a/n: I DIDN'T FORGET! I'm sorry about the bolded text. In Doc Manager and my phone, it looked normal, and I didn't check. I hope it works now.


twelve.

.

.

.

Miyazawa Karin knew she was beautiful in that glamorous, stunning, can't-take-your-eyes-off-me way. She had blazing red hair that she tucked into a chignon on weekdays and wore down on weekends. Both options gave her the opportunity to show off her earrings, silver sparks of teardrops she had bought on a whim using her boyfriend's credit card. Her eyes were brown, but she'd been told that they were full of fierce determination, and under the sun they burned ruby red. Her gait was elegant and the air she carried with her was confident; she herself was both. She was, after all, a Miyazawa both in name and in blood.

Whoever in front of her, however, wasn't.

Sakura's eyes were unusually dull and guarded, her back straight and her face taut. Setting her purse on the table, she gave a small, forced smile towards Karin and then sat down as the latter did, too.

"It's been a long time," Karin said, crossing her legs. "Tea or coffee?"

"Coffee, thanks," Sakura replied. She hadn't had her daily dose of coffee and if by any chance this meeting went downhill—a pretty big chance, actually—she'd get crankier than normal, and that simply wouldn't do. Coffee should help. A waitress set down a cup of black coffee in front of Sakura and then scurried off to tend to other tables. "What do you need me for, Karin?"

Karin smiled brightly. "You really don't like meeting me, do you, Sakura?"

Sensing the bluntness in Karin's voice, Sakura shook her head. "That's not it. I just—"

"I don't particularly care, hon, really," the red-haired woman interrupted her, picking up her cup of tea and sipping quietly. "It's not like I want to meet you either."

"That's—that's fine."

"Of course it is," Karin agreed, setting down her cup on the table. "How has life been? Your job paying you well?"

"I don't see how—"

"Your privacy is yours, of course," she interrupted again, tone still pleasant. She might be fierce, but she would never lose her temper so easily. Besides, this hardly affected her. "I only ask relevant questions, Sakura. Does that put your mind at ease?"

Sakura bit her lip. No matter how and from what angle she saw it, she just couldn't help but think the whole notion was ridiculous. Meeting up with Karin was never in her agenda and had it not been for her phone call last night, Sakura would have thought that she wouldn't ever have to meet with this woman again. It wasn't like they hated each other, really. It was just that while they were cousins and their age was close, they never really got along.

"It's paying me well," she returned at last, a little indignantly. "How are you, yourself?"

"Eh, I could be better," Karin replied matter-of-factly, her eyes watching Sakura like an eagle and its prey. "Anyway, the reason I called you here is… well, Grandfather has a preposition for you."

Sakura blinked. "What is it?"

"He wants you to come and work for the company in the finance department," Karin answered. "Under the name of Miyazawa, of course."

"He doesn't want me to use my dad's name."

"I wouldn't be surprised. The Harunos hardly have a place in our society."

"I'm not going to change my name, Karin," Sakura said, distressed. "My parents are legally married and it's not strange that I take after my dad. I thought he knew that already. Why does he want me to work for him so badly, anyway? I'm hardly special."

"Yes," Karin agreed. "You're hardly special, but your mother is. Honoka-obasan is Grandfather's favourite."

"Says a lot about why he chased her out the house three decades ago, then," Sakura muttered, sighing.

Wisely, Karin picked up her cup of tea and drank silently, waiting for Sakura to get over it. She never did like talking about their family history—not because it was painful, because it wasn't. She had a fulfilling childhood, great parents, and now she had the Miyazawa name on her back. It just annoyed her to see people getting so worked up, because it wasn't anything special.

To Sakura, however, it might be. Her parents were in an arranged marriage, one that worked out really well because they honestly fell in love with one another. Just before the engagement, however, the Harunos got bankrupt and in one night, lost all of their assets. There were some issues after that, issues that involved Honoka still wanting to marry Haruno Manabe and her father chasing her out of the house because she refused to marry anyone else, even if it were for their family name.

And now, almost thirty years later, here Karin was, asking Sakura to return to the family—the family she just met five years ago. Truth be told, even Karin thought it was a little ridiculous, but she wasn't going to say that.

"Look," Karin said, when the silence had stretched out for too long for her liking, "It's pretty simple, really. If you change your name, you'll live as a Miyazawa and work as a Miyazawa. It means benefits, like not having to make reservations in restaurants and access to our family funds and what-not. If you don't change your name, Grandfather is going to chase you in the way he chased your mother out, and I can guarantee that it's not going to be pretty."

"This is ridiculous," Sakura frowned. "He disowned my family for thirty years, and now, out of nowhere, he wants us to come back. He's ridiculous."

"Welcome to my world," the red-haired woman smiled wryly.

"No," she said then, her fingers tightening around her cup, "I'm not going to come back like an obedient child when he was the one who threw us out."

"Alright," Karin shrugged unceremoniously. "I'll pass on the message to him, although I do confess that I was hoping you would say yes."

Sakura straightened up, wary. "Why?"

"Quite frankly, this is wasting my time," Karin smiled, angling her head in such a way that Sakura caught sight of the beautiful silver teardrops at her ears, "And I just know that he's not going to let you go."

"Why not?"

"Darling, you have Miyazawa Honoka's blood in you," Karin answered, bright but with a hint of reproach in her voice, "Of course he's not going to let you go. I don't like bursting your bubble, Sakura, but no one can escape from Miyazawa Akihito—no one."

xx

No one can escape from Miyazawa Akihito.

No one can escape from Miyazawa Akihito.

No one can escape from Miyazawa Akihito.

Like a curse, Sakura kept repeating the sentence in her head. It wasn't that she wanted to—far from it—but as much as she didn't want to admit it, she knew who Miyazawa Akihito was and what he was like, even if she only met him twice before and they hardly talked, and if anything, it was that he was cold-hearted and ruthless.

Anyone who could drive her mother out the house and the family she loved so much just had to be, because no matter the problem, Sakura didn't understand why her mother had to be thrown out, to be disowned. Honoka didn't do anything wrong. She just fell in love with the most wonderful man on earth, and actually fought to be together with him, and look what happened to her. Stripped off her own name, abandoned, ostracized by her own family.

"Sakura."

Jumping back, Sakura gasped and stopped pacing around. "Sasuke! Why are you here?"

"You didn't pick up your phone," Sasuke answered, a little puzzled. He got out of his car and watched her run down the steps to his car. "I thought I told you I'd pick you up at seven today?"

"Oh—oh, yes, you did, didn't you?" she murmured, covering her eyes with one hand. Oh god. One meeting with Karin and all just disappeared from her mind. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at him. "Well, we can go now. If you still want to."

He looked at her, studying her face. "Did something happen?"

"Nope," she answered quickly, trying to push the problem to the very back of her mind. "Nothing happened."

Sasuke raised his eyebrows but said nothing, opening the door for her. She slid into the car and sat down, taking a few deep breaths as she eyed her reflection in the rear view mirror. God, no wonder he immediately saw through her; she looked pretty horrible. She should put some effort into hiding it, because hello, this was Uchiha Sasuke and he already had enough trouble on his mind as it was, she really didn't need to trouble him anymore. Besides, this had nothing to do with him.

"You haven't had dinner, have you?" he asked, sliding into the driver's seat.

She shook her head and tried to smile. "No. I'm a little hungry, actually."

"Alright," he said and started the car engine, driving it out of her apartment's driveway.

Around ten minutes later they arrived at a restaurant down the street. Looking around in astonishment, she half-squealed as he took her hand and led her inside the restaurant. The restaurant was small but cosy, revolving around the English theme. Lighting was dim but not too dim that it made her sleepy or dazed. Soft, classical music was playing and the atmosphere was warm and soothing without being overly tacky or corny.

To Sakura's surprise, Naruto was inside, and the blond immediately greeted them once he saw them. "Sasuke! Sakura-chan!"

"Hi," Sakura replied, smiling.

"Well, now that you two are here, the food testing can start!" the blond man said, motioning for them to follow him inside.

Once Sasuke and Sakura were comfortably seated on the table by the window, Sakura looked at the menu on the table, reading each and every one of the meals. "I didn't know you were opening a restaurant," she said, when she was finally done. Putting down the menu on the table once more, she crossed her arms on the table and glanced at him, waiting expectantly. "You didn't mention a word about it."

"It's just another investment, Sakura. I didn't think it was important enough to be mentioned."

"But it's a restaurant, Sasuke!" she exclaimed, clearly excited. "I mean, it's something big. I didn't know you also work in this industry."

"Hospitality? Not particularly," he replied, studying the flower vase in front of him. When he looked up to meet her eyes, there was a certain light in his eyes that Sakura couldn't decipher, "It's a one-off project using my private savings. It has nothing to do with the company."

"Ah," she nodded. "It's still something big, though. I think it's even bigger than if the company invests in something, because this is all you, right?"

"If you say so," Sasuke returned, amusement dancing in his eyes. Together they watched as the meals were served on their table. "Naruto is helping me with the preparations. If it's good, we'll launch next week."

She smiled. "That's great."

"Yeah," he agreed, a little more softly. "You should come."

"Of course I will!"

"Good," he said. "Shall we eat?"

xx

The food, Sakura decided, was good.

In fact, it was so good that she almost couldn't stop eating, if only she didn't remember that she had added two pounds this week and she didn't want to buy new pants just yet. They started with appetizers and ended with dessert—soft green tea pudding, one of her favourite—and when they were done, Sasuke offered to take her home. They were in front of her apartment before long.

"That was good," Sakura smiled. "Thank you for a great dinner, Sasuke. You considerably made my day brighter."

"Pleasure," he remarked automatically. Studying her face, he sighed and asked, "I'm going to ask this one more time, Sakura. Did anything happen?"

"No," she frowned. "Why?" Did her face suddenly darken without her knowing? She hadn't been thinking about Karin and her proposition during dinner—well, not much, at least—and she had made sure that she didn't look as if she was thinking about anything at all, and ohmigod, was she really that transparent?

"You're making that face again," he interrupted her.

"What face?"

"That face you show whenever you either didn't sleep well or haven't had your daily cup of coffee," he replied, wearily, as if saying it physically pained him. When she tried to protest, he looked at her squarely and said, "You were the one who told me we better be honest to each other, Sakura."

Hearing those words, she stopped on her tracks and pursed her lips, annoyed at herself. She didn't know that those words would come and haunt her now, did she?

"Itachi came by last night," Sasuke began, suddenly realizing that he was the one who had to coax her this time. And if he wanted to coax her, he'd do it right. He'd be honest with her. "He's coming back to the company."

"What for?" Sakura asked, frowning.

"I'm not sure yet," he sighed. "But knowing the elders, he'd probably be CEO in one, two weeks tops. They adore him."

"Oh," she was silent for a while, and then asked, a little softly, "What are you going to do, then?"

"What can I do?" he asked back, bitter.

"Is that even legal, coming back to the company just like that? And isn't that your position?"

"Technically, he's one of our shareholders, so yes, he does have that right," Sasuke said, watching the equalizer on the stereo, "He can't take away my position so easily though. Work contracts and all that. Except, well, he's got the elders supporting him, so it's really only a matter of time."

Grumbling, Sakura muttered, "That sucks balls."

"Indeed."

"But you can't give up yet, Sasuke!" she exclaimed, suddenly straightening up and taking his hand, "It's your company. You also hold some of the shares, and you've proven yourself to be a better leader than him! I mean, you didn't walk out when they needed a leader the most. You stayed! It's a proof! If your aunts and uncles can't see that, well, then they're blind. And stupid. Well, mostly stupid."

Sasuke almost wanted to snicker. Well, almost. "I'm not going to give up, Sakura."

"Good!" she balled up her fist and shook it vehemently. "Show 'em what you got!"

"If there's time," he told her. "I'm not sure why, but I'm not as concerned about my position anymore. There… there should be a way."

She frowned, and then looked at her hands, "I can't believe Itachi wants to do it, though. He really doesn't seem like that kind of person. Are you sure that you interpret his words correctly?"

Fire flickered in his eyes. "Are you saying that you trust him more than me?"

"No!" she exclaimed, "I never said or thought anything of that effect. Look, I trust you, okay? And if you really think so, then it really might be so. I'm just asking because well, we all make mistakes. You, me, Itachi. I just don't want to throw away the thought that he might be a good person, because even if he did make mistakes, that doesn't automatically make him a bad person. Are you sure he doesn't have any hidden agenda, or something?"

Sasuke sighed wearily. "I've known him for all my life, Sakura. I don't think it's possible for someone to lie all his life."

At this, Sakura was suddenly quiet, and a flash of agony washed over her eyes for a split second before it completely dispersed. "You never know, Sasuke. The bad guy can be the good guy in the end, while the good guy… can be the bad guy in the end. People have masks, Sasuke. Masks and secrets."

"Like you, I suppose," Sasuke retorted, a little too heatedly. "You have things you want to hide from me."

Hearing the accusation in his voice, she straightened up and looked at him defensively. "That's because they don't concern you!"

"And you think the whole Itachi thing concerns you?" he asked snappily. "It doesn't, Sakura, it doesn't have anything to do with you. So answer this: why am I telling you?"

"Because—" she faltered, "Because I care about you, Sasuke, and you know that."

"That's right," he said, "because you care about me. So pray tell, don't I care about you?"

Sakura froze.

"The ball is in your court."

"I—you—I don't—" she paused, took a deep breath, and asked, "Do you care about me?"

Sasuke leaned forward until their eyes were on the same level, darkness to light. "What do you think, Sakura?"

She bit her lip hesitantly. "Am I allowed to think that you do?"

He frowned. And then glared at her. And then frowned again. "Do you really need me to spell out everything for you?"

"Yes. No." She frowned back. "Maybe?"

Pressing his lips together into a thin line, he glared at her, obsidian eyes piercingly sharp. "Tell me what happened first."

She hesitated. "You honestly want to know?"

A nod.

"Even if it has nothing to do with you?"

Another nod, this time accompanied with a grumble.

Sakura sighed, and looked at her hands for a while, before finally looking up and meeting Sasuke's eyes. "I met my cousin today."

Alright, nothing too surprising. Yet. Sasuke waited.

"My cousin wants me to work for them." This was true, although there was a lot of hidden meaning in it. But Sasuke didn't need to know that, and Sakura didn't feel like elaborating any further. "I don't feel like it, but I feel that my mother would want me too." Also true, because Honoka had wanted to repair their family ties, and this looked like one big opportunity to do so. Taking it would mean being faithful to her mother and the very blood that ran in her veins, but it also meant betraying herself, because a finance consultant was not her dream job. It never was. She just took it in university because at that time, she didn't know what to take and she was particularly good in that area. "It's just… killing me inside, thinking about it, that's all."

"And why is it killing you?"

Sakura ran over the list of reasons in her head, and then sighed and decided to tell him the truth. "I don't really want to, because I love my job now and I can't see myself working as a… as a finance consultant," she made a face, "Believe it or not, that was my major in university."

Sasuke raised his eyebrows. "I don't really see you as the finance type."

"I'm really good at it," she smiled weakly, "I just… I just don't really like it. I don't enjoy it."

"So don't take it," he told her, matter-of-factly.

"It's not that easy."

"Why?"

"Because my mom would want me to," she explained, hesitating, "We—we don't really have a good relationship with our extended family. Since the job offer is… well, since it offers the opportunity to fix our relationship with the big family, I suppose she would want me to take it. But I don't want to, because apart from the fact that I can't see myself working as a finance consultant, I also… I also can't see myself with my big family. They're, uh, not so nice people."

He looked up curiously. "Not so nice people?"

"They're workaholics and they mostly care about their reputation, their money… their name, their place in society," she paused, "Among other things."

Sasuke smirked. "That sounds like me."

"You're not like that at all!" Sakura protested in alarm. "You're a lot more than that."

He shrugged, but said nothing to agree or disagree.

"Sasuke!"

"What?"

"You're a lot more than that," she repeated. "A lot more."

He looked at her, silent for a while, and then asked, "What are you going to do?"

"To do what? To convince you?" she asked, and when he shook his head in amusement, she continued, "Oh. About that. Yeah, well…"

"Well?" he prompted.

"What are you going to do about Itachi?" she returned the question.

"I'll do what I have to," he answered grimly, "If I have to fight for the company, then I will."

"Good." She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "If you want something, you fight for it. That… that goes for me, too."

He looked at their intertwined fingers and ran his thumb on the back of her hand. "What is it that you want, Sakura?"

"I don't know yet," she said, but then smiled, "but I'll figure it out."

"Good," he returned, and she felt him squeeze back gently. "That's very, very good."

.

.

.

tbc.


a/n: IT'S FEBRUARY, GUYS. D: