"Ah?" Haruki responded. He pulled his right earphone out to give her his attention. The left earphone he had given to her to listen to dangled limply between them. The girl walking beside him nervously twirled a lock of brown hair around her pointer finger. When her gaze darted up to him through thick eyelashes, he felt his eyebrows rising.
"You like me, right?"
"Ah," Haruki said nonchalantly. The girl's cheeks puffed out in a pout.
"How can you say that so easily? Do you even mean it? You say it like it means nothing to you!" she complained. Haruki tried not to smile as he took a deep breath.
"But I like you. So it's easy to say what's true?" he responded evenly. A bright blush bloomed across the girls cheeks. Sputtering on her words, she fixed him with another sour look before they continued trudging along the sidewalk. She stomped slightly ahead of him, occasionally stealing glances at him over her shoulder. With a heavy sigh, Haruki reached out and took her by the wrist. She stopped.
"Misaki," Haruki called. Her shoulders stiffened.
"I like you. I like you a lot."
Their fingers laced together. Trying her best not to smile, Misaki glanced at him again. She mussed her bangs a little.
"Stupid Haru-Haru saying embarrassing things," she muttered. Haruki tugged at the black beanie covering his bright pink hair, a habitual movement that he barely realized he was doing. He nudged her lightly with his hip. Their strides matched up again, falling into a familiar rhythm as they walked the rest of the way to her house.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with me?" Harukia asked one more time. Misaki's eyes darted from her house to his face. She gnawed on her lower lip.
"I don't want to intrude. This a family thing," Misaki told him. Sighing, Haruki set his guitar case upright on the sidewalk in front of him and leaned against it. Fingers tapping against the hard cover, he didn't say anything else.
"What's wrong Haru-Haru? I thought you were excited to see her," she said as she lightly put her hand on his arm. Haruki sighed again.
"I am. I am. It's just…I have news for her and I'm not sure she'll be happy about it," he admitted. Misaki tilted her head to one side.
"Well I'm sure she'll understand, Haru-Haru," assured Misaki with a bright smile. Feeling a little less worried, Haruki nodded. They leaned in for a little kiss and then Haruki picked up his guitar case. He started off down the sidewalk in the direction of his home. He knew Misaki would be standing at the gate watching him leave until she couldn't see him anymore.
It only took 15 minutes to get home but the walk felt a lot shorter. He glanced at the driveway and saw that there was a second car parked next to his dad's. Already the house looked different. The front windows were opened, letting in the cool spring breeze. The sheer curtains fluttered in the wind. Taking a deep breath, he trudged up the short steps leading up to the front door. He half-expected a face to pop out and greet him when he stepped inside. But there was no one.
Soft guitar strummed out from a radio further in the house. Stepping out of his loafers, Haruki shoved them aside while staring at the suitcases crowding the foyer. He heard the patter of bare feet running upstairs.
"Dad? I'm home!" Haruki called as he shrugged his guitar off and propped it up next to the front door. He began climbing up the spiraling glass stairs leading to the second floor. There, behind the door on the far left of the hallway was his room. However, the door next to his was open and he heard giggling.
Black pigtails bouncing, Ruka bounded out of her bedroom, dragging a large stuffed rabbit along behind her. Haruki crouched and caught her as she threw herself at him. Placing her little palms on his cheeks, Ruka grinned brilliantly. The rabbit flopped to the ground, apparently abandoned in favor of a brother.
"Mom, welcome home," Haruki said when he spotted two figures leaving Ruka's room.
And his mom, soft smile and bright eyes, took a few steps forward. She put her hand on his shoulder and placed a light peck on his right cheek.
"Hey there. You've gotten tall!" Sakura exclaimed. A little ways behind her, his dad stood loosening his silk tie. Their eyes met and Itachi gave him a smile too. Even a day's worth of exhaustion couldn't stop him from being ridiculously happy. It was always a great day when Mom came home from a business trip.
The three hours from South Korea back to Japan had been one of the more peaceful flights she had experienced as of late. Usually, though the companies usually got her first-class tickets, she was bombarded with questions from the excited teens riding in such a nice plane for the first time. With her daughter snoozing peacefully, Sakura had put her feet up and taken a surprisingly restful nap. When she woke, the plane was circling around Tokyo, preparing for final descent. With Itachi occupied at work with a big case, Sakura had called up one of her students to ask for a ride back from the airport. They had flown back a couple days before so it wasn't difficult to get one of them to drive.
From there, she had picked up her car from the studio and driven home. By this time, Ruka was wide awake and looking around excitedly at the city she hadn't seen in quite some time. She chattered nonstop while her big brown eyes drank in all the sights.
When they got home, it was just before 4. They took a quick bath together before Sakura fixed up a quick snack for Ruka. While Sakura sat in the foyer unpacking her shoes from her suitcase, the front door swung open. Looking up with an easy smile, Sakura said, "Welcome home." Itachi's fingers slid into her hair as he pulled her in for a soft kiss. She could taste the coffee on his lips. Staring her in the eyes, his lips parted to speak. But little Ruka came running, her eyes shining bright with adoration. She clung to Itachi's pant leg, shaking it insistently until Itachi gave a defeated smile and reluctantly pulled away from his wife.
Stumbling over her words in her excitement, Ruka gushed about all the things in the world while Itachi patiently listened. Taking her by the hand, Itachi led Ruka off so Sakura could unpack in peace. But she was soon done and went upstairs to join Ruka, who was in the middle of showing off all the brightly-colored souvenirs she had helped pick out for the family. She held out a tiny robot keychain to Itachi, pointing out the small pink buttons and explaining the imagined functions. When Sakura walked in, Itachi looked up and met her smile with one of his own.
Haruki came home soon after with his guitar case in one hand and his briefcase in the other. He was still wearing the same black beanie to cover up his bright pink hair but Sakura could see his bangs and the rest of the strands peeking out at the nape of his neck. He had let it grow out significantly since she had last seen him. He lifted Ruka into his arms and listened to her excited retelling of her plane ride. Fortunately, this gave Sakura time to change out of the jeans and sweatshirt she had thrown on after her bath.
Itachi followed her into their bedroom at the other end of the hallway. He shut the door behind them and watched Sakura throw herself onto their bed. She splayed her arms out before grabbing one end of the comforter and rolling herself up into it. He snorted quietly. After a few moments, he sat on the edge of the bed, bending over to peer into her impromptu cocoon.
"Come on," Itachi sighed when she simply stared up at him. With a little grunt, he gave her a nudge, sending the comforter unraveling again. Sakura lay sprawled out on the bed in an undignified pose and let out a deep breath that ruffled her hair.
"I know," he simply said when he met her weary gaze. Arms reaching upward, she pulled him down for a kiss, trapping him there by wrapping her legs around him and crossing her ankles. Itachi didn't seem to mind at all. Propping himself up on his elbows, he looked down at her with a smile that had never really grown old to her. They let out simultaneous sighs that conveyed a lot more than words could. His fingers trailed through her wavy hair as he watched her expression. Sakura could see the faint beginnings of smile lines crinkling softly on his face. With one last sigh, she released him and sat up abruptly.
"Uncle Madara came by yesterday," Itachi told her as she hopped off the bed.
"Really?" commented Sakura while rummaging through her half of the dresser. She stared at the neatly rolled rows of shirts for a moment before she picked up two. Spinning around, she held them up for Itachi to see. It only took a few extra seconds for Itachi to point to the one of the left before he continued speaking.
"He sends his love…or…whatever his creepy version of love is," said Itachi. Clicking her tongue, Sakura shed her loose t-shirt for the sleeveless white blouse he had picked out for her.
"Ikkun," Sakura began disapprovingly as she buttoned up the front of the shirt, "Madara-san really adores you and he's been very good to you. He even made you a partner at his firm." As she stood looking at herself in the mirror hung over the closet door, Itachi leaned back on his hands.
"Not as much as he loves you. It's like he's disappointed whenever he visits and you're not around. I swear sometimes I think he's licking his lips when he looks at your photos," he grumbled darkly. Sakura pursed her lips as she tried to decide whether she was more amused or disgusted. In the end, she just shook her head.
"I hope you're exaggerating," responded Sakura with her hands on her hips. Not waiting for his answer, Sakura went to the closet.
"Anyway, creepy visitors aside, anything else?" she inquired over her shoulder. The plastic hangers knocked against each other as she rifled through her clothes. After some thinking she chose a pair of dark blue jeans because when were jeans ever not the right decision?
"Oh, I almost forgot. One of your boys called yesterday. He said there was some issue with booking or scheduling for next weekend?" Itachi suddenly told her. Sakura pulled the zipper for her jeans up all the way. She stared down at her shirt for a while before deciding not to tuck it in.
"Ah, I'll talk to him tomorrow, I guess. Did he say it was urgent?" she responded.
"No. He said it could wait until you got back."
"Good," she declared happily. Sakura stood with her hands on her hips while she thought. Walking over to the dresser, she looked at herself in the mirror, tilting her face this way and that. A fresh coat of eyeliner and a little extra mascara later, she decided that there wasn't much else to be done about her face.
"You look fine. Relax," Itachi assured her when she began hunting for jewelry.
"Sorry it's just that I haven't seen everyone in forever and I'm sure I'm just a hot mess right now," Sakura admitted as she turned to look at him. Hands clenching together, she let out a deep sigh before Itachi got to his feet and put his arms around her. Pressing a kiss to her temple, he chuckled.
"Hot but certainly not a mess," he told her to smooth out the lines of worry stretching across her forehead. A soft flush rose to her cheeks as he bent to press his lips to the side of her throat.
"Very hot," added Itachi in a lower voice.
"You're insufferable," Sakura laughed as she swatted at him half-heartedly. But still she rose on her tiptoes to lightly peck him on the mouth.
"Come on," she said. Fingers laced together, they left the bedroom to head downstairs where Haruki was busy hauling suitcases upstairs. Ruka sat in the foyer watching him.
"Ruki-kun, you don't have to…" Sakura trailed off as she watched their son lug the bags up the stairs and come back down to take more up. Even though he was skinny, he was surprisingly strong. Sakura shook her head.
"Just like his father," she commented and Itachi merely raised his eyebrows. Sakura knelt to pick up Ruka. Giggling loudly, Ruka patted her mom's cheeks with her chubby little hands.
"Party!" she exclaimed.
"That's right, darling. A wonderful party," Sakura replied.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang and it was Haruki that answered the door. As soon as he pulled on the handle, a voice boomed its way inside.
"Hello. Nice to see you, Uncle."
"Hey there, kid! You're looking good!"
"Uncle" Kisame burst in with a full-bellied laugh. With a case of beer held on his left shoulder, he stomped inside. Haruki took the heavy box off of the older man and went off to figure out how to fit the entire thing inside the refrigerator. Stepping out of his shoes and throwing his jacket on the rack by the door at the same time, Kisame peered around.
"Good to see you, Kisame," Itachi greeted him as he walked out of the living room. Itachi held out a hand for a shake. Kisame grasped his hand and then proceeded to yank him in for a tight hug complete with a few thumps on the back.
"Cold as always, Itachi. Where's your much, much, much better half?" chortled Kisame. His best friend's lackluster greeting was expected since they saw each other once a week for drinks or dinner after work.
"Sakkun!" Sakura exclaimed as she hurried downstairs. Ruka trailed after her, amber eyes wide with curiosity.
"There she is! Happy birthday, Kitten!" Kisame chuckled as she hugged him. Ruka stared up at the giant with an expression of pure awe. When Sakura took a step back, she noticed Ruka still gaping.
"Ruka-chan, this is Uncle Kisame. Say hello," she prompted softly. Hands fisting into Sakura's jeans, Ruka puffed out her chest in a show of bravery. Cheeks turning bright pink, Ruka chimed out the proper greeting in a clear voice. Seeing the expression of pure determination on her daughter's face, Sakura tried her best not to laugh.
"I guess she doesn't really remember you, Sakkun," Sakura almost apologized. Kisame waved a hand to dismiss the worry.
"Hey, Haru, can you help me out? I've got a bunch of food in the back of my car," Kisame said, jabbing his thumb toward the door. He scratched at the dark stubble on his chin as he spoke. It took a second but Haruki's head poked out from the kitchen. Blowing his pink bangs out of his eyes, Haruki nodded. As the two headed outside, Ruka tapped Sakura's leg.
"Uncle? Mommy's brother?" she inquired. Sakura and Itachi laughed.
"No, sweetheart. Daddy and Mommy's friend," Sakura responded. Forehead wrinkling, Ruka took in this information with a grave expression. Still unconvinced that this "Uncle" wasn't really related to her parents, Ruka sat on the sofa trying to place the blue hair somewhere into the family tree she knew while Itachi rifled through CDs. Ruka was still ruminating over this new information several minutes later when there was a smart rap on the front door. This time, before anyone even had the chance to move toward it, the door swung open.
"Who is it?" asked Sakura as she approached the foyer.
"Happy birthday!" Hinata and Naruto chimed out together with bright smiles. They each hugged her before Naruto set about fussing over how good she looked for her age and that maybe she was aging backwards instead of forwards. Rolling her eyes at her husband's exaggerated flattery, Hinata looked toward Sakura. Letting out a heavy sigh, Sakura clapped Hinata on the shoulder.
"You look great, Hinata-chan. How're you doing?" queried Sakura as they both tuned out Naruto's babble.
"We're busy opening up the second store in Roppongi Hills. We're still painting and building right now," Hinata informed her. With her dark hair twisted up into a bun, Hinata looked every bit the refined wife everyone had thought she would become. Time had been very kind to Hinata and it was hard to believe it had been so long since she had been the round-faced girl who stuttered and threatened to pass out every time Naruto so much as looked her way.
Naruto's dream of opening up a small ramen stand had been achieved, of course. Because if Naruto was anything, he was stubborn to the point of stupidity. After apprenticing to a famous chef for nearly a decade, he had saved up until he had enough money to open up his own place in Konoha. Somewhere in-between, he had gotten married to Hinata. Tohru, their black-haired, blue-eyed son, was basically a shorter version of Naruto. Hinata had retired from nursing to help Naruto. Restaurant management, it turned out, was a natural talent of hers.
"What about Tohru-kun?" Sakura asked when she realized that the bubbly boy wasn't racing around and bumping into furniture.
"He's visiting my father."
Smiling fondly at one another, Sakura and Hinata squeezed each other's hands. It was like no time had passed between that chance meeting in high school. The shy girl reaching out to the doormat of a student council vice president. It was the same easy friendship they had fallen into. But 20 years later, here they stood with different last names and unchanged smiles and these were all things they didn't even need to say out loud to each other. Because they knew.
"Hello, Auntie! Hello, Uncle!" Ruka exclaimed as she ran out of the living room, undoubtedly attracted by Naruto's chatter.
And the moment ended softly.
"Hello, Ruka-chan. Your dress is very pretty," Hinata greeted her. Blushing happily, Ruka twirled around to show off the sky blue sundress complete with a short white cardigan.
"Hey there, Ruka-chan.," Naruto said too with a wide smile. He seemed to remember suddenly that he was holding a rather large pot and held it up for Sakura to see too. Sakura quickly directed him toward the kitchen where she and Hinata washed their hands and got ready to reheat and plate the food everyone was starting to bring in.
The men gathered in the living room to talk- not because they thought a woman's place was the kitchen. (Because between them, Naruto made some of the best ramen in the area and Kisame was a rather talented sushi chef himself.) Rather, it was because if any of them tried to walk in to offer help, a plate of food was shoved into his hands and he was spun around and thrown back toward the living room. As Naruto walked back in with a plate of hot tempura, he shrugged.
Soon after, the doorbell rang and Haruki went to open the door before any of the adults could stand.
("What a polite child," Hinata commented and Sakura beamed with pride as she stirred the steaming curry.)
There was some bustle from the foyer, shoes and coats and the like moving around. Afraid of burning the food, Sakura and Hinata stayed where they were, preferring to the let the guests come and find them. And with the fragrance of good cooking in the air, it didn't take long for new faces to appear around the doorway.
"Oh my gosh! You chopped all your hair off!" exclaimed Ino. She threw herself at Sakura to gape and marvel at the bob. After poking and frowning at the loose curls for a bit, Ino squinted.
"I like it," Ino declared finally. Sakura sighed heavily.
"I sent you pictures when I got it done, Piggy," Sakura reminded her as she shoved the ladle into Ino's hand.
"Seeing a picture and seeing it in person is different, you loser," Ino promptly retorted. Wiping her hands on the front of her apron, Sakura turned to greet the three other people waiting. Sakura eyed Shikamaru's weary expression with sympathy.
"She's a handful," Sakura offered rather lamely.
"Troublesome as always, I guess. Good to see you, Sakura-chan," replied Shikamaru with a resigned expression. As he went off to join the other men, Sakura realized that she had miscounted.
It turned out that the other two faces in the doorway were really three. Grinning broadly, Karin waved happily at Sakura. She held out a casserole dish that Sakura accepted with curiosity. As Sakura peeled the foil back, Karin explained.
Hinata and Ino looked over Sakura's shoulders to appraise the dish too. After several seconds, they looked up and gave thumbs up each to Karin in approval. Ino took the ceramic dish off of Sakura's hands to be heated up in the oven.
"Hello, Aunt Sakura. Happy birthday," a little voice said. Looking down, Sakura saw a little boy peering around the edge of his father's pant leg. She crouched down to look him straight in the eye.
"Thank you, Izumi-kun. It's great to see you again," Sakura replied to him in a gentle tone. Izumi flushed bright pink as he struggled to keep eye contact with her. But a few seconds proved to be his limit. He hastily handed her a card and then ducked back behind his father's leg. Standing up straight again, Sakura let out a soft laugh.
"You guys are here early. I thought you were stuck in traffic," she said.
"Karin nagged at the other cars and they moved," Sasuke offered. Laughing, Sakura pulled Sasuke into a hug.
"You're getting old," he teased and didn't even flinch when she punched him in the arm.
"You're as rude as ever. It's a wonder Karin-chan agreed to marry you," Sakura jabbed in return. Not looking back, Sakura held out her hand and Karin slapped her a high-five as she walked past. When she saw Izumi staring up at them with a panicked expression, Sakura smiled.
"Don't worry, Izumi-kun. We're just joking. Why don't you go find Ruka?"
At this, Izumi's expression relaxed and he nodded eagerly. Releasing Sasuke's pant leg, he hurried off in search of his younger cousin. Nodding at Sakura, Sasuke headed off into the living room to join the other men. Naruto's enthusiastic greeting was the loudest. Turning back to her friends, Sakura peered over Ino's outstretched arm to admire the dish Karin had just uncovered. Everyone gaped at the salad Ino had brought. Slices of ripe orange glistened along with the plump raisins scattered on top of the baby spinach leaves. Karin yanked the rest of the plastic wrap off to further appreciate the gastronomic masterpiece.
"You made this?" Karin demanded. Ino crossed her arms over her full chest with an incredibly smug expression.
"There's no way you made this, Ino," snorted Sakura. Putting her hands on her hips, Ino pouted.
"Why not? I cook," Ino defended herself. The three other women exchanged meaningful looks.
"If I recall correctly, you once burned ramen that time you came to visit for Christmas in college," said Sakura.
"And once you set scrambled eggs on fire that time we went to the mountains for vacation together," Karin chimed in.
"Ino-chan, once, you put vinegar instead of water in your beef stew and Naruto had diarrhea for two days," added Hinata as gently as possible. Ino scowled fiercely as they continued to recall times when Ino in the kitchen had amounted to culinary disaster. Undercooked rice and charred meats were really only a fraction of the things that had gone terribly wrong. It was a wonder how Shikamaru got by. But then again, Shikamaru was a regular at Naruto's restaurant- maybe the only reason the poor man hadn't starved to death after all these years.
As the instances of chaos piled up, Ino finally threw her arms up in the air.
"I looked up the recipe online and Shika helped me! There! Are you happy?" shouted Ino.
Sakura turned her attention back to the bright salad. She eyed the slices of almonds and crumbled bits of bleu cheese.
"Yeah that makes a lot more sense. Do you think we should just serve it in this bowl?" Sakura declared and quickly moved onto another topic.
While they bustled around the kitchen reheating, stirring, and plating food, the front door opened for the final guests. As Sakura stood debating with Karin over whether they should use bowls or plates for the curry, there was a soft chuckle.
"Guess who, yeah?"
Letting out gasp, Sakura whirled around to meet Deidara's unchanged grin. A laugh burst out of her when he held up a small stuffed rabbit. Accepting the present, Sakura let him pull her in for a tight hug. Over his shoulder, Sakura met hooded gold eyes. But years of Sasori really popping in and out of what always seemed to be rips in the universe had completely desensitized her to his sudden appearances. When Deidara released her, Sakura ducked under his arms to hug Sasori in greeting too. Sasori had on the same stare that conveyed utmost apathy as he swayed her back and forth in his embrace.
"I saw you wore our present during that interview you did last week. We got a bunch of orders for them this morning," Sasori said. He reached up to lightly touch the silver moon and stars dangling from her left ear. Deidara snaked his way in between the two of them to throw his arm over Sakura's shoulder.
"I haven't seen you in forever, yeah," Deidara sighed. She rolled her eyes.
"We had lunch literally two weeks ago, Dei-chan," Sakura corrected him. But Deidara shook his head furiously.
"It was forever and my life has been an empty void of sorrow without you, yeah," insisted Deidara.
"It's been such an empty void that he ditched work last week to go on a date with his girlfriend-" Deidara interrupted Sasori by clamping his hand over his mouth.
"So dismal and sad, yeah," said Deidara while shooting Sasori a glare. Sasori stared straight back at him with unaffected eyes until Deidara released him.
"Now play nice, you two," Sakura sighed half-heartedly. Luckily, she was saved when she heard to sets of footsteps running toward them.
"Saso-kun!" Ruka cried out. She sped toward him, throwing herself into his arms when he crouched to catch her. Rubbing her cheek against his chest, she clung to him so tightly that it almost looked like a heartfelt reunion between father and daughter. Sakura cocked her head to one side as she watched them and Deidara did the same.
"You know, I never did understand why Ruka loves him so much," Sakura remarked.
"It's kind of like how I wonder why you married that stick in the mud. He must have a really big di-" replied Deidara as he stroked at his chin. Sakura shoved him with her hip to cut him off even as she laughed.
"Hi, Ruka-chan. Remember me, yeah? It's your favorite Dei-chan," Deidara said, waving his hands toward Ruka. She peered over Sasori's shoulder with suspicious eyes.
"My Saso-kun," was all she coldly said before she ignored Deidara completely. With the expression of a broken man, Deidara slowly turned to look at Sakura. Sakura put her hands on his shoulders.
"Don't feel so bad, Dei-chan…" Sakura began but then trailed off when she couldn't really find the words to comfort him. She settled for patting his back sympathetically and directing him to the living room to join his friends.
"Ah, I see you've felt the icy sting of Ruka-chan's rejection. I guess she learned that from her mother. Have a beer, Deidara," Kisame guffawed loudly when he caught sight of Deidara's face.
"I'm in the kitchen with the knives, Kisame!" Sakura yelled back. It was quiet for a long moment.
"You're the 2nd most lovely and wonderful creature in the world after my wife, Kitten," Kisame solemnly replied.
Dinner was served soon after. Since the dining room table was nowhere near large enough to fit everyone, everything was set up like a buffet. People loaded up their plates and settled on the sofas or on the floor in the living room to dig in. Hinata's sweet curry was a smash hit with everyone and even Ino's salad was gobbled up with not even a single raisin left at the bottom of the bowl. Naruto decided to make a toast with the adults holding up glasses filled with Sakura's favorite brand of Sauvignon. The children and Haruki were supplied with plastic cups filled with apple juice instead. After some bad jokes about the past that made Sakura blush and the children scratch their heads with confusion, Naruto grew serious.
"Happy 39th birthday, Sakura-chan. You deserve all the love and happiness in the world," the blond concluded. He raised his glass and everyone else did the same. Giggling at the adults' strange game, Ruka copied them with enthusiasm. Sakura drank her wine with tears almost brimming in her eyes. She reached over Haruki to squeeze Naruto's hand and he grinned proudly.
Food disappeared quickly especially between Kisame, Deidara, and Naruto all glancing to see who was eating the most. Even in his forties, Kisame had a black hole of a stomach but still somehow managed to keep in shape. Deidara liked to joke that it was because he was always wrestling with his brothers in the shark tank. One of these days, Kisame was going to lose his temper and throw Deidara into the whale tank. Sakura sincerely hoped she was there to witness that day.
Sakura took a moment to look around.
She remembered her senior year of high school as everyone struggled to figure out what to write on their future plan surveys. Out of all of them, only Naruto and Sasuke had really managed to stay true to their expectations.
Sasuke was a data analyst at a large electronics company. Karin had been a rather successful pharmacist until a few years back when she had gotten pregnant with Izumi. She had decided that since she was terrible at juggling responsibilities that she would focus on raising their son.
Shikamaru had gone on to be a professor of mathematics at Konoha University. He had even taken to wearing reading glasses. Ino teasingly called him "Hakase*" and while he grumbled about it, Shikamaru seemed to take his job pretty seriously. Ino had inherited her parents' flower shop in the center of the city. The two had never had children and according to Shikamaru, the only way he would ever be caught with a kid was if he was babysitting for one of his friends.
Things seemed to have gone a little more as planned for her other friends.
As expected, Kisame was a marine biologist. He was the head of the aquatic research lab located a few cities over that sat right on the ocean. Most days Kisame probably came home smelling like fish but that hadn't stopped him from getting married to a very nice woman. While they had been really aiming for two children, what had happened was one girl and then a set of rambunctious triplets. Sometimes Kisame went out with Itachi for dinner just to remember that men existed in the world. Still, Kisame loved his girls dearly and went out on fancy dates with his wife every once in a while. Life had been good to Kisame and even his liver was in pretty good shape after all the abuse he put it through in college.
Sakura still kept in touch with Konan and Pein, who were still touring the world together. Pein was an investigative journalist- exposing corruption and reporting the truth were all he strived to do and it had gotten him shot at on a couple of occasions. Konan accompanied him for most of his journeys, selling her smaller paintings she did on the road. There was an exhibit open in one of the local art museums. It was a collection of her latest works simply titled "Paper". Sakura had yet to visit it but she had heard a lot of things from her friends who had gone. "Stunning" and "heart-breaking" were two of the most popular things she had heard to describe the works.
Deidara and Sasori had never really fulfilled their dreams of becoming a famous make-up artist and fashion designer respectively. Sasori had taken a job offer at a famous French designer after graduation but after three years he had gotten fed up with his boss's verbal abuse and handed in his letter of resignation. Deidara bounced around doing various jobs with make-up and a couple side gigs modeling.
Deidara and Sasori's careers didn't really pick up until Sakura's did.
Konoha University had been one of the most amazing accomplishments of her life as a teenager. And as it turned out, Sakura never really ended up attending the school that most students would murder to get into.
"The thing was," Sakura explained as Haruki listened with interest, "I went abroad for a year and I ended up getting dragged into this local dance crew in New York by one of my friends. I guess the performing arts department at the sister school heard about it and they bribed me into the program with free tuition. So I transferred officially into NYU."
"NYU was where your Uncle Sasuke was going to school, by the way," Itachi chimed in as he refilled Sakura's glass with more wine. Haruki nodded quickly as he soaked in all the information. His expression was neutral but she saw the hungry glint in his eyes. He had always loved hearing about his parents' childhoods even as a little boy. She and Itachi had always secretly guessed he would end up becoming a writer or maybe a historian. Sakura wondered how she had never gotten around to explaining her college days to her son. Maybe he had been too young all those times she had wanted to tell him. Shrugging, Sakura went on.
"What ended up happening was that I ended up dancing with the crew to make money at events and competitions and whatnot. But my sophomore year I got an offer from this school in California that had an even better dance program. Free tuition plus a monthly allowance."
"I got into modern dance and I kept doing performances here and there until an older friend took me under her wing and recruited me into her team. She did choreography and backup dancing along with a few other guys and girls. I did a lot of work with her until she tore her knee up really badly and had to stop dancing. From then on, I led the team." Sakura's words trailed off as she put on a wistful expression.
"You know, you promised one year abroad. It's been two and a half," Itachi brought up one day. Sakura sat on the floor massaging her sore calves and looked up. Blowing stray locks of hair out of her face, she grinned sheepishly.
"It's lonely without you."
"Is your youth wasting away while your girlfriend philanders about in the sinful streets of Cali?" Sakura teased back. Itachi leveled her with a serious look.
"I'd hope she's not philandering. I'm the jealous type," he responded as he arched an eyebrow. Sakura stuck her tongue out at him and resumed her massage. Eight hours of dance a day was really taking a toll on her body. With a heavy sigh, she kneaded the lean muscles forming in her calves. She heard the soft thump of Itachi slip off the couch and scoot across the floor towards her. Even before he opened his mouth, she had an idea of what he would say.
"Let's get married," Itachi said.
"No," Sakura promptly replied. Itachi didn't even seem offended this time. What was this? Maybe the 5th time she had turned down one of his proposals?
"You're getting sloppy, Ikkun. No flowers? No ring?" teased Sakura as she looked up at him. The intensity burning in his eyes startled her for an instant. His voice had been so casual that she hadn't realized how he was watching her. The expression on his face made heat rise to the back of her neck.
"Why not?" he asked.
"I want to graduate. And I kind of want to keep pursuing the dance scene here. There's a lot of stuff here for me to do and you have a lot of stuff to do at home. I'm not going to drop out of school and you're not going to abandon the law firm," Sakura rationally reminded him. She watched the frown flicker across his face as he really considered her words. Sometimes he got in these strange moods where he seemed really ready to run off with her while abandoning everything else. But then the moment passed as it always did and he fell backwards, sprawling out on the floor. Rubbing his face roughly, he let out a loud groan.
"I'm so uncool. I don't want to be apart from you for another second," he sighed in a muffled voice. A smile crept up on Sakura's lips. She crawled over to watch him before she leaned down and kissed his nose between his fingers.
"Very uncool. And very sweet."
"Mom?" Haruki asked when he saw Sakura zoning out. She quickly snapped out of her daze to pick up where she had stopped.
"Oh and then somehow I ended up graduating before I had even realized that four years had gone by. I sort of drifted with the team performing here and there and doing some small roles for shows until I got this big role as main dancer and choreographer in a big performance when I was 22. I got picked up as choreographer for a couple entertainment companies right after," Sakura continued. She glanced over at Itachi who seemed just as absorbed as their son in the story.
"I got pregnant with you when I was 24," she added with a smile. This time Itachi smiled back at her.
It had been right before Christmas. He had used up all of his limited vacation to visit her in LA for two weeks. Her days had started at the crack of dawn and gone until late at night but he had tagged right along. Sakura had known that he had been tired but he seemed more interested in seeing what she did for a living than actually relaxing during his vacation. Sometime during that short time, she had forgotten to take her birth control pills and she had been blessed with a little blue plus sign on her pregnancy several weeks later.
"We're going to have a baby," Sakura simply said over the phone. There was a long silence from the other end. Sakura thought back to that time her senior year when he had gone into full panic mode trying to plan out the future in the course of five minutes. Surprisingly, this time, Itachi seemed rather calm. He thought for a while and then she heard him chuckle.
"So…I suppose we should get married," Itachi finally replied. Sakura laughed.
"What a lackluster proposal. But yes, I'll marry you, you stubborn man."
"We got married in February and by then I was a partner at my firm so we had some good, steady income," Itachi butted in, practical as ever. There was a smug look on his face so Sakura rolled her eyes and held out her glass again. Itachi refilled it with more wine and then motioned for Sakura to continue. By this time, everyone had gathered around them like children during story time. Ruka had crawled into her older brother's lap to listen with rapt attention.
"We had our honeymoon in Cancun and then, in September, we had you, Ruki-kun. I started up my dance school, named it 'Fancy Footwork', and stayed in Japan so we could raise you together. And I think that's all. I mean, we had Ruka-chan a while after that, but I think that's pretty much it," Sakura concluded.
"What about your glamorous life mingling with hot celebrities, yeah?" Deidara piped up. Sakura shrugged.
"I did choreography for a lot of entertainment companies before I signed on with any of them. Sure, I trained a lot of different idol groups but my life was never really 'glamorous'," Sakura answered humbly. Sasori rolled his eyes.
"Listen here, Haruki-kun. When your mom graduated high school, we gave her these earrings we made as a present. She wore them all the time and when she started choreography, a bunch of the idol groups asked her where she had gotten them. That's basically the only reason Deidara and I even started up our company," Sasori told Haruki. Haruki's eyes widened as he turned back to Sakura.
"So Mom, you made Dei-san and Saso-san famous?" Haruki summed up simply. Sakura flapped a hand as she shook her head.
"I just said that my best friends had made them for me. They begged me and begged me to ask them to make more but it really was because those earrings were so pretty that anything happened." Ruka tugged on the front of Haruki's shirt.
"Which? Stars?" she inquired. Ruka pointed at her own ear, referring to the dangling moon and star earrings Sakura was wearing. True to the tradition, there were two chains connecting them to the silver cuff in her cartilage. In her right ear was a simple silver crescent moon. Ruka loved all of her mother's earrings- especially the ones that tinkled when she moved. But Sakura shook her head, catching on to what her daughter was asking.
"No, baby. The first one Dei-chan and Saso-kun made for Mommy is the skull. I think the ones I was wearing back then were the gold lightning bolts," Sakura responded, looking toward Sasori for confirmation. Sasori nodded.
"I guess we owe everything to Sakura-chan. Who knew we would end up owning a jewelry company, yeah," sighed Deidara. Sasori stared off into space for a bit.
"Yeah, I suppose we owe her everything. Maybe we should start offering her burnt animal sacrifices," Sasori suggested. Mute horror settled over the room. Puzzled by the silence, Ruka peered up at her brother.
"Burned? Sac-fis?" Ruka repeated with obvious confusion. Haruki slowly shook his head.
"Just forget you heard that," Haruki told her. Tilting her head to one side, Ruka stuck her lower lip out while thinking. Then she seemed to lose interest and just nodded.
Kisame cleared his throat loudly.
"Who wants another beer?"
"I'll take one, Catfish-chan, yeah."
They sat around catching up for a couple hours. Sakura hadn't been back in the country for a couple of months and Deidara and Sasori had been in France for the past year. Everyone traded stories about their families- boasting about their children and fondly reminiscing about the past. The stories from high school made Sakura burst into laughter until tears were streaming down her cheeks. Naruto running through the hallways as teachers chased him with rulers and Shikamaru falling asleep at his own college orientation were all recalled with smiles. Years had softened the memories around the edges but the fuzzy warmth of nostalgia had replaced the clarity. And maybe that was better than remembering perfectly.
Only when it was completely dark outside did Kisame rub his stomach and let out a loud burp.
"Well, I'd better get home before the wife starts to worry," he declared. As he got to his feet, everyone else seemed to realize just how late it was.
"We've got to get up early tomorrow to head to Roppongi Hills again. They're installing counters and cabinets in the morning and we have to go oversee things," Hinata explained as she clasped Sakura's hands in hers.
"Let's all get lunch sometime next week," Sakura said, tugging on the back of Ino's coat as she walked past. Ino looked over her shoulder at them and nodded.
Leftovers were sectioned up into plastic containers and foil and handed out among the guests. All tuckered out from running around with Ruka during the night, Izumi snoozed comfortably in his father's arms. As Sasuke reached down to wedge his foot into his loafers, Sakura and Hinata cooed over Izumi's chubby cheeks. It was funny how he looked exactly like Sasuke as a baby, right down to the expressions.
"What a cutie. If only Sasuke-kun still looked this adorable," Sakura teased. Sasuke turned around to glare at her. But when she giggled, his expression softened. He leaned forward to lightly hug her with one arm so as not to jostle his son.
"Happy birthday, stupid sister," he muttered. The sourness of his words was severely dampened by the face of the dozing angel resting on his left shoulder. Karin hugged Sakura too.
"It was great seeing you. The kids should have a play date soon," Karin said. Sakura nodded as she squeezed Karin's hand.
"Of course. I'll call you," Sakura promised. Sasuke and Karin were the first to leave. They lived on the opposite side of the city and even with Sasuke's car it would be a bit of a drive.
Naruto and Hinata were gone next in a hurry of hugs and smiles. They were off to pick up their son before heading home. Kisame departed soon after but not before squeezing every member of the family in a giant bear hug. He ruffled the top of Haruki's head, setting his dark beanie askew. And then he was out the door, whistling cheerfully as he trudged off toward his van. Ino and Shikamaru left with him, happily making small talk on their way out the door.
"We should do this more often, My-chan," Deidara said as he hugged Sakura tight. She laughed at the mention of the old nickname. Deidara released her and then crouched down to kiss Ruka on the forehead. She had finally opened up to him and let out a delighted giggle as she kissed him back. Cheeks flushing pink with adoration, Deidara picked Ruka up and spun her around.
"What a little angel, yeah," he sighed blissfully. Eyeing Deidara suspiciously, Itachi took Ruka from his friend.
"Don't taint my daughter with your strangeness," Itachi ordered. Deidara didn't even bother to pretend to be offended.
"Don't let your old man ruin all the fun," Deidara stage-whispered to Haruki as he patted him on the back. Haruki smiled.
"Sure, Dei-san," Haruki replied complacently.
"Happy birthday, princess. It's great seeing you," Sasori said as he pressed his lips to Sakura's temple.
"Come visit again, Saso-kun. Will you be okay taking the train back? One of us could drive you home." As she spoke, Sakura watched Sasori shrug on his black coat.
"It's not even half an hour. Don't worry so much," Sasori responded easily. With one last round of hugs, Sasori and Deidara were out the door and were heading down the sidewalk toward the nearest subway station. Sakura lingered in the doorway watching their backs for a while before slipping back inside. She pushed the door closed but then her fingers lingered on the doorknob for a few seconds.
"It's nice outside. Do you want to go for a walk?" she asked Itachi. He looked surprised but nodded.
"Me too!" Ruka chimed in. And because Ruka tugged at his hand, Haruki decided to come along as well.
Hand in hand, Sakura and Itachi walked down the dark sidewalk. Streetlights cast orange pools every few meters. Ruka held onto Sakura's right hand as she marched along. Haruki trailed a few steps behind them, his hands in his pockets and his head tilted up to watch the sky. Even with all the light pollution from the city, he could see some stars blinking faintly. After several minutes, Ruka's head began to nod against her chest. Sakura paused to scoop the girl into her arms before Haruki stopped her.
"You must be tired, Mom. I'll take her," Haruki interceded while easily lifting his sister up. She snuggled comfortably into the crook of his neck. Sakura regarded Haruki's face in the dim light. She looked over the slight tilt in his head, at the straight line of his father's nose. Wordless affection swelled up tight in her chest at the way he looked at her- so trusting and so innocent. With a broad smile, Sakura patted his cheek.
"Thank you, darling," she softly said.
So Sakura continued on with her and Itachi's joined hands swinging easily between them. Haruki walked a little ways ahead of them now, pretending to be absorbed in the calm of the night when he was really giving his parents a little bit of privacy.
"I think he takes after you. So mature for his age," Sakura remarked quietly as she watched Haruki.
"Or maybe it's you. So considerate," Itachi said back to her. Sakura's lips curled upward and she didn't say anything in response. She didn't really have to. It was just comfortable.
15 years of marriage spanned between them. 15 anniversaries. 15 revolutions around the sun- some of it spent breathing the same air- other times spanning across an ocean with just phone calls and silly text messages to tie them together. They had said 'hello' countless times but never said goodbye.
Itachi had clutched her fingers, even as she had nearly crushed them during contractions. He had held their children in his hands, nearly crying the first time he had laid eyes on Haruki all wrinkled and wailing strong as he used his lungs for the first time. She had really cried both times- not because of how beautiful their children were (because they were both perfect and gorgeous) but at the look of sheer awe on Itachi's face. There was still that glimmer of amazement in his gaze each time he watched Ruka learn a new word, each time he had a deep conversation with Haruki and realized just how quickly he was growing. And each time she caught that look, she fell in love with him again and again.
Sakura had swelled up all round and soft twice during their marriage. Somehow, the second time had been no less amazing than the first. Stirring in the wee hours of the morning before the sun had risen because she gasped.
'He's kicking. Feel it?'
Groping for his hand in the darkness, she had guided it to the swell of her belly where he had waited with baited breath until he felt the little flutters. Or when he got home from work she would be sitting in the living room with a storybook held in her hands. She would read out loud in a soft, lulling tone until she saw him standing in the doorway.
'I read somewhere that they can hear you talking.'
Warm summer nights he lay with his ear pressed to her stomach as she read the millionth book about parenting and babies. Each little bump, each tiny kick and stretch was the greatest miracle to ever occur on the planet.
Time had gone on- their children had grown, learned words and stood on their own two feet. With each spin of the planet around the sun, she had lain awake at night, running her fingers through his hair and watching the steady rise and fall of his chest until it lulled her to sleep. Or he would hit the snooze button of his alarm in the morning to press his cheek between her shoulder blades and feel her lazily press her back to his chest in half-sleeping daze. Some nights Haruki lay between them, wrapped up in Sakura's arms to keep the bad dreams away. And he would stare at his son's long eyelashes, at the impossible pink hair that matched perfectly with Sakura's. He would follow the soft rhythm of Sakura stroking his head and wonder how such gentleness was all his.
15 years still stupidly in love. 15 years of words and memories and sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee late at night. And sometimes, on a whim, one of them would suddenly say, "I love you." And the other, never surprised, would smile back and answer with an obvious, "I love you too."
Walking on, walking on and on, following the steady gait of their son, Sakura and Itachi laced their fingers together and breathed in the same air.
After half an hour, they looped back and headed home. Sakura gave up on holding Itachi's hand and instead pressed herself against his side. He put his arm around her waist, fingers spreading across her flat stomach. Their footfalls matched up.
"We didn't get to do anything for our 15th anniversary, you know," Itachi remarked. Sakura sighed heavily. She tilted her head back to look up at him.
"I guess we didn't. Is there anywhere you want to go?" she asked.
"Cancun," he promptly said. Sakura's eyebrows rose.
"But we went there for our honeymoon."
"Yes but you were pregnant so we didn't get to drink any alcohol or go parasailing or scuba diving," he pointed out practically. Sakura smiled.
"We could go next month, when the kids stay with my parents for a couple weeks," Itachi continued. Every summer, Haruki (and soon Ruka would join him) would visit Fugaku and Mikoto. They had retired to one of the Uchiha family's vacation homes in the mountains the next prefecture over. The house had its own private onsen and Haruki had made friends in the town so it was actually something he tended to look forward to. Sakura thought for a few seconds.
"Why not?" she finally agreed.
Their house came into view a few minutes later. Sakura watched Haruki step into the house and slip out of his sneakers before pulling Ruka's shoes off. As he carried her upstairs, Sakura followed. Itachi seemed to understand what she was doing and went off to take out the burnable trash. Haruki nudged the door open with his foot and deposited his baby sister in her bed. He took his time pulling the covers over her and slipping her favorite teddy bear into her arms. She hugged it tightly to her chest and snuggled into the pillows before dropping off into deep sleep again.
"Maybe we should change her into pajamas," Haruki whispered as they tiptoed their way out. As Sakura closed the door behind them, she shook her head.
"If she wakes up she'll never fall asleep again," Sakura sighed. She took a moment to look at him carefully.
"So…what's on your mind?" she gently inquired. Haruki started a little but then he seemed to remember that he was talking to his mother who really knew everything there was to know about him.
"I wanted to wait until you were home to tell you. It's because a couple weeks ago we had our parent-teacher conferences and my homeroom teacher was asking me what I wanted to do after high school," Haruki began. Sakura remembered the creeping sense of panic she had experienced trying to figure out just what the heck she wanted to do with the rest of her life. But there was no glint of desperation in Haruki's eyes. Just determination. So she let him talk.
"I mean, I know I still have some time but I've been thinking a lot lately and… I think I know what I want to do for a living."
Sakura blinked. Leave it to her and Itachi's son to figure out his life goals when she had struggled to figure out what university to attend during her senior year of high school.
"I want to do music, Mom. But not like a musician or an idol. I want to produce. I want to make the music that famous people perform," Haruki admitted. Sakura didn't say anything.
"This isn't some kid's fantasy and I know it's not going to be easy. I'm probably going to have to at least audition for some companies and get some experience and credentials as a musician first. But my ultimate goal is to compose my own music."
Sakura looked straight into Haruki's eyes. His irises were the same warm color as his father's.
"Ruki-kun, it's very obvious to me that you've given this a lot of thought and done your research. If you're sure this is want you want to do, Dad and I will support you," she evenly replied. Haruki blinked quickly.
"But it's not a very practical dream. There's no guarantee I'll make it," he pointed out.
"I know," Sakura simply said.
"And you're okay with that?"
Sakura put her hands on Haruki's shoulders with a smile
"Ruki-kun, I've been dancing for a long time now. And I basically got by in college through dumb luck. After that, it was a lot of kicking my own butt and forcing myself to improve until someone finally noticed me. So what I'm saying is that if you're willing to struggle your way along, then I think you've made the right choice." With these words, Sakura pulled him into a hug. It was strange the way that his chin rested easily on her shoulder now. He would be taller than her soon and that thought, rather than making her sad, made her oddly proud.
"It's late. I think I'm going to bed soon. What about you?" said Sakura as she released him.
"I think I'll probably waste some time on the internet for a bit and then sleep too," Haruki guessed with a shrug. He pulled his beanie off to muss his brightly-colored hair.
"Don't stay up too late. You won't grow taller," she reminded him. With a light kiss to the cheek, Sakura headed off to her room. Shedding her clothes, Sakura stood at the dresser erasing her make-up. As she headed into the connected bathroom to wash her face, she heard footsteps approaching.
"Is Ruka sleeping?" Itachi called out as he closed the door behind him. Sakura made a noise of assent as she pulled her hair up into a bun to keep it out of her face.
"Are you working tomorrow?" he asked. She heard the jingle of his belt buckle as he got undressed too. Sakura went on to wash her face. Squeezing her eyes shut so soap wouldn't sting them, Sakura said "yup". When she cleaned all the soap foam off, she saw Itachi standing in the doorway with a half-smile. He was wearing just his white undershirt and dark boxers. As Sakura squeezed toothpaste onto her toothbrush, he reached under her arm to get at his own toothbrush. Sakura waited for him to run it under water a second before she squeezed out a generous helping of paste onto it. They stood side by side, staring into the mirror as they brushed their teeth together. It was a familiar pattern- something they had done almost every day during their first couple years of marriage. Something about their working schedules had always matched up and so they had grown used to brushing teeth together with the noise of brushes filling the silence between them.
Spit, rinse, and then throw the brushes back into the white mug with a black cat on it. Sakura patted her mouth dry and then stood applying lotion to her face. As her fingers moved in circles, she paused to tap the tiny creases in the corners of her eyes. Itachi peeked around her elbow to watch her and then scowled. She didn't even say anything.
"You're perfect," he assured her. He leaned in to kiss the side of her neck so he wouldn't ruin her lotion and then slipped into the bedroom. Slightly mollified, Sakura finished up her nightly routine and headed back to the room too. She dug in Itachi's side of the dresser and pulled out one of his old shirts- all soft and faded from years of washing. When she pulled her head through it, it easily went down to her thigh. Itachi had tossed her discarded clothing in the hamper already. As she crawled into bed, he lay tucked into his side with his phone in his hand. Sakura settled in on her side, fluffing her pillow and tugging at the sheets for a bit. Once she was comfortable, Itachi showed her the screen of his phone.
"Look what Kisame sent me just now," Itachi said. It was a photo of Kisame with his four daughters. They had drawn her a banner with crayon and markers that said 'Happy Birthday, Auntie!' Someone had thought to cover it with stickers of unicorns and kittens and even swirls of glitter glue. Sakura laughed. The youngest triplet, Tsukino, had cheeks covered with glitter.
"That's precious. I feel bad for Minako. She's going to have a hell of a time trying to get glitter off the carpet and off her kids," sighed Sakura. She didn't know how Kisame's wife juggled her job as a librarian and raising four energetic girls. Nodding sympathetically, Itachi shot Kisame a reply and then set his phone to silent. As he leaned over to plug his phone into the charger, she watched the stretch of his back muscles. He used to wear nothing but boxers to bed but ever since they had a daughter, he had grown oddly conscious of himself and decided to always wear a shirt to bed. Sakura was sure there was a logical explanation for that too but she was satisfied just to watch the shape of his muscles under the tight white fabric. Even after this many years, Itachi had always kept up his exercise routines. An hour at the gym in the morning and a long run on the weekends. Itachi settled back in the bed and the look on his face let her know that he had caught her staring. The slightly arrogant smirk on his lips hadn't changed either.
"Maybe I'll take Ruka to the park tomorrow afternoon. I heard there's going to be a petting zoo," Itachi said. Sakura flicked the lights off using the set of switches beside the headboard.
"That sounds nice," she agreed. She lay on her side, hands curled up under her right cheek. He lay on his side too, chin propped up in his hand. She could see the outline of his smile from the dim light coming in through the parted curtains. His hand moved to rest on her cheek. Then his fingers moved to her hair, lightly stroking through it. Wordlessly, she moved toward him, curling into the secure spot saved just for her. His arm looped around her waist. As Sakura let out a contented sigh, she felt him kiss the top of her head.
"Happy birthday," he murmured as his arm tightened a little. A blissful smile curled at Sakura's mouth as she closed her eyes and drifted off into the most peaceful sleep she'd had in a while.
Hakase* means Professor
Onsen* is a hot spring
And on another note, Roppongi Hills is a wealthy, super-developed area of Tokyo. (Visit if you ever go to Japan. The food there's supposed to be amazing.)
Thank you until the end, dear readers. Thanks for all the support and loving words and for waiting 900 years for me to finish this epilogue. It's kind of sappy to say but you've all helped me really develop as a writer these past few years. I'm really grateful for each and every one of you reading these words on your screens and I hope I'll be able to reach all of you in future works.