I'm not in love, so don't forget it
It's just a silly phase I'm going through
And just because I call you up
Don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made, ooh
Ooh, you'll wait a long time for me
Ooh, you'll wait a long time
Naruto watched as Sakura meticulously removed the polish from her nails, starting with her left thumb and working down to her pinky finger. The acetone stank up his living room and peeled the veneer from his old, wooden coffee table, but he wasn't about to complain. His childhood crush was in his apartment, of her own accord, doing feminine things, and that was damn good enough for him. And plus, he didn't think very many people got to see Sakura acting like a girly-girl which made him giddy in a sort of appreciative way.
Glancing around, it was weird how commonplace her and her stuff had become in his tiny apartment over the past three months; she'd practically moved in at one point after a string of nasty arguments with her parents (one whose topic, despite his prying, she'd never divulged to him). His lumpy couch now had a permanent dent in it from where he'd slept, sunken in the frayed cushions, for two weeks and three nights before she'd leased an apartment in the more well-to-do sector of Konoha. (The newer, young socialite gathering of the village which meant as far away from his portion as one could get.)
In all honesty, after she'd found a place, he'd expected her presence to disappear from his living arrangements as quickly as it had arrived (unannounced, knocking at his door one evening toward supper time), but surprisingly and delightfully, she still came around nearly three to four times a week to 'check up on him' and make sure he was still alive. He liked the pretense of her taking care of him even if all she mostly did was lounge around with him on the couch or quietly do some studying at the kitchen table with a glass of milk.
He'd had a spare key made for her toward the end of the short time she'd been cohabiting with him but had never been able to muster the courage to gift it to her. It seemed silly now when she had a nicer, larger place of her own. Why would she want or need to come by his apartment when he wasn't already home? Though, he'd almost worked himself into giving it to her under the pretense that she might retrieve his mail or water his long-dead houseplant while he was away on mission work.
After removing the week's pale pink, sparkle nail polish from both hands (it looked like she'd be replacing it with a deep, gemlike green), Sakura lifted the channel changer from it's place on the coffee table and flipped through the twelve stations he picked up over antenna.
"No HBO?" she questioned in distaste, as if it were the first rather than hundredth time she'd circuited the paltry programming selection.
Naruto quirked an eyebrow but perceptively kept his mouth shut for lack of a tactful explanation. He knew that Sakura understood living on a budget since she undoubtedly managed her own expenses now, but he thought that maybe she didn't understand living on a budget that wasn't hospital salary. "You have HBO at your apartment?" he answered her question with a question of his own.
Giving up on the TV altogether, she rose from her spot on the floor and padded to the kitchen to run a bowl of hot, soapy water. "Of course," she replied, her tone flippant with a hint of boredom.
"Then why don't we—?"
"Not a chance."
Naruto sulked quietly to himself as Sakura returned to the living room and plopped down behind the coffee table, easing her fingers into the water to soak. It had almost become a game between them: him trying to weasel his way into her apartment and her skirting (stomping) his advances, but it was starting to bother him that she hadn't let him over once, not even just to show off the place, since she'd moved in.
He was starting to make up wild delusions for why she'd so purposefully keep him away, like that she was hiding some exotic, illegal pet in her living room. Like a wooly, snaggletoothed hamster. Or Sasuke.
Deciding that he had a better plan than pouting, he slipped from the couch to sit opposite her, back to the television, and offered her a cheeky grin. "Lemme do it."
"You're going to give me a manicure?" Sakura deadpanned, sounding less than amused.
Naruto squirted a blob of her mango scented lotion into the palm of one hand, removing her right one from the water as he began massaging from the base to the tips, paying special attention to her wrist bones and knuckles. "I've seen you do it a million times," he whined. "It can't be that hard."
But he was watching her face closely for any hint that what he was doing was good and enjoyable.
When his teammate didn't say anything in return, he took it as permission to really get to work, to put some muscle into it (but not too much), kneading and pulling and splaying her fingers with his. He kissed the bridge of two fingers to signal his completion, and Sakura rolled her eyes but offered him her other hand.
He grinned, wondering how far he could take it—a shoulder massage, a back rub, no shirt with lotion or better yet some warming oils—but then she handed him the bottle of nail polish and he scrunched up his face, tapping the glass bulb against the palm of his hand as he'd seen her do time and time again.
Okay, he could do this. It was probably just like painting... with a miniature brush.
He was relegated back to the confines of the couch after he'd tipped the bottle not once but twice within the first five minutes. That and he'd damn near painted her entire thumb up to the knuckle, green.
Naruto coughed into his hand, pretending to be interested in the educational program that was airing as Sakura finished two applications and a clear, top coat before waving her hands in the air to dry. He was getting fidgety because he knew it would soon be time for her to go. Early morning shift and all that.
"Dinner at your place?" he joked, to which Sakura merely shook her head as she gathered her supplies and went to buckle into her boots. "I should at least walk you home," he tried next, sounding a slight desperate. "It's dangerous... out there."
He mumbled the last bit, having followed her to the door. He was finding it hard to come up with new excuses and had taken to recycling old, failed ones.
"I can handle myself. I'm a big girl ninja," Sakura smiled, kissing him on the cheek before she turned to go.
Naruto watched her step out into the hallway, feeling as if she were taking a part of him with her. He caught the door before it could close. "Ne, Sakura-chan... you're not, you know, ashamed to bring me around? 'Cause I could turn back before we got to the gate if you wanted. No one would have to see."
He found it hard to finish the last part, but it was kind of, sort of, eating him up inside. Not that he minded turning back early and not seeing the place. It wouldn't surprise him if the type of people that lived around there had preconceived notions about him (ones which probably weren't very nice), but he didn't know what to make of the fact that Sakura would care what others thought of him. And he couldn't think what else it would be that was keeping him away.
Maybe Sakura just wanted her privacy, but he'd thought (hoped) they were closer friends than that.
He tried to force a smile because he suddenly felt silly and unsure of himself, but it was too late for a 'forget I said anything' because Sakura was just as suddenly crushing him in a hug. Which felt good, god it felt good, but she was whispering in his ear, "Just wait a little longer," and then she was gone, and he didn't know what to think.
Of course, he'd thought about stopping by her apartment on his own, unannounced, as a sort of fun surprise (okay, out of spite mostly), but he didn't much fancy the thought of getting punched through a wall, or the idea of Sakura potentially staying mad at him for more than a day. The last time that had happened had been rough and totally not worth the pair of underwear he'd (filched) gotten out of the deal. That had been when he discovered that sending a clone to do his dirty work did not guarantee his own lack of pain and agony in the matter.
Instead, he'd merely dropped it altogether. If Sakura didn't want him to ask about it or talk about it or hint about it, then he wouldn't. If she was hiding some pretty boy, civilian lover from him in her housing complex then he would... kick the guy's ass. But he wouldn't pester Sakura about it first. She still came by to spend time with him despite her busy schedule and that was supposed to be good enough for him.
It was nearly a week later before he'd gotten so moody, despite his resolve, that she actually got up to leave early.
"Wait, wait. Sakura-chan, I didn't meant it," he called, close on her heels to the door. For once he'd like to be annoyed and not have to apologize, but he kept that little bit to himself. "You totally do not look like you've gained weight, eating all of my food all the the time."
He expected a surly punch to the gut or at least an indignant slamming of the door on her way out (and maybe with a crunching of his fingers accidentally-on-purpose in the edge), so it caught him off guard when she turned to him and asked, "Aren't you going to offer to walk me home this time?"
"You want me to walk you to your apartment?" he repeated, somewhat dumbfounded, his foul mood dissipating instantly.
"Sure," she chirped and was out the front door before he could explain that it hadn't been an offer.
Of course, he wasn't about to turn down her request, his curiosity piqued as he grabbed his key-ring and slammed his knee into the doorframe in his rush to follow.
Cursing, he jogged to catch up to her. "I'm walking you to your apartment," he repeated, just so they were clear. "As an escort. To be safe."
"Shut up," Sakura replied, but she hooked her arm through his which simultaneously relaxed him and put him on a tingly, anticipatory edge.
It was already dark out which made him feel better about his role. Yeah, she should have been asking him for this months ago. She not only wanted him, she needed him.
When she cocked her head to look at him, he offered a sheepish half-grin, feeling as if she could read his puffy, delusional thoughts, and for a moment, shamefully embarrassed.
"It feels good tonight," she commented, and he nodded, enjoying the mid-autumn breeze.
But he could feel a lump swelling in his throat the closer they neared to the complex gate, and he actually had to swipe his palms across the butt of his pants a few times to rid them of any clamminess as she punched in her key-code and opened the way for him. She waited, watching him, and he grinned to cover his nervousness.
What made this day so different from any other before, he wanted to ask. Why now?
"I don't have to stay long," he said, shooting himself in the foot as they clomped their way slowly up the stairs. Her door was just up ahead, and behind that, her apartment. It was her space with her things and she was bringing him into it. It shouldn't be such a big deal, but with all the build up, he could barely imagine what was waiting for him.
Sakura hummed a distracted response, and he turned to look at her, half-afraid.
"You sure about this?" he started to stay, but she was already jiggling her keys and turning the knob and then they were in.
He was inside, in the dark. He hovered, hunched slightly in on himself, stupidly in place as he listened to the sounds of his teammate padding through the kitchen and waited for her to flip the overhead lights.
She didn't, and he didn't say anything as instead she lit two slender white candles on a card table set up in the living room.
Naruto crept toward the flickering light, willing his eyes to grow accustomed to the dimness of the room. He took in shapes—furniture and a large television and the outline of Sakura standing to his left, and on the table were set two place mats with two empty champagne flutes and two bowls of insta-ramen just waiting to be cooked. In the very center of the table rested a little black box.
From back in the kitchen, Sakura uncorked the bottle of champagne and the resounding 'pop' caused Naruto to jolt, bumping the table in his surprise hard enough to tip one of the glasses.
"Sorry!" Naruto stammered, instantly reaching forward to right the overturned glass. He caught his jacket sleeve in the flame of one of the candles, and hissing, jerked his hand back.
Sakura turned on the lights with a frown, holding the neck of the bottle in one hand where she stood at the edge of the kitchen, other hand resting against her hip. "Try not to hurt yourself for one night," she griped and cross the room to pour him a glass.
"Heh," Naruto offered, unsure of what to say about the suspiciously romantic looking dinner for two she'd planned. He wasn't quite sure it was really intended for him, but as he glanced around the living room, finally able to take in the décor, a dawning began to set in.
Sakura's apartment wasn't at all how he'd imagined it to be. Sakura liked pink and Sakura liked paisley and pastel plaids and polka-dots and none of this was at all girly enough for her tastes. (He'd seen her old bedroom at her parents house, after all.) The walls had been painted a warm khaki and she'd purchased an overstuffed, brown leather couch. It looked extremely comfortable and cushiony and perfect for relaxing on while watching a fight. She had a big screen TV with a gaming console which looked like it hadn't even been touched save for taking it out of the packaging.
Naruto scratched the back of his head awkwardly, trying to figure out how to word his question. "Uhh..."
Sakura merely smiled at him as she finished a sip from her own glass, setting it back onto the table top and then gathering the ramen cups in each hand to carry into the kitchen. "Why don't you look around until dinner is ready?" she suggested, setting a pot of water on the stove to boil. "Make yourself at home."
"Right..." Naruto complied, wandering toward the bedroom.
Something was definitely wrong. He must've hit his head on the way over and was unconscious or hallucinating or dreaming. The apartment looked like it was suited more toward his tastes than Sakura's.
Her bedroom was clean with more neutral décor and, alarmingly, a queen-sized bed with dark wood frame. Sakura was a grown woman, but did she really need a two-person bed? Or did she actually a regular lover he didn't know about? It seemed like Sakura to hide something from him in order not to hurt him.
He thought about rifling through her dresser drawers for evidence, but deciding he didn't want to be kicked through the bedroom window lest he have to pay for it, he wandered back to the card table set up in the living room and sat sulking in the chair.
When Sakura brought the two bowls of steaming broth to the table, she laughed at his hunched disappointment. "What's wrong? I thought you'd like it. I put a lot of work into this."
"Mnhmm." He shoveled loads of slurpy noodles into his mouth so as not to have to answer. "Since when do I not like ramen?" he grinned painfully at her. Sakura frowned her dainty lips at him in response, and he felt like an ass. He shrugged with nothing else to say aside from a testy 'so who is he?'
He'd spotted artwork on the wall of the bathroom that was unmistakably Sai's which made him unbelievably angry. He thought Sakura had better taste than that, but then again the smug bastard tended to be very Sasuke-esque at times. He was so jealous he couldn't even enjoy his ramen and set his chopsticks down halfway through.
Sakura for her part had been remarkably patient (for her, when it came to him,) waiting as he stewed until he was done eating to reach for his hand. With a slight blush, she kissed his knuckles the way he had for her just the past week and handed him the little black box. "Open it," she urged with happy, anticipatory eyes.
"W-what is this?" he stammered, blue eyes wide as he peered into the box he'd opened in his hands. He could feel his heart thumping erratically in his chest and thought he might cry.
"Happy birthday~!" Sakura exclaimed in a sing-song. She seemed wildly excited, proud of herself. Then more serious she explained, "I read it in your file. You should have told me—we'd have celebrated before."
Or she should have thought to ask. He hadn't thought she'd cared, and it wasn't like it meant anything to him. He'd forgotten it was today even knowing the date. He hadn't given a thought to his birthday in years.
"I don't—" Naruto overturned his champagne glass with a jerk of his elbow, spilling the contents onto the soft carpet. Sakura frowned slightly but let it go, a prelude perhaps. Naruto laughed, but it sounded suspiciously like a sob, and then the tears came.
Inside the box was a single brass key.
AN: Beginning lyrics are from 'I'm Not in Love' by Olive. Happy Birthday, Naruto. And to everyone else, thanks for reading! :)