A/N: I GOT THE MUSE BACK! And it's all thanks to DeGlace. Did you people know she updated Marrow again? After so long. I'm deliriously happy. Everyone should go read it. As usual, this is still homage to you, DeGlace. Spreading the KimiSaku love, one AU at a time!
The Good Listener
3. Tables In Dark Corners
It was her twenty-third birthday, and even though Ino had insisted on hosting a party at the newest club in town, Sakura wanted nothing more than to be back home with a nice book—maybe Akhmatova again—and no reminders of how she was getting older and lonelier each year. It wasn't that she didn't have friends. Oh no, the fact that half the club was filled by people she knew proved that Sakura was indeed, popular. She knew why they were here, though. All the people she'd met, she'd befriended after listening to them. All her friends were her patients, and she was their psychiatrist. And while sometimes she took pride in her ability, she wondered vaguely when someone would listen to her, for a change.
"Remind me again why you picked this club?" she asked Ino over the deafening sound of pop music.
"It's neat! And it's full of gorgeous boys!" her loud friend answered, giving Sakura a grin that meant I-brought-you-here-in-hopes-of-you-finding-a-damn-man-at-last!
"No," was her immediate answer.
"Oh come on, Sakura. You need to get your freak on with someone! It's been, what, two years since you broke up with—"
"We shall not mention that name!"
Ino gave a petulant sigh. "I find it childish that you are afraid of his name. So he screwed you over something fierce, but at least you experienced love, right?"
"The only thing I experienced with him was how to interpret his numerous and varied dotting at me. It wasn't a good relationship, Ino. I wouldn't have broken up with him if it had been."
"At least the sex was good, right?"
"I can't believe you're asking that." She glared at her friend and turned her head sideways to look at the dance floor. "If you wanna know, test him yourself. I hear he's popular with the ladies. Never settles with one."
"I bet he's waiting for you, Sakura. Yearning to sleep next to your warm body again, yearning your touch—"
"Ino," Sakura interrupted with a sigh, "We know it's not true. He never made one move to prove he wanted me back. I had fun with him, or at least, we had some good moments. He didn't treat me badly, per se, he just…he just didn't take notice of me after the first time we did it. It was as if I'd lost the charm for him. Personally, I prefer it that way. You've no idea how exhausting it is to try and keep a man's interest so long."
Ino nodded, looking at her with apprehension. "So…you never want to see him again?"
Sakura gave a soft snort, and shrugged. "Like I could help it. He's Naruto's best friend, still, so I bump into him occasionally. But I don't want to see him today."
Her friend deflated immediately. "Oh," she said, and that was a sign of trouble.
Sakura's eyes narrowed as she looked at Ino. "What did you do?"
"You invited him here, didn't you?" she accused, already gathering up her things.
"Sakura, he probably won't even come!"
"I'm not taking risks this time. Remember when we met him at Naruto's birthday party? He got tipsy and tried to get me in bed all night, whispered all those things I'd wanted to hear from him, and then when I said no, he went cold again. I don't need to see the man whom I gave my heart to and be reminded that he only wanted me for what's in my pants. If he comes, throw him out. I'll go to the coffee-shop across the street. It looks more comfortable than this."
"But your guests," Ino protested.
Sakura looked down at her with a bitter smile. "Please…as if they would even realise I'm gone." She sighed. Just because she wanted to avoid a certain person, didn't mean she wanted to hurt Ino's feelings. The girl had actually organized a birthday party for her, even if it was an excuse to go all out and dance the night away for most people. She still was grateful, so she bent down and pressed two kisses on each of Ino's cheeks. "I'm sorry, but I just…you understand, right?"
The blonde pouted, and then sighed. "Yeah, I guess…Look, I just wanted you to have fun on your birthday."
Sakura smiled. "I know. I'm having fun, trust me. I just need a breather. I'll be back in a couple of hours, probably. Or maybe even less."
"Okay, fine. Go. Have fun with your coffee…" her friend ordered, waving an elegant hand dismissively.
"Tea, in any case. But yeah, bye bye," Sakura said, and without further ado, she left the club. Swam through sea of people dancing, and didn't breathe until she was out in the street.
As she made her way across the street to the coffee-shop, she wrapped her jacket around her shoulders, and tried hard not to remember. The only boyfriend she'd ever had hadn't even been interested in being listened to, let alone listening to her. Back then, Sakura had thought she could change him; she could soften him a bit, if she tried really hard. She'd learned the hard way that it only worked in fairytales. After he had left, months after that hurtful break-up, she'd decided that she was too busy for boyfriends and romance. She had to study, she had to get into med-school, she had her part-time job, and she was building herself a future. Maybe once her future was built, she could focus on love.
But that was stupid now, because her future as a medic seemed further and further away, thanks to the high entrance fees. "Their loss. A great medic they'd be getting, if they weren't so damn mean," she grumbled, pushing the door to the shop open.
The smell of coffee and the warmth of a good air conditioning system immediately enveloped her. The moment a door bell tinkled above her head, she knew she'd done a good thing coming here. It was better than the club, no matter what everyone else thought. She took a seat at the table and ordered a cup of green tea, resting her back against the comfortable armchair she was sat in.
Much better. Her eyes fell on the world outside that coffee shop for a moment, all memories of her failed relationship swirling around her. Deciding her birthday was neither time nor place to get depressed again, she shook her head and looked away from the window. Curious, she looked around the coffee shop, surprised to see more than five patrons filling tables here and there. Huh. Who knew so many people drank coffee at eleven at night?
Her tea arrived, and she thanked the waiter before taking a sip. She'd had better tea than that one in her life, but at least the atmosphere made up for it. She could feel every muscle in her body relax, all thoughts turning into happy thoughts. She thought about how tomorrow she'd unwrap the presents. She thought about the dinner Tsunade had promised her. About the bookstore waiting for her, constant and musty as always. She thought about the university, still there across the street, still mocking her with its big white walls. She even found herself thinking about some of the clients that made working at the bookstore worthwhile. All the good times she'd spent there in the last years. "Guess it's not that bad. It's monotonous and constant, but at least this relationship isn't weighting down on me. And the books don't want me for what's inside my pants," she mused to herself, amused by her conclusion.
So she was twenty-three. Big deal. There was nothing wrong with being twenty-three and single. Almost half of the protagonists of romance books were single and over twenty-five. "Oh god. I'm comparing my life with a romance novel," she bemoaned, pressing her forehead to the Formica table. "That's it, I really am pathetic. Where's my damn breakaway now?"
She sat and waited for an answer from the gods, but nothing arrived. Go figure. Of course they wouldn't send someone her way the moment she begged for an escape. What had she been expecting? I'm expecting a tall, elegant and detached young man, with too long, too silky, too white hair, and droopy green eyes to sit in front of me and smile just slightly when I amuse him. Obviously, though, she wasn't going to get it that night. With a sigh, she fished for a few coins in her pocket and placed them on the table, the price of her tea, then sat up and walked to the door. It was useless to sit here and not have fun and wait for someone to come whisk her off her feet. That only happened in the movies. And the books. And those shoujo manga. And maybe if your name was Hinata. But definitely not in her life.
The wind ruffled her hair as soon as she left the shop, and crossing the street was impossible without getting hit by a car. The weather was against her. Her hair was against her. Ino was against her—what sort of friend invited her best friend's ex to her best friend's birthday party?! The gods were against her. The city traffic was against her. Even her damn dress was against her, what with its raising and ruffling up in the wind. She held her skirt down, opting for having her hair ruffled than showing the whole world the colour of her panties. "Thank you, weather!" she shouted at the sky, and stomped one foot to the ground.
"Each time I see you, you've grown crazier," came a voice from her left. It was a familiar voice. It was the only voice Sakura didn't want to hear. At all. Ever. Especially not that night.
"…Sasuke," she greeted, trying her best to turn that glare into a smile. "Why are you here?"
"I was invited to a party. Yours, I believe?" was the monotonous answer.
"You believe?! Look here, jerk, if you've come to ruin my day—er, night, I'll-" She stopped her tirade, because when she'd turned around to snap at the man who was responsible for part of her misery, she found he wasn't alone. Only this time, instead of a tall woman, she found a tall man. With long, white hair. Looking at her from behind droopy eyes. Green eyes. Sakura's insides did a joyous jump, and she gaped.
"Kaguya-san?" she asked, resisting the urge to point at him childishly. "What are you doing here?"
"He's my bodyguard," Sasuke answered. Sakura ignored him.
"That's your employer?" she asked, pointing at Sasuke like one points at the stone in one's shoe.
"He is my employer's protégé," answered Kimimaro, with the same elegant tone, the same lack of empathy. Sakura wanted to kiss him for being there. She also wanted to kiss the gods, the weather, and all those romance books and movies and shoujo manga. And Hinata, too.
But then she realised something else. Something more important. "You work for Orochimaru, don't you?"
Green eyes closed slowly in a blink. That blink translated into interest. Or at least that's what Sakura decided it translated into. "You know who Orochimaru-sama is?"
"Pshyeah, who wouldn't? Other than the fact that he owns Sound Inc., he worked with my mentor in their youth. She tells me a lot about him." Nothing of it good, though. She'd always thought Orochimaru must've been a bastard, and all his employees must've been cut after the same pattern, because after all, Sasuke worked for him, right? But…Kimimaro wasn't a bastard. Not really. Or maybe not to her.
"Your mentor?" the man asked, raising one eyebrow.
"Her name's Tsunade. I never told you about that, did I? Would you like to hear it?" There was a deafening silent pause. Sakura recovered remarkably. "Of course you would," she said, and wrapped one hand around Kimimaro's left wrist. "Help me cross the street and find a free table at my birthday party and I'll tell you all about it."
"Excuse me," Sasuke interrupted.
Sakura looked back at him. "Oh, right. You're not invited anymore, Uchiha."
Sasuke's lips raised in what would be a sneer, if he were capable of emotions. "Then he's coming back with me. He's my bodyguard."
"You can take care of yourself, you're a big boy," Sakura answered him, condescendingly.
"Haruno-san, I'm afraid that I must go where Uchiha-san goes," Kimimaro interrupted softly.
She sighed, and waved her hand dismissively. "Fine, you can come too, Uchiha. But stay away from the booze. If you do the same like the last time, I'll dunk your head in a toilet."
From there, crossing the street, finding a free table, and getting rid of Sasuke's presence took only a couple of minutes. Or maybe it took more time, but Sakura was too focused on liking the feel of her hand wrapped around Kimimaro's thin wrist to notice. She didn't even notice Sasuke's narrowed eyes, nor his scowl—neither would she have cared, because when had he cared? In fact, a lot of things escaped her knowledge that night, in those few minutes it took for her to drag a reluctant Kimimaro to a table.
"Would you like something to drink? My treat," she said, shifting a bit in the modern chair until she was comfortable.
"No, thank you. I shouldn't drink on the job," he answered, sitting down and looking comfortable at once. Or at least elegant. Which wasn't fair to the rest of the world, really.
"So…is this what you work as? A bodyguard?" she asked after a short pause in which a glass of some fruity cocktail appeared in front of her.
"Among other things, yes," he answered with a nod, and accepted the glass of water the waitress placed in front of him.
"A month ago you gave me the impression you were a dangerous man."
"I still am," he calmly retorted, choosing that moment to look up into her eyes. It was then that Sakura realised he was probably right. He looked dangerous. But not dangerous to her.
"I'm not scared of you," she simply stated, straightening her shoulders as she took a sip from her drink.
Head tilted to the side, Sakura raised an eyebrow and asked: "Oh? What do you mean?"
His eyes dropped briefly to her hands, wrapped around the tall glass, before lifting back to her face. "I mean, it is a change. I've never met a person not to be afraid of me, or at the very least, wary."
Sakura held back the urge to puff her chest out in pride. "I'm just the special, then."
A small, amused smile settled on the man's lips, just like those he showed her in the restaurant a month ago. "Yes, one of a kind. A one of a kind fool."
"Why have you invited me to your birthday party, Haruno-san, if we barely know each other?"
"Because I like you."
His eyes narrowed slightly, almost imperceptible. "What sort of—"
"Like? Hmm," she started, "I couldn't summarize it in one word. You're…the mysterious old lady that turns out to be a tall man with a lot of strength. You like the same poetry I do, you don't laugh at me, but rather with me, if you ever laugh that is…you're sweet—no, don't look surprised! I think you're sweet, okay? You listen to me, which is more than I can say about some friends. You've got this incredible softness, despite all. And no matter how hard you try to warn me that you're dangerous, I think you're an honest man, just for the fact that you warned me."
He was looking at her with curiosity, his lips settled in a minuscule smile. "You're a good observer as well?"
Sakura grinned, nodding. "You'd be surprised how many theories I've got about you already."
"We've only seen each other twice," he said, his eyebrows rising.
"My mind works quickly. Would you like to hear them?"
He waved a dismissive hand, and leaned his back against the chair. "It's your birthday."
"I'll take that as a yes," she concluded, amused. "Let's see, I think you're an orphan. Your parents mustn't have treated you very well, or they died when you were still young, because a person whose childhood wasn't devoid of human affection tends to cling onto the first person who offers him that. And the way you spoke about Orochimaru only hints that your childhood was…probably not the greatest. Of course, this is only a theory," she rushed to say, lowering her gaze to her drink. "I believe you're a kind spirit, but you're lost amid a world of violence, loyalty and duty. You probably do dirty work aside from being a bodyguard. I think you'd give your life for your employer…not so much for Sasuke, though. So that means you're selective of the people you protect, and protective of the people you select. You're a loner and don't enjoy company, simply because you're not used to what it implies. You can, however, talk and keep a more than decent conversation, if needed. Despite trying to be cold and detached, you're a softie underneath, probably liking something feminine…like flowers, or…love poems, who knows."
She didn't look up after concluding, but she heard his voice over the music. It was hoarse and low. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, I also know for a fact that you liked that chocolate soufflé," she answered, smiling to lighten the mood. Then she looked up, and gasped slightly. He was staring at her, his eyes more intense than she'd ever seen them, his expression surprised. Not amused, not curious, but stunned. There was no trace of a smile. For one instant, Sakura was afraid she'd screwed everything up. "Um…"
"Anything else?" he asked, his voice but a whisper, eyes unmoving.
She almost broke off into a sweat. Obviously, she'd screwed things up big time. "I…I need to—bathroom. Yeah. I'll be right back," she excused herself hastily, standing up and rushing to the bathroom as fast as humanly possible.
There was no line, luckily, as the gods were, for once, with her on this one. She snuck inside the unisex bathroom, locked the door behind her and proceeded to hit her forehead against the wall.
"The one breakaway I find, and I let my big mouth ruin it," she bemoaned. It was true. It had to be true. She'd probably shocked him with what had to be the worse analysis of his persona ever. And he hated her now. He hated her, and maybe he'd kill her with his mobster ways. She was doomed. "Doomed to a life of celibacy, doomed to boredom, and monotony, and doomed to never be a doctor," she grumbled. In conclusion, she'd screwed up.
And what made it worse was the fact that she'd had an epiphany when they'd been crossing the street. For the first time in years, and even with her ex-boyfriend walking behind her, Sakura entertained the possibility of re-entering the dating scene. For the first time in years, Sakura's mind took a break from medicine-work-medicine-work routine, and considered actually liking someone. And that someone had been the person whose hand she held. The person for whom she'd bought a chocolate soufflé, the person who'd slammed her into a bookshelf. She liked him, really liked him. Romantically liked him. Liked him as in she wouldn't have minded dating him, and then some. He was handsome, elegant, he had good taste in literature, and she could talk to him. Really talk. Even when he didn't say much, she knew he'd enjoyed the conversation. He just wasn't used to the company.
Only it wasn't that, since she'd obviously mistaken that part of the analysis, and he was probably very tired of hearing her, and had been listening just because it was her birthday. Great. The first man she'd liked in years, and she'd screwed it up before it began.
With a last groan, she decided hitting her head against the wall wouldn't heal her verbosity, so she reluctantly pulled away. She turned to the mirror, and frowned. Either way, even if she did like him, he wouldn't like her back. Her hair colour was too rebel-like and exotic, unrefined, like her. It was her birthday and she'd still forgotten to put on any sort of make up. Her skin was pale, and the simple jeans and white t-shirt wasn't at all elegant, or sophisticated. A man like him would never be interested.
She spent two minutes trying to pull her hair together in a chic hairdo before realising what she was doing and glaring at herself in the mirror. This was not the time, and he was not the person to lose her morals and composure for. While washing her hands and her face, she decided it was okay. She'd find some other man to like. Eventually. And maybe he didn't hate her that much.
When she pulled the door to the bathroom open, she was surprised to find him behind it, looking as intensely as before at her. "Wha—"
He pushed her gently back inside the bathroom, spun her around until her back was pressed against the door, and locked it behind her. Oh God, he's going to kill me here, she thought with despair. She'd forgotten to write her will. Naruto'd probably take her stereo, damn him. And she'd forgotten to pay the gas. And Tsunade would kill her! The old woman had warned her about her kindness being her ruin, and she'd been right. Damn her too. And damn the romance books. There was only one way out of this. Grovelling. "Look, Kaguya-san, I—"
"Quiet," he ordered, his voice low as his hands settled on her shoulders. "My parents died when I was fifteen."
Oh God, he's going to tell me I was wrong and then kill me! Like torture, but worse. "O-okay…"
"They did not love me. My father made it perfectly clear that he didn't want a sick child like myself to be the heir of his family. I have always been a rather sickly person, as I'd developed post-natal asthma. The fact that I looked like a skeleton half the time didn't please my father. My mother lost patience soon after the fourth time a flu almost killed me. I'd been five. When he saw I kept holding on to life, father decided I was, maybe, a bit worthy, so he enrolled me in a strict military school. I was to be a soldier and serve the country, as I could not serve my family. When I was ten, my mother gave birth to another child, another boy. I never got to know him. They wouldn't let me near him, in fear that my disease could be contagious. When I was fifteen, my parents and my brother took a trip to Kyoto. Their plane crashed, and I've been alone in this world ever since."
She felt like crying. She also felt like smacking his parents for being a couple of downright jerks. Still, she listened.
"I wondered around, picking menial jobs here and there, getting by as best as I could. The social centre that took me in had a karate club, and I joined it. It was there that Orochimaru-sama discovered me, and I caught his interest. He took me under his wing, trained me, and in exchange, I owe him my life. Serving him is, was, the only thing I've known so far. I do not care about companionship, because I don't know how to act towards it. I am not soft underneath, Haruno-san. I'm simply not used to being anything else but a tool, and it's a role I've accepted."
His voice was calm. Almost soft. She'd been right in most of the things. He wasn't going to kill her. Yet his expression was still intense. "A-anything else?" she asked.
"No-one has ever realised so many things about me in such a short time. You really do have a gift," he said, and finally, there was that small smile.
She smiled back, tentatively, shakily. "Anything else?"
"Yes. My first friend was a flower. I only like Akhmatova's poetry. I prefer apple pies," he enumerated, leaning down towards her. "And I'm going to kiss you, if you allow it."
Her insides jumped of joy, her brain did a dance, and her biological clock cheered something like NOT DOOMED TO CELIBACY, YAY! Raising her head to meet him half-way, her mouth pulled up into a smile, she answered, "I allow it." Encourage it, even, she'd have liked to say, but his mouth covered her almost instantly.
She vaguely wondered if this would be his first kiss. Improbable. No-one kissed this well the first time. His lips were warm and tasted of skin, water, and something minty and fresh. His hands slid up her shoulders, past her neck to settle over her cheeks, cupping her face and pulling her closer. She parted her lips, and gave into what was, most likely, the best kiss in years, if not her life. Her hands rose to tangle in his long hair, loving the fact that it was as soft as it had looked. That made him inhale sharply against her mouth, his lips parted, and from there on, things got out of control. She pressed herself closer, he parted her lips with a determined swipe of tongue, she opened her mouth and granted him access, moaning softly when the kiss took a more passionate, intense turn. Hands travelled, lips kissed, teeth nibbled and pulled, tongue licked, tasted, breaths came out in heavy pants.
After a long while, or a short while, he decided oxygen was in order, and she was grateful when he pulled away to let her breathe, but at the same time, sad at the loss of his mouth. They stared at each other for a while, faces flushed and lips swollen. Then, with a calculated slowness, he extracted his hand from under her shirt, and she detangled her fingers from his hair, and he took his knee away from between her parted legs, and she coughed discretely while rearranging her shirt.
Once their appearances were back to normal, she ventured a smile in his direction, pleased when he smiled back. Then she opened the door to the bathroom, and they both stepped out. Sakura blushed furiously, skirting around the people forming a line in front of the door and trying hard to pretend she hadn't just stepped out of a bathroom with a man, looking thoroughly kissed. Kimimaro, it seemed, was unaffected by the group of strangers and their stares.
Back at the table, Sakura asked for another drink, and Kimimaro ordered himself another glass of water. They were silent until the drinks arrived. In the background, Sakura thought she'd seen Ino and Sasuke dancing together. She couldn't have cared less, really. It was high time she thought of herself, and her needs. And her needs were all presently focused around the man sitting across from her at a table.
"So," she started, smiling slightly as she felt her sense of humour return after the first sip. "A kiss after our second date, huh? Not bad at all."
He tilted his head slightly, considering her words, before smirking. Or at least she thought it was a smirk. "I would hardly call our chance encounters 'dates'."
"They're not fate, I'll tell you that," she admonished, wagging her finger at him.
He caught her finger, and wrapped both hands around her small hand, looking at her with surprising honesty. "I would like to take you on a proper date, if you allow it."
Sakura grinned. YES! DATING SCENE, HERE I COME! "I would like that."
"I am still a dangerous man, though."
"I might hurt you."
"Physically or mentally? Because I don't care, really."
"You're a true fool."
"I know that, too. Now say something I don't know," she retorted, grinning.
"I am…truly not used to company. I might not be a good…date…companion. But I can learn."
She smiled softly, and placed her other hand above his. "I know that, too. I don't mind. I really do like you, Kimimaro-san."
He smiled back, a shy, slightly wider smile than all his previous ones. "I like you as well."
"Glad to hear it. Because I'd honestly thought I'd screwed things up back then." He shook his head, and she understood. It hadn't been shock at how wrong she'd been he'd shown, but shock at how right she'd analysed him, at how much she'd known him. All in all, her breakaway was turning to be more than interesting. Mesmerizing, stunning, captivating, and damn good kisser.
Things were looking good. At last, things were looking good. Finally.