The First Favor
Itachi Uchiha rode the rickety, old elevator all the way to the 15th floor. Really, he thought exasperated, You'd think that an apartment building as nice as this with as high a rent as it has would at least update their elevator system.
He was exhausted. There was no other word for it. Lack of sleep and the long hours of work had worn him down to this droopy state. Even his briefcase felt heavier than it had this morning.
The tarnished gold elevator doors finally slid open with a squeak. The hall beyond them was far grander than the elevator would have you think. An ornate mirror hung on the wall opposite of the doors, hovering over a small oak table holding a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers, exploding artfully from a gorgeous glass vase. Itachi took in his reflection. His normally pale skin looked sickly and transparent. The lines under his eyes were darker and more prominent. He sighed.
Winning back his father's trust was much more difficult than Itachi had anticipated. The old man had been working him hard…harder than some of the more experienced employees of the firm. Every other day his father would drop a hint, sometimes subtle and other times glaringly blatant, that Sasuke was the favorite for the heir of the company.
Itachi laughed to himself, short and humorless. No doubt, he thought, that their father had been telling Sasuke the same thing about Itachi. Fugaku Uchiha always had loved to pit the two brothers against one another, forcing his sons to compete, to become strong, to do whatever it took to win.
And this time, Itachi would come out on top.
The echo of his expensive leather loafers on the marble floors reverberated from the walls. They sounded hollow.
He let himself into his apartment. The short entry hall was dark, but there was a light emanating from the living room. Itachi tossed his keys into the small dish on the table in the hall. He set his suitcase down with a thunk and walked further into the apartment.
What he saw made all the stress melt away.
His fiancée was curled up on the couch with a steaming cup of tea in her hands, an identical one waiting for him on the coffee table. The flickering light of the television set reflected off the porcelain.
Hinata looked up when she heard his footsteps and smiled. Wordlessly, she moved on the couch, patting the empty space beside her.
Loosening his tie, Itachi joined her, accepting the soothing brew she offered. She leaned against his side and he immediately, unconsciously, wrapped his free arm around her, using the other to bring the mug to his lips, letting the hot vapors thaw his icy skin.
"How was your day?" she asked, She knew how it had gone; just like all the other days. She knew how tired he was of his work, how he hated to be his father's lap dog. She had heard all of his complaints before, all of his grievances. But still she asked him, because that was the kind of person she was.
"The same," he mumbled into his tea. Hinata snuggled deeper into his side and gave his hand a squeeze, offering her comfort without uttering a word. That was one of Itachi's favorite things about her.
He looked down at her soft pale hands. He noticed a few faded smudges of color on her fingers. She had been painting. "And you?" he asked, taking another drink.
"I had a meeting with the caterers today and I ordered the invitations…and I ran into Sasuke."
"Oh?" This definitely peaked Itachi's interest.
"Yeah. He was walking in the park and I was going through it when we bumped into each other." Itachi frowned into his cup. Sasuke didn't seem to be the kind of person to idly walk through the park. "Then we met Naruto and his friend Konohamaru. We all went out to lunch."
"Where did you go?"
"We went to that ramen stand, Ichiraku's. It was a lot better than I had expected." Hinata was talking animatedly, smiling up at Itachi as she recounted her adventures. "And then Sasuke walked me home."
Something tweaked inside Itachi's stomach. He didn't like the sounds of this.
Hinata wrung her hands around her cup, interlacing her fingers. She suddenly became very interested in the brown liquid in her cup. "I asked him if he would help me with the planning."
Itachi was quiet.
"Itachi?" Hinata looked up at him, worried. Itachi was normally quiet, but he wouldn't just stop talking during a conversation.
When he smiled at her she was so relieved that she didn't even notice the slight strain to it. "It's fine. In fact I'm glad. It's about time my little brother got involved in something other than himself." Itachi tightened his grip around Hinata as she rested her head on his shoulder.
Sasuke was busy working at his desk when Itachi opened the door. He was so surprised to see his brother standing there he didn't even demand to know what he wanted.
"Hello, little brother." Itachi stepped into the office and closed the door with a soft click. "How are you faring?"
Suspicion rose in Sasuke's chest as he watched his brother's measured steps. Something was definitely up. "I'm fine." He set his pen down gingerly on his desk keeping his eyes trained on his brother.
Itachi sat down on Sasuke's desk with more poise and grace then Naruto had when he sat in the same place only yesterday. "Thank you for walking Hinata home last night. I really appreciate it."
"Oh, no problem," Sasuke replied stiffly. So she told him, he thought, that's no big deal.
Itachi sat there, watching Sasuke, waiting. When he didn't the desired affect from Sasuke, he plowed on. "Yes, she told me about your little…adventure together. You went out to eat with Naruto Uzumaki, correct?"
Itachi just smiled and nodded as though Sasuke had just told him something relatively amusing. Confused and suspicious, Sasuke just sat there, hoping that if he stayed perfectly still and didn't say anything, Itachi would just go away. No such luck.
Instead he seemed to take the prolonged silence as a cue to continue. "Hinata also told me something else very interesting. Do you know what that was?"
Sasuke just looked at him, clearly showing that he had no idea what his brother was talking about.
"She told me that you are going to help her plan the wedding."
An odd shiver ran through Sasuke's body. He looked up at Itachi and it was like he was staring into Sasuke's soul, smirking triumphantly as he watched him squirm. Back-tracking, Sasuke tried to brush it off like it was nothing. He had done nothing wrong, why should he feel uncomfortable at Itachi's words? "Yeah," he shrugged, hoping it looked nonchalant.
Itachi smiled again, but something about it seemed fake. "I just wanted to express my thanks. I've been very busy lately and I hate thinking of Hinata out there doing all of the work by herself. It's nice to know that my younger brother will be helping her out." He leaned over, getting closer to Sasuke's face. Underneath his words was the hint of a threat. "It's especially nice to know that my younger brother is not spending time with her due to ulterior motives."
Sasuke leaned back in his leather chair, putting distance between him and Itachi. "What do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I said." Itachi straightened back up, his composure returned and the civilized tone back in his voice. "Oh well. Even if you did have ulterior motives it's not like you could act on them." He chuckled to himself, as if the idea were so preposterous as to be funny.
Sasuke's brow furrowed. What the hell was that supposed to mean? "Oh? And why is that?" he asked. "Just for curiosity's sake."
There was a glint in Itachi's eye as he smiled down at Sasuke. "Because she is my fiancée. Because you have no claim on her. Not anymore." Those words did something to Sasuke. They caught him off-guard and left him feeling stunned and slightly annoyed. He couldn't explain his odd reaction, not even to himself, so he just sat there, silently staring at his desk, intently and confusedly. Itachi rose from the desk and walked slowly to the office door. Just before he stepped outside he paused and turned to Sasuke. "Have a wonderful day…Little Brother." And then he was gone and Sasuke was left to mull over what had just happened.
When Hinata called him, Sasuke was walking out of the office after his strange encounter with Itachi. He still wasn't entirely sure what had happened and trying to reason it out in his head was just frustrating.
Itachi had been threatening him; there was no doubt about that. But Itachi had been threatening him under the pretense that Sasuke was after Hinata. The years away from home must have made Itachi's brain soft.
The vibration in his pocket brought him back and when he pulled his cell phone out he was surprised to see that he didn't recognize the number.
"Sasuke-san?" It was Hinata. He pulled the phone away from his ear and glanced at it quickly before placing it back to his ear. "Um, this is Sasuke Uchiha right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Hinata, how did you get my number?"
"She sounded more relaxed as she answered. "I told you that Itachi would give it to me." Then where did Itachi get it? Sasuke thought. I didn't give it—wait. My father. I should have known.
"Alright," he grunted. "So what do you need?"
"I was wondering if you were still going to help me with the wedding?"
Sasuke thought back to Itachi's words. He thought about them long and hard before answering. "Yes." Well, maybe not that hard.
"Great! You wouldn't happen to be available now would you?" She asked, a hopeful note in her voice.
Sasuke was surprised by Hinata's forwardness, and maybe even a little impressed. "You're lucky. I just got off of work."
"Oh, well if you're tired we don't have to do this now. We can do this some other time."
"No, it's fine. Where should I meet you?"
"I'm on my way to the bakery on 7th street."
Sasuke grimaced. A bakery? He hated sweets. Hinata must have remembered that from High School. But a promise was a promise, and an Uchiha always kept his word. "Alright, I'll be there in 20 minutes." Beep.
It looked like Sasuke Uchiha was going cake shopping.
The bakery was small, clean, and looked very much like a cake itself. The floor was a classic black and white tile and each wall was painted a different pastel color. Various cakes were displayed around the shop; single layered cakes, multi-layered cakes, topsy-turvy cakes, birthday cakes, graduation cakes, more cakes than Sasuke could keep track of. But Sasuke knew that Hinata was in need of a very special cake.
Thinking about it made him apprehensive. When ordering a cake one must decide on what flavor the cake should be. And so it stands that when you are cake shopping you will be made to try the cake. Sasuke hated cake and all sweets in general, so the thought of actually having to put the confectionary atrocity in his mouth was making him feel a little queasy. But Sasuke was a proud man, a man who kept his promises (most of the time), and he would be damned before he let a bunch of baked goods get the best of him.
While Sasuke was silently preparing himself, Hinata was leaning down to stare into the glass cases and gaze reverently at the artfully made frosted flowers and the brightly colored cakes. Hinata could see the dedication and love put into those cakes and truly admired the bakers behind such wonderful creations. Hinata knew a work of art when she saw one.
A door behind the counter swung open and a young woman with long brown hair tied in a loose bun stepped out. Seeing Sasuke and Hinata she smiled and wiped her flour covered hands on her apron. "Hi. What can I do for you today?"
Hinata looked up from the case and smiled in return. "Hello. I have a consultation today."
"Oh, of course," the woman exclaimed. "Hang on just one moment; I'll go get Kuze-san." The woman turned back to the door, quickly shot Sasuke an appreciative glance over her shoulder and disappeared. Sasuke Glared at the door in disgust but Hinata didn't seem to have noticed the transaction as she was gazing longingly at some frosted cupcakes.
The door swung open again to reveal a large man wiping his flour covered hands on his apron. The man had caramel colored hair and a matching mustache. His apron was stretched over his slightly bulging middle. But he was quick on his feet as he moved around the counter, his face lit up with a huge grin.
"Hello there, I'm Kuze! And you must be Miss Hyuga." He took Hinata's hand and gave it an enthusiastic shake. Then he reached out for Sasuke's hand. Sasuke looked at it warily. After a moment he finally moved his hand towards Kuze's as cautiously as one would approach a wounded, wild animal. Warm, fleshy digits engulfed Sasuke's hand and his arm was being pumped viciously and energetically. "And you must be the fiancé!"
Hinata's face paled instantly as Sasuke took back his aching hand. "No, no," she cried waving her hands before her. "This is Sasuke, my fiancé's brother."
Both men looked at Hinata quizzically for a moment. Geez, Sasuke thought, I know we're not together or anything, but does she have to make it sound like something horrible if we were.
"Brother, huh?" Kuze turned to Sasuke, quirking an eyebrow at him. Sasuke gazed back defiantly. The smile came back to Kuze's face and he slapped Sasuke on the shoulder. "Well, glad to have you here!" The man laughed heartily. "Follow me." He led Hinata into a back room, Sasuke following behind, nursing his bruised body and equally bruised ego.
The room was small, to red couches pushed against the walls facing each other with a glass table between them. The white walls were decorated with pictures of professionally photographed cakes. Kuze sat on one couch and motioned for Hinata and Sasuke to take the other. From his deep apron pocket he pulled a notebook and a pen. He flipped the book open and turned to Hinata.
"So, you're in need of a wedding cake. How many tiers would you like?"
"Squared or circular?"
"Alright, now for the cake itself. I have some samples if you would like to try them."
Hinata's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes please."
"Be right back." Kuze stood up and left the room.
Sasuke leaned back on the couch and watched as Hinata tapped her fingers against her knees. "This is fun isn't it?" she asked.
More tapping. "I really appreciate you coming to help me, Sasuke."
"Well, I said I would." He knew Hinata was trying to start a conversation, he just didn't know how to keep it going. There was an awkward silence. Sasuke sat up. "So…"
"I'm back!" Kuze walked in, presenting a tray with several pieces of different cakes. He set the tray down on the glass table with a flourish.
"Oh, Kuze-san! Those look delicious!" Hinata scooted closer to better admire the cakes. Sasuke sunk deeper into the couch cushions.
The rotund baker took his seat again. His eyes seemed to sparkle as he gestured lovingly at each cake. Hinata looked at him and saw a man who was truly passionate about he did. Sasuke looked at him and saw a man who needed to get a life.
"This here on the left is a French Marble cake. It's a mixture of vanilla and chocolate. The design it makes when you cut it is really beautiful!" Two forks were set beside each sample, one for Hinata and one for Sasuke. Hinata picked up her fork and tasted the dessert. She closed her eyes in bliss. Sasuke remained unmoved.
"Aren't you going to try some Uchiha-san?" Kuze asked, eyes glinting.
"No thanks. I don't like sweets."
Sasuke could have announced that he had scheduled a sex change operation for himself so he could become a belly dancer in Bulgaria and Kuze would have been less shocked. His eyes grew wide, aghast, as he stared Sasuke down, jaw hanging open. "What do you mean you don't like sweets?" He was flustered; his face growing hot and red as the words tumbled passed his flapping lips. "How can you not like sweets? Everyone likes sweets."
Sasuke sank even further into the couch and refused to meet Kuze's eyes. "I just don't like them," he mumbled.
Kuze took several deep breathes, sitting back on the couch until his face had returned to its natural color. The grin was back. "Well, that's probably because you've never tried my cakes. So go ahead, take a bite."
Sasuke stared at him like he was crazy. He had a creeping feeling that he was.
"Just one bite."
"No really, that—" suddenly a fork with a large chunk of cake was jammed into Sasuke's mouth. Sasuke jumped back and coughed, managing to keep himself from choking and simultaneously spitting the cake out all over the baker. This man was crazy!
"See? It's not so bad." The man chuckled as if someone had told him a funny story as he placed the fork back on the table. Hinata sat there as she had through the entire ordeal, eyes wide and unable to move. "Now let's move on to the next flavor."
After that Sasuke didn't refuse any more cake, swallowing each mouthful forcefully and begrudgingly thinking that the sweets really weren't as bad as he had expected. But when he saw Kuze's hand move toward another fork, Sasuke unconsciously slapped a hand to mouth and swiped the utensil from off the table.
Finally, they were at the final flavor. A chocolate cake filled with strawberries and chocolate ganache. Hinata loved the rich chocolate. She looked over to see how Sasuke was reacting to the cake when she saw him reaching his fork to the cake a second time to snatch up a lone strawberry. This is the first cake that I've seen Sasuke somewhat enjoy, Hinata thought.
"So, have you decided on a flavor yet?" Kuze asked.
Hinata took one last look at each of the delicious samples, but she knew which one she wanted. "I would like the chocolate and strawberries, please." Sasuke glanced at her from the corner of his eye but said nothing.
"Excellent!" Kuze exclaimed, clapping his hands together. Soon they were talking about the wedding colors (lavender, white and black) and cake decorations (simple butterfly cutouts, nothing too girly or complicated). The cake had been ordered and Hinata and Sasuke left the shop, Kuze waving them farewell from the door.
"Thank God," Sasuke muttered. "That man was insane. I thought he was going to kill me."
Hinata didn't try to fight back her laughter when she saw the dark, ominous look on Sasuke's face. On anyone else it would have looked almost fearful, she thought, but seeing how anxious Sasuke was to get away from the happy baker was somehow hilarious.
Sasuke on the other hand didn't think it was all that funny as he continually checked over his shoulder to make sure he wouldn't see the flash of a white apron following them. But Hinata kept on laughing as they walked in the cool breeze and Sasuke finally looked at her.
Her expression was so carefree and happy. It was an expression that he was not used to seeing on anyone that spent any amount of time. A flash of guilt forced him to stare at the concrete rushing by, at a small bird darting across the cloudless sky, anywhere but her face. Sasuke had never seen her look that happy since they had dated back in high school, and even then he had never been the one to incite it. Looking back, he realized he had treated her like he treated everyone; like something separate from him, similar and yet on a level so different from his own that they seemed almost alien. Someone to keep a distance from.
A hand gently squeezed his arm and he was instantly brought back to the present. Hinata had stopped laughing but she still smiled in her soft, gentle way. Sasuke's thoughts tucked themselves back into the little dark corner of his mind where they were promptly forgotten. And Sasuke was back to being Sasuke.
"Thanks again for today. I really appreciate it."
Sasuke nodded stiffly.
After he dropped Hinata back at her apartment building he went home to his own. The day was done and he was tired. He didn't bother to change out of his jeans and sweater as he crawled onto his bed and buried his face into the soft linen of his pillows covers. He thought of the work he still had to do at the office, he thought of Itachi and how much he was dreading seeing his brother's smug face, but as his eyes closed and he began to drift off into sleep, he did not think, as he usually did, that the day had been a complete waste of time.
OKAY EVERYONE I KNOW IT'S BEEN FOREVER SINCE I UPDATED BUT THAT'S BECAUSE I HAVE MAJOR WRITER'S BLOCK! I KNOW HOW THE STORY WILL END BUT I NEED MORE IDEAS FOR THE MIDDLE. I NEED YOU GUYS TO HELP ME THINK OF SITUATIONS WHERE SASUKE AND HINATA CAN SPEND MORE TIME WITH EACH OTHER BESIDES JUST DOING ERRANDS FOR THE WEDDING. THE FUTURE OF THIS STORY DEPENDS ON YOU, SO IF YOU WANT TO SEE THIS STORY CONTINUE THEN PLEASE HELP ME OUT! FROM ONE WRITER TO ANOTHER; HELP! MUCH APPRECIATION, MUCH LOVE.