Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, its characters, its storyline, or any related trademarks.
Warnings: Team 7 awesomeness with a large helping of SasuSaku on top, takes place after Sasuke's eventual return/rehab/redemption (why do all these words begin with R?)
We Can't Be Friends
Part Two: ...You Seem Finally Happy
Naruto's idea of a birthday dinner turned out to be the same as every other meal Team 7 had at Ichiraku, only this time Naruto was treating the group. It surprised Sakura that Naruto even had enough money to feed more than himself (considering the amount of food he did eat). Naruto, however, was (even more surprisingly) actually quite frugal – people just tended to take advantage of his friendly nature and his money lending habits, which was how he often ended up broke.
Naruto regaled the rest of his team with the story of his most recent mission, grinning when Sakura huffed in amusement and Sasuke scoffed at his stupidity.
"Well, I think it's time to get to the main event," Kakashi interrupted. The small part of his face that was visible was slightly flush from drink. He pulled an intricately carved wooden box from his jounin vest and presented it to Sakura. "Happy Birthday, Sakura."
Sakura flushed and accepted the gift with careful hands, anxious to see what could be housed by such a beautiful container. When she opened it, she stared in wonder. Inside was a three-pronged kunai with an intricate seal engraved into the handle. She looked up to Kakashi in question.
"It was a gift that my jounin instructor gave to me. It doesn't work the way it used to so I modified it with a seal of my own; if you're ever in trouble, just use that and I'll be able to find you no matter where you are."
Sakura flushed, overwhelmed by the gift and the underlying implication that Kakashi would always be there for her. "Thank you, Kakashi, it's…" she flushed even more when she couldn't seem to find the words. "Thank you!"
Kakashi chuckled and slung an arm around her, squeezing her shoulder affectionately. "You're very welcome, Sakura." As an afterthought, he added. "You always were my favourite student."
Sasuke and Naruto glared at him.
Sakura blushed and closed the intricate case, laying it down on the bar with great anxiety. She didn't want to put the beautiful gift out of her reach lest something happened to it, but she was also curious about what Sasuke and Naruto had gotten her (and what she would do to Naruto if he thought that paying for her ramen and forcing Sasuke to take her to lunch was an actual birthday present). There was an awkward pause where the two boys seemed to silently fight over who would give their gift first, both wanting their gift to be last – the statement 'save the best for last' running through their minds.
Their staring contest ended when Sasuke looked away.
Sasuke grumbled and tried to shake off the strange sense of excitement he was feeling. He was being silly. It didn't really matter who gave their gift first, Sakura would obviously like anything he had gotten her more than whatever Naruto had gotten her… if the idiot had even gotten her anything. Still, there was this unusual kernel of doubt within him that kept mocking him with the fact that Sakura might see his gift the same way Naruto had – as homework.
Sasuke collected himself and casually handed the book over. Sakura accepted it with steady hands and a warm smile despite the fact that it wasn't even wrapped. She gave it the same amount of attention as Kakashi's gift and, when she began to skim through the book, another wide smile slowly spread across her face.
"Thank you, Sasuke," she said, turning to face her smile towards him.
"Hn." Sasuke had his elbows on the table and his fingers folded together in front of his face – a pose reminiscent of his youth. The tips of his ears were red.
"Okay, now it's my turn!" Naruto said. He pulled the bag he had brought with him onto his lap and dug through it, before handing Sakura an oddly shaped object sloppily wrapped in the paper labels off of various cup ramen. Upon seeing the look of sheer terror and anger on Sakura's face, Naruto laughed and said, "Just kidding!"
He put the fake gift down and pulled out the real gift – a box shaped item that was neatly wrapped with a lovely silk bow tied around it. "Hinata-chan helped me wrap it," he added bashfully.
Sakura chuckled and took the gift, which she unwrapped with great care. She opened the box to find a carefully packed tea set with Kabuki inspired paintings on each piece.
"I remembered you were talking about getting your own place a few weeks ago, but you seemed sad that you didn't have your own tea set, so…" Naruto was rubbing the back of his neck with his hand, a sheepish grin on his face, but there was a strange light in his eyes that told Sakura that he had probably had help from more than just his memory.
Still, Sakura appreciated it all the same. She closed the box gently and set it down with great care before she wrapped Naruto up in a hug. Naruto hugged her back and settled his chin on her shoulder, grinning triumphantly at Sasuke.
Sasuke scowled at him.
Naruto chuckled and Sakura pulled away.
Kakashi rapped his knuckles on Sasuke's head, trying to curb the teen's scowling. "Alright," Kakashi drawled, "I think it's about time we started pouring drinks, yes?"
Naruto had taken it upon himself to "walk his Sasu-chan home" (Sakura had laughed at that), however, the amount of alcohol in Naruto meant that the reality of the situation was the opposite: Sasuke was the one walking Naruto home. Naruto was half passed out on Sasuke's shoulder and Sasuke was very tempted just to push his best friend off and leave him to sleep on the road for the night, but Naruto had an arm thrown around Sasuke's other shoulder and the arm just wouldn't come off no matter how Sasuke pulled and pried at it.
"Go away," Sasuke grumbled, despite the fact that his feet kept taking them towards Naruto's apartment complex.
"Mnotgoinanywere…mmm," Naruto mumbled into Sasuke's shoulder.
Sasuke sighed. He really didn't want to encourage Naruto's drunken rambles, but he had one burning question still on his mind. He voiced it before his better judgment could stop him. "Where'd you get the tea set? Last time I checked, you had no idea what to get Sakura for her birthday."
"Idnmahwer," Naruto slurred.
Sasuke rolled his eyes. He should've known it was pointless to ask. "Never mind," he said.
"Mleensfena," Naruto said loudly into Sasuke's shirt.
Unfortunately, the volume wasn't enough to make it understandable.
"I said forget it," Sasuke hissed.
"LEE!" Naruto shouted so loudly that Sasuke winced, jumped, and proceeded to look around for the green-clad ninja.
When he realized that no one else was in the vicinity, he sighed and brushed it off as Naruto's drunkenness. "He isn't here, dumbass."
Naruto pushed himself off of Sasuke and wobbled dangerously while trying to stand up on his own. "No!" he shouted. "The conversation… about Sakura and the tea set. Lee was talking 'bout it." Naruto hiccoughed and grinned.
Figures, Sasuke thought. With Lee's amount of admiration and Naruto's dumb luck, it's almost impossible that they wouldn't cross paths on Sakura's birthday. Naruto probably got in a discussion about not finding a gift and Lee had made some grandeur statement that Naruto had loved – hell, Naruto might've even been able to persuade Lee to pay for it, too. Sasuke shook his head at the ridiculousness of it.
"But yeah I totally didn't need yer help atall," Naruto said, pointing at Sasuke accusingly. "You suck."
"Stop talking about yourself," Sasuke mocked.
"I'm talking about you, shithead," Naruto grumbled and stumbled after Sasuke who had started walking ahead.
"Too bad Sai was on a mission, I wanted to see what he got Sakura," Naruto continued. "Also, I didn't see you get a hug, Mr. I-Give-People-Textbooks-As-Presents."
"It was probably convenient for her to hug you since she was sitting right next to you. If you forgot, Kakashi was on her other side, not me."
"That's 'cause you fail miserably at life."
Sasuke scowled but continued to drag the blond towards his apartment complex.
"She looked happy, you know?"
Sasuke paused to look at Naruto. Naruto suddenly looked old and weary – very un-Naruto-like. Sasuke didn't like it one bit.
"Yeah," Sasuke whispered despite the tightness in his throat. "I know."
"She never looked like that for me," Naruto continued, quiet but with conviction. "You make her so happy, I just wish you'd let her know how happy she makes you."
Sasuke swallowed thickly and started to move again, hoping that continuing their walk would kill the conversation – Naruto didn't seem sober enough to talk and walk at the same time.
It seemed to work, as Naruto lulled against Sasuke's shoulder once more and seemed to almost doze despite the fact that he was still shoddily putting one foot in front of the other.
Once Naruto was safely in his apartment (Sasuke wasn't stepping one foot in that filthy place, no matter how many times Naruto tried to get him to "tuck him in") Sasuke started the long journey back to his place. It was really inconvenient, how far apart he lived from the rest of Team 7. Then again, Naruto had once had the option of living near Sasuke, but had chosen another apartment simply because it was only 4 blocks from Ichiraku.
Naruto wouldn't let his wrist go. "Let go, loser, I already told you, you can find your own way to your bed."
"You'll tell her, right?" Naruto said, his blue eyes burned with determination.
Sasuke sighed and shook his head. He had the most annoying friends.
Sakura walked home quite smoothly, despite how unbalanced she felt from all the alcohol she had consumed that night. Naruto had lent her his bag so she could carry all her gifts home and she had double-checked to make sure it was secured on her back before leaving Ichiraku. She didn't want to damage any of the beautiful gifts that her teammates had gotten her.
It was amazing how well each of them knew her, and how their gifts seem to parallel their relationship to her. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but Sakura felt the gifts were also a personal interpretation of their giver, too.
Kakashi's kunai had been practical, but also sentimental. He had admitted before to feeling ashamed that he didn't get to teach her more as a genin, and while Sakura had tried to rid the thought from him, she knew that Kakashi would never really let go of his regret. Sharing this with her, something he had never shared with either Sasuke or Naruto, was his way of trying to make it up to her, to tell her that she was just as worth saving as they were.
It put a warm feeling in her heart.
Naruto's tea set had been a surprise for sure (but when wasn't Naruto surprising her?). She had made the remark weeks ago that she had needed a tea set for when she moved (which was next week), but it had been an off-hand comment. It was beautiful, and, while not the design she would've picked, Sakura appreciated the Kabuki paintings much more, simply because Naruto had picked them. Not to mention, she could imagine assigning each team member their own cups based on the different characters painted on each one. Naruto, too, had probably thought of that when he had picked them – he was good like that.
The thought of having Team 7 over for tea made her giggle.
Then there was Sasuke's gift. She hadn't known what to expect from Sasuke – the text on genjutsu was unexpected, but very much a Sasuke gift, now that she thought it over. It had probably been a little pricy, considering the weight and the embroidered cover, but Sasuke would've guessed she'd use it more than enough for it to be worth the price he'd have to pay.
He'd be right, too. She'd probably be flipping through this text for the rest of her life. She understood almost all of the jutsu theory inside the book, but some of the genjutsu she'd seen just from flipping through the book at dinner were so complex that she bet it would take years before she was able to get them down pat. One genjutsu she'd seen used a jutsu formula she'd never thought of using outside of ninjutsu – it was intriguing.
I'll definitely be spending a lot of nights in bed with this thing, she thought.
The thought itself quickly turned into something else entirely when her alcohol-addled brain began to think of other things (specifically one person) she could be spending a lot of nights in bed with instead.
Sakura, who had stopped walking and now stood, as if dazed, flushed heavily and tried to physically shake the thought out of her system.
"What are you doing?" Sasuke's voice cut through the crisp air.
Sakura jerked in surprise and looked up the road to see Sasuke standing there. Strange that she never thought to ask him what he was doing there when she knew his house was on the other side of town, but that information seemed to be unable to surface under the weight of all the alcohol in her skull.
Sasuke also seemed to be swaying, but Sakura wasn't sure if that was actually him or just her vision.
His cheeks, however, had a little more colour than usual – from the sake no doubt. Or perhaps Naruto-kun had a little too much fun with "his Sasu-chan." her inner voice teased.
Sakura blushed furiously at the thought and noticed Sasuke staring at her with a strange expression on his face.
"Just… nothing," she said. She shook her head and continued her way home.
Sasuke fell into step beside her.
He said nothing, however, and Sakura became increasingly unnerved by his silence and extremely aware of the heat growing on the back of her neck and in her face from his proximity. Strangely, her limbs felt almost relaxed in comparison.
She turned her head to face him sharply, so she could ask him what his problem was, but apparently the complexity of moving in one direction and looking in another was too much for her drunken coordination, and she tripped over her own feet.
Sasuke caught her wrist but it didn't keep her from falling over. It only jerked her around to face him before her momentum carried her backside to the ground (AKA she fell on her ass).
Better than falling on her face, she supposed.
Sasuke stood next to her, but did not help her up from the ground. Still, she grabbed his arm and used it to hoist herself up and damned her lack of alcohol tolerance. Sasuke's face seemed impassive and Sakura cursed a little inside, she'd been hoping she'd irritated him a little to get him back for all the times he'd, probably unknowingly, irritated her.
"I won the bet," Sasuke murmured, still not breaking from his blank stare.
"What?" she mumbled, having not quite heard him.
"I won the bet," he repeated, this time much more adamant. He turned to face her this time, snapping from his reverie.
Sakura, on the other, was quite puzzled. When had she had made a bet with Sasuke? How did he win it? Sakura narrowed her eyes in confusion. "What?"
"I won the bet!" Sasuke repeated a third time, even more adamant than before. His whole face was red, from anger or what, Sakura didn't know.
"What bet?" Sakura asked, frustrated by the lack of understanding between them.
Sasuke seemed to deflate at this. He looked away from her and started walking towards her house once more. Sakura sped up (and almost fell over again) so she could walk by his side.
"The bet with Naruto," Sasuke said. "I didn't lose it."
"Oh," was all Sakura could say because it felt like her brain had just imploded.
Sasuke had to be lying, otherwise he would be admitting that he'd won the bet with Naruto and then had taken her out for lunch anyway, which meant that he'd taken her out not because he'd had to, but because he'd wanted to. It was all too confusing.
"But why…?" Why would you want to have lunch with me? Sakura almost wanted to sit down again because of the velocity at which her brain now spun. She also wanted to sit down so she could throw a temper tantrum at Sasuke for not making any sense.
She settled for simply telling him that he didn't make any sense, since the thought of doing anymore than that made her feel like she would explode, or puke, or spontaneously combust into an explosion of alcohol and ramen.
"You don't make any sense," she murmured.
Sasuke smirked softly (or perhaps it was a smile?) and the sight of it, the sight of Sasuke so carefree and light-hearted, the sight of the Sasuke of her youth, drained away any irritation, any anxiety, and any frustration that Sakura had with him. Instead she half-swooned into his side. The two stumbled momentarily before regaining their balance. Sakura giggled and Sasuke scoffed, "Annoying," but his elbow brushed her side lightly, and Sakura took it as an invitation to loop her arm through his.
They walked in comfortable silence, warm from the alcohol they had consumed despite the chill of the late night air settling in. Sakura was also warm inside from Sasuke, and she briefly wondered if she made him warm inside, too. She found herself looking up at the stars, admiring the beautiful night and trusting Sasuke to lead her home. And if she fell again, well, this time she'd be taking him with her.
When they arrived at her door, it was like a wake-up call for Sakura. She snapped out of her hazy, dream-like state and retracted her arms from Sasuke's arm quickly, a blush heating her face. She couldn't believe she'd been acting so… affectionately towards him. She felt like she was 12 all over again, stumbling all over her love for him once more. She fumbled for her keys in the dark, suddenly aware of the cold air and that her hands were shaking from anxiety.
"Here," Sasuke murmured. He grabbed her keys and selected the right one for her before handing them back to her.
She looked up at him, unsure, weary, frail – hopeful. She looked like the Sakura he remembered from his youth. Sasuke couldn't break her gaze.
His free hand moved to cradle the back of her neck and he kissed her.
The moment was over as soon as it begun when their noses clunked together and caused Sasuke to pull back, a red blush painted across his cheeks.
"I don't…" he frowned. "I don't know how to do this."
Sakura almost laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, but beyond that, even more powerful than that, was the fact that Sasuke was showing her something that she had seen all along, something she had just never known how to interpret before.
After years of frustration, struggling with the torch she carried for him (one that often brought her to tears), she had finally found the fan that had kept the flame in her heart going all this time – him. He was stumbling over this just as much as she was. She dropped her gaze and grabbed his hand (which was still holding her keys) and brushed her fingertips over his knuckles. Her thumb traced the tendons in his wrist.
"I…" she paused, unsure of what to say. She looked up at him and saw his nervous frown; his dark but bashful gaze. She smiled softly.
"I don't know how to do this either," she whispered, and then she tip-toed up and pressed her lips to his.