Chapter 15

The Tower

The curved, golden pendulum smoothly loped from side to side, an easy ticking noise emitting each time it reached its zenith on either side. With mild interest, Sasuke watched it rock back and forth, flicking his eyes upward to the tiny minute and hour hand in the ancient clock. Then, of course, his temper would flare at how horribly late he was for his outing at the museum.

Unbeknownst to the young Uchiha, his elder brother had scheduled a parent/ (or in this case, sibling) teacher conference with each of Sasuke's teachers as well as with the principle. Required to attend by the request of his brother, he'd been forced to sit outside each meeting room for hours on end while his brother was informed of his academic prowess. Sasuke was occasionally called into the meeting rooms so his teachers could brag about his incredible grades and motivation to his face, and Sasuke might have been grateful for such sincere praise if he hadn't had a pair of green eyes swirling about in his brain. Irrationally (for he'd just seen her a day ago or so) he found himself wanting to be in Sakura's company. He felt the nagging sensation of missing someone (a feeling he was accustomed to with Itachi being away so often) to be completely inappropriate under present circumstances. After all, he was yet a high school student. What was more important than his grades?

Shifting uncomfortably on the small, wooden chair, he didn't have to think for more than a second about what he currently thought to be more important than his schooling, though it vexed him somewhat. Checking nervously down the hallway for some form of life, he glared back at the small cell phone in his hands. He had given his word to Sakura that he'd attend the outing with her friends, had even looked forward to it, he thought ruefully. Now he couldn't do so much as call her to explain the delay in his arrival, and with that thought came the series of self bereavements at not having obtained her number before today. Honestly, what sort of boyfriend didn't have his girlfriend's number?

He swallowed an unexpected lump in his throat and continued to watch the golden pendulum. The light of the afternoon sun pooled like water drops from the wide open windows. Konoha High lay eerily quiet; Sasuke was used to seeing it in an ever constant bustle during the week, though naturally Saturday left it much emptier. His black shoes scuffed the tile floors angrily, and the sound echoed across the empty hallway. Finally, mercifully, the door to Itachi's final conference meeting opened. Kakashi Hatake stepped outside, a white clipboard in one hand, while his other gestured Sasuke with an open palm inside. Beyond the door, Itachi looked rather ridiculous in one of the school desks, clothed in a form-fitting suit and tie though sitting as casually as a teenager. Sasuke recalled briefly that Kakashi had also taught Itachi when he'd attended Konoha High, the boy and realized with bitterness and raw anger that perhaps the past half hour had not been wholly engrossed in his academic future. They were probably swapping stories, those idiots!

"Sasuke," Itachi said with one of his rare smiles from the chair. He looked near gleeful to be sitting in an old classroom again.

Sasuke stood to his feet and gave a nod to Kakashi, but he was so impatient to be leaving that he found himself making his way down the hall.

"Not so fast, Sasuke."

He nearly groaned as Kakashi grasped his wrist with his hand, ushering him quickly into the classroom and sitting him in front of his desk. Honestly, he didn't have time to sit through another regalement about his grades. He had nearly a hundred percent in Kakashi's class, and therefore the older gentleman had nothing to say that Sasuke did not already know. Grumpily, he resigned himself to silence, hoping if he said nothing, the session would pass quickly.

Kakashi obviously sensed his impatience and chuckled. "This won't take long, Sasuke," he assured with a playful ruffling of Sasuke's hair. The boy glared daggers back but didn't move or say anything. "What I wanted to talk to the pair of you about is Sasuke's future."

Itachi smiled here, brimming with pride. "Yes, we've already received offers from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. I'm sure if Sasuke applied to any of them he'd be accepted."

Kakashi nodded. "Yes, that's true, which is why I think it would be best for Sasuke if during his senior year, he spent his school time in one of the local colleges. It'd be good experience and by the time he's graduated, he'd have taken care of his first if not second year of college. It's the most expedient way to excel."

Sasuke froze, unable to make a reply. Cautiously, he eyed Kakashi up and down and noted that his teacher truly wanted the best for him. His expression was serious, though kind if the look in his brown eyes meant anything.

"We had considered that," he heard Itachi say slowly. "But Sasuke's developed an attachment to the school. And I know the harm in making someone grow up too quickly. My father all but forced me to graduate early. I wouldn't do something similar to Sasuke."

Kakashi looked back to him and leaned heavily against one of the nearby desks. "What do you think, Sasuke?"

For a brief moment, Sasuke didn't know what to think. Normally a suggestion of this magnitude would have him floored. This was the sort of opportunity he'd been craving. He'd always wanted the ability to rise from the normal, boring life of a high school student to somehow catch up with Itachi, who had graduated so early and already was the head of the family company. And yet, now that he had the ability to forgo classes at the Konoha High building— actually attending college courses in the meanwhile— he found himself hesitating. Why?

Of course he knew why, he thought with exasperation. The cartwheels his stomach enacted was more than enough for him to realize. With his moving upward from high school to college courses, the probability of seeing Sakura throughout the day would be slim to nil on average. He reasoned that of course he could see her after school, though for some reason that didn't pacify him. There was something heavily satisfying of turning a corner in the hallway on a cool morning and being confronted with her bright hair in the light of the sun. There was something wonderful about being able to look out the window of his English class to see her practicing the high jump during her P.E. hour. Likewise, all the small moments he saw her rambling about in the hallways, flitting about from place to place, busy as ever with the many clubs she'd joined, had been cataloged inside his head like precious little nuggets of imagery. In his most violent of moods, they soothed him. If he attended college courses while she was in school, the creation of those moments would cease.

That disturbed him greatly.

"I understand if you need time to consider it," Kakashi said, though his tone hinted that he didn't quite understand if Sasuke needed time. From what he knew of his student, Sasuke prided his academics above anything else. Why should Sasuke hesitate?

"I think that'd be best," Itachi replied, his eyes glinting with a knowing light as he turned his head toward Sasuke.

The young man's face grew more disturbed. Logically, he knew that to forgo an opportunity to excel because of emotional attachment was wasteful. Itachi would never make a decision based off emotion, he was sure. Certainly, he should take the offer. He'd be able to see Sakura after school.

But then again, what if something happened to her during school, as it had before? He shuddered to consider what might have befallen her if all those weeks ago he hadn't been there to give her CPR in the classroom. What if something similar occurred again, and he was not within proximity to save her?

At the same time, the most malicious and selfish side of him countered that if she died while he was away, it wouldn't be his fault. He had himself to think about, after all— his future.

Immediately disgusted with himself at the very thought, he nearly rose from his chair to throw himself out one of the windows. What sort of cold bastard was he to even consider such a cruel notion? And to Sakura, one of the sweetest beings he'd ever encountered…

"We'll discuss it at home," Sasuke heard Itachi say to Kakashi as he got to his feet. For some reason, Sasuke remained rooted in his chair, confused and angry with himself. He couldn't understand his hesitation, and then couldn't understand why he shouldn't hesitate, and then was frustrated by his inability to act based on logic, only to become angrier with himself at thinking so selfishly.

"Come, Sasuke." His brother gently pulled him to his feet, and silently he followed until they'd exited the premises. Itachi had taken his car today, and Sasuke slid into the passenger seat, his head a tumult of different thoughts. When they were pulling out of the school's small parking lot, he felt Itachi's eyes slide from the road onto him.

"What Kakashi said upset you." It wasn't a question. Itachi knew him well enough to understand when Sasuke was affected by something. "You don't have to make any decisions now. You're still in the middle of your third year. You've got a few months before you have to decide anything."

"There's no reason to hesitate," Sasuke said with some bitterness, though even as the words exited his mouth they tasted terrible. He fought to keep from physically gagging.

"Oh?" Itachi pulled into traffic. Outside the window, the city bustled with life. They passed The Tower, and Sasuke briefly realized the museum was not far away. He leaned up abruptly.


"You left yourself a note on the fridge, remember? 'Museum trip, 10Am'," his brother quoted with a small smile. "I didn't see it 'till this morning. You could have said something."

"I didn't want to interfere with your plans. You're busier than I am."

Itachi let out a small laugh. "You know, I was happy to see the note, and then confused why you didn't tell me about it… So the girl will be there. This Sakura…" Sasuke started, and obviously that was all the answer Itachi needed. "You don't have to force yourself, little brother. I've done a lot of things in my life that were the 'right' thing to do, but I'll admit they didn't make me any happier."

Itachi stopped in front of the museum entrance. With a smile on his face, he placed a hand on Sasuke's forehead, prodding him until Sasuke was wincing at the contact. With a gruff smack, he pushed his brother away. "Have fun, Sasuke. I didn't when I was your age, and I still regret it."

Sasuke paused, taking his brother's words very seriously. With a nod, he finally exited the vehicle. Itachi gave him another wave before pulling off, and for a moment he stood still as a statue, struck.

He'd never known that Itachi had possessed regrets. Like anyone, he'd assumed that Itachi greatly prided himself on his accomplishments at an early age. Certainly he had foregone the simple pleasures of youth, but of course the rewards were the important thing. Itachi had wealth, power; he was the head of one of the most successful companies on the continent. What sort of man of his standing could admit to regrets, especially when he was still so young? Itachi wasn't a day over twenty-seven and yet he had more power than the presidents of some countries. Sasuke had always looked up to his brother as a beacon of success— not a man who could admit to pining after his childhood.

Numbly, Sasuke entered the museum, his eyes open yet blind to the things around him. He searched absently for the telltale blonde or pink hair that would give away Naruto or Sakura, yet he didn't see them. Checking his watch— cursing when he found it was already past one in the afternoon— he concluded that he must have missed them. A twinge in his chest had him closing his eyes, rubbing the back of his head. He could call Naruto— no, he couldn't, he remembered. That fool, Naruto had jumped in his apartment's pool a few days ago with his cellphone lodged in the pocket of his jean shorts, and the device had been of course ruined from that moment on. Now there was no way to contact the blonde simpleton, and Sasuke once again cursed himself for not getting Sakura's number.

As if on cue, his own cellphone began to buzz prominently in his jacket pocket. Retrieving the device, he noted a number he didn't have saved in his contacts and hesitated a moment. Sometimes, random girls or jealous boyfriends called his number at all hours, leaving him strange and creepy messages or death threats, depending. Though, under the present circumstances, he felt the need to vent anger on something and so answered the phone, hoping it might be one of the admirers who he could yell at.


"Yo, Sasuke!"

He wouldn't admit to being relieved, though he did let out a relaxed breath. "Naruto."

"Hey, you're lucky Ino liked you enough to get your number, bro! Where are you anyway?"

"My brother had a conference today; had to go to that. But I'm at the museum now." He wanted to ask about Sakura, but stupidly, he felt his face burn at the inquiry on his lips, where he let it die.

"Oh, okay. Me and Hinata are at the Tower again, with Ino and Shikamaru…"

And? Sasuke wanted to prod, but the word stuck in his mouth like cotton. He pulled the phone away to clear his throat. He certainly should be expected to ask about Sakura, he thought quickly. If they were dating, then surely asking about her wouldn't degrade him in any way. Though even when he attempted to get the words out, his throat clogged and he nearly choked on air.


"I—I'll meet you at the Tower then," he said quickly, hanging up the phone, while Naruto continued to try to talk.

Angry at his own cowardice, he spun back the way he'd come, walking through exhibits and out of the museum. His inability to do anything normal when it came to Sakura was frustrating and belittled his intelligence. There was no reason for him to feel anxious to see her again, and no reason for him to be so apprehensive in inquiring after her. They were dating technically.

Half a mile off, the Tower stood like a beacon against the city skyline in the background, sparkling all in colored lights. Fifteen minutes passed before he entered the structure, sweaty and discontent, and even then he found himself at a loss to where Naruto and his pack of friends were. The Tower, after all, was a massive structure with many of attractions and items to entice the wondering eyes of the ladies. They could be anywhere inside the building. Exasperated and nearly fed up with this sick game of hide and seek, he nearly screamed to hell with everything and left the place straight away. His neck prickled as he felt the stares of ladies anxiously flit his way, while the over cautious eyes of their lovers or relatives followed their gazes to curse him in their hearts. Naruto often called Sasuke cold, inconstant, and oblivious. The blonde claimed that no matter Sasuke's popularity, he didn't even realize it, and in most situations Sasuke could confess to completely ignoring the eyes cast in his direction. But times in public were increasingly hard to ignore. Hyper aware and paranoid of his surroundings as he was, he couldn't possibly ignore the hunger in the eyes of the girls and the hatred in the eyes of the boys, who took him for a rival. He might have left the establishment altogether if the appealing idea of seeing Sakura again did not constantly flit about in his head like a harpy's whisper.

Ducking his head to avoid as much attention as possible, he ventured to one of the adjacent elevators, skimming between the crowds of people, and boarded the vessel just before the doors closed. Inside the cube, a dozen teenagers and young adults were crushed into a space that should have fit only half their number, and they all nearly tumbled out at once on the second floor. Sasuke's eyes skimmed heads eagerly, grateful that this tier was considerably less crowded than the ground floor. Again, neither a flash of blonde nor a strand of pink greeted his eyes, and he found himself getting frustrated. The ding of another elevator behind him released a stream of beings like the waters of a dam, and he found himself shoved along with them like a lost trout. Clinging to one of the walls, he waited for the stream to quiet before he made his way back to the lift, but a gentle touch along his wrist, like the brushing of silk against his skin, caused him to start.

He almost jumped in surprise at Sakura's pink hair, all pulled up with a few rebellious strands falling in a lovely manner about her head and bare neck. Her smile was bright, her eyes lively with exercise and (dare he think it) full of him. Before he could think, she was pulling him into a warm embrace, her small fingers grasping at the fabric of his heavy, dark clothes. He heard her breathe him in like a sigh.

"There you are," she said as she pulled back to look at him. He found his glance flowing with her white skin down to a pretty, light blue dress that stopped just above her knees. It fit her form well and complimented every curve, however slight. Her fingers and wrists were bare, and he reflected briefly how he could perhaps buy something for her to wear on those places left naked. He didn't have time to contemplate it further or even compliment on how pretty she looked before she placed a chaste kiss on the corner of his mouth, obviously done out of impulse rather than design. The pleasing blush that stole across her cheeks in the next moment was proof enough.

Taken suddenly with how lovely she was, he didn't hesitate to catch her in his arms, ignoring her half gasped protests, and press his lips onto hers. Even in public, he couldn't find it in his heart to adhere to modesty. For a fleeting second, as her soft mouth moved in a graceful dance over his, he reflected on how extreme he was. Not two days ago, he'd refused Naruto a brotherly hug, inwardly deeming it too embarrassing for a public display. Yet now he stood, kissing this girl in broad daylight and practically as a show to the dozens of moving spectators, and still he couldn't find a whit of himself that gave a damn. Though all thoughts flew out of his head the moment she pressed her body flush against his, wrapping small hands and arms about his neck. On reflex, his hands in turn stole over the waist of her dress, savoring the soft fabric and the pleasing outline of her hips.

She broke apart breathlessly to whisper onto his mouth, "You're late."

He grunted an affirmative, and pulled her wordlessly behind another wall, in a slightly darkened corner of the café floor. About him tables lay strewn with coffee displays and stands; people were scattered everywhere. Only a second glance could reveal them to the world, yet as he pressed Sakura into one of the dark blue walls, he couldn't find it within himself to feel apologetic, not to her for being late and not to the people around him for kissing Sakura so roughly where they might see him. As it was, he could accredit the fire in his hands and tongue to the anticipation he'd been feeling that morning and even moments before he'd seen her. The anticipation, he deemed inwardly as he rolled his tongue over hers, made everything that much sweeter when it came down to it. Though Sakura herself should be given the most credit for his feelings. After all, none of the anticipation could compare with the excitement in his blood the instant she gave a small moan. No other feeling matched with the one he received upon making her cry out in pleasure, or shudder helplessly against him. Pliant, bendable at times, she could have melted in his grasp and shrunk like liquid to the floor, but something would alight in her bones at the last moment, and they would stiffen and grapple him forcefully. There were times when he would crack an eye and catch her green orbs with his just for an instant, and they practically glowed, terrifying and beautiful with how trained on him they were.

"Sakura," he whispered her name against her lips, reminding himself of who caused the strange swelling within his chest. He instantly regretted it, for she must have remembered who she was as well, and where they were, and what they were doing. Instantly, she stiffened again, and stopped moving.

"No, no," he heard himself say in a pleading voice, kissing her lips with small, quick pecks that could have resembled jabs, but she did not yield. She placed a soft hand against his chest, and when he pulled back to look at her, he found that she could not meet his gaze. Her face, he noted with a miniscule smile, was so scarlet it nearly dwarfed her hair in color.

"Um, Naruto and the others are downstairs. We saw you come in and look, but you, um, missed us I think. That's why I went after you. So we should… return to them, I think." Apprehensively, she stared back up into his face, only to duck away shyly in the next moment.

Somewhat frustrated as he was at being denied her body and kisses further, he could not help the warmth of affection invade his heart at how truly coy she was being in front of him. Almost in effort to make her blush further, he boldly took her hand and his, lacing their fingers in the unquestionable relationship-way and was almost instantly rewarded by the near purple color that washed over her cheeks. He chuckled (noted that it sounded a little sadistic in his ears) and said to her, "We don't have to rejoin the others, do we? We can escape and strike out on our own. They won't miss us."

He was surprised when her head darted upward, meeting his gaze in an all-business like fashion. "No, we can't ditch them, not today. I promised Ino I'd spend the day with her, and I mean to do it. Besides, you…" Here she faltered a little. "I thought you could really get to know everyone. You're always by yourself, and I know you can't enjoy it all the time. Everyone needs friends."

Almost taken aback, he could only blink at her for a moment before he found himself softening. Despite everything he'd already endured, he found himself uncaring if he had to wait a little longer to be alone with her. Without another word, he wrapped his hand tighter around hers and let her lead them back to the lift. Pressing against her in the crowded box, Sasuke allowed himself a moment of mischief, and he gave her a candid kiss on the side of her head, warming her temple and her cheeks simultaneously. Flustered and unnerved, she almost bolted from the elevator when it stopped on the first floor, and he smiled as he trailed silently along behind her.

As Sakura had said, the group was positioned in one of the corners of the café. Sasuke was surprised at the number, far exceeding what he'd believed it to be. Sakura took the time to introduce him to the upperclassmen, two older and taller boys and a petite but fine-eyed girl, and then to Hinata's close friends, two boys in dark hoodies. He nodded mutely to them all, somehow finding himself uncomfortable around a crowd of this size, but whatever apprehension he had, Sakura made up for it by being as vocal as possible. Uncannily like Naruto, Sakura's treatment of the each person of the group was friendly and obliging; her smiles were wide and her laughter roared along with Naruto's in both volume and intensity. Sasuke even saw the shy Hyuga girl, who he saw occasionally grab the blonde's arm in a more-than-friends fashion, pulled along with their joviality. Her soft gray eyes flickered over to Sasuke more than once, timidly, as if looking for his approval as her new beau's best friend. Tacitly, he gave whatever encouragement she'd seemed to have wanted from him, and she did not make direct eye contact with him again. Sakura, her sharp eyes more than likely witnessing the exchange, smiled softly in an encouraging manner, and despite himself Sasuke could name more than once when he'd joined in the conversation.

Kiba and Shino, Hinata's closest friends he discovered much to his bewilderment, were nearly as eccentric as Naruto— Kiba with his loud and gruff manner of speaking and Shino with his awkward logic that was only interrupted by bouts of absolute quiet. Sasuke could tell almost instantly that the upperclassman named Neji was some form of relative to Hinata's, possessing an eerily same face and countenance as his (Sasuke soon found to be) cousin. Luckily for Naruto, the stern, older Hyuga seemed to be unaware of his little cousin's relationship, for he seemed relaxed, holding onto the hand of the girl beside him. Sasuke flicked eyes to Neji's girlfriend, Tenten, who was the most familiar face of the group excluding Sakura and Naruto— though he couldn't say he'd ever spoken with her before. She was a member of Konoha High's Karate and Kendo team, which he of course had joined upon enrolling, and the girl had a reputation of defeating each opponent set before her, on the girls' circuit at least. She spoke with absolute conviction as she tried to persuade Sakura to take college offers more seriously, but other than that she had little else to fit in between Naruto's countless stories. The third upperclassmen made Sasuke's face red in more ways than one, though reasons varied from anger to exasperation to confusion. Passionate and strangely noble, the older boy named Lee was always eager to play the helpful one, refilling drinks and grabbing napkins whenever anyone (Sakura especially, Sasuke noted with a twinge) asked for one. Finally Ino and Shikamaru were, much to Sakura's chagrin, divided from the main party a great deal of the time, sipping cappuccinos and whispering to each other with hooded eyes. Sasuke felt a little warm each time he caught them out of the corner of his eye, watching Shikamaru's hands twiddle absently with Ino's while he said something into her ear. From everything Sasuke could recall about the dark-haired boy, Shikamaru had never appeared to be the… intimate type. Laziness and indifference were his most apparent traits, yet one could not tell looking at him now. Ino as well had been nothing more than Sakura's constant companion and his own occasional stalker, though he noted that with her eyes so glued to Shikamaru's she barely spared him a glance. Certainly, he was grateful for it. He did not wish to imagine some sort of argument between the two girls if Ino continued to fawn over him as she normally did.

Near the end of the day (Sasuke was actually surprised by how the time had flown with the sun inconspicuously setting in the west) Neji thought it prudent to break the party by saying he and Tenten (including Lee) had to depart for the evening.

"Hinata," Neji said to his little cousin, and Sasuke could almost smell overprotectiveness seeping from the man like a perfume, "I'll take you home."

"W-well…" The characteristic stutter, which Sasuke had noticed had not made an appearance until now, bumbled from the girl's pink lips. "F-father said I could s-stay out a little later tonight with everyone…" She lowered her eyes from her cousins the instant she'd spoken the words, as if bracing for impact.

"Then who will take you home?" Neji asked sharply.

"Naruto, of course." Sasuke's eyes flicked to Tenten, who'd taken it upon herself to save both Hinata and Naruto from certain peril. With a smile in her eyes and a gentle touch to her boyfriend's wrist, she continued, "Sakura here tells me that Naruto is the perfect gentleman, and he doesn't live too far from Hinata's house, Neji. He'll take her home. That way," and here she leaned to whisper into Neji's ear, though Sasuke was close enough to hear, "we can go home alone, can't we?"

Neji's eyes darted to his girlfriend's, ensnared like a rabbit in a carrot trap, and Sasuke wondered what sort of prowess Tenten had as a girlfriend to make a headstrong and decisive guy like Neji fall completely under her sway. As if to illustrate her point, Tenten wrapped a suggestively lithe arm around her boyfriend's bicep, squeezing.

"A-alright," Sasuke heard Neji murmur. "We can leave first then. Naruto… my cousin—"

"Yes, yes, he'll take her home," Tenten interrupted, casting a wink and a smile to Naruto while standing to her feet. "Come on." She'd successfully grabbed Lee as well on her way back, and by the relieved look on his face, Sasuke could tell that Naruto certainly owed the Karate champion quite a bit. Hinata's relieved expression, coupled with a slight smile, warmed Sasuke's heart a little. Naruto's tanned face broke into one of the widest grins he'd ever seen on the boy, and somehow he could find that he related to the joy of being with the girl he liked. On his arm, Sakura deftly said her goodbyes with smiles to each of the departing friends, taking a special moment to silently thank Tenten for her discretion.

Sasuke felt something in his heart settle happily, like a wave of nervousness dying down into a soft ember of warmth. Sakura's shimmering hair caught the dim light of the nearly vacant café as she craned her head to say goodbye to Kiba and Shino, and when she stood to hug Shikamaru and Ino, her dress lifted very slightly to reveal the toned muscles of her thighs, hardened from all the running he mused. He could tell from the way she moved, the lightness in her eyes, that her heart was the farthest thing from her mind, and he was grateful that he was there to witness her at her happiest.

"You wanna go?" he heard Naruto ask Hinata in a whisper, which was a tone much lower than Sasuke was used to coming from his normally hyperactive friend.

The shy girl nodded without a word and took his hand as she stood. She dipped her head in a polite bow to Sakura, but as Naruto began to slowly drag her away, she held back long enough to say quietly to Sasuke, "I'm glad you came out tonight. It was the first I've seen you among friends."

Sasuke glanced up at the dark-haired girl sharply, and she nearly wilted under his full gaze. Nevertheless, he couldn't help but offer a very, very small smile to her. So Naruto had not only picked a pretty girl, but a kind one as well. She suited him, in her own strange way. With that lingering thought, he watched as they disappeared beyond The Tower's main double doors, veering right toward the train station.

"And then there were two," Sakura said with a chuckle beside him. "Can't believe Ino though. That jerk barely talked to me at all today! She swore today would be for us, and then she can't stop crawling all over Shikamaru."

Sasuke thought back to Shikamaru and Ino's senseless perusal of one another, how enraptured with each other they seemed to be, and thinking about it, he would have snorted in derision at such inappropriate behavior… if he hadn't been so occupied with thoughts of Sakura all day. He seemed hyper aware of every action she took, every move she made, and though in the past he would have disturbed himself with such thoughts, now he couldn't find the means to care. For once, he found himself enjoying being in the moment.

As if sensing his contentment, Sakura leaned against him with a smile, wrapping her fingers into his. "You were… really great today."

"I was late," he said softly. "I'm sorry about that."

She shrugged. "No big deal. Although this morning I ran into some creeper at the museum. Guy was completely off his rocker, kept going on an on about how he wanted to paint me. It was really annoying."

Sasuke's metaphysical hackles instantly rose. "And what did you say?"

Again with a light shrug. "The guy was weird alright, but there was something really sincere in his plea to paint me. In the weirdest kind of way, I think I agreed."

"You what?" He jolted so quickly upright that Sakura nearly keeled over onto the back of his seat.

Righting herself quickly, she hunched a little, embarrassed. "Naruto was there; he had my back, and the kid wasn't… I mean, he's just a little passionate about it…"

"You can't just go to this kid's house and let him paint you!" Sasuke growled fiercely. "I doubt his interests supersede painting."

"Oh, come on. He wasn't that bad. Besides, I'd never go alone. I'd bring Ino or something."

"You shouldn't be going at all," he insisted.

Sakura smirked a little, obviously pleased by his protective nature of her. She wrapped a hand around his bicep happily. "What about if you came with me?" She leaned into him gently, placing a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth. "If he ever does call me to paint, then I'll ask you to tag along. I couldn't be much safer than if I went with you, right?" Another delicate kiss, just on the tips of his lips, and he helplessly sighed into the touch.

She was manipulating him, and he knew it. However, logically if he did go along, she would be safe. He sighed again, but mumbled some sort of agreement as she kissed him a little longer, though the pressure against his mouth was so slight it was like a tease.

At length, he had to force himself to straighten away from her, hyper aware of the growing warmth at the pit of his stomach and how dangerous it could be to allow it to continue to heat him up. "I'll… walk you home," he offered.

She smiled, and it seemed a little bit of her shyness returned at his words. "When we get there… my parents aren't home, you know. Would you like to stay for a while? Watch a movie?"

His face instantly was on fire from the idea, though he instantly said, "Yes."

Next chapter, we get some loving. Awww yeahhhhh! Sasuke be owning all up in this grill, fo real mah homey dawgs. Yeah, have no idea where that came from.

Next chapter soon!