Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Long Vacation nor do I make money out of this. I simply get great satisfaction of having tones of review. ;)
This chapter was written with the help of StarsOfYaoi
Sorry for the long wait. I finished writing this chapter in July but it took a lot of time for StarsOfYaoi to do her part. Fortunately, while I was waiting, I decided to write the next chapter which is actually half way done.
Warning: Drug Abuse scene
Thanks all my lovely reviewers: Anonyme ; Kyuubi's death ; Shadowmarialove ; Bella216 ; Narutopokefan ; richon ; 123 ; Thorn dark angel ; I 3YAOI ; makoed ; Aiko Tachibana ; Mikan ; deancaslover ; my roseyangel ; darkspider ; celestiafae (X2) ;the 95th rida ; Rain Dropped ; Tsuukiyomi (X2) ; cariangelus ; sing-to-the-moon ; isis-yolly ; pandora vanity (X2) ; Indosha ; Karin ; Firehedgehog ; Sympathetic ; choclatbandit ; greycat64 ; DismalAbstraction ; KyuuKitsunex3 ; druneko ; LaDiE AkEginU o.0.o ; ocicat0630 ; Sally May ; KitsuneNaru ; Luria ; Anonymous ; Stoic-Genius ; YOU'RE BACK ; The Stereotypical Uke ; writtingsabitch ; GoodMorningFlower ; shadowmarialove ; DarkRavie ; yaoigirl2000 ; pennypigeon ; CashyHoray1.00 ; Kyuubi's death ; itachigurl93 ; MsChleom ; Nique13.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Long Vacation 14
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Ino sighed, watching as her phone danced around the table. She glared at it, willing it to stop its infernal buzzing.
She had come to her parents' house to find her phone in pieces; apparently, it had been ringing all night so her father had tried to throw it in the pond to make it stop, and her mother had saved the day (or rather the night) by taking the battery out After that, she had also had to take a scolding from her father for the incessant ringing of her phone –as if she was responsible of people calling and texting her in the middle of the night!
Still, there was a bit of guilt there too, for leaving her phone with her parents instead of shutting it off and keeping it at her side or just redirecting the calls somewhere else.
She let herself fall on the side on the couch, groaning her tiredness out.
"I want to slee-ee-eep," She pouted, sizing up one of her purple pillows and hugging it to her bosom, burying her face in it with another exaggerated sigh.
Her phone began its infernal dance again, approaching dangerously the edge of the table. Ino watched tiredly as it fell on the floor, not so secretly hoping that it would fall with enough force to dislodge the battery, but she had no such luck. She watched dispassionately as her phone made its way across her white carpet to the light brown laminate floor.
That was one hell of a strong vibration setting, she idly pondered, her determination not to answer washed away by her fatigue.
She looked at it for what seemed like hours until her doorbell rang, the loud sound abruptly shocking her out of her torpor. Ino slowly rose up to her feet, throwing the pillow back on her couch with a tired motion; she spared a regretful glance at it as she walked away, already missing its warm, comfortable weight.
She picked up the interphone, tiredly glancing down at the small screen showing the entrée way; she blinked, and blinked again, and finally shook her head: on the screen there was Naruto, standing in front of the door with a bright smile on his face, lightly bouncing on his feet. Ino frowned at him, trying to understand what was happening.
"Breakfast," Naruto explained, shoving a paper bag in front of the small camera as if to answer her unasked question.
Ino giggled a little, taken aback, before pressing the button to open the door for her friend. She watched as Naruto winked at the camera (at her) one last time before pushing the door open.
Knowing that it would take Naruto some time to climb the eight flights of stairs that led to her apartment, Ino used that time to tidy up a little bit, eyes glancing around the room to see if she had missed something while doing so. In the end, she placed her kettle on the burner and waited for the telltale knock on her door to alert her.
It arrived just in time as her kettle began to whistle its little tune. She quickly turned off the burner, running to the door to greet an out-of-breath Naruto, hands on his knees, grinning wildly up at her. She frowned.
"Where is my breakfast?" Ino asked, glaring a little.
Naruto pointed at the side of the door, where he had left the bag. "Just there."
"I boiled water for tea." Ino informed him, taking the bag and shaking it. "What's in there?"
"Donuts." Naruto answered letting himself in.
"Donuts?" Ino asked. "You've got used to luxury, it seems."
With a mischievous smile, Naruto poked her side.
"Don't you want my donuts?" he poked her again. "I can keep them all to myself, you know."
Naruto leaned forwards, sizing the bag from her hands, and made it to the door, only to be stopped by Ino's hand on his arm.
"No need. Since you brought them all the way up here, better eat them."
Ino smiled taking the bag back and holding it close; she could faintly smell the scent of the sugary glaze, and her mouth started to water –she was quite hungry.
"So I heard you had fun yesterday?" Naruto asked, sitting on the couch and looking at her expectantly.
"How do you even know that?" Ino grabbed a plate and placed it down on the glass coffee table, pouring the contents of the bag onto it.
"I have my sources." Naruto said in a singsong voice.
There was a teasing smile on his face and he even winked at her as he took out his phone, playing around with it; Ino frowned, not liking the way Naruto's shoulders were shaking, as if laughing at something.
"What are you laughing at?" Ino asked suspiciously.
Naruto looked up from his phone, a big grin on his face, his blue eyes sparkling with joy. He turned his phone showing the screen to Ino.
"Sai sent me this earlier this morning." he said, trying not to burst out laughing.
On the screen was a low-res picture of Ino, obviously taken with a cellphone. It depicted the statue of TAKAYAMA Hikokuro (1), with her sitting on its back, seemingly as she tried to kiss its cheek.
"WHAT?!" Ino screamed at the top of her lungs, eyes wide in shock.
In her panic, she seized the phone out of Naruto's hands, frantically pressing the buttons on the unfamiliar contraption, trying to find out how to erase the photo from it.
"There is a video too!" Naruto helpfully added, "In which you declare your undying love for the statue… among other ramblings."
"No way!" Ino screamed, her eyes widening in horror. "Who did he send this to? How many people got it?"
Suddenly, Ino had to wonder if her phone had been buzzing only because of Sakura, or if…
"Oh! He just sent it to a couple people with a sense of humor." Naruto reassured her, his grin still in place.
"And what if he sent it to my boss? Or worst if he sent it to Sasuke-kun!" Ino lamented.
"I said he sent it to people with a sense of humor! And that's one of the many qualities your Sasuke-kun is seriously lacking." Naruto replied, rolling his eyes.
Ino turned around to glare at Naruto, as if all of it had been his fault; she couldn't see how he found this all to be so funny, especially if there was a chance she had been publicly shamed by Sai. Since he was still chuckling to himself, she threw a pillow from the couch to his face, and once again pressed a few buttons on the phone, hoping to find the way to erase the pic.
She did not notice Naruto standing up from his seat to walk towards her until he shoved a donut in front of her face, pushing it against her lips and sliding the phone out of her hands at the same time as she bit on the sweet treat.
"Here, it's gone now." Naruto reassured her, showing her the list of pictures on the phone so she could see the incriminating photo was not there anymore.
"Thanks, Naruto." Ino's shoulders slumped in relief then she realized she had yet to serve the tea, and rose to her feet, donut dangling between her teeth, and moved to the kitchen.
When she returned, tea in hand, Naruto was already munching on one donut of his own.
"But of course this isn't the reason for this improvised breakfast, is it?" she asked, placing down a steaming cup in front of him.
"Hehe," Naruto giggled embarrassedly as he rubbed his hair with one hand. "Caught me."
Ino smirked at Naruto's antics: he was so easy to read sometimes. Then she frowned as Naruto's expression abruptly shifted from carefree to serious. She bit on her lower lip, knowing what was coming, but that did not make the conversation any easier to have.
"Sakura is back in town." Naruto informed Ino.
"… I know," Ino answered. "She called me a couple of times."
"She did?" Naruto asked, almost puzzled. "She came to the apartment the day before yesterday."
"You did not let her stay, did you?" Ino asked narrowing her eyes at Naruto.
"I couldn't very well leave her out on her own." Naruto tried to justify himself, cheeks colored red.
"You can't do that to yourself Naruto!" Ino exclaimed letting herself fall on the couch next to Naruto, wanting to grab his hand but holding back.
"I know… Itachi told me that, too…"
Naruto refused to look at her, instead concentrating on the flutters of steam coming from his tea, watching them disappear in the air.
He knew that technically both Ino and Itachi were right, but that did not make him feel any less responsible for the wreck related to Sakura.
"And Itachi is a man full of wisdom." Ino approved, rubbing calming circles on Naruto's back. "I hope he helped you make the right decision in the end."
Naruto shook his head, more to clear his own ideas than as an answer to Ino's words. Yes, he had ended up refusing Sakura because Itachi had been there. If Itachi had not been present, he surely would have allowed her to stay longer.
Even if she had been the one to abruptly end their relationship on the day of their wedding, he still missed her, and felt like he would do the right thing only by giving her the help she requested. It was hard to consider other options as being better than that one.
"But you know, she was important to me… it's not something that you can erase like that." Naruto felt the need to explain. "I don't want to erase her from my life. She is been such a big part of it, for a long time."
"You don't have to, Naruto." Ino reassured him. "But you need the time to heal. Letting her come back so soon can only make you feel more pain."
"I know. I know…" Naruto repeated. "I'm healing. I swear. I'm doing better!"
Ino looked at him suspiciously. "Are you really?"
"I think… no, I know… I'm in love with someone!" Naruto revealed with a small yet bright grin.
Ino shuffled closer to him, eyes open wide at the implications of his words. She wanted to know the whole story, especially considering this was the first time Naruto said these words since… well, since Sakura.
If he was really honest, that was a good thing.
As if realizing he had said something he should not have said, Naruto looked around, making a grand show of checking the time on the big wall clock hanging right on the opposite wall. "Oh, look at the time? Time to work already! Sorry Ino!"
With as much dignity as he could muster, he swallowed down the rest of his still hot tea, ignoring the way his throat burnt in pain, and grabbed one of the leftover donuts, this one with a chocolate glaze, stuffing it in his mouth before bolting from his seat.
He was gone before Ino even realized what was happening; the sound of her front door slamming shut the only thing that shook her.
"Noooooooo! Naruto!" Ino screamed, standing up and running to the front door. "You can't leave me standing on the edge like that. I need to know more!"
Unfortunately, by the time she opened the entrance, Naruto was gone already, the sound of his hurried footsteps fading in the distance.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Kushina was standing in front of the imposing building that was her deceased husband's bank.
It had not changed much since the last time she had seen it in person, even if the surroundings had. There was merely a new banner on the front, and the posters attached to the windows and walls were new, depicting some special offer for those who wanted to sign up a lease.
She knew that the Kyûbi worked there, as she had seen it entering the building not even a minute ago, a carefree smile on the face it had stolen.
It did not know she was there.
For a long moment, she dared to let her mind run free, breathing deeply the fresh air and allowing the sun to shine on the uncovered skin of her arms and face, feeling its warmth penetrate inside her. She felt unusually cold, probably because of her closeness with that beast, so she reveled in the warmth, knowing it was a gift given to her to strengthen her resolve.
She tilted her head up to look at the sky, and let herself remember that fateful day of twenty-five years before –the sun had brightened up the azure sky just like today. Kushina loved sunny days, because they reminded her of Minato: she found his blue eyes in the sky, his blond hair in the rays of the sun and his joyfulness in the smiles of people who enjoyed those days just like she did.
She had just finished her shift at the little maid café when her co-worker, Mia, had invited her to go to the Karaoke, where she was going to meet a friend. Kushina still remembered her own hesitation, just a split second, before answering: she was not sure she really wanted to go, but Mia was always so nice to her, always helping, keeping those perverts who wanted to grope her at bay… she had thought that it would be rude not to accept the offer, and besides, that meant she would not have to go back to that crappy flat –there was really no other way to describe Minato and her's love-nest if not with that word.
Even if only for a short while, she wanted to let go.
Mia, Kushina remembered, was quite the unique girl. She had bleached orange hair, and skin so pale it looked like she had not seen the sun in ages; there were always bags under her blood-injected eyes that looked like bruises, and even if she tried hard to think back, Kushina would not be able to remember the actual color of her eyes.
What she could remember well, though, was the thin cut of her parched lips, the way her pupils darted around, always seeking something that she could not find, and the bizarre habit she had of sniffling when she was nervous (which, unfortunately for those who knew her, was quite often).
Now, of course, Kushina would have realized instantly that those were the telltale signs of drug abuse, but back then, she had been too naïve, too innocent to recognize them. How could she even think something like that? She had never known someone who used drugs before Mia, with her sheltered life, barely able to see even the surface of a different life.
So she had gone with Mia to the karaoke, a spring to her steps; happy to go out with the only friend she could count on in the selfish city that was Tôkyô, not knowing that she would regret that decision for the rest of her life.
It was easy to get lost in the streets, but Mia had walked around like she knew her way, moving through small, narrow side-streets with the ability of a navigator. Kushina had followed her closely, barely glancing around to see the glowing neon signs and the advertising everywhere in her haste to not lose her friend into the crowd.
The Karaoke bar Mia chose was a small yet flashy one in the middle of the Shibuya quartier. It looked fancy despite its size, and the receptionists were well dressed and with nice makeup that Kushina had admired, for a moment wishing she could also wear more expensive, beautiful clothes again.
Unfortunately, with the money so tight already, there were always sacrifices to be made, and she could not very well buy herself new attires every time she wanted to.
They had taken a private booth in the back of the local, with nice leather couches and a flat television set where to browse songs. Mia had ordered drinks for both as they had started to sing the night away, waiting for Mia's friend to arrive.
They had sung a good dozen songs and she remembered having drunk a lot of alcohol –a pleasure she had been introduced to a couple of weeks prior thanks to Mia and her fake ID. Kushina had loved alcohol, it made her smile and laugh at everything and anything. Everything became funny and interesting after a few drinks. There were no taboos, no barriers anymore, she just spoke her mind out (whatever came to her mind) –just plain honesty and Kushina liked that.
She remembered him entering without knocking in the middle of a song: A tall guy, with a red hood covering most of his face. She had stood up to give him a piece of her mind for interrupting their fun, but she had stumbled on her own feet, landing pathetically on the floor, with her head resting on the red sofa.
She still remembered the shrill laugh of Mia as she spared her an angry glare from the floor, but they were both wasted and everything was either funnier or more annoying.
Kushina had returned her stare to the man. Even with alcohol running in her veins, making things harder to remember, the memory of meeting that man was still vivid… no, not a man: The beast that had destroyed her life. He was a little over average in height, and had long black hair. Other details were fuzzy, but his appearance was not. She could easily recall that he had exactly nine stripes of red dashing through his hair, and a lip piercing. The hoodie was mainly red too, with yellow, orange and red flames running across its surface, his black, slanted eyes barely visible.
It had introduced itself as Kitsune. She should have known at that moment who… what that beast was, but no. Mia had seemed to trust him, to know him, and Kushina had been lulled into a false state of security. She had not realized back then that Mia had been nothing more than its puppet, which it had used to gain a new victim's trust.
"Do you have it?" Mia had asked.
"Yeah." It had answered, taking a small bag filled with white powder out of his pocket.
Kushina remembered with weird clarity the brilliant smile on Mia's face at the sight of the powder, how she had thrown herself at it, kissing it full on the lips, looking almost tiny in comparison with its body.
Of what had happened afterwards, Kushina did not remember much, except one single image that was engraved in her memory: Mia's face lit in a grin, her eyes glazed over, like she had found some pleasurable place while not moving an inch from the sofa, limbs sprawled on its surface, abandoned like lifeless birds. She had never seen anyone look as happy as Mia had been then.
"You know you want it." It had whispered tentatively in her ear, faking a familiarity that did not exist between them.
His words had sounded like the temptation of a snake, the curiosity flaring up inside her belly, together with the craving for the same sort of happiness Mia was showing.
Yes, she had wanted it. That happiness that seemed to have disappeared from her life in the past few months, swapped with the deep knowledge that she had made a mistake; that she was not cut for the life of a runaway.
At that very moment, she had been ensnared by the Kyûbi without knowing it. The vile creature had insinuated itself in her body, in her blood, inside her brain and in the very air she breathed… wanting to take over her heart, to have complete control.
It had made her a prisoner of the white powder, of the alcohol and of various other drugs… The Kyûbi had been so full of itself, so sure of its control over her, that it had implanted itself into her womb in order to reach the only thing it had not been able to take: her heart.
But she had not let it… No, she had not!
It had been obvious as time passed by, the knowledge settling painfully inside her as she realized the depth of her mistake back then. With that one moment, she had almost lost herself to it.
She would have killed it in order to defeat the horrid beast, if only her parents had let her! But they had been blind, nothing but puppets of their own under its power. They were weak, their minds weak, they only had to lay eyes on it once and then they were ensnared as well.
Nevertheless, she was strong. Alone, fighting off this possession, like a beautiful, desperate heroine, Kushina had sent her heart to safety, far out of reach of Kyûbi, for so long that she had almost forgotten how it felt to have it close by. But now, her heart had somehow been found again: Her Minato.
Kushina let a smile form on her face as she shook herself out of her memories, stepping off the sidewalk and keeping a sedated pace as she entered the building; she would make sure it would never get to him, by whatever means necessary.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Miko was sitting in one of those uncomfortable, plastic brown chairs that could be found in the white, sterile waiting room of the hospital.
Around her, white walls with an underline streak of blue looked empty and unattractive, so she stared instead at the people milling around her like a beehive, circling around her like she was not even present, minding their own business.
Usually she liked it. It left her free to observe the world like an outsider, ponder about her life, about the lives of her loved ones. Almost an invisible onlooker, Miko would let their lives wash through her, untouched and foreign… but not today. Today, she did not want to be there on that plastic chair, watching people live their life all around her.
Everything felt like it was moving too fast, and the fact that she was almost the only one of the patients sitting there made her feel cold and alone. Everybody was moving on while she was stuck there in waiting, unable to concentrate but also unable to let her mind wander.
She glanced up at the sterile wall, eyes zooming in on the clock as her hands unconsciously wrinkled the hem of her shirt: ten more minutes. She relaxed her grip again, smoothing the shirt back to its pristine state. Today, she had forgone her traditional garments for something more western in style –a light blue blouse and a long floral patterned skirt, easier to put on and take off at a moment's notice.
She did not know why she was so nervous this time around: after all, she had done this often since the day she was born, every year without ever missing a single time, on this very same day.
Miko took a deep, calming breath and closed her eyes. Everything was going to be all right, like every single time before. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. She concentrated on the sound of her beating heart until it was the only noise she could hear, calming the sensation of growing impatience inside her.
She stayed like that until a familiar music reached her ears: the pinching sounds of the shamisen (2) playing the first stanza of "Sakura, Sakura". (3) She shook her head, trying to find where the music came from. It took her a second to realize it came from her own bag. Reaching inside it for the origin of the noise, she found the old flip cell phone Sakura had given her. Standing quickly, she bowed to the woman sitting a few seats over, trying to convey her apology for the disturbance, and marched briskly to a more secluded area.
Standing awkwardly against a column, she flipped the phone open.
"Moshi moshi?" She asked tentatively.
She did not use the device all that much. To tell the truth, most of the time she forgot all about it and it stayed abandoned in her bag or on some table at her house until it either rang, declaring its continuing existence, or ran out of battery. In that case, it took a lot of time before she would even remember about it. Anyway, if someone needed to reach her, they had better to call her at home. There was only one person stubborn enough to continuously call her on that device as even her husband had understood that she would never adopt that trend.
As such, the trepidation she felt when answering had the right roots.
"Kaa-san (4)? It's Sakura!" The voice came over the speaker, filling her ears with the familiar tone of her daughter.
Miko placed a delicate hand over her mouth to muffle a cry, and her eyes watered as she savored the voice of her little girl after so long without news.
"Mum? You're there?" Sakura asked again.
"…Hai," Miko stammered out, letting a smile form on her face.
Maybe her little girl was calling to tell her she was coming home.
Maybe she had finally learned her lesson, hard-earned but earned all the same. Everything would fall back into its place, and Miko would be able to take a breather again.
"Kaa-chan, I need money. I went to the bank to get some, but my card was swallowed and they said that the gold card was cancelled by dad. I tried my other card and they took it too! They said I had overdrawn and was in the red, for over ten thousand. They won't give my card back! But it should not be possible because my allowance should be in my account already… But they said that you stopped the transfer, why did you not wire my money this month? I need the money… and, and I have nowhere to stay! Naruto won't let me in the apartment: it's OUR apartment! Can you believe the gall of him?! And he got that stranger in there, living there like he owns the place! He got Naruto to kick me out. If it hadn't been for him I would not be in this situation! And why is Naruto able to get a stranger in OUR apartment without my permission!" Sakura babbled quickly.
Miko felt the phone slip from her hand.
Was this…was this materialistic woman really her little girl?
Miko closed her eyes, denying reality, thinking back. She remembered her five-years old daughter with her beautiful black hair fluttering in the wind, smiling and swirling round and round in her beautiful princess gown, until she had fallen on the sand of her father's Zen garden, giggling joyfully.
She could hardly reconcile that memory of her sweet, simple Sakura with the person who had just called her: Asking for money; Grumbling about the apartment that should have been hers, if things had gone differently.
This woman she called her daughter had just called her for the first time since leaving just to ask for money, clearly blind to all the chaos she had caused with her departure, not even stopping a moment to ask how she was, how her father was, how Naruto was.
No grief, no regret in her voice, just a whiny tone that could only suit a little kid, not an adult.
"Haruno-san… Are you all right?"
Miko blinked and looked up, seeing a nurse looking down at her with a gentle, worried expression. It was her appointed doctor's nurse, so she knew her.
She suddenly realized there was wetness on her cheeks, and she hesitantly brought her wrinkled fingers up to her face, touching her skin, feeling the tears as they rolled down, unable to stop them. Gently, she wiped them away, composing herself.
"It's time for your appointment, Haruno-san." The nurse whispered guiding her slowly to her doctor.
The nurse stopped for a second, bend down to retrieve the phone which laid in pieces on the floor.
"It's nothing don't worry, Haruno-san. I'll put it back together for you." The nurse reassured Miko, assuming that the woman was upset over her broken phone.
"Thank you." Miko answered absentmindedly, her mind reeling with thoughts, trying to find where she had gone wrong raising Sakura.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Tsunitsu Kimiko, twenty-five, was mortified to learn her parents had organized an Omiai for her without her knowledge.
It was, without a doubt, her mother's idea; her father was perfectly content with her being his little girl, almost in denial of her actual age. She was, of course, perfectly content playing that role.
Oh, no, not to mistake her for a nun. She knew how to have fun. She even had two boyfriends! Though, of course, she had never mentioned either of them to her parents. That was her own thing.
Yes, ok, she was pathetic! But not pathetic enough to need an omiai to find someone!
She checked herself in the mirror, trying to adjust the curls of her new haircut –the one her coworkers had chosen for her at the hairstylist salon. She looked so natural, and it made her face look better. She felt so pretty, and adding to that the discreet makeup her friends had helped her apply, the new yellow plated skirt also chosen with the help of her aforementioned friends and the cute little blouse, she knew she would seem dashing to anybody.
As an added, last touch, she had placed a small yellow bow on her hair, twisting it slightly to fit with the fashion tips from her magazines.
Yes, she looked perfect.
Her brown hair curled lightly around the frame of her face, her wide eyes making an even nicer contrast thanks to the makeup, and her lips, gently touched up by a light lip-gloss that made them look wet and soft and looked plump and kissable.
She admired herself in the windowpane of a shop, making sure that everything was in its place, and winked at her reflection, ignoring the looks of a few elderly passers-by –after all, she liked what she saw of herself, and had nothing to feel sorry for. She was a young woman, and the world was hers.
The café chosen for the omiai date was just a couple streets down from where she lived. It was a nice little place, and she'd been there once or twice, always thinking it would be perfect for a first date: not too romantic, a bit casual but not overly so.
It would be equally good for a date or with friends, since it was lively and never too crowded, but busy enough to show it was in good business.
It had pale orange walls bordered with white, with cute chairs both inside and outside, and they always offered something free with every order, either small samples of pastries or chips.
She pushed the door open, hearing the soft bell ringing to announce the entrance of a new customer, and glanced around. There were a few customers at that time of the day, mostly young people in groups, with a few couples that looked completely lost to the world, oblivious to anyone but each other.
The sight made something twist inside her, touched by the clear devotion she saw on their faces. She smiled to herself, touching her face lightly. It was so beautiful! She wanted that sort of relationship, too.
Her two boyfriends were nice, but they were not couple material most of the time. They wanted to have fun, dance and drink and party, but very rarely treated her the way she wanted. It was probably every girl's dream to be treated like a princess, revered and looked at with love.
Would she be able to have this with a complete stranger?
It did not seem quite possible to her. She let out a defeated sigh, and looked at the picture her parents had given her.
She had to admit it. The man was handsome, with his laughing blue eyes and his vibrant blond hair; he had quite the exotic look. Compared to him, with those model looks, she looked so common, so… bland!
What if he did not like her?
Maybe it would be better if she did not go. She would be able to say she had misunderstood the time, and got there too late, and then she could just forget all about it. He was not someone for her anyway…
As she turned around to leave, she came face to torso with a stranger, stumbling on her feet and falling on the floor.
"Oh sorry, sorry, Tsunitsu-san!" The stranger said.
Kimiko looked up at the hand extended for her to grab, and met those sparkling blue eyes belonging to her date.
She felt a little flustered, the man was even more handsome in person, if that was possible.
Hi hand closed around hers and she felt herself being pulled up in a standing position. She stumbled on her feet and looked down noticing she had broken her heel: Definitely not her day.
"They were brand new," She mourned as she took off her other shoe and knelt to gather the pieces of the broken one in her hands.
"I'm really sorry!" The man exclaimed. "I'll buy you new ones!"
"Oh no, that won't be necessary!" Kimiko exclaimed as she was led to a table.
Despite her previous thought about not going, she found herself walking along, unable to say no to that bright, sheepish face.
"I'm Uzumaki Naruto." The man said with an embarrassed smile as they were sat down. "Nice to meet you, Tsunitsu-san."
Swallowing in distress, Kimiko stared at the man sitting on the opposite side of the table, her eyes wide. She was paralyzed, not knowing what to say nor what to do. She gulped audibly.
"Tsu-Tsunitsu Kimiko." She stuttered. "You can call me Kimiko, Naruto-kun."
She looked down at the surface of the table, feeling her cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Maybe she was being too forwards, too direct with him, but he had an aura of friendliness that was hard to ignore. She dared to look up shyly at the handsome man, and found him smiling brightly at her, and her awkwardness slowly abated, leaving her feeling relieved.
"So, do you know what you want to order Kimiko-chan?" Naruto-kun asked.
"A bleach Melba ice cream." She answered realizing that the waitress was standing at their side, waiting for her order.
As soon as their order had been taken, they began to talk away about their work, their friends and their hobbies.
Naruto was a compelling narrator, and she quickly realized that despite having some common interests –languages, drawings, history…– they had quite different taste: Naruto was a fun-loving, talkative, bright person who could not stand in one place for more than a few minutes and needed to keep his hands and mind busy at all time, whereas she preferred calmer situations, and loved to take a moment to stop and relax, and feel life rush around her without touching her.
Kimiko could not believe someone like him would ever need an omiai to find a partner.
"Omiai?" Naruto-kun asked, shaking Kimiko out of her thoughts.
"I'm sorry, I was thinking out loud!" Kimiko explained her cheeks flushed. "I was wondering why a man like you would need an omiai."
"Is this what this is?" Naruto-kun asked surprised.
Kimiko's face fell, looking stunned at Naruto-kun as he began to mutter under his breath about a manipulative old grand-mother who would better minding her own business!
Kimiko felt defeated. Of course, he was too good to be true.
Someone had put him up for an omiai without even telling him. At least her mother had been nice enough to warn her before the actual date.
"Ah Sorry, Kimiko-chan. It's really not your fault. It's Tsunade-baa-chan's fault…" Naruto explained realizing what it must be like for Kimiko. "But you see, Tsunade-baa-chan –she is not really my baa-chan but if I had one I guess she would be like this– she is so worried about me…"
Kimiko silently listened as Naruto proceeded to tell her about his fiancée leaving him at the altar, and the subsequent drop of his mood at that. She marveled about how any woman could leave such a handsome, charming fellow, just to pursue the shadow of a man she had never even met before.
There was no way anybody would not be wooed by Naruto and his gentle, bright mood, as she herself was feeling her heart ache because of what he was saying.
She listened to him talk about his heartache and about how lonely he had felt, the feeling he would never be able to find love again, he who was so unlovable, as the one he thought he had loved apparently found him lacking. Her heart, equally aching at his words, made her smile back at him, trying to lift that sad expression and make it disappear.
She knew that if she had been in the place of his ex-fiancée, she would have never made him this sad.
She rejoiced when he talked about how he had fallen in love with a new person, a person who listened to him, who understood him, who was there for him and who respected him and maybe who even loved him back.
"I'm sorry, Kimiko-chan." Naruto-kun bowed slightly over his cup of ice cream. "I did not mean to mislead you. I'm sorry to have disappointed you. You came here to meet a possible future husband… but it can't be me. I'm really sorry."
Kimiko's smile turned wider. She would have loved to have someone like him as a husband. He surely knew how to treat someone with love, and devote to them all of his attention. But alas, the most handsome guys are always taken, or running for the opposite team.
"We can be friend, if you want?" Naruto-kun asked with a hopeful smile.
"I did not get a husband, but I got a friend out of the deal. It's not so bad." Kimiko said bravely as she took a sip of the complementary orange juice she had ordered, that the waitress had just settled in front of her.
And she meant it.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Minato did not know what to say, or what to feel.
After all those years, the long lost Kushina was standing there in front of him, like coming out from a dream.
He had been busy working, not even daring to entertain himself with thoughts unrelated to his job, and when he had looked up, she had been there.
Her fiery red hair fluttering slightly in the breeze, her pale blue eyes sparkling with life as they searched for his own for the first time in twenty-four years, shoulders pushed back and gaze held strong.
He stood there, staring at her without blinking as he tried to come to terms with this sudden rush to the past, absently finding himself comparing this person with the one he had been with back then, finding that all he could do was stare at her like she was just a vaguely familiar stranger.
There was a dizzying sort of truth in that. A person who had been once so close to him now was naught more than someone he could catch walking on the street, someone he had nothing left in common with.
Slowly, the memories came back, almost regretfully: her little smile, accompanied with a slight tilt of her head when he said something funny, her shy demeanor as she constantly pulled her uniform skirt down trying to stop it from rising too far up when they sat at the fountain edge, the feel of her soft skin under his rough fingers as he seized her small hand in his own while they walked down a path in the park.
He let a smile draw itself on his face, savoring the weird nostalgia of his first love, happy memories of her red hair tied in a big bow, her blue eyes sparkling with laugher as she gazed at him. Running back on the tracks of time, to the Kushina he had fallen in love with.
She was standing in front of him in her well-fitted marine-colored jacket, with the glaring red and gold emblem of her prestigious private school neatly placed just above her heart, a red necktie cutely knotted in a long bow that descended over her slightly wrinkled white blouse, her delicately plated skirt with a blue and green Scottish pattern stopping a hair above her knees, revealing the pasty tone of her legs.
Beautiful and young, her eyes sparkling with love.
"Minato?" came the sweet voice, not so different from twenty four years ago, maybe just a little less sweet, a bit more mature…
And Minato's illusion shattered, just like it did all those years ago, breaking in million fragments, revealing the harsh truth underneath. He remembered the fights, the screams, the hoarse accusations and the tangy, bitter scent of alcohol, stale food and sweat.
He blinked, trying to regain his footing, get a grip of reality.
All this feelings he had, it was all in the past… But all he could see now was that stranger again: the one he had lived with for months before getting free; the stranger who had taken over his first love and turned it sour. That foul person who cursed and drank, and did all sort of things that his first love, his sweet Kushina, would have never even thought about doing…
He watched, still as a statue, as this stranger stepped towards him, and grabbed his hand in hers, her nails scratching slightly the palm of his hands.
Again, another unwanted memory of the past, when he had come back from a double shift at the construction site, hoping to find his Kushina, only to see this stranger instead, wearing his love's sweet face as a mask, completely wasted out of her mind. The shirt that was Kushina's was covered in crass and soiled with alcohol, smelling as disgusting as vomit, and the hair he had loved so much looked like they had not seen a brush in days.
The stranger that was not Kushina anymore had rushed towards him with a bottle in hand, screaming incoherent, slurred words, wild accusations of him leaving her for someone else. Her words still rang in his mind, carved there forever together with the foul smell of her breath, her hands clenched into fists and slamming repeatedly against his chest, weak and unable to really hurt.
As if realizing this, she had dug her nails into his palm, breaking the skin and making him bleed, all the while accusing him of being a monster, of leaving her all alone, forcing her to be a prisoner of herself.
Back then, Minato had been unable to say a word, only staring at this woman who looked so much like the one he loved, but that had nothing of her at the same time. He did not know her anymore.
"This is all your fault! All your fault!" She had yelled at him again and again.
Minato had not wanted to deal with that stranger; all he had wanted was for his Kushina to come back. He had thought that given time and with his careful, gentle love, his Kushina would come back. But the more time passed the less hope he had and the guiltier he felt. Every day returning to that stranger he felt nothing for but disgust and anger, he had felt wearier and wearier.
This was not what he had expected when he had decided to stay with her and devote all his life to her.
Some days, he would somewhat explode like a cooker letting out the steam: he would yell at her for the smallest things –like that one time when he had come home to find her in a new dress, sitting at the candle-lit table with two cups of steaming ramen served in her idea of a romantic dinner.
Afterwards, he had felt bad, like he was a stranger to himself as well. He could understand that she was having trouble too, but he had acted against her nonetheless, with words of hatred he had not known he possessed. It could not have been him screaming those horrible things… and yet, even though it was partly his fault, he had resented her for making him feel that way.
He had cried bitter tears of self-loathing and despair, wondering if this was really the way things had to go, when all he had wanted was love and a small place for them both. He thought they would be happy even through darker times but no… he had been so wrong.
He clenched his jaw, forcing himself out of those painful memories
There was no way he wanted to feel like that ever again. He did not want to see this stranger back in his life, not even for a moment. Not even for the sake of his son.
His son… the son she had stolen from him! She had stolen so many things from him before: His first love, his parents, and a son. His son! A son he could have loved regardless of who his mother was. This stranger.
He would have loved being able to have a son despite where he was coming from, but to have that taken away from him…
He wrenched his hand out of her grip, stopping her chatter to which he had been deaf to until then.
Now the voice did not sound anything like the voice of his Kushina, he recognized it as the perfect match to that stranger who had tried to pass herself off as his Kushina. Too many years had passed by, and he had grown to accept himself and his wrongdoings, but… not hers. Not her.
"Who are you?" He blurted out the question that he had burned to ask all those years.
Minato turned his back on her, agitated, scornful then looked back at her, unable to show her his back for fear of… of what, he did not know, but fear nonetheless. He faced the woman who had been wearing for too long time the face of his first love, and his blue eyes narrowed in anger, turning darker with those thoughts in mind.
He met her gaze straight on, searching deeply inside for the remains of the woman he had known, only to find nothing.
That person had lost whatever resemblance she bore to his love, and was just the living embodiment of someone he did not know.
There was hurt on her face, and incomprehension, and he felt strangely satisfied to have been the one to put it there. It was a childish form of payback, and he was aware of it, but he did not care.
She had taken so much away from him that if this was what he could get back, he would do it.
"Who are you?" He repeated his voice full of anger.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Sakura was fuming.
First, Naruto had thrown her out of HER apartment: it was hers by rights since her parents had bought it for her! For her and not for him!
Then again, an orphan like him surely could not know what it meant to have the gift of a parent's love, so he would certainly try every chance he had to feel the love of a true parent. That of course did not mean he could try and steal her parents' love for himself.
Second: when she had tried to get all this shit out of her system with a night out, she had unreasonably been blacklisted for no reason. Why on Earth would she, the princess of Kyôtô night life, be blacklisted, was beyond her! She had tried to call her partner in crime but Ino would not answer the phone no matter how many times she called.
Because of that, the night had turned into a huge failure, making her anger grow even more.
She had had nowhere to stay and ended up staying in one of those cheap tourists traps, it was not the first time she spent a night there but she usually got company to have some happy times, and it was really creepy when you were alone –very much like going to a love hotel on her own. She had spent a really horrible night there.
In the morning, she had tried to call Ino again, but once more she had been unable to reach her friend, no matter how long she tried. She was beginning to think that Ino was filtering her call! But why?
She shook her head: What a ridiculous thought! No, Ino was her best-est friend. There was no one she trusted more to always be there for her, at her side.
Her day then went from bad to worse when, after trying to get some money at an ATM machine of one of the branches of her bank, her card had been swallowed by the machine and when she called the bank they had said her gold card had been cancelled.
Why would her dad do that to her?
She had not dwelled too long on that because just after that, her own card attached to her personal account, was confiscated because she had apparently overdrawn. She had tried to explain to the incompetent, obviously part-time banker that it should not have been possible since her allowance from her very rich and very generous parents had been due two days ago, consequently she should not be in the red anymore, and that little upstart idiot had just claimed that her mother, her own mother, had cancelled her monthly allowance.
She had finally ended up calling her mother to shut the snotty banker up and, as she always did when she was upset, she began ranting all her problems away at her mother. She was explaining how Naruto unlawfully invited some stranger to their home and that Naruto had somehow, somewhat fallen under some kind of spell or something and was being mind-controlled by the red-eyed stranger, when her mother, her own mother, the woman who gave birth to her, just hung up on her.
Sakura had been so upset, she nearly through her phone across the room but she managed to rein her temper. She had glared one last time at the snob looking banker before gathering her things in her bag and leaving, head held high. She did not need those cards anyway: she still had one more left.
But now, her day was turning a bit better.
A friend from the beauty school had called her, in need for a good make-up artist. Of course, Sakura had been her first thought; the job was for a gig with some up and coming model… Mia, Maria, Mai or something like that, who had to have a fashion spray in ViVi (5).
She had finished the makeup flawlessly, turning the rather plain model into the super cute doll that Japanese women loved and envied so much; she had even done the raving girl a superb, sublime manicure –or nail make-up, as Sakura liked to call it– and had been highly praised and paid for that hard work.
She could proudly say that she was no-longer homeless in her own town, as she had booked herself in one of the most comfortable high-end hotel in Kyôto. Her father's name did hold some weight!
And there she was, sitting in a massage chair as a young, plain and forgettable lady was massing the sole of her left foot, while she was sipping a fruity cocktail. Not a bad taste, what she needed after such a horrible period. She looked at her manicured hand, admiring the handy work of the helper, not as good as her own art but good enough.
She eyed the pile of magazines sitting next to her on the small wooden pedestal: most of them were Europeans and Americans like Vogue or Marie Claire, especially bought for the mostly foreign clientele. However there were one or two Japanese ones which she managed to fetch out of the pile.
She caught a flash of familiar blond hair leafing through the pages trying to find something interesting to read. She knew that peculiar shade of blond, the shade of blond specific only to her ex-fiancé. In all honesty, Naruto did not belong to this kind of magazines, her kind of magazines –if that knuckle head ever get to be in a magazine it would be the boring sort like The Economist: the kind nobody of interest ever appeared in or even read, for that matter.
She stopped and frantically flipped through the magazine backwards, trying to find the incriminated page.
Maybe inviting that stranger to live with him was not the only crazy thing Naruto had done after losing her. She could perfectly understand how distressed Naruto must have been after losing her –not that she ever belonged to him, she only belonged to Sasuke-kun… but Naruto had believed that she was his once, had he not–, he must have gone slightly crazy without her to ground him.
She felt a twitch of guilt which she quickly dismissed. She had to live her own life, seek her own happiness and she could not, would not, be held responsible of Naruto losing his own. She just hoped that he did not do anything too drastic. Even though, the presence of this stranger in her home spelled trouble.
She wondered if she should not at least offer Naruto some words of advice to bring him back to the road of good…
She finally found the page.
Her jaw went slack and her eyes widened: how was this possible?!
She rubbed her eyes smearing her make-up all over her cheeks with the palm of her hands.
Right there, on a glossy double-page, was Naruto, leaning against a wall. The pose was provocative, evoking in Sakura the classic poses requested to male models for body products. She could only see Naruto's profile in that photo, but even she could say that it looked good.
His blue gaze, usually already penetrant on its own, was now magnified by a tastefully applied makeup, and it was staring straight ahead, towards the camera, intense and vibrant, the blue even more vivid than usual. His blond hair was artfully spiked up, a fancier version of his usual haircut, and despite the spikes it looked soft; his bare torso was glistening, poised in a lazy, provoking stance, accentuating the masculine feel of his body in a drool-worthy way.
To end it, his pants hang enticingly low on his hips, offering a barely-visible-but-there view of the lines of his pelvis, and his footwear was matching the color of his pants.
In one word, Naruto, her Naruto, looked like a Greek God.
Sakura could hardly believe this was the man she abandoned at the altar and, for a second, she thought she might have made a mistake.
She blinked, turning her mind back to analyzing the Adonis body on the glossy page. She suddenly took notice of Naruto's redder than usual lips –like they had just been ravaged in a passionate kiss– were inches away from someone else's ear.
And for the first time, Sakura took notice of the two other characters posing in the picture.
Here, standing next to her Adonis ex-fiancé, stood her equally handsome, future husband: UCHIHA Sasuke, sporting as many articles of clothes as Naruto. His eyes had a droopy quality to them that spoke of a bed-gaze, dripping with sexiness and promising exciting whispers to her ear. His posture was made to complement Naruto's one, and his body was glistening, accentuating every curve and muscle of his frame, making him look strong and commanding, beckoning the eye of the viewer.
Sakura was staring at his body, taking on every curve of every muscle on her future husband. She frowned annoyed that some parts of that perfect body were hidden by the third and last participant of the photo who was draped wantonly over HER future husband.
Her eyes turned to the hussy: her obviously photo-shopped figure hugging HER future husband's body like she had some kind of right over his body. Sakura stared at the profile of the hoe whose mouth, like Naruto's one, was millimeters away from her Sasuke-kun's ear.
She could not believe it. There, staring at her with pale blue eyes and pale blond hair pulled in a high ponytail was the person she had, until now, considered like her sister.
"BITCH!" Sakura yelled throwing the magazine at the wall startling the masseuse. "If she thinks she can steal MY husband like that!"
She roughly tore her foot away from the petite girl massaging it and walked out like a girl on a mission.
The war was on. And Ino would pay dearly for her betrayal!
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
End of the 14th chapter of Long Vacation
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
(1) TAKAYAMA Hikokuro (1747-1793) was a Samurai of the Edo period and has a statue in somewhere in Kyôtô.
(2) Shamisen: three-stringed Japanese musical instrument
(3) Sakura Sakura: is a real traditional child song.
(4) kaa-san = (O)kaasan = mother/mum
(5) ViVi: is a Japanese magazine