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
Warning: My Story is taking place in an ideal Japan where Homosexuality is not considered a taboo and is generally well accepted by the media and the public.
Thanks all my lovely reviewers: itachisgurl93; Kichou; Saharra Shadow; The Stereotypical Uke; Nique13; codebamboo; Kyuubi's Death; Canna; The Writing Jester; KyuubiChild717; Otaku-ka-ren; Aleeyana (X2); rabbit17; Firehedgehog; DarkRavie; Celestialfae; KitsuneNaru; whoopsly; Aiko Tachibana; Bella216; GoodMorningFlower; twilightserius; Buffainiac; pandora vanity; Inu Tashiro p; shiskanae242; Gairu-chan; Stoic-Genius; skyglazingMaro (X5); DismalAbstraction; 7thDwarf; therezwaffleinem; Kitty20; Xxferessa-TanXx; Niji-neko; Guest; dawn chase; Animelvr; TripOverFlatSurfaces; XxYunikuna UtsukushixX; TigrezzTail; sakurarie; Peyton Namikaze; Sayakra; Celestialfae; Miyoko Midori; Azilli (X2); Asarita
Yum2 thanks you all very much for your reviews this makes Yum2 very happy. Yum2 authored this story, Yum2 would like to let it know that Yum2 likes to share her love for ItaNaru and this story but that Yum2 does not authorize people to publish this story without Yum2 and SOY's consent. So Yum2 would like the person who copied and pasted her story on another site to please stop it...
That's all... for now.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Long Vacation 15
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Sakura gritted her teeth as she let herself flop down on the bed in her room, flipping the TV on.
Those ads were everywhere! There was not one place where she could turn so she would not have to see a version or another of those stupid ads, and it annoyed her.
She glanced up at the TV screen, only to see her Sasuke-kun sitting on a throne like the royalty he was, black eyes staring straight at the camera, and a satisfied smirk playing on his lips. His hand was carding through Naruto's soft-looking hair, giving the impression of a possessive ruler; as for Naruto himself, he was kneeling in front of Sasuke's feet, gripping Sasuke's calf possessively with both arms, his head relaxed on Sakura's future husband's knee. He was sparing a glance at the camera in a way that seemed almost indecent to her, those sparkling blue eyes of his focused on the onlooker, a knowing smirk on his face. She had never seen Naruto smirk in the entirety of her time with him, and ever since she had known him. Naruto ever only smiled, or grinned; he would never give this kind of mocking smirk, so far from his usual humble boysterous self.
"At least, Ino is not on this one!" She seethed loudly.
Sakura wanted to rip off the dreamy smile on the talk-show lady's face as she explained how extremely popular the new nationwide advertising campaign of the UCHIHA was, and gushed to her co-animator how both handsome models were very single.
She wanted to scream at the woman: none of them were single, both belonged to her! And only to her!
The annoying woman, who had a high pitched voice, proceeded to account in details how long the ad campaign took to shoot, and how much the cost for it was, and of course, who the lucky female model was –"single for you too, guys," the announcer had added with a knowing smile and a wink.
Sakura took a loud sip from her drink through its straw, and pouted even more. Her focus was back to the ad as it popped up from a corner of the screen and back to full-screen, invading it and making it impossible for her to ignore it. Her eyes focused on Naruto in particular, unable to look away.
And how come she had never seen that body before?
Naruto was not supposed to have that Adonis body, and even less to show it off like he did! Especially since she, who had been his fiancée, had not been privy to this handsome body before.
Naruto was supposed to remain a boring office worker, wearing boring and cheap out-fashioned suits, doing a boring nine-to-five shift only to get a miserable salary and have a boring life, maybe with a boring plain-looking wife in a boring three-bedrooms house, which would leave him in debt until his death. In the dead of the night, Naruto would dream of the glamorous life he might have lived with Sakura if only they had worked it out, only to have to admit to himself that he would have never managed to make her as happy as she deserved to be, as happy as she was with her perfect husband UCHIHA Sasuke. After all, Sasuke was of the same social status as she was, and so much more fitting than Naruto could have ever dreamed to be.
This was not how it was supposed to be at all.
Her eyes wandered back to the TV screen. Now the ad had changed to the first picture Sakura had seen. She glared at the blonde girl; it was obviously photoshopped, because the small scar Ino had on her left calf was not there. That certainly was not the only thing they had 'enhanced', either, Sakura thought with a vindictive, malicious smirk.
But no matter: what Ino was doing was pure treason, simple as that. Why would she betray Sakura in such a blatant manner? Ino had been her best friend since kindergarten, when she had saved Sakura from those idiotic, ugly girls who were mocking her for her forehead. Since then, they had never had a fight, not ever. Not even about boys, and that said a lot! Ino would always step down if Sakura was interested in a guy, giving her always precedence. Ino had always claimed that no boy, no matter how cute, how handsome, how rich, would ever be worth risking their friendship.
That was how it had always been, with Ino always shouldering Sakura and giving her respect and support, just as she deserved. Ino was a good friend.
But now, seeing Ino rubbing herself on the love of her life like a cheap street-worker, Sakura had her eyes opened. Those words that had lulled her for so long were meaningless, and Ino, the traitor, had just been lying to her until now, simply waiting and laying low in order to steal Sakura's love of her life from her.
It all made sense now: how Ino tried to talk her out of leaving for Tôkyô to find her true love, how she would argue that Naruto loved her and would make her happier than any man could ever, how she would not answer the phone now that her duplicity was made public; she was trying to seduce Sasuke-kun away from her!
Oh, a part of Sakura could understand why: Sasuke was gorgeous, handsome and mysterious, not to mention he had a great standing with the media and his attitude made Sakura swoon, together with a lot of worthless creatures who would do somersaults for just a little bit of Sasuke's attention.
Nobody in their right mind would ever reject Sasuke, Sakura knew it. If she had not been Sasuke's fated lover and wife, Sakura would have indulged in Ino's hopeless one-sided love, and even encouraged her as she saw fit.
But Sakura was Sasuke's rightful soul mate, not Ino, and as such, she expected her friend to do as usual, and allow Sakura to finally fulfil her destiny: UCHIHA Sakura, revered and at Sasuke-kun's side.
Sakura gritted her teeth as she closed her fist around her paper cup, ignoring the pop of the plastic lid and the cool liquid running out of the cup on all over her hand.
Even her going out with Naruto had been orchestrated by Ino. It had been Ino who had convinced her to give the blond boy a chance, even though he was so totally not Sakura's type at all: too loud, too bright, too… alien. And especially too poor. In fact, thinking about it, he was the exact opposite of what she had always looked in a boyfriend! Though she had to admit, he did cover her with gifts, but at the same time it was an annoyance. Besides, Naruto's unhealthy obsession with the colour orange had put a damper on Sakura's decision to be nice and try.
What a coincidence really, that Naruto was also the opposite of what Ino looked for in guys! Not just to go out with, but even to keep around as a friend. Naruto was not the kind of person one would want to be seen with, not if one planned on making a statement. Ino would not have gone out with someone like him, and thus, not someone Sakura, herself, would have fancied. So why would she want to…?
Sakura's eyes widened as she began to fully understand the extent of Ino's treachery.
No, she would not let it go so easily! Ino would have to pay for trying to steal her happiness away!
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Iruka ushered the last of his young charges out of the door of his classroom with a smile and a wave.
The class had ended successfully, and he could finally relax, knowing the kids were going home with their parents, and safe.
He let out a content sigh as he sat behind his desk, covered with drawings. The typical assortment of colourful animals, houses and sticky people. Some of them were even of Iruka himself, and as usual when something like this happened, it made him proud.
He enjoyed being a Kindergarten teacher most than any other of his previous teaching position but gods, was it tiring!
After a couple more seconds of being idle, he started to pick the drawings up one by one, taking the time to look at each of them, smiling at the baton figures representing different members of the kids' families, their pets, and fantasy creatures and dinosaurs. He would pin the drawings on the wall behind his desk first thing the next morning, though: he was just too tired to do it now, and besides, it would make the kids happy to see him do it in front of them.
He might even ask them where they wanted their drawings to be put, as long as there were no fight between them.
He placed the mug that had been sitting on his desk all afternoon, against his lips, trying to take a sip only to realise that it was already empty; he sighed. He really needed that gulp of coffee, and it would have certainly helped him during the long commute from school to his home sweet home.
Iruka blinked tiredly, he would just have to stop at the café in front of the station.
The thought of the delicious, hot coffee that was waiting for him there was the only thing that helped him gather the strength to stand up and move out of the room.
He waved goodbye to the cleaners that entered the hall as he left, knowing them all by name, and they all smiled and waved at him, though they saw his tired face and decided not to keep him for some mindless chatter. Iruka was grateful for that.
The café was a small place, in front of the station but not too in-your-face. It still managed to stand out just from the delicious, strong smell wafting in the air, and as he got closer to the door, he took a deep breath, sniffing the scent of coffee and feeling rejuvenated already.
Just a couple more steps and he would be in Le Paradis du Café (1), as that was the well-thought name of the place.
He quickly pushed the door of the busy café and with expert ease he found his usual table in the back, near the bay window overlooking the station.
The waitress, who was dressed in a French maid uniform, came quickly and swiftly took his order. He was ashamed to say that, even though he came to the café every day, he had yet to learn the young woman's name even though he could name every item on the menu. He swore to himself that, the next time, he would ask the waitress for her name and be more sociable as Naruto kept nagging him to.
Thinking of Naruto, was his advertising not coming out today?
Iruka made a note to remember to buy a copy of a magazine showcasing the ad.
Truth was, he had been quite against Naruto participating to that campaign, especially after he was told the theme and the script of the ad. He had seen on TV, on the magazines, on the internet, how heartless this field was, and he had feared for Naruto.
Iruka let a small smile play on his lips as he remembered Naruto's fierce speech to convince him to let him try.
"You can't let fear dictate your life. And you will be here each step of the way so I have nothing to fear, you have nothing to fear." He had said, echoing Iruka's own speech from a long time ago.
Iruka's smile turned fond, since Naruto had no real obligation to ask him for permission, and yet there he had been, wanting Iruka's approval just like when he had been a kid.
Naruto was his own person of course, and could make his decisions by himself, and yet always referred back to Iruka whenever there was something important he thought he would need advice for. In that, he had not changed since he had been little, and Iruka was both proud and touched at that display of trust.
Still, Iruka thought of him as a nice, almost too nice, person, and was not sure he could manage to not be destroyed by this new job, despite Naruto's reassurances.
In the end, seeing Naruto's determination, and his bright eyes full of resolve, he had given in, of course he had.
The waitress came and left again, and Iruka sized the warm mug in his hand, savouring the smell of the rare Arabica with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he felt a shift in the air and heard the tell-tale sound of someone sliding on the seat opposite to him, the faux-leather screeching under the weight of the intruder. He opened his eyes, and his calm, pleasant expression twisted as he glared at the unwelcome guest.
"What are you doing here, UZUMAKI?" Iruka asked, feeling something in his chest constrict at the sight of the woman.
UZUMAKI Kushina looked untouched by time as she sat proudly in front of him in her white suit, her back straight, her fierce red hair pulled back in a ponytail, her eyes defiantly looking down at him, her lips pinched in thin line. She looked just like back then, with the same condescending attitude she reserved for him alone.
Iruka was forced to remember the last time he had seen her, more than fifteen years ago: she was wearing the exact same suit, had her hair styled the exact same way and her eyes had looked down on him the exact same manner as they did now. That day, at last cleaned, she had signed over her rights to Naruto to him with those chilling parting words:
"If he can't get me Minato, I don't need him, I don't want him."
Just remembering that time brought Iruka back to the chaotic mess of emotions he had felt back then –anger, satisfaction at finally winning over her, displeasure at her failure as a mother, as a person.
All of it, and even more, were what Iruka felt now, staring at her with trepidation. Anxiety mounted inside him, disliking her, disliking what her presence meant for him, disliking the fact that she was back in his life.
"UZUMAKI? I'm hurt." Kushina answered placing a hand over her heart. Her mock-hurt only served to ruffle Iruka's anger even more.
He slowly rose from his chair looking down at her in contempt, not wanting to give her any tactical advantage. He was not planning on staying long enough to let her talk.
"There is so much hatred in those eyes, Iruka-kun. Weren't we friends once, Iruka-kun?" Kushina asked sweetly, with a poisonous smile.
"You can hardly say that. I was just convenient," Iruka answered coldly.
Iruka gathered his coat and bag, preparing to leave. He could not stay near that person for one more second or kami knew what he would do to her.
"I want him back." Kushina exclaimed out of the blue as she seized Irula's arm.
For an incredibly long second, Iruka stared at her in shock, trying to comprehend what she had just asked him. Since he could not feel any change in her from back then, her words sounded even more like a preposterous blasphemy than a real, heartfelt mother plea.
"You have no right to be here. You have no right to come near him ever again," Iruka shouted wrenching his arm out of her deadly grip and losing his barely controlled composure.
"I have every right! He is my blood and flesh! I'm his mother!" She answered with a smirk, voice still keeping steady.
Iruka felt his jaws locked as his anger rose dangerously. She was playing a threatening game, and he did not know the rules, nor the reasons.
How dare this woman claim the title of mother? She, who so carelessly forsook her child, could not be considered a mother! She was, for the lack of better word, an incubator, and the only good thing that she ever did for the child she had borne, was to abandon him to Iruka.
There was not an ounce of her that was motherly, and all of her being screamed of treacherous thoughts.
"You have lost the right to be called his mother when you carved those scars on his face." Iruka replied in a hiss, his usually warm chocolate eyes turned impossibly dark, a cold glare piercing the woman in front of him.
The woman had the guts to smirk at him.
"You can certainly not deny him the mother he yearned for, can you?" Kushina asked. "Are you that heartless, Iruka-kun? Are you that selfish? Or do you fear that he will know of your manipulation?"
Iruka flinched as he remembered how he had negotiated with Kushina's parents to leave Naruto to him in exchange for the localization of their daughter. Iruka had known he had made the right decision, but he could not help but fear what Naruto might think of him if he ever learned about this.
He had sold off his mother, no matter if she was a horrible, unrepentant mother, for the rights of having him with him, safe and loved.
"He would never forgive you, if he knew." Kushina gloated knowing she had hit a nerve.
The threat was heard loud and clear.
Iruka swallowed. Oh, the threat was painful and it resonated within him with all the repressed guilt of years, but he could not let that evil woman near Naruto again; he had sworn it that day when he had knocked on Kushina's door after hearing little Naruto's heart-wrenching screams and found little boy standing, his empty blue eyes looking blankly at the door, rivers of blood flowing down his cheeks staining his little sailor kindergarten school uniform. That day, Iruka's heart broke from the guilt of having ignored the signs – though they were obviously there –, of having let this happened to such an innocent and pure child and he had promised to himself and, more importantly, to Naruto, that he would never let this woman hurt him again.
He would not let go on his promise.
Iruka strengthened his resolve, feeling a pang of fear wash over his anger, like a bucket of water on flames. He would have to come clean to Naruto, and tell him the whole truth, and hope beyond all hope, that he would find it within his heart to forgive him.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Naruto did not know why he felt so excited, giddy even.
It was just a date, albeit their first true date. He had gone to a million of those with Sakura, and yet he had never felt this excited before, not with her.
It really was not much, but there was a deep sort of giddiness nested within his chest that made every breathe feel like he was inebriated, sparkling and glittery.
His first actual date with Itachi. Oh, yes.
Suddenly, excitement left its place to anxiousness.
The change was so abrupt it felt like a punch into the stomach.
What if their first date ended up being a bigger disaster than his other first date was?
His first date with Sakura, he remembered, had been at the zoo. It had been a complete disaster, and not something Sakura wanted to recall, or have someone else recall, not even in an attempt to try and come to terms with it.
A giraffe, who had developed and unhealthy liking to the candy floss that one could buy at various stands in the zoo, had been unable to see the difference between her favourite treat and Sakura's dyed hair. She had extended her neck past the protective fence, and just as people pointed at her in wonder, hoping to reach out for a quick pat, the giraffe struck: her lips pouting out, her tongue wrapping around Sakura's long hair, she had chewed on it.
The animal had been a very stubborn specimen, and had not wanted to let go of the hair, no matter how much her trained had cajoled her, despite it not quite tasting the way candy floss should have. Due to that, Sakura had ended up as the laughing stock of all the children present on that sunny Sunday, and not just that: Sakura had had to say goodbye to her long, beautiful hair, cut off to get the giraffe away from her, and had to get an 'out-fashioned', uneven bob haircut to replace it.
Of course at the moment it had not been fun: Naruto had thought it would ruin his chances with Sakura forever, but afterwards, he had tried to joke about it a bit, but Sakura had sent a glare at him, forbiddening him to ever mention that ever again.
With a deep breath, Naruto tried to stop thinking about it. Recalling his failed first date with Sakura only had the negative outcome to make him even more nervous, and he could not let the past interfere with the present.
It was just going out for dinner. They had plenty of dinners before, it was certainly nothing new. But then they would go to a Kabuki (2) play at the Minami-za (3) and that would be the first time ever for Naruto to go there with someone who actually enjoyed the expressive form of art.
Sakura had never been too keen on traditional Japanese theater. They had been only once to a Kabuki representation, in which their high school theater club had starred, and only because she had been the make-up artist for the play. They had spent half the play backstage, Naruto watching Sakura apply make-up, and the rest was spent listening to Sakura complain about the lack of creative freedom and how this was a poor show of her superb skills. Needless to say, that Naruto first and only experience with real Kabuki had been a disaster too.
Naruto shook his head. He wondered why he was thinking so negatively, when he knew that Itachi just was not Sakura, and could never be. Itachi and Sakura... there could not be two beings on Earth that were more different than those two were! And the way he felt towards both was worlds apart, too.
Finally, a smile replaced the worried frown from before.
Maybe it was just the giddiness of finding a kindred soul, or someone who actually expressed interest in what Naruto said, or did, but… how foolish he had been to believe that what he had felt for Sakura was true love!
Sakura had been right: he could have never loved her the way she needed, deserved to be loved. His love for her was so shallow compare to what he felt for Itachi.
No, Itachi was not the Sun of his sky or the stars of his night: though he, indeed, starred in most, if not all, of Naruto's nights. Naruto had been disabused of those overly romantic notions he had once held. It had not been love at the first sight even though, dare he admit it himself, that first night they had met each other, Naruto had certainly felt something, but that something had been more akin to lust than to love.
Naruto felt the blush flaring on his cheeks as he remembered that morning, just a few months before, and how things had changed since then.
He could not help but marvel at how quickly he had become attached to the dark and mysterious man. It might have been the fact that they were living together, and so they had no reason to hide in the haven of their home, or just how easily it was to be himself around the older man; and, in turn, how much open Itachi could be around him. He had been able to observe every side of an Itachi who was gradually getting comfortable around him, with him, and finally letting his public persona mask go. He had effortlessly fallen in love with this human-like Itachi, with all his qualities but also with all his flaws.
Still, up until now their romance had been solely confined within the four walls of their shared apartment; not exactly a secret, but also not a commonly known fact, either. If asked they would probably have no qualms to admit they were dating, but, well, now they would be out in the open, and a couple for everyone to see!
There was a sliver of hesitance there, at that thought.
He did not fear people's judgment. In fact, he could not care less about what people thought of him, and his life choices. But there was still a part of him, deeply rooted within his mind, that wanted the recognition of others, wanted to measure up to their expectations of him.
That part despised failure, and embarrassment.
Naruto closed his eyes for a second.
No, that would not do. He had to think for himself, not for others.
Who did he want to make happy? Who was he living his life for?
When he opened his eyes again, they shone with a new, determined glint. He would not care what other might think, he would not care if he made others unhappy, because for once, HE was going to be happy. And he was going to be happy with Itachi because being with Itachi made him feel alive, made him feel like he could be himself and not fear anyone's judgment because Itachi was the only one who counted.
It was such a new, refreshing feeling that just concentrating on it made all the bubbly excitement from before resurface, washing away all the gloomy feelings and his uncertainty.
"This is going to be the awesomest date ever." Naruto claimed childishly, relinquishing in the freedom he now felt.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Miko pinched her lips in a thin line as she looked down worriedly at her hands, which were crossed on her laps gripping tightly on the cords of her purse.
She was sitting in the sanitized waiting room of the hospital for the second time in as many weeks, with the same anxious feeling inside her as the first time, the same unnerved desire to walk away, and ignore the situation.
She kept playing with the thin cord, rolling it between her fingers, pulling at the little strings of fabric, trying to keep herself calm despite the mounting stress. She liked to tear fabric into strips whenever she was nervous, a way for her to occupy her hands while her brain raced from one side to the other.
Why had they called her?
She had to do those medicals practically ever since the day she was born and she had only been called in once, some twenty-three years ago, to congratulate her for her pregnancy. Something she had suspected but had not dared to hope for after all those years hoping for a child. It had been one of the happiest day of her life.
But this time… this time, something was definitely wrong. She could feel it in her bones. This was not a social call to give happy news and congratulations.
Higashi had tried to reassure her more than once, telling her she was just too stressed because of the mess with Sakura. His words had been calm, like a safety cover during the storm of her fear, but even that small reassurance was not doing much against the strength of her fear.
Still, as bad news are never left alone, her thoughts moved incessantly from her fears about her own health to thoughts of her daughter. She could still recall with clarity her husband's anger, his loud, enraged voice: anger at their daughter, for being so inconsiderate, anger at himself, for being helpless in such a situation. She knew Higashi hated being unable to do anything, more than anything else in the world.
He was a man of action, a man who liked to keep control of his life, his choices, his everything. Unexpected things were unpleasant, and even more so was being unable to make an impact on something.
She looked up when a pair of strong, familiar hands covered her hands, stopping their light shaking. Higashi was looking at her, worried and perturbed, and she mustered up a smile for him, because he always made her smile.
He would not hear any of it, and his decision to be at her side was final.
She looked at him and smiled a soft smile. Her Higashi had taken a day off of work for her even thought she had insisted he did not need to. But he would not heard any of it.
Miko loved her husband dearly, in situations such as this one, the only one who could be strong was herself, not him for her. He was allowed to try and share his reassurances, but in the end, she was the one waiting to speak with her doctor, and it would be her left to face her fears.
She just hoped that his strong shoulders would be able to offer her a grip on sanity, were the news to be too much for her to hear.
"HARUNO-san?" The soft voice of her doctor's personal nurse said in a near whisper. "The doctor will see you now."
Miko nervously raised to her feet, shuffling with her bag and gripping her husband's hand as he, too, stood up. She carefully took a reluctant small step forward and looked back at Higashi, who offered her that same encouraging smile he had given her when, so many years before, he had shared with her his meager lunch. They had been but children, that tender smile one of the reasons she had fallen for him, for the bad and for the good. A smile only meant for her.
It might even sound preposterous, but this was a smile he had never shared with anybody, not even with their child, and that had always made Miko feel important, strangely pleased to own that special part of him that nobody else would ever be allowed to have, not even… Sakura.
Miko took another step, feeling her husband's hand gently guiding her to the open door of the doctor's office.
Once inside, she meekly took a seat in one of the comfortable leather chairs in front of the doctor's desk and, as soon as her husband sat as well, she snaked her hand back into his own, seeking reassurance in the soft warm of his touch.
She spared a glance up at her doctor. The relatively young man was sitting at his large oak desk, black eyes hidden behind his thin round black-framed glasses which were hanging precariously on the tip of his pointy nose, his long silver grey hair gathered in a lose ponytail.
Despite having known him for a long time, it still marvelled her just how young he looked, even more whenever he pushed those glasses off to clean them, young but determined and knowledgeable.
She remembered that one time she had asked him how someone so young could have such grey hair and the man had whispered in his calm soothing voice: "Because I'm an old soul, HARUNO-san."
His eyes had moved something within her that was maternal, and pained, for him.
"HARUNO-san," The doctor acknowledged, effectively shaking her out of her trip down the memory lane.
YAKUSHI Kabuto had been her doctor for five years now, having taken over his father after he had had a devastating stroke that had left his left side totally paralyzed.
The man had been a respected doctor, loved by many, with a patience just as big as his heart, and the news of his tragedy had shaken all his patients too. Meeting his son, who was following his footsteps, was even more jarring due to his age.
Still, thought young, Kabuto was a very respected, well versed doctor with an impressive resume, having been taught in Tôdai and Harvard University: two of the best colleges in the world. At first Higashi had insisted she changed doctor for someone with more experience, but a single meeting with the stoic young man had changed even her husband's mind.
Such was the strength of YAKUSHI Kabuto's skill.
"I do not have good news." The young man began, pushing his glasses up his nose, his voice a soothing whisper.
Miko shifted nervously, raising her head to meet the young YAKUSHI's eyes, her free hand covering her mouth. She felt a bit of the tension leave her as her husband squeezed her hand in comfort. She was not alone.
"But it is not necessarily bad news either." The young man continued in the same flat tone.
It was not that he did not care for his patients, but he did not want to alarm or make them panic in case of bad news, or give too much of a vain hope either way. He was placid in front of his charges either way.
She watched anxiously as YAKUSHI-sensei opened the file he had set in front of him flipping through the pages of her medical report.
"The MRI of your lower intestine shows a small mass, right there." The man explained, leafing out the glassy paper of her MRI.
Miko squirmed forwards, her head millimetres away from her husband's. She could barely see the white mass which was a little bit larger than a marble, squashed between her intestines, that the doctor was pointing for her.
"We are not sure what it is exactly, and we would like to take a few other tests." The young doctor said.
That was one thing she liked about the young YAKUSHI, he was direct and to the point. No need for flowery words, just the harsh truth. It had been quite a bit of fresh air compared to his father who liked to make long discourse and made too many detailed explanations filled with inapprehensible words she barely understood.
"What other test?" Higashi inquired redirecting Miko's attention to the current discussion.
"First and foremost, a new MRI." YAKUSHI-sensei informed. "We want to be sure that what we've seen is not a glitch before we use more invasive techniques. After that, if the problem is confirmed, we might consider a biopsy, which would permit us to get a sample of the mass, and from there depending on the results we will talk about our options: radiation, surgery… But this is not a talk for just now."
Miko watched as Higashi nodded his head gravely. She felt lost, not truly understanding what the doctor was telling her. Did she have cancer? Was she going to die?
"I have scheduled your MRI for Wednesday at 2. I should have the result in a week." YAKUSHI-sensei said.
"Do I have cancer?" Miko blurted out having barely heard anything her doctor had said.
She felt as though her whole world was turned upside down: her daughter turned out to be a selfish child with no sense of the value of things and the boy, man she had judged so harshly as a gold-digger out for her daughter's money turned out to be a responsible young man and now this? Now she might have cancer?
"I cannot confirm this as of yet, HARUNO-san." Her doctor said in his softest voice, the voice he used to reassure his patient.
Miko felt all her energy drained from her. Cancer… She might have cancer. She closed her eyes trying to contain the tears ready to spill.
She felt Higashi size her arm and gently, slowly help her up to her feet.
"Thank you Doctor. We will see you in a week then." Higashi said as he turned her to the door.
She could hear her husband whispering sweet words of reassurance to her, promises she knew he would make his best to keep. But her mind did not register any of it, as it was swirling with unanswered questions.
What if she had cancer? What were they going to do? And Sakura? Should they tell their daughter about a tragedy that might not be?
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Itachi was a man of habit. He did things a certain way, always.
It was just the way he liked things, somewhat organized and under his control.
For a date, it would always be dinner to a quiet, discreet high class place, in a secluded booth that would be previously booked in order to keep himself and his date far from prying eyes. He never ordered too much food, always keeping some space for a dessert at the end, even if the date turned out to be boring.
Next was the entertainment – it did not matter what: a play, a movie, a concert…– then the evening would end one way or another, depending on his mood and on how much he had liked his date.
He would always arrive at the restaurant first, coming directly from work, order a bottle of Saint Emillion (4) and savour a first glass of the expensive nectar while waiting for his date. If his date was late, he would simply order whatever caught his fancy for him and for them and carry on without them. It did not really matter to him if his second half of the time was there to share their dinner or not.
After dessert, he would usually head to his chosen entertainment of the night with his date attached to his arm, chatting non-sense which he would simply block out as he would be mentally reviewing his planning for the next day. If he happened to be alone, he would give his tickets away to some random couple he would cross path with in the street. No need to waste any more time in frivolous entertainment that held little to no interest to him when it could be of better use to someone else. It would give Itachi good Karma; that was, if he believed in Karma in the first place.
Itachi had never strayed from this path before, and it did him well – he never quite felt the need to invest on a partner, and even those he had some sort of attachment too ended up the same way, and in the end all things finished with no sort of guilt or melancholy, so he continued acting the same way over and over.
But this date, this date with Naruto, it was different.
Not different because he was actually going to fetch Naruto for their date, which was a breach of his usual protocol, but because he was actually looking forward to spending more time with Naruto outside of their apartment. He did not care about the restaurant itself – thought he had booked a table in one of his favourite restaurants, one he never went to with any of his previous conquests –, or about the Kabuki play – one of his favourite entertainments, which he rarely indulged into even less on dates –; all he cared about was being with Naruto. He just wanted to spend time with Naruto and he did not care what the world at large would think.
He was not making any particular effort to show off for Naruto like he had his previous dates, far from it! He was in fact sharing with Naruto a part of him that a rare few people had a glimpse of.
This was because he knew a side of Naruto that he had seen in private, and that was because he trusted the younger man with himself, with the Itachi that did not paint a mask for the world to see.
His dates only rarely got to know Itachi, because Itachi would not trust them with that, with who he was, because they were all so attracted by the mask that it was rare they even thought that there might be something else to him than what they see. That was a crucial difference with the way Naruto acted.
Naruto did not want a mask – thought he knew that the mask was part of what had attracted Naruto to him. But Naruto did not linger long on the mask and thrives to know the Itachi beneath the prestence. And Naruto had liked what he had found there, he had been the only one to like Itachi for, well, for being Itachi: mask and all, not caring about the glaring imperfections that Itachi hided behind his cool persona.
Itachi stopped at the realization: this was very scary and at the same time exhilarating. He had not felt this alive in years… if ever.
He did, in fact, like Naruto. This was new. The desire to get to know him, to actually pay attention to him, was not something he had felt for a lot of people in his past, and it felt good to want to find more about someone he cared about.
He felt his lips stretched in a soft smile, such a bizarre feeling of his muscles contracting without him willing them to. He raised his hand to knock at the door and stopped.
How silly of him to knock on his own door!
He sized the knob, turned the key in and entered.
"Tadaima," he said quietly, a new habit he had formed for Naruto and that he had never had before.
"Okaeri." Was the answer. "I'll be ready in a minute. I just need to change."
"Take your time." Itachi answered as he slipped inside the living-room just in time to see Naruto disappear in his, now their, room.
It took several minutes for Naruto to reappear but it was more than worth the wait.
Naruto appeared in front of him wearing a casual black suit, his usual orange attire forgone for the night, with a tight blue shirt a few shades darker than the colour of his eyes. The only trace of orage was the framing of his watch, which sparkled against his suit every time Naruto moved his left arm.
He was, indeed, a spectacular presence for Itachi, and it made him even fonder of the fact that he could see him dressed like this, for him.
"Should we go?" Itachi finally said after having taken the time to commit to memory every aspect of Naruto.
Naruto nodded eagerly, showing that despite the change of clothes he was still the same underneath, and followed Itachi out of the building.
It was not quite too late, and Itachi decided that he would not mind having a walk to the restaurant, as usually the roads were full to the brim with people leaving work to get home, and besides the restaurant of his choice was a small, private place that not many knew about, situated not too far, thankfully, from his and Naruto's apartment.
Naruto seemed to accept gleefully this chance to walk with Itachi, and the two remained silent for the first few minutes, enjoying each other's company.
"So," Naruto finally broke the silence, glancing up at the older man. "Where are you taking me? Should I prepare myself to be surprised?"
"Well," Itachi paused for a fraction of a second, before continuing smoothly, "It might not be the kind of restaurant a model of your calibre enjoys, Naruto," he teased, good naturedly, "but I do think you will enjoy the food and the ambience".
There was a light flush on Naruto's cheeks as he fidgeted slightly. Thinking about his new "job" was still a bit of a shock, as he could not believe he had accepted to become the model for the UCHIHA ad, but he liked the fact that Itachi could joke about it.
It made it look less imposing, less important. It was less important than their date, in any case.
As they walked towards the restaurant, Naruto following Itachi around while they exchanged pleasant banter, they seemed to attract a bit of attention, especially as they paused in front of a street light to wait for the green.
It was mainly women, though they were of any age, both old and young, but there were also a few men sparing a glance their way, and murmuring started following them as they crossed the street.
Itachi was the one who paid the most attention to this chitchat, subtly looking around, and recognising the surprised faces of people as they realised his companion was one of the models from the famous UCHIHA ad campaign and the other looked suspiciously like the UCHIHA Sasuke thought not quite the same.
While Naruto dressed normally was not an easy recall for the ad, a Naruto dressed up for their date was, especially with that dark suit, and it only spoke of the wide spread of the ad that people could so easily point him out.
"It seems like you've made quite an impression," Itachi joked, tilting his head to a bunch of schoolgirls, who promptly squeaked when Naruto looked their way.
The blush on his cheeks seemed to darken at that, and Naruto lifted his shoulders a bit, almost as if trying to hide his face, a mix of embarrassment and pleasure.
Itachi, glancing from the bashful Naruto to the people not so quietly pointing at them, felt an itch to shield Naruto from people's eyes, equal amount possessiveness and pride.
"I didn't think I would get recognised so easily," Naruto admitted quietly, scratching his nose.
"Well, that is the point of an ad campaign," Itachi replied with a smirk, and Naruto childishly pouted, though he could not help a fluttery smile at his date as they finally stopped in front of an unassuming restaurant.
"Oh," Naruto glanced from the giant windows, covered with nice, dark curtains to the inviting arc of the door, and smiled. "It looks nice."
Itachi nodded, pleased.
He opened the door for Naruto, a bit of ingrained gentleman side of him, and Naruto flashed him a smile and a wink before he strutted inside. The maître of the restaurant approached the blond man, almost ready to ask if he needed assistance, but then he noticed Itachi behind him and smiled warmly.
"Oh, Uchiha–san," he welcomed the man, bowing politely. "It is a pleasure to see you here again, and with such a fine companion," The maître d' clearly had seen the ad on television. "Your usual table is ready for you, if you want to follow me".
Naruto glanced at Itachi, who nodded at the man, and they followed him to a secluded table in a far corner of the restaurant, surprisingly close to a window that showed a nice inner garden. The lights were on outside, not too bright to hurt the eyes but enough to show the flowers and the bushes, and the play of water the restaurant had set up for the clients to watch.
With a pleased hum, Naruto shifted his seat enough that he could look out, and smiled cheekily at Itachi as the man did the same.
"So you come here often?"
Itachi nodded, but did not reply because a waiter approached the table.
"We'll get…" Itachi rattled off the name of what looked like a famous wine, together with their aperitif.
When the waiter was gone, he turned to look at Naruto again.
"I like this place," He admitted, honest and simple. "It is small, but the cook is one of the best in the city, and the staff is respectful of the clients' privacy. I hope you don't mind me ordering our aperitif".
Naruto shrugged, fidgeting a bit.
"Nah..." He reassured the other. "I trust your taste buds more than I trust mine. Iruka used to say I ruined them eating ramen for years, hehe".
"It might not be ramen, but I am sure you will come to enjoy the food they offer here, Naruto." Itachi replied with a smile.
For a moment, there was a lull in the conversation, and Naruto observed Itachi with fondness. He could not believe a man like Itachi found him a good dating prospect, and he was grateful he could share such moments with him.
Then, Itachi's cell phone beeped, alerting him of an incoming message, and Naruto glared at it, then glanced up at Itachi's face.
"Oh, don't worry Naruto," Itachi smirked at him, and checked his message, pleased that it was exactly what he'd been expecting. "I blocked all incoming calls from all numbers, so nobody would be able to disturb us,"
Naruto looked reassured but he frowned, curious to know what the biping was about.
"But this… allow me to share this with you, as I've been waiting for this message all afternoon."
Itachi tilted the screen towards Naruto, who eagerly peered at it. His curious face was washed away in a fierce blush as he realised that Itachi was showing him a photo of himself, posing for one of the exclusive shots that would only appear as a limited edition set.
Naruto himself was looking at the camera, hair mussed to perfection, eyes bright and burning, one hand splayed on his chest and the other curled behind his back, like an offer, open and spread for the onlooker, a jacket open but no shirt underneath, so to show his muscles.
"Oh–oh!" He shuffled back, looking around, then back at Itachi. "How did you–?"
"I have my sources." Itachi replied, lips twitching upwards in mirth. "I thought this would make for a fairly good phone background, don't you agree?"
The flush on Naruto's cheeks deepened even more and Itachi watched him fidget a bit more.
"Do you really like it that much?" He asked, sounding incredibly earnest.
Naruto looked really gorgeous there, though he had to admit the everyday Naruto had an appeal that this artistic, artificial Naruto did not have. Still, it was quite a skilful photo, and he had to admit the photographer had done a splendid job.
If he ever did need one for a few shots for his firm, he would definitely employ this one.
Their aperitif arrived, together with the wine, not the most expensive but definitely Itachi's personal favorite, and Naruto wolfed down his food in a manner that made Itachi chuckle.
Rather than sapid, empty chatting, they found themselves discussing Naruto's new job and what it implied, and then moved on more pleasant subjects, like Naruto's recounting tales of his childhood, and listening as Itachi hesitantly did the same, choosing carefully a few of his few good memories to recount.
Naruto seemed to appreciate it, because he encouraged him with warm looks and casual touches with his hand, hesitating before pushing through and linking his fingers with Itachi's ones.
Itachi observed their joined hands, a fleeting moment spent comparing Naruto, and how good it felt to talk with him rather than to him, and all his previous dates, vapid and meaningless, and Itachi wordlessly thanked whoever made him meet Naruto that day.
Dinner was a quiet, pleasant affair. Itachi ordered a filet with green peppers, one of the specialities of the restaurant, and Naruto ordered a plate of grilled fish with fresh tomatoes and a side of roasted potatoes, sauté with white wine and vinegar sauce, and then shamelessly stole a bite of Itachi's meat, catching Itachi's eyes with a coy look.
Much to Itachi's amusement, their shared dessert turned out to be more Naruto's dessert, and he only ate a small bit of it, but he did manage to steal a small kiss from Naruto's lips while he was busy licking the chocolate sauce trickling down them, and he counted that as having had his fill of the sweet taste.
Naruto retaliated by placing a quick, embarrassed kiss on Itachi's knuckles, and the endearing gesture made Itachi smile warmly at him, making Naruto's blush that much darker.
They left the restaurant a bit later than expected, but still on time for their kabuki show, and they still had enough time to walk there, even after Naruto tugged Itachi into the darkness of a corner and backed until he was pressed against the wall, looking at Itachi and licking his lips.
"Uh, thanks for, you know, paying for dinner." He scratched his head.
He did not quite like Itachi's refusal to split between them, or let him pay, but at the same time he was touched by the gesture.
"Don't worry, Naruto-kun, I will let you pay for our next dinner," Itachi reassured him, chuckling at the transparent expression of his date.
Brightening up at his words, Naruto tilted up his head a bit, looking expectantly up at the taller man. "I think the proper way to end a dinner is with a kiss," he demanded cheekily.
"Wasn't that supposed to be for the end of a date?" Itachi replied, though he was mostly playing along.
"Well, but that is still a long way from now, and I'd enjoy my kiss as soon as possible".
Itachi snorted, amused, and then leaned down, locking his lips with Naruto's soft ones, still tasting the faintest trace of chocolate as he devoured his lover's mouth, kissing him until he left Naruto breathless, kissing him again and again until Naruto let out a soft, quiet moan, and then kissing him again one last time before retreating, dark eyes observing Naruto, and the way he tried to follow him to keep the kiss going.
"We will be too late to be allowed inside, if we linger here any longer," he stated.
Naruto swallowed, a bit woozy for the kiss, then straightened his back and brushed himself off, smiling up at him.
"That wouldn't do, would it?" his smile was infectious, so much Itachi felt himself mirroring him.
The kabuki theatre, as opposed to the restaurant, was far enough that they had to take a taxi, managing to arrive to the building with a few minutes to spare.
They showed their tickets at the entrance, and much to Naruto's pleasure, their seats were in the front, centre of the theatre hall, the perfect place to enjoy his first kabuki experience that was not sitting in the backstage.
He was so excited that he had a hard time keeping still, so Itachi gently placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning close enough that Naruto's breath hitched in surprise, only to have Itachi breathe into his ear:
"calm down, you can show your appreciation after the play".
The words calmed him down enough that he could sit still, and soon after the play started.
Itachi found himself split over where his attention should go, much to his surprise and unsettlement, as the play was wonderful, but Naruto's rapture for the play was equally entrancing.
Eyes wide, slightly leaning forwards on his seat, Naruto held his breath at the display of masks and extensive makeup and neat, plain movements, the sound of the instruments accompanying the scenes, and the mie (5) the actors did whenever a particularly dramatic scene occurred.
Naruto seemed to be really taken by the acting, and especially enjoyed it whenever the actors in the play performed a keren (6), which in the case of the specific play they were watching was a trapdoor, which opened when one of the actors stepped close to it, dramatically tapping his foot down and then jumping down, surrounded by the now louder sounds of a drum.
When the spectacle ended, and the public had paid its homage to the actors, loud praises being sent their way, Naruto led Itachi out of the theatre, brimming with excited energy and almost bouncing on his feet.
He looked so happy and pleased at the spectacle that a few of the other fans from the audience managed to get infected with his happiness, smiling and exchanging amused and pleased comments related to the play.
Itachi, feeling energized as well simply by seeing Naruto so happy, offered him a hand, and Naruto grabbed it without thinking, still talking about the kabuki play, so happy and gorgeous that Itachi's heart skipped a beat.
"Thank you!" Naruto said at the end, cheeks bright and expression full of unrepressed happiness. "I didn't think I'd have this much fun."
"Oh, so you thought it would be boring?" Itachi teased him, receiving a soft, playful jab in the arm for that.
"No, of course not, what could be boring with the great Itachi being part of it?" Naruto winked. "But yes, seriously, that was the best time I've had in a while!"
"Our time together isn't ended yet, Naruto-kun," Itachi replied, the tone of his voice catching Naruto's attention instantly. "Do you prefer we walk back, or should I call another taxi back…home?"
Naruto swallowed, suddenly feeling far too hot for being outside in a cool night.
"I think the taxi is the right choice here." he stated, flustered, filled with anticipation and so very happy.
Yeah, the night was not over yet.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Ino had expected hate-mail, and tons of it.
After the ad came out, she knew she would be the target of jealous angry fan-girls who would found her unworthy of being seen next to THE UCHIHA Sasuke. She was prepared to read about how she was too plain, too fat, too thin, too blond, a wannabe Yankee denying the beautifulness of her Japanese origin by bleaching her hair an unnatural color and wearing lenses – a critic she was no stranger to as her boss often jabbed her for her preferred style.
She knew what it would mean to accept that job, but despite that she had taken it anyway, knowing she would be strong enough to stand the incoming wave of jealous hatred.
She slowly, very slowly, peeked over the fence separating Shikamaru's cubicle from her own, expecting to see her desk buried under all the letters, except… there was no such thing. Her desk looked exactly the same as it had on friday afternoon, when she had left her office for the weekend.
The purple singing flower that Sakura had given her to celebrate the moment she had gotten her desk job was there, still frozen in an awkward pose, just next to the screen of her computer. On the desk there was the file she had been working on, and that was still stacked neatly the way she had placed it on friday. Her eyes then moved over to her mail basket…
"What are you doing?" Shikamaru asked in her ears, peering over her shoulder to see what she was looking.
"Eeeeeeeeeeep!" Ino let out a small cry of fright.
"Did you dream that your desk was eating you again, Ino?" Shikamaru asked in a drawl.
"No!" Ino protested, feeling a bit silly. "That was ages ago! How come you still remember this?!"
"If you are not afraid of your desk eating you, then out of my cubicle, I need my space to work." The young man explained.
"You mean to sleep." Ino answered back.
"Troublesome." The young man muttered to himself, but did not deny the accusation either way.
"Where are all the letters?" Ino asked after a moment of silence.
"What letters?" Shikamaru feigned ignorance.
"The hate…" Ino began.
"If you have enough time to wonder about your fan mail YAMANAKA-kun, I should add to your workload. If you could expend as much energy in your work as you did on your frivolous extra-curriculum activities…" Ino's boss interrupt with a sneer. "Your laziness won't be tolerated anymore, YAMANAKA-kun."
Ino seethed in anger as she watch the retreating back of her boss. She really hated the stuck-up woman.
"Your mail is being handled by a PR team as is Naruto's." Shikamaru informed. "Don't worry your pretty head about that."
Ino could only stare as Shikamaru waved a hand as he sat down at his work station.
"But… But PR only handle the mail of the big earner… I'm just a small fry." Ino stuttered.
"You're in the biggest ad campaign of the year." Shikamaru explained, his eyes not leaving the screen of his computer as he typed away. "You're one of the top earners of the company now."
Ino's eyes widened as she finally realized how big this was going to be.
"By the way, you have a press conference at noon today, an appointment with an UCHIHA Corp stylist at 2pm followed by hairstyling and a photo-shoot at 4, and you'll appear at a fund-raising with UCHIHA-san and Naruto tonight at 6. We need to know if you want a plus one for a friend before 10. As for tomorrow, your schedule is a bit lighter: just an interview for Vivi in the morning and an appearance schedule in a talk show in the afternoon and you might have to make an appearance at a nightclub with UCHIHA-san. Wednesday, you'll be going to Tôkyô to begin the promotional tour with UCHIHA-san sans Naruto as he will join you on the week-end only…" Shikamaru informed her.
"All the details are in the mail I just sent you." Shikamaru finished hitting violently enter on his keyboard.
Ino stared wide eyes at Shikamaru. This was going to be hell! Between her regular job, her extra job for the UCHIHA ad campaign and organizing the biggest Ikebana event of the year, she was not going to have a moment of peace.
And not for the first time, she wondered why she had accepted that stupid job.
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
Long Vacation 15
– LV – LV – LV – LV – LV –
(1 Le Paradis du Café: Coffee's Heaven is purely fictional.
(2 Kabuki: Traditional Japanese theater.
(3 Minami-za: a real theater in Kyoto.
(4 Saint Emillion: is a French wine from the region of Bordeaux (to simplify things)
(5 Mie: dramatic poses that actors can take during a kabuki play.
(6 Keren: stage tricks