glad that--"

          "I came here to prove a point," he stated.  Sakura closed her mouth and stilled at the interruption, waiting for him to continue.  He stood and put his hands in his pockets.  "Not for my benefit; for yours.  I have succeeded.  Ja ne."

          For the first time in too long, internal Sakura exploded outward.

          "Wait, Sasuke!" She yelped, dashing from the booth to follow him.  She made to grab his hand and turn him back to look her in the face, but he sped up a step and she missed.  So she followed him out the door into the bright daylight.  Once out Sasuke walked briskly down the sidewalk, leaving her at the entrance.  Feeling unsatisfied and more than a little dumped, Sakura shouted after him.

          "What the hell is that supposed to mean!"

          Without looking back or even slowing his pace, he called back, "Open your eyes and grow up."  Then the moment passed and Sasuke was around the corner and gone, off to do his mysterious silent thing—probably in some dark, cold, melodramatic castle, if his attitude was to be believed.

          Back in the world of hot summer days and precarious hearts, Sakura stood on the sidewalk and pressed her palm to her forehead.  The sensation of something's changed, something's changed nagged at her mind, but she sighed and mentally shoved it away.  

          For once in her life, Sakura didn't want to think too hard.

.