She cried after in the dead of the night. Tears fell freely. She was numb, confused, and guilty.

Sasuke sat up; he wanted to grab his stuff and walk out. The moon stood out that night, emitting a surreal glow onto his blank face, shining mockery; the chirps of crickets rang outside... a string of scornful laughs. Sasuke clenched his fist tighter and easily left the apartment.

Ino watched from the corner of her eyes, she did not stop him. She was a bit relieved (very), almost laughed as the door slammed shut. She moved around her tousled bed sheets, smiling to herself, and freed the last batch of brine. Her pillow was damp at the right places, but tear puddles dries clear.

Infamous Funk

If you ask Sasuke, he wouldn't tell you how, or why. Because he couldn't remember himself (probably for the best).

Ino reminded him of Sakura (who else, who else). They differ vastly in appearance and persona, but Ino's emotional link to Sakura is too profound, too great. If he cannot be with Sakura (nothing is ever certain), Ino is a shining beacon of substitute in second place—beautiful. Sasuke does not view women as prizes… tradable. No.

Ino… well, she had always been extroverted and bold. "Life's too short…" she often told Sakura. So, when Sasuke looked at her that way that night… even she needed that. She really needed that.

How two people (standing on different lands and carrying vastly different thoughts) are drawn together is a mystery. One of life's fine, fine offerings… ah, the perks of life, its unpredictability is its power. Oh, imagine Neji's pain (or relief). Sasuke gave up dissecting it; again, life is often wasted on something that was never meant for you to uncover… he learned this the hard way.

So, imagine the man's mild surprise when he sees that blond sadist sitting at the wrong (or right) spot at the wrong time. When did she start drinking? That's something he'd like to know. Or not.

The little tavern is shabby yet popular, a get-together for dead beat ninjas: a mission escape, a family escape, a leisure treat now and then. Low laughter can be heard, the chink of cups, and zesty smell of alcohol and burnt food. Sasuke senses a low chakra level, this brings himself at ease. He sees her see him, and quickly looks away.

"Join me, why don't you?" Ino suggests.

"I'm just leaving." He retorts.

Ino shrugs, "I thought so." She goes back to her drink.

Sasuke suddenly comes to a halt. Why is Ino here? Perhaps Sasuke do not comprehend the desire to enjoy sake alone. He narrows his eyes, hesitates, and parts his lips, blowing out absent smoke, and murmurs, "Ino… was she, uh…"

Ino chuckles fondly, "Yeah, hero, she was here." Before she allows herself to meet his downcast gaze (because life is more than that, she'd like to think), she adds, "So why don't you stay for a while?"

Sasuke stares at her blankly, instantly acknowledging her possible intentions as she him.

"On me… relieved?" Ino rolls her eyes and pours him a full cup.

It is almost an understatement to call Ino 'desperate'. For what, she does not know; although, it tends to involve Sasuke. Is that right? No. Plainly, simply: dispirited men… her specialty? No. Though, funnily, they help her help them. Does it always work? No. But Chouji is digging Shikamaru's company more than ever.

Shikamaru tends to follow the wise words of ones he even half-way respects. That is, supposing they are right, in terms of reflecting reality. But what is 'reality' for him is different for others. And he must take that of others' into consideration. If you were to ask Ino, she wouldn't know how, but she did it. She brought Shikamaru out of his infamous funk and enlightened him untraditionally to live again.

Ino didn't just plan on it. Miracles, if you will, happen unexpectedly—ah, the unpredictability of life. Sasuke? It is safe to say she feels sorry for him. Great prospective… lost at sea.

"Sakura…" Sasuke begins, "how is she?"

Ino narrows her eyes and fixes on her drink, "She's fine… more or less, I'm wondering how you are."

Sasuke is meekly startled how their conversation eases in flow considering their last encounter. He thought of crude pep talks such as 'get over it'. As expected from Sasuke, he did. Looking impassively into Ino's bright eyes, he feels solace washing over him. Maybe it is because of their lack of history, he finds himself wrapped in comfort in confiding small portions from his life. Or maybe it is because her acts (minus sarcasm and condescension at times) revive thoughts of a loved one. Logically, both.

"I'm good," Sasuke says, snapping back to reality, eying an empty ochoko beside her.

"You know…" Ino begins, reflective, "I didn't drink."

Sasuke keeps quiet. Women tend to stress the obvious.

He learned this from Sakura.

"It was Sakura who first did… maybe she picked it up from Tsunade-senpai… either way, she started bringing me down here." Ino explains what she thought Sasuke might like to know, "In the beginning, we were merely exchanging daily highlights—it was good then, I mean. However, slowly we realized the unavoidable drawbacks in our lives have a greater impact on us, and the walls darkened and I guess we both felt trapped."

Sasuke only minds his drink.

"You know her well… she is not the type to abandon a hallow shell. In fact… she feeds on them… I don't understand why." Ino pinches her brows together, "I was the opposite." She whispers, "Naturally, I allowed her to dump them unto me… made her bleakness mine, carried her horrible recollections … and shed tears that weren't mine."

Sasuke bites his tongue as Ino draws him the picture voluntarily.

"We shared a lot of things… and still do." Ino said unhappily, "and I hate it."

He looks up at her, and sees she is on the verge of tears. Sasuke grimaces as he feigns indifference.

"I cannot shake her memories away… so, logically, I did what I always do," Ino heaves a sigh and clears her throat; she is quick to bounce back, "block them out."

"How'd you do that?" Sasuke manages to croak.

"I've been asking myself that for quite some time." She smiles sadly.

Sasuke does not speak, or move, but his tired eyes depict the least of compassion.

"You are different, Sasuke…"

"I've heard that, yeah." Comes his blunt reply.

Ino coughs up a strange laugh, "I mean you are another man with Sakura." Ino carefully words her speech, afraid it came out under the wrong light—Sasuke was never Ino's to begin with.

"What?" Sasuke's grumble answered just that.

She ignores his question, "Frankly, I don't know which part of you she truly loves…"

Sasuke's relationship with Ino never materialized completely because they saw someone else in each others' eyes. For Ino, Sasuke is just another infamous funk; for Sasuke, Ino is the only tie to Sakura (the closest he can ever get to her). The emotional aspect translated well into physical, but it was all action—specious sex—but strong enough to stand alone.

"She is the object of your affection and I am her dear friend. What do we have in common?"

Ino pops the question one night after sensing Sasuke's accustomed despondency after sex. It seems their alleged relationship is based on Sakura, and the two have a hard time digesting this. Neither of them paints each other a saint, though their recent actions scream 'artlessness' out of nothing.

In the beginning, often after Ino, Sasuke makes love to his ego; feeding it reassurance and his adequate sense of morals… convinced that his actions are derived from a newfound fondness for Ino rather than her echo of Sakura.

Neither of them can sleep peacefully after sex. Ino's hair lies flatly against her slim back, she is sitting up and staring straight; Sasuke notes that she occasionally looks at her ivory walls with more soul than him. Then again, he never even really looked at her until… well…

"We don't." Sasuke answers brusquely.

Ino runs her hand through her long, pale hair, "It's just not fair…oh, God…"

Isn't a bit too late for lament? The deed is done. Sasuke thinks bitterly.

"I guess I should be happy," Ino says, "I've won…"

Sasuke does not bother to generate any interest; he turns and faces the adjacent wall. Women tend to speak nonsense after sex. The only thing you've won is an orgasm.

"But it's just not fair…" She continues. Sasuke shuts his eyes evenly, praying she is not crying (he cannot bear to see brine and women together again), "She wanted you since day one, and now… we are here and…"

Ino knows she struck an emotional cord as Sasuke tenses up.

"…what's up with that?" she finishes.

When Sasuke left later that night—midnight, Ino sits on the stool emotionlessly for a while, and then walks to the door, following his footsteps. Her eyes linger on the small, square window. Her soft hands nervously pressing the white curtains aside, her vivid eyes scanned the outdoor. Of course it was a beautiful night following a wondrous evening. Ino slaps herself internally.

It is a beautiful, gusty night. Sasuke's hair moves with the wind. He is walking evenly, fading into the shadowy distance. Other than the desolate man, there is no one else in sight. Ino is relieved.

Sasuke isn't even troubled. Ino is chirpy.

Sakura stopped using 'kun'.

"When you were gone, yeah…" Ino shrugs.

"I see…"

("Mornin', Ino… Sasuke…" Sakura greeted casually, gracing them both with a short smile.

Sasuke vowed never to walk with Ino under broad daylight ever again. He told himself not to be ridiculous. They only met at the bench and decided to walk across the bridge together. What harm? Ino is in a good mood, Sasuke could tell (though he didn't care) by her soft gaze and the slight purse of her lips. She had a bag of plant seeds in hand. He was rested after a mission a day prior.

Missions, missions, missions…it is best to keep oneself busy…too busy to think about futile thoughts that cannot be put into actions.

"Morning," Ino greeted back, "how are you?"

"Fine, just going to visit Tsunade-shishou…"

"Oh yeah…" Ino recalled, "How is she lately?"

"Good—great, in fact." Sakura replied, "Too bad you haven't visited in a while." Sakura swept a swift glance at Sasuke.

"Yeah…" Ino repeated—feeling foolish, "too bad."

"Well, got to go!" Sakura winked, "I'll see you later, Ino—bye, Sasuke!"

Was she feigning cheer?

Ino stood in place, watching Sasuke continuing their path wordlessly. She sighed and paced her steps, catching up to him. Sasuke is too crestfallen to be angry, but he could not suffice his irritation… Sakura did let go, but he was sure a part of her still hold true to her childhood love (was it love?).

Ino asked, "You okay?"

Sasuke ran his hands through his dark hair.

"Since when?")

It shouldn't matter much to him (or at all). Yet it is an unpleasant, prickly sensation that lugs his heart. Sakura had called him with the same familiar and homely affection he once knew so well. What came out draws his brows together and Sasuke wonders the standard: what is wrong with this picture? There he is, still handsome, still renowned (mostly), with a slightly fonder demeanour in hopes of returning his seemingly desperate lover's long time affection. And there is she—unchanged mostly (thank God for that!), beaming at him (her gate to pure bliss, Sasuke's sure), calling his name with tenderness he never knew he wanted to hear until the moment. His name. What?

"Don't fret, Sasuke-kun … better?" Ino giggles.

He glares at two birds gliding in midair (if he had a stone right now…). Ino is taunting.

Ino, who now reads Sasuke (almost as good or bad as Sakura) smiles up at him, and meets his wild and juvenile glower. Ino finds a sickly contentment in knowing that Sasuke (the man who eat clay and shit bricks) can be disheartened easily.

"Oh, I'm sure this isn't the first time…"

Thank you for the reminder, space cadet. Sasuke frowns to himself.

"I don't know." He murmurs.

He hasn't seen (conversed—indirectly/directly with) Sakura in weeks… Konoha is too big, yet too small. Last time was the first time. And she had whispered his name quietly for her heartstrings to hear. She did smile… that he remembered clearly. Seeing her soft lips curve serenely was the only thing he remembered. It was memorable; it was amorous, like he just sunk into a hot bath (not that he ever—). And nothing else mattered.

She smiled at me.
She smiled at me.
She smiled at me.

Who the hell said 'action speaks louder than words'? Fuck.

It shouldn't matter much to him (or at all). Yet it was an unpleasant, prickly sensation that lugs his heart.

Emotions change like the tide, and come and go like waves (and dead fishes floating above sea water are—).

Sasuke and Ino find themselves drowning in pants and moans and harsh whispers at night, or early dawn. No surprise there. As usual (and expected), Sasuke rise after he is finished; shirt and pants (he learned to keep it simple) on, and heads for the door.

Ino looks over from her shoulder and (leave a good impression, leave smiling) whispers in the dark,

"Bye, Sasuke-kun."

She laughs quietly to herself.

Ino originally meant it as a harmless (inside) antic, a muse, a soothing stir. Sasuke turns around and looks straight into her light eyes in the dim room. His eyes darken: concentrated and bottomless. He drops his tousle of apparel, and walks over evenly to her. He presses his lips against her's.

He smells lavender for the first of last times.

Day and night draws out different sentiment from the two. Day is casual, but solemn, and hazy; like a walk in fog.

At night, their acts are uncannily dexterous. The night is clear enough. The crisp air sharpens their sense of smell, the dark billows against the darker sky casts a rare, knowing light.

Too bad the two feels empty inside either way.

Sasuke is comfortable enough to divulge in Ino like a distant acquaintance and Sakura is his old friend (more than that), and he haven't talked to her in a while and just want to know about her whereabouts because, simply… plainly… she is all he thinks about.

Sasuke is pokerfaced of a man. Unfortunately so. Ino tends to forget that (as usual, no one should dwell on the past). He was drenched in blood that wasn't his and engraved with scars that recollects pieces of history.

His childhood was butchered by someone he loved. His potential… wasted if you will. His mute youth reduced to fine lines carved into his sombre façade. The spark in his lively eyes evaporated, his ambitious (wrong), resolute (wrong, wrong, wrong) guise dissolved and melted into odd dispassion. And he was back. The would-be prodigy was back.

In spite of his infamous absence and now different demeanour, his powerful antiquity still lingers around Konoha (one would think the villagers are smarter than that). There are always people who see past his mesmerising and intimidating demeanour to his legible history. Ino (being different yet painfully similar to the average woman) sees what she sees. Though a bright woman, her inadequacy to see (refuses to) beyond the lines bestows a different outlook on Sasuke than most people. That or she knows him a little bit—just a tiny bit—too well. Or not.

The average person would see his title and status. A dear friend of his would taste his pain. Ino (perhaps like many other of his 'acquaintances') is in the middle. They know too much to generalize, but too little for empathy. Ino would whisper to herself 'just right'.

For her, Sasuke is a handsome, old acquaintance. They both love a certain medic-nin and speak of her carefully but relish in their discussions. Ino sees Sakura nearly day after day and their amity boils in genuine love and empathy. She speaks of Sakura with a particular zest. After all, forehead girl was her's (and still) before Sasuke came into the picture. Ino is proud to say Sakura flourishes in ability, guise, and appearance (what forehead?).

Sasuke… he sees this. A bit too late. Not that he care. He liked her. Her. Haruno Sakura. It honestly didn't matter if her voice grew squeakier or planes landed on her forehead. Sasuke cursed himself mutedly. It's simple, really. Because it is still her.

"Sakura is fine, Sasuke… I don't get why you don't just talk to her."

Twelve-years-old Haruno Sakura had more balls than you. Ino laughs out loud. It is an odd sound to be mixed with the soft roars from hearty men in the tavern.

Once upon a time, after a night of intense fuck, Sasuke did not leave. Instead he stayed until Ino was awake. Or at least waited long enough to get up—or thought it dull to keep pretend-sleep.

Ino stretches her way out of the tousled bed sheets; her yawn emerges like a mild 'purr'. She steps on to the carpet and slips on something simple and adequate gracefully. She smiles at him dimly.

Ino yawns once more, and prepares for coffee. She pours herself a glass of water to smooth down last night's remaining tang that is not so tasteful now and looks at Sasuke.



"Of course."

It seems like Ino took an hour, by the time she places his order he was dreaming of a simpler time... his life before the many nights. She sets down his steaming mug and clutches hers sitting opposite of him.

It was funny, yet not so really. Ino examines him from the corners of her eyes. Sasuke changed a lot, but not too much from the last time she'd seen him. It was a long time ago, a simpler time she'd recall.

His eyes now are less intense (yet still pensive), mouth thinner and pressed into a fine line. Sasuke's hair is longer, and thin lines are emerging under his eyes... laugh lines? Or a sister reflection of his brother? Ino shies away from his past, one does not do well dwelling on history. Life is often wasted that way. She thinks of Sakura, and feels an unpleasant sensation for the man facing her. This does not take her by surprise.

Sasuke is stripped, he knows that. He knows she knows that.

Yes, I am having sex with the friend of the woman I am deeply in love with. Does that make sense?

He thought it useless leaving in the middle of the night, as if this had never happened. It was pathetic. And he is the foil of pathetic. As he watches Ino hum a familiar tune while waiting for the coffee to brew, he allows himself every explicit memory of last night. Of all the nights.

His gaze glides over his surrounding and fall to a picture of Ino and Shikamaru.

It is a ripped photograph held together adequately with tape, outlined within a sturdy frame. It is Ino, smiling; Shikamaru, smiling, leaning against each other slightly on a sunny day.

As usual, he saw her see him looking.

Sasuke hears faint wind chimes tinkling—where is it from?

"My, my..." she messages her temple, "Sasuke, we are only human."

What the hell is she talking about? Is she reading my thoughts? Can she read them? Am I an open book? Holy shit—holy shit—holy fucking shit—

There are too many messages behind that statement. Sasuke rests his chin on his hands, and his eyes depict what he cannot. And that inadequacy lost him a great part of his life. Ino sighs and her hand finds his. Sasuke looks up, perhaps this is her way of understanding, or apologizing, or both.

Sasuke ogles at the slightly chipped door with the rather rusty handle and marvels if he can just leave. Leave the ivory walls, heavy violet curtains, prickly carpet, and her. He might as well; his morals have been shot to hell since… well. His etiquette, now, is a different story.

What Sakura is to Sasuke, Shikamaru is to Ino.

"So," Sasuke says simply to Ino, uncovering a new chapter.

"Oh yeah—I'm troublesome—"

Ino was hysterical. Her tears cascade like tragic shooting stars, her long hair twirls with her wild movements, and she is blabbing (Oh, Shikamaru, the yakkety yak!). Ino hates herself… because she hates it when Shikamaru sees her like this. Ino tried so hard to prove to him she can be a composed, mature woman (like—), and that she is the epitome of 'mellow' ('lazy' even, damn it). Ino's vision is blurred by her translucent tears (it pours down her dewy cheek), all she could see are globules of dim light against the darkness… they are highlighting Shikamaru's grim expression.

"You bastard…"

Her heart is breaking. Her shell is breaking harder.

("Am I not spunky enough? Do you want someone stronger? Much more troublesome? Fucking—blonder? Where am I going wrong? How the hell did I get here… what do you want me to do, Shikamaru? Tell me… please… just tell me—I need to know… God… please, I don't want to end things like this… what's wrong with me, Shikamaru? Am I too immature?

Yeah… that's it isn't it? You want someone stronger, older… more experienced and controlled for a change…

but you hate that, Shikamaru! You detest it! You hate snappy women (Ino was fully aware of the irony)—is it because she's prettier… blonder? Because she's spunky, right? She's all pretty, blond, and fucking spunky! Strong, skilled, and spunky! What the fuck, Shikamaru! Oh my God… it's because she's spunkily blond, isn't it? Fucking spunk! I can—I'll—God, I promise I—"

Shikamaru smiled sadly and chuckled wistfully at her prattling. Beads of her fresh tears flung in the air. Her familiar, vivid, lively eyes looked too sad for her face, desolate and dejected. It is strange. Shikamaru gazed painfully at Ino as her incoherent words dissolved into chocked sobs. Her small, stifled cry was thundering heartbreak to him.

troublesome, troublesome. Shikamaru thought regretfully.

He walked over to Ino and wrapped his arms around her petite waist. She was rigid, refuse to surrender to his proverbial earthy scent and warm embrace. Shikamaru tightened his hold, nestling his face into her trembling neck. Ino's violent quivering eventually trimmed down to profound breathing. Her cry reduced to sniffs. Shikamaru did not let go, but ran his lips across her neck up to her cheek. He felt her cool tears brush against his face.

Ino ultimately yield to his embrace. She threw her slim arms around Shikamaru's neck, and inhaled his scent for the first of last times.)

How does the lazy bastard manage to calm me down every time?

Her waterworks continued.

Sakura beams knowingly, because you let him.

We lose ourselves in love.

Almost everyone acknowledge it, yet surrender themselves so. That's predictable.

(I thought life was unpredictable…)

The first time in five (long, long) years, Sakura saw Ino cry before her.

"He left." Ino shrugged. Her eyes glowed, nose red, cheeks flushed.

"…Strong, skilled, and spunky! What the fuck, Shikamaru!"

Shikamaru lost himself.

Sakura did not speak; her memorandum was brought through her empathetic gaze. She hugged Ino tightly… her lips quivered.

"He'll be back…" Sakura whispered weakly (who is she to declare such a promising statement?).

The first time in five years, Sakura shed tears that weren't hers.

"We are only human, Ino."

Sakura made Ino's pain hers.

We've all loved and lost. You'd think. Sakura knows best.

But even the best of us have lost.

If you are human, Sasuke, then I'm shattered glass. And that's saying something.

"Yes," Ino replies simply to Sasuke.

What is reality for Shikamaru is living under his own sense of life, and that is under a buttermilk sky. A unique pattern that is different for everyone. Yet serenely accept it so. Like the soft beats from bongo drums or the tousle of dead, crisp leaves against the cold concrete. If the billows can talk, they would whisper answers to all your problems. We all have a certain beat in life… damn earth do revolve around us… if we let it. Alas, we view life universally, and sometimes, that is not the case… we as people are told to follow our inherent good nature, but we do have the luxury of egoism now and then.

Sasuke bellows a hollow laugh one day as Ino had pointed out, "Not me. I think I've had my fair share of pursuing personal interest."

Ino smiles wistfully, an expression of Sakura's, "Shikamaru know who he is… where he is going… actually, he is the sanest person I know." She whispers almost unhappily, "funny, huh? We should all live like him…"

"I don't know if I am capable of thinking for myself…"

"You don't have to punish yourself forever."

"Is this punishment? Or that I'm genuinely content living life as opposed to my life."

Ino takes his rhetorical question as the conclusion to their strange banter. She ponders over his words, and how sad they tramp over her elongated speech. Why does it seem useless now? Who is she, really, in a meagre attempt to heal Sasuke through no direct understanding of the man to begin with? Perhaps Sakura passed on more than one of her sentiments to Ino. Or life is gearing her to bring salvation to a broken man. Then again, is he truly 'broken'?

Sasuke is living. And to Sakura, that's all it matters. But Ino doesn't understand, though she accepts that with welcoming arms.

"If none of that had happened, we would've worked out. I would have made sure of it, because in a sense, Sakura was the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"What a grandiose statement, Sasuke, never thought I'd hear it from you."

"Is it possible to love someone when you are making love to someone else?"

Sakura stares blankly at Ino. She sits her cup of sake down, bites her bottom lip and ponders over her friend's rather philosophical question.

The tavern is less busy on weekdays.

"It depends." Sakura ultimately answers.

"Is that so…"

"What do you call it—making love?" Sakura wonders.

Ino sits her cup down, "Alright, (I see), sex—then. Having sex, sleeping, intercourse—whatever. You get the gist."

"It depends." Sakura says with a knowing smile.

"Sakura…" Ino pleads. "I get it. You're smart."

"You can call it many things, Ino-chan." Sakura shrugs, "fuck, even. Like you said: whatever. It really doesn't matter what you call it—it is what you feel. It is just that you'd address the sex in parallel to how you feel—what you feel—y'know."

Ino runs her hands over her long hair.

"So how do you feel? What do you feel?" Sakura asks.

Ino smiles to herself.

I don't know. The answer is 'I don't know'. I don't know how I feel. Maybe I don't feel anything, yet my heart does a funny little jolt every time I see him… but I think that's natural. I'm fucking the guy for Christ's sake! Isn't it abnormal if I do feel nothing at all? If then, what does that make me?

How can I face Sakura every day and Sasuke every night? How the hell can he see Sakura in me—me—Ino, goddamn it—every time?

And the most fucked up thing? Fuck—I think of Shikamaru every time I see Sasuke. Even when I try not to, Shikamaru is there, by the side, in the corner, more or less—no, very much alive.

Who the hell am I asking for?

Me? Or Sasuke?

"Ino…" Sakura whispers, "What does he feel?"

Sex is just as good as the relationship. Ino finally caved, and dared to believe it.

For most people, emotional aspect comes first, then physical. Good relationships are established that way. Relationships that are real, those have a significant place in either one's life. Relationships that is healthy, deep as they are rooted in such strong foundation. Sasuke and Ino are not meant to be together, thus, such chronology (theory) doesn't matter.

"Or it may just be our superficiality."

Ino told Sasuke what he wanted to know, and gave him what every crestfallen man needed.

Sasuke didn't even realize that their alleged relationship helped him in any way (pompous man) until he began to feel an attachment to Ino during sex.

They both had their share, though for the first time of countless (overstatement) nights, he enjoyed the sex. It used to be a hollow activity for him, it gets the job done, but the process was no more than satisfactory.

As Sasuke sharpens his kunai at home one day (the coffee and dango laid beside him, forgotten), he compared sex with eating tomatoes. Prior to that small spasm of epiphany he had, sex with Ino was as if he only achieved the aftertaste of the fruit—though more or less satiated. Sex with even a twinge of attachment (fondness) is Sasuke biting into the tomato: teeth sinking into its mashed flesh, his tongue pressed against the silky, subtle skin, and actually feel the sweet and sour juice leak out from his bite, trickling down to his hands. And if he's lucky enough, he might be able to taste the springy seeds.

Sasuke threw the kunai at the adjacent wall; landing flawlessly in its small home gap.

He is no wordsmith. He shook his head, hoping to shake the nonsense out, heads for his small refrigerator in search of a tomato.

What Sasuke actually found was Naruto.

"Go ahead," Ino shrugs, gesturing to the tall blond over at the bridge.

For the first time, Sasuke is facing Naruto with wordless intent. It was an odd feeling. He glanced at Ino to his right, who smiled encouragingly. Sasuke grimaced; this is ludicrous. He is generally asking Ino for his next possible intentions. Naruto sees Sasuke; he pockets a small kunai he'd been toying between his fingers, and grins.

It is evidently a familiar grin. One that washes him in comfort. Sasuke smirks back meekly—not because he is an ass, or intending on continuing their spar, it was the only response he deem appropriate to Naruto's memorable beam.

"You bastard—!" He calls out to him merrily.

Sasuke slips his hands into his pockets and glues himself on the spot for a while. He doesn't know why. He wants to take a mental picture of this trivial moment. He had seen his friend (he's more than that) only days ago, but—

Why the hell am I being a fruitcake for?

"All sponge and no edge..." Ino whispers kindly. It would be something Sakura would say, as a light-hearted remark.

"Hm?" Sasuke looks at Ino.

"There's Chouji," she says simply, "I'll be back."

Sasuke is left alone. He picks up his feet and heads toward Naruto. His smirk reappeared.

"Hey," he greets.

Naruto's grin falters and melts into a soft smile. He chuckles a bit and shakes his head as if he knows something Sasuke doesn't. And Sasuke waits for clarification.

"Ino, huh?" he cackles.


"She's not bad... a bitch at times," Naruto scratches his head sheepishly, "hey—I'm not ripping on your girl. We dislike each other—not really, though. Whatever we have—it's mutual—like you and me, Sasuke."

Sasuke's expression blanked, "she's not mine," he corrects, unconcerned.

"Oh yeah?" Naruto's brows shoots up, "well, then, I've been replaced."

"She's a—friend."

"—with benefits." Naruto finishes.

"Well, you can't help me..." Sasuke smiles.

Naruto laughs heartily. "You're alright,"

Sasuke's smile widens in return.

"So... where have you been? It—it is almost like you came back to drop a 'hi' and left." Naruto says, apprehensive. Sasuke doesn't generate a reply; he is staring out into the distance, trying to find the horizon between lake and trees like a blind man. Naruto sighs inaudibly and tries again, "You are troubled." It is a statement.

"I... don't know."

"Man..." Naruto runs his hands through his wild, light hair. "I don't want to force ya, Sasuke, I don't. I know that'll make shit worse."

Sasuke glance at him jadedly.

"I'm not saying I'll be of great help—and I don't cream my pants when I see you on top of the world, Sasuke, but I'm here. I'm your friend."

It is as simple as that.

"Tell me... what's gotten you so fucked up?"

For the millionth time, Sasuke want to flip his old friend off and leave dust in his wake, but he can't bring himself to do it. He was able to unleash what he cannot with Ino, what's different about the other blond? Oh yes, everything. Sasuke looks into Naruto's proverbial, striving stare that does not seem to wear off with time and clicked his tongue. He was never the extroverted type who let loose his tongue, but there were things he was able to tell Naruto because he was Naruto. But nearly ten damn years later their bond is chewed up though still standing, and Sasuke—yes, a, if you will, nicer man—know that in this life there are shit you share with your best friend and there are shit that you don't.

I want to tell you about Sakura. Remember Sakura? Haruno Sakura. The girl you loved who in turn loved me. What's gotten me so fucked up? Well, I came to realize I do feel something—whatever that is—and she doesn't, not anymore. And now I don't know whether to laugh or to cry or to sigh or to beat myself to cry, so I in turn try to make myself feel a bit better by sleeping with her best friend just because Ino reminds me of her.

I'm sick, aren't I?

I treated everyone who cared about me like dog shit, ate up my own humanity, killed for power, killed for more power, killed for the sake of killing, and now I don't even know what I've accomplished, but I've accomplished whatever I aimed to do, and I'm back and well and lamenting over a woman's rejection because she was the only person in the world who accepted me for whatever the fuck I am and the clusterfuck of bullshit I spawn.

"I don't know." Sasuke stated simply.

"That's not an answer,"

Sasuke wet his dry lips—suddenly aware of his surrounding sounds: muffled speeches, soft steps pressed on to dry ground, evening birds chirping lazily, occasional coughs, the chinks of bowls and of utensils, and—Ino's mild laughter.


Sasuke wondered what else happened since he was gone. He didn't care, but he does now—funny how the human mind works, huh. Besides being a sadistic bastard he was to Sakura the few times they've encountered, nothing prominent stood out.

Naruto—Sakura—Kakashi—no one—no one could bring him back, but himself.

The day he did come back—the night he came back, he saw Sakura first. Ironic how she was also the first to watch him leave helplessly. Sakura's got front row seat. It was the New Years. Vivid lights glimmered lividly amid merry laughter at the center of Konoha. He could not have picked a better timing. The front gate was watched over by intoxicated guards. One of them was slurring something inaudible as the other hums a familiar tune. Sasuke scoffed at the inadequate security with a mild frown (though on such occasion, who is to blame?) He knew he should be thankful.

His quiet steps are careful and stoical. Just as he. Sasuke ran his rough hands through his long, dark, thick hair. Like an uncultivated and deserted garden—it had not been tended in years. His apparels are not too dirty, but are torn—though still passable. His surroundings bring back memories he tried so hard to erase years prior.

(the bench, even the trees)
I love you with all my heart.

One fleeing thought of the pink haired girl had his steps brought him to her. It was almost surreal.

His steps halted as a small wave of cheery laughter washes near. He remembers that laughter. It was one of those recollections engraved into your memories. It all happened so fast—emotionally, perhaps, as she was there. Barely, surely, suddenly. It was like seeing a ghost. Though very much alive—too alive.


Her hair down to her waist, her eyes boring into his—greener than ever—as her laughter faltered. She stared at him just as if she saw him for the first time. Sakura was with a group of her equally annoying friends, though she was the only one who stood out—others were mere reflections on water.

Sasuke wished he had said something, but he chose not to. He expected her to be the first to talk—break the ice—but—

"We're going to go… Sakura… you can catch—up."

It was Ino who spoke. She gently touched Sakura's shoulder—gave her a little confident squeeze and left without a second glance. The others followed knowingly and wordlessly.

I don't care if they inform the Hokage. A small though escaped Sasuke as he glanced at the retreating girls with jaded eyes.

Sakura still stood there. With her long hair and green eyes and a taller figure. Sasuke was upset. She changed. And it is not something that passes him as trivial. She changed and I wasn't there.

I wasn't there.

It is strange… this spasm of sentiment was odd. It was different than before. Where it was an instinct to lead Sakura away from the battleground. Now—now it is…

Well, Sasuke don't know what this is.

Sakura smiled (as Sasuke tried failingly to return it). She whispered his name and then smiled.

Sasuke ate up her smile—devoured it. He relished the moment. He wanted to walk up to her and touch her—to articulate her existence.

(Too many nights, he dreamed of Naruto and Sakura, and he would free an inaudible scream as he woke up, startled, drenched in cold sweat and activated eyes—as if it were a nightmare).

"Sakura…" he whispered.

She kept her smile and left (just like that) to catch up with her friends.

And once again, he was alone. He clenched his fist. What does he want? Really. She had nothing to say to him. She didn't owe him anything. In fact, he didn't even deserve the luxury of her smile or acknowledgement.

(he wished he would've done something).

Once upon a time, when Sasuke left the fantastic, homey village that is Konoha, Sakura saw him leave.

Many years later, he came back, and Sakura saw him.

"Naruto… what—"

"He's the Hokage." Sakura replied with a faint smile.

"This is your idea of a good time, Sasuke?" Ino asked with a grimace. She was dazed, though pities the man just the same.

Sasuke shrugs, "No, no, it is not. I just—want to be left alone for a while."

"Understandable," Ino nodded. "I'll leave you, ol' sorrowful one—"

When it rains, it really does pour. In Konoha. As Shikamaru said in passing, this is the worst—or best—rainfall in Konoha in years. The kind of downpour that leaves citizens at home, staring out into the wet blur, with a cup of tea at hand. Dashes of rain shoot down like grenades; the village is a painting dipped in water, or a pretty girl's make up in a mess.

When people are out, they laugh and scream for shelter.

Sasuke stands on the bridge, overlooking the lake as his sharp eyes trace and scan the other side. He is wet. Ino is standing beside him, with an umbrella in hand, trying to shelter Sasuke and her at the same time but find it difficult doing so. He wallows in his unnamed sorrow. Ino is not amused, yet is so.

"Come on, Sasuke." She whispers. "You can feel blue in my apartment. I can't cook, but I can pick up something along the way."

Sasuke looks at her with a meek expression and smiles. Ino is like Sakura in many ways. Her hospitality, her zest, her fortitude—yet they are so, so different, too different. He moves closer to her and his finger grazes over her cheek fondly. He wants to tell her he is sorry, that she is somewhat of an amazing person, that he is remotely glad to have her play a small part in his life. Sasuke sighs, knowing that if he can ever tell her he likes her—maybe even love her (jokes, jokes)—grateful as she is helping him through this nameless funk, this is the closest thing to the confession. But being Uchiha Sasuke, and knowing him, it is impossible and whatever should be said is best left unsaid.

"You go," Sasuke replies, "I—I'll be there—soon."

"Yeah?" Ino smiles, "I'm sorry, blue boy. Take this." She offers him the umbrella.

If Sasuke can laugh, this would be the moment to do so.

"No, thank you." He mirrors her smile, "I'll see you soon."

"Take your time, Romeo." Ino walks away hesitantly. Her steps slow.

Sasuke is left alone in the rain. To others sitting at home, he would be a sodden, murky smear on a blue-grey canvas—if the world can see the infamous Uchiha now.

The cool, violent droplets of rain feel refreshing. Though no matter how hard they come, he will never be cleansed of his history… of incessant bloodshed. Sometimes, his mind is a mess. A perfect mess of shattered glass and smiling masks. Sasuke doesn't even know how that works.

Whatever is going on between him and Ino is unfair—to Ino, or to his ego and etiquette. He'd like to think he is not just using her—and of course he isn't. Ino genuinely likes him. She would never do anything to hurt Sakura; the villagers—surely they must know. Christ, Naruto can even sense it. Sakura… it is safe to say he gave up on her. More or less, she gave up on him, and Sasuke is a dejected toy left in a thrift store… and Ino just happens to pick it up. His self-esteem frees a dying screech.

Missions are merely a haze to him. It isn't demanding enough to keep him busy. Whatever happened to the Sasuke who was made out of stone? Who sheds nothing but blasphemy? He is gone; one day, that dominant fraction just vanished… though deadpan, Sasuke is still a slave to the full spectrum of human emotions.


Ino. What does she want? He promised he'll meet her soon.

Sasuke doesn't bother to turn around. He rests his eyes.

Suddenly, the rain seems to stop. At least on him. Numbness follows, it flows through his cold skin like electric shock. What—?

"Hi there," Sakura says.

Sasuke turns around and sees Sakura. Smiling. She is partly drenched in rain as her slim arms lifts an umbrella on Sasuke. Her smile is the sun. Sasuke notes a little slug on her left shoulder, moving its head restlessly. He doesn't say anything back. Partly because he does not know what to say.

"You're one with the rain, too, I see…" Sakura tries again. "How are you?"

"I'm fine." Sasuke replies curtly. "You?"

"I guess I am fine, too." Sakura answered quietly. "But fine people don't deliberately soak up in the rain, do they…"

"I guess not."

"Is there something you want to tell me?"

Sasuke stares at her blankly.

I wouldn't open up to my best friend, or the girl I'm sleeping with—why do you think I'd open up to the one I love?


Sakura looks at him for a while, her green eyes bright and knowing, for a second, Sasuke feels he is being x-rayed. He looks away quickly. She only widens her smile, and leans on him gently, kindly; the next thing she says is enthralling.


All the things left unsaid…

"Hey, lover boy."




Sasuke could not stop smiling.