After mulling it over for several days, weighing his stockpile of Reasons Not To against the counter-arguments offered by Kakashi and the others, Yamato tracks Sai down in the park.

He finds his young teammate under a large and shady tree, sketching; he stops a few paces away and clears his throat, a little self-conscious. "Working on another abstract, Sai?"

Sai glances up, blinks, and regards him blankly for an instant before visibly deciding that a quick, friendly smile is the appropriate response to the situation. "Yamato-taichou. No, I'm drawing what I see around me. I'm trying to expand my creative boundaries." He says it in such a way that Yamato is sure he's repeating a phrase he's heard used elsewhere.

"Oh. May I see?" Yamato realizes it's sort of stalling his real point, but polite interest is not going to hurt his cause and after all, he really would like to see what Sai's working on.

Sai turns his small sketchbook around to let Yamato look.

Yamato takes in the lines on the paper, impressed; the trees and foliage of the park around them are faithfully reproduced in monochrome along with the bench and the bridge and the stream in the distance. Sai's talent is remarkable, especially considering how emotionally stunted he is, and Yamato wonders - not for the first time - if his art was the crucial thing that's kept Sai in touch with his humanity in spite of the blank, emotionless ideal required by his Root training.

"It's lovely, Sai - you're really very good."

"I was going to add color, next," Sai says, turning the sketchbook around again, sorting through the pencils in the small kit beside him.

Yamato almost considers asking him what colors, but the answers would be pretty obvious and stalling further will not settle his nerves or make things any easier for him.

He drops to sit cross-legged in the grass next to Sai. "Listen, Sai. I...wanted to ask you something."

Sai looks up and stills his fingers in the kit, giving Yamato his full attention.

He really is so remarkably pretty. Yamato takes a deep breath. "Could we, um. Go out for dinner sometime?"

Sai blinks at him, then beams one of his bright smiles. "Of course! I've read that sharing meals is a common way to help strengthen social bonds, and we haven't all gotten together in over two weeks." He tilts his head, just a little, regarding Yamato with mild curiosity. "Will it only be the four of us, or Kakashi-sensei as well?"

"...Er." Yamato is slightly taken aback. "Actually, I was thinking just - just you and me."

Sai's expression goes rather blank, though there's a hint of a puzzled crease between his eyebrows. "Then...Naruto and Sakura aren't available?"

Yamato supposes, with some chagrin, that he really should have foreseen this sort of miscommunication.

He has spent more time than he realizes learning to read Sai's minimal displays of emotion; it's obvious to him now that Sai is floundering in uncertainty but desperately trying to interpret this exchange correctly and react in the proper manner. It's that glimpse of vulnerability underneath the placid surface that Yamato picks up on, and it steels his resolve tremendously by reminding him why he's so drawn to Sai in the first place.

He takes another deep breath. "What I mean is...I'd like to take you out, Sai, on a...a date."

Sai blinks.

Yamato exhales. "It's what people do when they're attracted to someone and want to cultivate that attraction under casual circumstances."

"Yes, several of the books have mentioned dating. have a romantic interest in me." Sai's tone holds a faint note of surprise underneath.

"Well...yes." Yamato hasn't felt this nervous about asking someone out since before he was Sai's age. "But you're not obligated to return that interest. You're not obligated to go on a date with me, either. If you want to say no, you can. You won't hurt my feelings - " okay, so that's a little bit of a lie, but so be it " - so just...well, it's up to you, what you want," he finishes, running out of steam.

Sai appears to mull over that somewhat babbled declaration at length, face serious and eyes fixed somewhere in between Yamato and his sketch pad.

"...I...will go on a date with you," he says at last, slowly, and smiles at Yamato. It's a bit smaller and a tiny bit less bright than the smile he usually uses, but it appears all the more genuine for being slightly subdued.

Yamato feels relief wash through him, closely followed by a mild sense of nervous anticipation. "Great! So, um. How about tomorrow night?"

"Alright." Sai is still smiling; it's beautiful with that hint of realness underneath it, and Yamato's stomach does a pleasant little flip.

"We can meet at six, then, on the bridge over there? And decide where we want to go then." Keeping things low-key and casual and playing by ear, he's concluded, are going to serve him best with Sai.

"Agreed." Sai straightens up and flips the sketchbook closed, starts packing away his supplies, and Yamato's brow furrows slightly.

"You're not going to finish your sketch?"

Sai spares him a quick glance. "No, not now; I need to visit the library."

Yamato realizes that Sai is probably off to research how one is meant to behave on a date, and it makes him smile even as he mentally steels himself to be prepared for anything tomorrow evening. Sai is clueless in most social matters, but he tries so hard to bridge the gap of his inexperience that Yamato can't help but admire his determination, even when Sai gets it dreadfully wrong.

Still, though...

He clears his throat, rubs a hand through the back of his hair somewhat awkwardly. "Just so you know, Sai, I'm not expecting a date with you to be like any date I may have been on before. up on whatever you need to, but don't stress over it, okay? I...kind of already like you as you are." He hopes he's not blushing.

"Okay," Sai agrees, and stands, slipping his small backpack over his shoulder. He beams his usual smile again. "Have a good afternoon, Yamato-taichou. I will see you tomorrow." And he's off, just like that.

Sitting in the grass and watching Sai jog away through the park, Yamato realizes with fond amusement that he'll need to let Sai know it's okay to address him casually first thing tomorrow evening if he doesn't want to be 'taichou'd all through their date.

He realizes, also, that just because Sai agreed to a date doesn't necessarily mean he returns Yamato's interest. It could very well be an experiment for Sai, a chance to experience a new facet of normal human behavior and nothing more - particularly since Sai doesn't always seem to recognize that he still has emotions.

It doesn't really bother Yamato, though, because after soul-searching all week, he's concluded that even if it never turns into a genuine romantic relationship, he's alright with that.

He cares about Sai, and about Sai's well-being; in the end, he's decided that giving Sai the opportunity to explore and grow from this sort of interaction is worth whatever personal emotional hardship he might wind up with along the way.

Originally Posted: 4/16/11