Blossom In My Eyes
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.
"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." – Winston Churchill
He very rarely appreciated the early hours of the morning. More often than not, he would wake to the consistent chirping of birds, and would curse the man who had planted that tree in front of his apartment, directly outside his window. It usually took more self-control than necessary to restrain himself from crushing that pestilent plant that was home to the village's noisiest flock of birds. Only the paperwork that would follow from needlessly demolishing Konoha's vegetation kept him in check.
Why else would those bothersome birds still be waking him at bloody sunrise each morning?
Today, however, was not one of those irritating days. No, he had specific days reserved for being a pottymouth. He couldn't quite grasp the cause of his elation – after all, it was too early for his usual enthusiasm to kick in. Then, as he slipped into his jacket and reached into the drawer for his forehead protector, it came to him.
It was his rest day, and therefore time for a visit to the hospital.
But before that, he would stop by the flower shop.
Ino Yamanaka hated the mornings. For two hours each day, she would despise her parents for dragging her out of bed to help in the family's shop. During those hours, she would usually have a permanent scowl fixed on her face, commonly accompanied by a mood the colour of a black rose.
The door behind the counter – that Ino was unfortunately looking over – swung open and Ino's mother came in, pulling off her work gloves and rolling down her sleeves. Inoichi followed a moment later, a loaded cardboard box balanced on each shoulder. He grumbled a greeting to his daughter, obviously resenting his duty as much as she did hers.
"Honey," her mother said, rummaging through the drawers for whatever she was searching for – obviously having no luck. "Will you be okay by yourself while your father and I go deliver some orders?"
Ino grunted in response as if to say, "Wow, Mum, I suppose that's why I became a kunoichi – to babysit flowers until some unfortunate guy comes along and tries to steal them." But Hana Yamanaka had never even considered becoming a kunoichi, and therefore would not understand her daughter's willingness to leave the scented atmosphere of the greenhouses for the stench of sweat.
So what Ino did instead was lift her head off the pillow she had made of her arms and eye her mother distastefully. "You are not running around the village in that," she said in disgust, wrinkling her nose at Hana's soiled and crumpled apron that was a seven-year-old birthday present from the very daughter who was threatening to call her a stranger if the OSSD - Object of Social-Status Destruction – was not discarded immediately.
"Of course I am," Hana replied, slipping easily under a mask of innocence. "A mother always treasures her daughter's gifts to her."
Inoichi shifted his load and gave his daughter a solemn look. "I feel your pain," he said in a grave voice.
Ino rolled her eyes. "You married a weed, Dad."
"And the weed gave birth to a beautiful lotus," Hana said, finally uncovering the piece of paper she had been looking for – the list of customers that had ordered flowers from the shop. She leaned forward and planted a kiss on her daughter's forehead, who had automatically raised her head for the habitual gesture. "We'll be back before you have to run off again," she promised.
"When will you appreciate me for what I do for this village?" her daughter sighed dramatically. Ino and her mother squabbled more frequently than the former did with anyone else combined.
Not that she didn't love her parents.
The door closed after Ino's parents, the bell announcing their departure. A small smile lingered on her face for a short moment longer, and then the silence began to settle in. She huffed, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes and lowering back into the position she had long ago named The Posture of Boredom.
Time crawled at a pace slower than Shikamaru's standard snores, and Ino found her mind drifting. Her eyelids started to grow heavy. The heat in the store and the scent of fresh flowers made it extremely difficult for her to handle the task at hand. It would not be the Yamanaka's best day if she fell asleep in broad daylight, puddle of drool ready for photography. Ino smirked half-heartedly.
Her back snapped up straight and her head shot up. Unfortunately, her customer had chosen that exact moment to lean over the counter. Skull and jaw collided. The moment froze. Ino's hand slowly inched toward her head. She carefully pressed her fingers against her skull to make sure there were no fractures, and then lifted her gaze.
To land on none other than the rockheaded Naruto Uzumaki.
"That hurt, you idiot," she hissed through clenched teeth.
First note on every smart girl's mind: Never make bone to bone contact with Naruto Uzumaki as he is a dinosaur.
He scratched his chin. "Hey, I actually felt that," he said thoughtfully. Then he noticed her glare and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck, ducking his head in apology. "Sorry." He peered out cautiously, watching the girl thoroughly thinking through the possible punishments and the pros and cons of each.
"Ino?" he asked hesitantly.
She shook her head, the movement momentarily jarring her mind. "Whatever," she muttered. "It'll give me a monstrous headache if I try to think of something nasty for you." She glared at him. "But!" she added perilously.
He gulped. "But…?"
Her eyes glinted like ice. "But," she said slowly, seriously. "You'll have to buy a bunch of flowers off me."
Naruto's face split into a wide grin and he heaved out a relieved breath. "Hey, no problem. I was going to get some anyway." He laughed and gave her another apologetic nod before moving down the rows of flowers in the store. "Where were the daffodils again?" he called cheerfully over his shoulder.
The smile that had been forming on Ino's face froze. Her cerulean eyes misted over. Daffodils. Again.
'They're so…sincere. I like them – doesn't everyone?'
Ino found herself gripping the edge of the counter.
Naruto noticed the silence and straightened. His own eyes saddened when he saw Ino's carefully contained posture. He recognized that stance by now, having been paying visits to the flower shop about as commonly as he did the ramen stand.
"Ino," he said in a lifted tone, smiling when she looked up. "She likes daffodils."
"Yes," the blonde girl said in a whisper. "She did."
"She does," he corrected, still smiling. "She likes them fresh and smelling good. In a vase, too. Do you have something like that?"
Ino swallowed with difficulty and closed her eyes, inhaling a deep, cleansing breath. Her body heaved, shuddered, and when she looked up again, she was smiling brightly. "Sure," she said, reaching for the keys to the storeroom. "I'll go get the vase. Daffodils are in the aisle to your left, down the end." She slipped into the small room.
The colourful plants fought to catch his attention. His hand trailed to the side, brushing over every bud gently, each one releasing its own pure aroma. Naruto smiled and turned into the next aisle. Again, his hands swept past the plants. Until one particular vibrant shade of yellow dominated his favour.
"Now," he murmured, bending over to inspect each flower carefully. "Let's see…come on, guys – liven up a little!" He picked out three that seemed to stand out amongst the sea of mellow brightness. He grinned. "You three look pretty handsome there. Not as handsome as me, but you'll do."
Ino wondered why he looked so lonely in her eyes.
She laid a lilac-shaded vase on the table and started wrapping it with paper. She didn't need to ask Naruto if it fulfilled the specifications he had in mind; she had served him enough times in the past months to know that he didn't mind and was on an unofficial mission to gather all the shop's vases. As long as she didn't give him the same of a previous purchase, he would not complain.
"Should I put it on your tab?" she asked as she reached for the trio of daffodils he had picked out. She sliced off a square piece of plastic wrap from the roll and folded it around the flowers.
"Nah; I've got cash today."
"Hmm." She tied a pink ribbon around the bundle to keep it together, and passed it over the counter to him. "Pay up."
He reached into his pocket for his frog-shaped wallet. "Right. See ya."
Ino frowned at the amount he had deposited into her hand. "Wait a minute," she called as he gathered his purchases and made toward the door. "You idiot – aren't you going to collect your change?"
He grinned over his shoulder. "Count again," he said cheerfully, and opened the door. "Oh yeah – don't forget to smile next time!" And he left.
Ino's eyebrows remained arched up for longer than necessary. She took his advice and went through the sum of coins again. But she had been right the first time; he had paid her a little more than required. Even if she added back the discount she usually charged him, the amount didn't seem to balance out.
It wasn't until her parents came back and she decided to change out of her uniform that she noticed the tulip pinned to her hair.
The nurses let him in without question. There had been a time, months ago, when they would scowl at the sight of him and prevent him from seeing the one he sought. A quick talk with the Fifth Hokage had settled them from directing him to the incorrect rooms. Perhaps it was their sympathy that gave way in the end. The sight of the blonde youth that would tirelessly seek the patient in Room Eighty-Four regardless of weather conditions, time or his own wellbeing could warm even their biased hearts. And on the days that he was away on missions and could not make it, he would always return as soon as he could with a daffodil for each day he missed.
Naruto took the stairs up to the third floor and hummed as he walked down a familiar hallway. The wrapped vase was tucked under his arm, the flowers held behind him as if to surprise whoever he was presenting it to. He reached Room Eighty-Four and opened the door.
She lay on the bed, the sunlight gently lighting up her face. As always, she looked angelic, standing out against the pale walls and the sickly-coloured tiles. He grinned as he stepped inside, closed the door behind him and crossed the room to her bed.
"Morning, Sakura." He laid the flowers and vase on the bedside table and leaned forward to smile at her. His fingers played with a strand of her hair. "Man, your hair grows so fast – no wonder you had such long hair when we were Genin. Sorry I couldn't visit earlier; Granny Tsunade sent me to Suna with a message for Gaara. Hope you're not mad. Oh yeah - I bought you flowers."
He peeled the paper off the vase and weighed it in his hands. He sat down on the chair beside the bed and took out a senbon. He started etching a design onto the ceramic surface. "It's your birthday next week, huh? I don't think I'll be able to make it, but I'll bring you your present tomorrow. You know how I'm a Chunin now - yeah, you missed that - I'm going to take the Jonin test next week. And you bet I'm gonna pass – then Neji can stop bossing me around. Wish me luck!
"But if I don't pass the first time, there's always next year. We can do it together, so you'd better wake up by then. I think Shikamaru and Kiba are taking it next year. Ino's thinking about it, too. Kakashi-sensei says it's pretty hard and stuff, but Pervy Sage thinks I can handle it. That's good. Because if I can take care of that test, so can you. I've never seen a girl hit as hard as you, and that's not counting that chakra you put in those hits." A playful smile danced on his lips. "You gave me pretty good beatings more than once. We're a bit off timetable for the next one, huh?"
There was silence for a moment as he carved a difficult section of an image onto the vase. His tongue was held between his teeth as he worked, his brow furrowed in concentration. His skill with carving had improved since the first times, which had often resulted in failure more frequently than satisfaction. Over a dozen pots were laid on display around the hospital room, each bearing their own unique design. They varied on his mood, his experiences and memories. He bought one every time he missed visiting her for more than a day.
"There! Finished!" He laughed and set the vase down on the bedside table, unwrapping the flowers and placing it into the container. "I like this one – you will too. Once you wake up and take a look at it, that is." He glanced up at the wall clock. "Ah – I think Ichiraku's is open now. I'll go get some breakfast now – but I'll be back in the afternoon, I promise."
Naruto smiled and gave Sakura's hand a squeeze. Then he left the room, closing the door gently behind him.
The sun shone on the vase, lighting up the comical picture of a certain pink-haired kunoichi brandishing a huge fist at a cowering blonde boy.