Chapter 2: Epiphany
The end credits of the movie floated up the screen as Sakura blotted at her red-rimmed eyes. "Poor Riichirou…" She breathed deeply, her shoulders shaking.
Sasuke looked on, bewildered. Dear God, she was going to start crying again. He could understand the normal sniffling fits that accompanied chick flicks; he had had to comfort Sakura through many of them. But tonight she had exhibited more than the normal tears: she had been sobbing—loud, choking sobs that scared the life out of him. It was almost disturbing. Cautiously, he laid a hand on her shoulder, afraid he might disturb the floodgates.
She held the wad of tissues to her eyes and proceeded to take deep calming breaths. "I'm alright, I'm alright."
She turned and smiled at him. "This movie always does that to me." She took another deep breath and looked out the window.
"Gosh, what time is it?"
"Almost one." Sasuke replied, detangling himself from the blanket and standing up.
"Already? It's later than I thought."
"Well that 'precious' movie of yours took up about half of the night." he began picking up the half eaten snack bags and discarded tissues. "That was the longest three hours of my life."
Sakura glared. "Hey, A Kiss Before Sunrise is a classic. It's worth every minute." Her gaze softened. "He was with her every single day and he didn't even—" she stifled a sob, "He didn't even realize he was in love with her!" A fresh torrent of tears spilled down her face. "Could you imagine?"
"Nearly all of your time is spent together."
"And not to mention, you two are nowhere to be found on Saturday nights. Suspicious? Yes."
"Perhaps you hold a certain affection for Sakura that you are not consciously aware of."
"You haven't made a move on Sakura because you haven't realized that you're in love with her."
Damn them. He gritted his teeth. Damn them all. "No, I couldn't."
Pulling the last tissue from the box, Sakura searched through the pile to her side, looking for one she could salvage. "I mean, how could you spend so much time with someone and have no clue how you really feel? And then when you do, you can't find it in you to tell her. Until she's dying in your arms!" he watched uncomfortably as she gave up her search and used the blanket to sop up her tears. "I won't let what happened to Sakamoto Riichirou in A Kiss Before Sunrise happen to you. You don't know it yet, but you're in love with Sakura—" He shook his head. This conversation was forcing him to recall another conversation he would much rather believe never happened.
"Are you staying over?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.
Sakura turned towards the window before wiping her face. "Not tonight. I have a meeting with the hospital personnel first thing in the morning and none of my uniforms are here."
"I find that hard to believe. You have more clothes here than you do at your own place."
He effortlessly caught the pillow she had playfully thrown at him. "It's the truth."
"Whatever." She sighed heavily. "I better get going."
Sasuke moved to the door, glancing back in confusion as Sakura sat motionless. She was glaring at him, expecting something.
"I thought you said you were leaving."
"I am." She got up slowly. "All by myself, walking—alone. In the dark. Unprotected…" she looked up at him, arms crossed. He stared back.
"Gee, I wish there was someone to walk me home. A gentleman that could accompany me."
He smirked knowingly. "It's too bad there's none around here." She sighed and laid a hand on his check. "I'm trying to help you here! Shape you into a guy that girls can take home to their mothers. Girls like it when you offer to walk them home."
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Would you like me to walk you home Sakura?"
"That's quite alright Sasuke, darling. Maybe next time." She made a motion for him to continue.
He looked at her pointedly. "Bye then."
"Ugh. You're supposed to ask if I'm sure and then insist and if I still refuse, you're supposed to wish me goodnight. We've been over this! Why must you refuse my teachings?"
Smirking, he replied, "Being a gentleman might ruin my image as the neighborhood asshole."
Her lips pursed as she pinched his cheek. "You, Uchiha Sasuke, are way too cute to ever be considered an asshole."
He scowled. Kittens and puppies were cute. He was not. "I'm not cute."
"Are you kidding me!" She pulled and squished his face. "You're absolutely adorable. Oh yes you are! Oh yes you are!"
"Goodnight Sakura." he peeled her hands from his face before opening the door.
Her lips tugged into a smile. "Don't be so touchy." She kissed his cheek. "See ya tomorrow. Today. Whatever."
He watched her round the corner before closing the door, a smile still on his face. He couldn't remember exactly how the Saturday night visits started—it was so long ago—but he was glad they had, though he wouldn't readily admit it. Sprawled across his couch, her feet resting in his lap, her mouth set in continuous motion; it was like she emitted this invisible light, a burst of color amongst the gray. And within the walls of his house with Sakura's smiles and laughter and warmth, he found himself smiling and chuckling, joking and teasing.
He climbed into bed, yawning. Even with the occasional crying sessions and girlish complaining, he still loved when she came over.
Much to his chagrin, his cheeks automatically flushed at the word. He grimaced deeply, mentally listing all of the irritating things in the world in order to erase the flush coloring his cheeks. Sakura was his friend. He loved her as a friend. The blush wasn't fading and his frown deepened, his brow crumpled in frustration as he began to scold himself.
Just friends. Only friends. Strictly platonic friends.
At least, that's what he'd been trying to convince himself of for the past week. Groaning, he rolled over, exasperated. His eyes glared balefully at the plaster ceiling. He never used to think this way. He had always seen Sakura as his friend—albeit a close friend, but just that and nothing more. Until those people—he scowled—had started insinuating and suggesting and making bets. And after that day in Sakura's living room, he couldn't even think of her name without the word 'girlfriend' burrowing into his thoughts. Under normal circumstances, he would just forget about it and his life would continue on as normal. But it was impossible to ignore the notion of dating Sakura what with Ino accosting him nearly every day with comments like "Have you uncovered your hidden feelings yet?" and "Look how cute you guys are! You're made for each other!" and "Think how amazing the sex would be. Don't scowl—just imagine for a moment: you, Sakura, some chocolate sauce, handcuffs…"
He shook his head in a frantic attempt to dispel the images forming before clutching a nearby pillow to his face. Just friends. Only friends. Strictly platonic friends. Nothing more. Calmly, he removed the pillow and returned his gaze to the ceiling. Well, if he was being honest, she was a lot more than just a companion. Sakura was…she was…he scoured his mind for the right words. Sakura was—his other half. He frowned; unsatisfied with the description. Not just that; she was—happiness and light and love—
That sounds like something a boyfriend would say. Ino's voice rang through his head.
"Damn it!" Exasperated, he flipped over; holding his pillow to his ears. How was it that even when she wasn't there, Ino was still bothering him? No more. He wouldn't let her get to him—any of them. His "friends" didn't know anything. Sakura was his friend. He enjoyed her company and nothing more. Nodding, he allowed himself to fall asleep; confident that he would no longer be bothered with this sort of thing.
"Sasuke, this is getting old. It's been a week and you are still in denial. How am I supposed to help you express your love if you won't embrace it?"
"I think you harassing me is getting old as well."
Ino punched him in the arm as they walked through the village. At least, he was walking through the village. She was following him. Stalking almost.
'I'm not harassing you! I'm trying to help you."
"I don't need help with anything." He weaved through the crowd.
Ino flipped her hair. "Nonsense! You're a twenty-one year old single man whose best friend is not only a female: she's one of the hottest bachelorettes in the entire village and, to make matters even better, she used to have the hots for a certain Uchiha Sasuke. Now, if you're too chicken to take advantage of your situation, I'm going to do it for you."
He rolled his eyes as he made his way to Ichiraku, picking up the pace in an attempt to shake of his pursuer. She matched his speed.
"Now I know you don't have much experience with women and you might be intimidated by Sakura's sexuality. But that's quite alright. We'll take things slow and—"
"I'm not in love with Sakura."
"Okay, maybe you're not in love with her yet but you have feelings for her."
"I say you do."
"And who are you to say—"
"I'm a woman, Sasuke! We just know these things. Female intuition." She tapped her head for emphasis.
Rolling his eyes, he stopped walking and turned to face the woman who insisted on irritating him to death. "Listen Ino. I realize that you think I love Sakura and in some convoluted, skewed manner, you've convinced yourself that I need assistance in expressing this imaginary feeling. But I'm telling you for the last time: Sakura is just a friend and will remain as such. And I don't need any help from you whatsoever."
Silently, she considered his statement while she scrutinized his face. Sasuke excitedly watched her. Maybe, just maybe, she was going to agree. "I give you three more days. Then you'll be on my doorstep begging for help."
Ino was never one to favor rationale.
He continued walking, reluctantly listening to her prattling. "So for your confession, I was thinking around sunset near the lake. It'll be perfect with the all the golds and oranges bouncing of the water. So we'll have to get a boat—"
"Stop talking Ino."
She glared in response. "The first rule of wooing: Don't be an asshole. Even though some girls are attracted to that sort of behavior, it becomes intolerable after a while."
"Sort of like you?" He probably should've seen the slap coming. But his mind didn't function properly when he was irritated. He rubbed the back of his head as he scowled at her. She mirrored his frown.
"I just said don't be an asshole."
"Maybe if you weren't so—"
"The first essential characteristic of a healthy relationship: listening. So shut it Uchiha or so help me I will rip you limb from limb."
He situated himself at the counter of the Ichiraku shop. It was 12:00 on the dot and of course, there was no Sakura to be found despite the fact that they met for lunch nearly every day. Perhaps he would start telling her to arrive 20 minutes before the actual scheduled time. Then maybe she'd actually be on time. Ino jumped onto the stool next to him, intending to continue their conversation.
"Can I get something for you?" he looked up at the brown haired woman—Ayama?Ayami? Whatever her name was—wielding a notepad.
"In a moment. I'm waiting for someone."
She chuckled, tucking the pad into her apron pocket. "As usual. That girlfriend of yours always seems to keep you waiting."
Girlfriend? He balked in surprise before quickly regaining his wits. "Sakura is just my friend. We aren't…we aren't…." He explained, bewildered.
Ayamo's cheeks flushed and a nervous apology flew through her lips. "It's just, I always see you with each other and I just assumed…I mean—you two look so happy together!"
Was he supposed to look upset when he was with friends? He spent time with Naruto too: did that mean they were a couple? He shuddered once and directed his gaze to the counter, mumbling his acceptance of the apology and willing her away. She seemed to be a mind reader; she was gone in seconds.
But Ino wasn't. Ino was very present. And relishing every moment of the scene. He could feel the smugness emanating off of her; almost hear the cogs in her mind whirring incessantly as she came up with a dozen reasons why this event proved that he was in love with Sakura.
"Don't. Say. Anything." He growled through his teeth.
"Come on Sasuke! Everyone else can see how wonderful you two are together: how come you can't?"
"She made a wrong assumption."
"No, she made a logical assumption, based on the evidence."
"I dunno, maybe the fact that you grin like an idiot when you're with Sakura which is always since you guys are pretty much inseparable. And not to mention how touchy-feely you two are. I mean, some couples don't indulge in PDA as much as you two."
"What the hell is—"
"Public Displays of Affection. Admit it, you guys look like a couple."
But that night, after he carried a sleeping Sakura to the guest room and he lay awake in bed, he began seeing his memories through the eyes of an outsider. She did touch him a lot. But why did it matter if she touched him or not? That constituted nothing. Just because he liked the way she absently ran her fingers through his hair—no, he didn't like it. He simply allowed her to. And he allowed her to put her feet on him and rub his shoulders and stroke his hand and sleep next to him when she stayed overnight…Well, he could see why someone who didn't know the true nature of their relationship would assume that he was dating Sakura. But he didn't see her that way.
He saw her as a person who he liked to spend time with because she was likable. Everything about her was likable. Her bright laugh, her infectious smile, the softness of her hands, the light smell of her skin, the soft curves of her lips. He shook his head as much as the pillow allowed. He didn't see her that way.
He remembered every movie night; Sakura lying on top of him, his arm slung lazily over her waist.
He didn't see her that way.
He remembered the warmth of her hand under the New Year festival fireworks, her eyes separate bursts of light on their own. He remembered the pleasant stirring in his chest when her lips lightly touched his at midnight.
He did not see her that way.
He remembered lounging on the roof under the summer night sky, listening to her laughter bounce off the stars. He remembered gently holding her as she slept, wishing the night would last longer.
He. Did. NOT. See. Her. That. Way.
He remembered how tightly he had hugged her in wordless joy after his month-long mission, his heart surging with happiness.
Hours later, the sun rose, bringing a close to his sleepless night. He rolled over, facing the window.
Shit. He did see her that way.
He groaned. Ino was right—everyone was right. Sakura wasn't just a friend, she was everything. He'd always thought it was just happiness that squeezed his heart when he saw her; unaware that it was something more. A thousand different memories of her smiling face flitted through his head. His heart swelled.
Jumping out of bed he paced, reveling in this newfound feeling. How couldn't he have seen it? Felt it? His heart pounded against his chest in a quick tattoo. He pondered the emotion and decided that he rather enjoyed it. He smirked to himself before frowning. He could only imagine the amount of gloating he'd have to endure. From all of them. An irritated grunt escaped his lips as he fell back onto the bed. How annoying.
The clinking of pots echoed from the kitchen. It was her. The feeling wrenched at his heart. How could he have mistaken this for happiness? He bounded down the stairs and eagerly rounded the corner into the kitchen.
She was at the stove, fixing a pot of tea. She turned to look at him. And at that moment, it hit him:
He was romantically impaired.
What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to do? The feeling was still there, filling his chest. But his mind was at a loss of how to express it. And even if he did tell her, how would she react? Did she feel the same way? Did she want to act on it? And what of their friendship? What would happen to it now? He couldn't possibly act as if nothing had changed. He swallowed, suddenly made thoughtful.
Sakura appraised his pained face. "Gosh, don't look so happy to see me." She poured a cup of tea and placed it into his hand.
He worked to move his frozen body, contorting his face to hide the horror that had frozen it. "Uh…"
She gave him a once over and smirked. "Oh look, we match!" Her fingers snapped the waistband of his gray boxer briefs. His eyes traveled over her body noticing that her gray satin nightgown was much too short and much too tight and cut much too low. He turned and walked towards the table, trying to make it seem as natural as possible. But she was too keen.
"Sasuke, are you blushing?"
"You are!" She walked into his direct line of sight. He turned his gaze to his tea. It was suddenly very interesting.
"Are you having pervy fantasies about me?"
"You don't have to lie." Her tone was teasing, her smile sly. "I see the way you're undressing me with your eyes."
Normally, he'd come up with a witty comment and they'd laugh and that would be the end of it. But now it was different. Because part of him wasn't opposed to undressing her mentally. The other part of him, still realized that she was his friend. He swallowed, begging his cheeks to pale. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about the little tent growing in your boxer briefs."
Horror, sheer horror. Mortified, he looked downwards and saw nothing. Sakura broke out into peals of laughter.
"Joking! Gosh, you should've seen your face. You're too cute." She laughed again before going to the fridge, leaving him tongue-tied and bright red at the table.
He needed help. Desperately. And so it was with great shame and disappointment that he found himself on Ino's doorstep, two days earlier than she had projected. The displeasure on his face seemed to be enough to suffice her need for gloating for all he had to endure was a smug smile and a "Well what do we have here?" A moment later she was down to business.
"Well now that you've come to your senses, let's get started."