original concept by Diet Soda
written by A. E. Stover
this version is not edited
The steady flow of traffic in the streets of Kagawa brought forth a chorus of car engines and horns. Crowds littered the sidewalks and time ticked by quickly in the busy city, matching the pace of the click, click, click-ing of a woman’s heels as she sashayed down a block, her shoes matching the tap, tap, tap-ing of a man’s finger on his Blackberry as he strode down the same block from the opposite side.
The woman in heels and the Blackberry man had just passed each other on the street when a sudden clamor disrupted the rhythm of the city with such a force that the two stopped to look back, first at each other, then when a girlish shriek soon followed, at the tinted glass wall that made up the east side of La Ville Blanche.
Inside was a blonde who had risen from her seat to vigorously shake the shoulders of her friend seated across from her at the small round table they shared.
“You’re doing what?” The young woman shrieked again, this time with more excitement in her voice than disbelief. “The Kazehito dormitory? You? I can’t believe it! You don’t know how lucky you are, Sakura! Oh, I wanted to be the resident adviser there so badly after I found out there were some real lookers staying there. International, too! Isn’t that great?”
Sakura, a sweet girl of nineteen with short, bright hair, who had been mildly startled near the start of her friend’s excited outburst and was now relatively calm, only nodded her head. “I couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. Commuting to school and back is exhausting, and work only makes it worse.”
The enthusiastic light on the face of the young blonde woman began to dim, and the blonde slowly settled herself down into her seat as a frown settled on her lips. Her brow joined in the descent, creasing slightly to show her disbelief at her friend’s lack of elation towards her own situation.
“Speaking of work, my shift starts in a few minutes so I need to get going soon. If I don’t catch the train in time, I’ll be stuck here for another fifteen minutes and—”
“Don’t you understand?” Ino moaned dramatically. “There are hot guys in that dormitory, Sakura! From places like Europe! Plus, the advisor position there is the most difficult one to get into. Do you know how many girls changed their majors and career interests to counseling and therapy just to get a better chance of being selected? Do you know how much so many girls have sacrificed just to qualify to apply for that position? I applied, Sakura! And I didn’t get in! I always get in! Don’t you see?”
Sakura stared wide-eyed at her friend, who had in her hysterical rant fallen forward in her seat to splay herself over the table in a rather pathetic and desperate manner. After a moment’s hesitation, Sakura reached over with a hand and patted Ino’s arm in what she thought was a soothing manner. “There, there,” she cooed.
Ino waved Sakura’s hands away and scowled bitterly. “I can’t believe you,” she professed.
Sakura managed a wry smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot on my plate lately, and I haven’t found the time to just… Relax. Or live outside routine. I’m pretty much disoriented whenever I step out of it.”
“You don’t say.”
“I missed your sarcasm, Ino,” Sakura quipped with a cheery smile.
A light chime burst into their conversation, and both women looked at one another blankly before reacting.
“Oh, hang on a sec.” Ino fumbled through her purse. “I got a call. It’s Temari, I think. She was supposed to call me back hours ago to tell me about — Hello? Temari! You whore, you said you were gonna call me back five minutes later and it’s already noon.”
Sakura listened to Ino demand her friend to fill her in on the details of a particular juicy story and realized that she was on the verge of being late to work. With expert practice, Sakura quickly racked up the numbers to figure out how long it would take her to run out to the station and onto the platform to catch a train coming in about ten minutes. If she left now, she thought, she still had a good chance of catching it. Sakura looked back at Ino, who appeared completely engrossed with her conversation, and came to a decision. Sakura grabbed her bag and waved a hand in Ino’s face as she stood up to leave. “I’ve got to go, Ino.”
Ino looked at her in alarm. “Hold on,” she spoke into her phone, tapping a finger on the table. She looked back up to see Sakura dashing away.
“I’ll call you later, okay?” Sakura called hastily over her shoulder as she pushed the café door open.
“Sakura, wait!” Ino shouted after her in vain, turning around and leaning into the back of her chair as she thrust an arm out in her direction. She sighed when she saw that the girl was already gone. She scowled and clutched her phone closer to her chest. “Dammit. I can’t that girl out for even a minute and already she’s bolting out the door.”
« Ino, I’ll have to call you back later. »
Ino looked alarmed and brought the phone to her ear. “Wait, what?”
Ino drew her hand back and glared at her phone. She sighed noisily and dropped the phone on the table, tucking her chin into the palm of her hand. “You two are never gonna call me,” she declared with a dramatic sigh, turning her gaze out the window and at the busy streets of Kagawa.
The train was already screeching to a stop at the platform when Sakura had barely rushed down the stairs. She fumbled in her bag for her passcard, glancing up periodically to see the doors of the train slide open and spit people out before greedily gulping more in. Her finally fingers closed around her passcard and she victoriously pulled it out, slamming it against the scanner and waiting impatiently for the beep to let her through.
It came at last, and Sakura sprinted toward the platform to the open doors of the train—
—only to have them shut right on her hand. She scowled, tugged her hand and trying to get it out between the doors. It hadn’t hurt as much as she’d thought it did, but it was unnerving to have her hand caught in the doors of a train that would be moving any minute.
She could see the humored and some slightly concerned looks from the passengers inside. She grumbled, feeling bitter and a little embarrassed about the whole situation as she pulled and pulled and pulled her hand to try and wretch free from the wicked doors.
The doors suddenly opened, startling her and making her hesitate. Out of nowhere, a calloused hand shot out from the crowded train, grabbed her arm tightly, and tugged her in.
The doors closed behind her back and Sakura heaved a relieved sigh. She leaned against the closed doors when the train began to move, and she looked up to thank the person who had assisted her.
Her savior peered down with an arched eyebrow, one hand grabbing the metal bar running across the top of the train for passengers to hold onto. His long, gold-spun hair was tied back with a few bangs brushing into his blue eyes. The corner of his lips rose ever so slightly with a hint of an amused look, one that was mirrored in his expressive eyes. “I get a thank you or something, yeah?”
Sakura stepped back a little with a small, embarrassed smile, quickly glancing away. She raised a loose fist to her mouth to clear her throat, her gaze dropping as she mentally collected herself until she was coherent enough to thank him.
But before she could, something caught her attention. Sakura’s brow furrowed when she caught sight of something on the hard plane of his chest, just above his heart, through the material of the thin, cotton tank he wore underneath an unbuttoned white shirt. She could make out some sort of pattern it made, and she could see that it was colored pitch black — and it was gleaming.
Without thinking, she lifted a hand to his chest. But she stopped midway, her eyes suddenly widening. She recognized that shade of black. And she recognized that gleam. Ink, she realized. It was a tattoo, she realized and the fingers on her hand twitched anxiously. And then a single word flashed through her startled mind.
His calloused hand suddenly caught hers in a warm embrace, his thumb pressing gently into the center of her palm. His long fingers curled over the back of her hand.
It was a command.
She dared to look up again. She met his piercing gaze. And her heart stopped beating.
He was so young, so… beautiful. He had the most vibrant eyes she had ever seen that made her forget all about the black ink that gave her chills. She melted into that calm and serene blue, so caught in his piercing gaze that she almost missed a darker look in those eyes; a look that reminded her of the gleaming ink tattoo on his chest. A hard and serious look that reminded her of—
She swallowed hard.
He broke the gaze and lowered his eyes.
And then she could breathe.
The train lurched to a stop. Sakura was still trying to catch her breath and found herself unable to stop her body from staggering forward with the train. She bumped into the man again and she muttered a quick apology as she stepped back from him.
The doors opened behind her, and the man suddenly moved. He lowered his hand from the metal pole to wrap gently around her upper left arm. His hand was warm, she thought absently. He suddenly leaned forward and she stiffened when he unexpectedly pressed his mouth to her ear. “I hope I see you again,” he said in that rich voice of his. She could feel him smirking, could feel his soft lips move against her ear. She gripped her hand around a metal pole near her to keep her standing upright.
And just like that, he was gone.
When Sakura arrived at Ichiraku Ramen, she discovered that the other two waitresses were out sick, leaving her and just one other girl to man the rowdy bar and restaurant.
“Sakura! Table five!”
Swallowing a groan, Sakura flashed a small smile to the customers at table nine before turning to walk to the kitchen. She tore the order from her notepad and slapped it on the counter. “Two shoyu ramen and one miso ramen,” she called out.
One of the men grunted in response and took the slip away into the hot kitchen.
Sakura hurried over to table five and quickly put on a bright smile. “Hi! Welcome to Ichiraku!” she spoke in a cheery voice. “Ready to order?”
eying the four men. Her smile almost faltered when she caught sight of a blue-skinned man in the booth. A corner of her mouth twitched in her discomfort and she quickly pursed her lips together to be rid of it. None of them seemed to notice her uneasiness and she was thankful. The last thing she needed today was to be called up for putting four good customers into a bad mood.
A man with brown hair leaned over to her and pointed to something on the menu with a serious look. “Do you know what kind of pork is used for the miso chashu ramen?”
Before Sakura could respond, the man sitting across the cute brunet slammed a fist into the side of his companion’s face with a frightening force, nearly making her scream.
“I’ve had it with your goddamn fucking questions! You’ve been asking stupid shit all day long!” He twisted his fist into the brunet’s face, rising slightly in his seat to do so. “Just shut up, you goddamn freak! Shut. Up!”
The brunet seemed to be unaffected and spoke around the fist on the side of his face. “I-I just wanted to know!”
Sakura’s smile faltered for a moment before she cleared her throat. “Would you like some more time to decide?”
Their bickering continued and the brunet was soon held in a choke-hold while the attractive silver-haired man cursed and shouted furiously.
“Calm down, you two,” a deep, raspy voice intervened sharply.
Sakura eyed the speaking man, the one whose green eyes glowed spookily and sat across from a man
sitting near the wall and across from … blue-skinned man. The man’s green eyes glowed spookily, eying the angry silver-haired man he was seated next to with disdain.
“You’re scaring the little girlie here,” the blue-skinned man suddenly spoke up, looking at her with the slightest hint of a smirk on his face.
Sakura shot the strange man a flat look at the nickname she was given so nonchalantly. She averted her gaze to look sullenly at the two grown men nearest her bickering loudly across the table. “Shizuka will take care of you when you’re ready,” she said tersely, dumping the four rowdy men on the more patient of the only two waitresses currently available. Without so much as a second glance, Sakura turned and walked away.
She could still hear them shouting and arguing from the other side of the restaurant. She scowled and crossed her arms over her red shirt and looked down at the rest of her uniform; a pink skirt split in four flaps — two in the front, two in the back — and tight, dark spandex shorts.
She was just about to head into the kitchen when someone called out for her:
“Sakura! Table two!”
Muttering curses under her breath, Sakura whirled around and marched to the far side of the restaurant and stood before the table. “Hi, what can I get ya?” she droned, slurring her words together. She stared at her notepad, pen poised and ready to write.
Her customer raised an eyebrow. “Nice to see you too,” he responded.
Sakura looked up at the sound of a familiar voice. She brightened up. “Naruto!” She looked over across the table at his dark haired companion. “Welcome back, Sasuke-kun!” She gave him a bright smile. “How was your business meeting in Domino-cho?”
Sasuke glanced at her. “Good.”
Naruto scowled at Sasuke. “I know you have an extensive vocabulary, jackass,” he said. “Use it!” Naruto stuck the wooden chopsticks in Sasuke’s face.
Sakura snatched the wooden chopsticks from Naruto’s hand and set them back on the table. “Naruto, you can poke an eye out with that,” she scolded lightly.
Naruto only scoffed and crossed his arms. “I don’t think Sasuke would care.” Naruto waved his hand in the air beside him as he continued. “I mean, it’s not like he moves around at all these days. If he’s not working, he probably just goes to his room and does emo things like cry in corner or headbang to some stupid—”
The menu in Sasuke’s hand became a weapon that smacked repeatedly into Naruto’s face from across the table. When he was satisfied, Sasuke slammed it back on the table and proceeded to drill holes into Naruto’s head with a furious glare.
Sakura sighed at her friends’ antics. “Do you want me to bring the usual?” she asked them.
Naruto rubbed his head and glared at his companion. “I’m getting the Ichiraku special cause the asshole’s paying this time.”
Sasuke gave him a look that said he most definitely wasn’t.
Sakura only rolled her eyes as she collected the menus on the table. “Sure, whatever.” She was about to leave when Sasuke called her.
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Hm?”
Naruto muttered something like “Not you too” under his breath and crossed his arms, sinking into his seat. Sakura ignored him.
“When is your shift over?”
Sakura sighed and gave him a weak smile. “I’m working overtime today. Anzu and Mai are both out, leaving just Shizuka and me to hold down the fort.”
“Sakura! Table nineteen!”
Sakura growled in frustration and dashed off before she could say another word.
Naruto turned to Sasuke. “She’s always keeping herself busy these days, isn’t she?” He grabbed the soy sauce and white vinegar squirters and brought them up to his face, inspecting them carefully.
Sasuke glanced at her with a frown but said nothing.
Naruto played with the condiment bottles, making little fighting noises as he made them battle it out to the end. “Shaaah-aah! Wham! Poooowaaah!”
Sasuke shot him a withering look before sinking into his seat. “Stop it,” he hissed, eyeing the blond as if he wanted to take the bottles and shove them into Naruto’s eye sockets.
Naruto gave Sasuke a flat look, but returned the condiment dispensers back to where they were before he had turned them into ninja. “Both you and Sakura-chan are the same. All work and no play.”
“Maintaining a good work ethic is vital in life.” He eyed Naruto in disdain. “Not that you would know anything about it,” he added after a moment’s hesitation. He took a sip of the water from the glass on the table and let his eyes flick back to the busy pink-haired waitress on the other side of the restaurant.
Naruto gave Sasuke a serious look. “Sakura’s not like you, y’know. She never was.”
Sasuke looked back at Naruto. He closed his eyes and sighed. He looked back at Sakura. The ice in his glass clinked together and broke apart, three cubes bouncing up and down freely at the top.
Sakura plopped down on the first seat her eyes landed on once she burst into the train car and sighed heavily, ignoring the baleful look that a woman nearby was shooting her. As soon as she felt the woman move away to another part of the car, she opened her eyes and found herself staring into the face of a grinning blue-skinned man sitting straight across from her. To her surprise, she voiced her suspicions bluntly:
“Are you following me?” She took the time to wonder briefly if he had some sort of medical condition that kept his skin blue.
The man grinned even more, revealing two rows of oddly sharp looking teeth. “The thought never even crossed my mind, little girlie,” he said, his words echoing with laughter. He was sitting with his legs apart and his arms stretched over the top of the bench on the train. He was sitting alone on that row, though Sakura wasn’t very surprised at that, taking note of his blue skin for the second time that day. The man looked very odd, to put it politely.
Sakura clenched her jaw. “My name is Sakura,” she said, giving him a hard look and completely ignoring the fact that she had just given a complete stranger her name.
The man gave her an interested look. “It suits you,” he finally said after a momentary silence, giving her what she thought was an approving look. But then he grinned at her. “But I think I’ll stick to my name for you. I feel it suits you a little better for me.” Then he threw his head back and laughed, revealing rows of sharp, gleaming white teeth.
Sakura scowled darkly and leaned back in her seat. She crossed her arms over her chest and shut her eyes, brow furrowing deeply. If she ignored him, he’d eventually find someone else to bother, she reasoned.
It was silent in the train once again, the only noise being the sound of the rumbling train as it moved along the tracks and the soft rustling of a newspaper from the man in a suit sitting on her far left.
She felt the person next to her stir and leave when the train came to a stop. Another person took the man’s seat, pushing against her small, petite body, and she had a dreadful feeling come over her that warned her that it was ol’ blue who had settled into the seat beside her.
She snapped open her eyes and fixed a baleful look on the man next to her, her eyes turning steely for added effect when she saw that it was, indeed, the large blue man from the restaurant.
“Just thought I’d keep ya company,” he said with a blue-lipped grin, peering down at her with his beady eyes.
Sakura narrowed her eyes at him. “Oh, really?” she asked tonelessly, keeping her wary look on him.
“Ah, now, don’t be like that,” the man said, the amusement clear in his voice. “I really missed ya, you know?” he added after a beat.
Sakura scoffed and turned away from him, feeling every bit annoyed at her strange luck. The man was still grinning at her, showing off all of his sharp, white teeth — like a shark, she thought when she turned to glare at him again. She finally gave up and leaned back in her seat, not caring for his presence anymore.
She could feel the people seated in their row awkwardly change seats or cars entirely, shifting their looks between the petite girl and the beastly looking man. The silence was beginning to unnerve Sakura, and the stares from the other passengers in the car were starting to become all too obvious. And to top it off, he was still grinning at her. It was all killing her. A corner of her mouth twitched. Sakura finally forced herself to continue the conversation:
“What’s your name?”
It was a question that she had thought should be answered. After all, she reasoned, she had given him her’s. It was only fair — and courteous — that he should return the favor. Which was why her annoyance tripled when she was met only with silence.
The conversation between them halted abruptly, and the silence permeating through the air quickly became unbearable. Sakura blinked open her eyes and turned to face the man. She saw him frowning slightly, a strange sight to behold after seeing only a wide grin on that face, and he wore a look of discomfort. He scratched the side of his face and glanced at her for the briefest moment before looking away.
“Sorry girlie,” he finally said, his voice a lot more quiet than she expected it to be. “But I can’t tell you that.”
Sakura gave the man an incredulous look. “What? Why the hell not? I’ve told you mine, haven’t I?” She thought she sounded childish and bit the inside of her cheek, silently admonishing herself.
“True. But I still can’t tell you.”
Sakura scoffed and turned away. “You’re being ridiculous, sharkie.” The added name in her retort seemed to roll right out of her mouth, and she was surprised at how effortlessly she thought of the name. It was almost as if she had used it before, several times. It tasted familiar on the tongue, and she found herself mouthing it silently to herself a few times, brow creasing together in absolute confusion.
He chuckled, and though she had found it incredibly annoying, she found that it was a rather comforting sound.
“Sharkie,” he repeated with a lingering chuckle, shaking his head a little. “Now doesn’t that sound familiar…?”
Sakura peered at him curiously from the corner of her eye. He sounded oddly nostalgic; the tenderness in his gruff voice was unmistakable. And at that moment, he seemed to be incredibly familiar to her. She fixed a narrow-eyed look on the man. “Who are you?” she asked, her tone suddenly sharp.
The man remained silently and unmoving until the train lurched to a stop. The doors opened noisily, and the man rose to his feet, the grin back on his face. He made it to the open doors, Sakura following him with a fiercely suspicious look, and took a step out. Then, he looked back, one hand holding onto the parted doors, and winked at her.
“I’ll tell you another time.”
Sakura’s lips parted and she stared openly at him with an incredulous look. “What?” she blurted out in a tone that sounded suspiciously like a whine. “Why?”
Before he left, he gave her a wink. “That’s classified.”
The water bottle Sakura had thrown at his head missed and clonked against the closing doors instead. The damn bastard didn’t even look back, she thought bitterly. With the doors closed, the train began to chug forward and move smoothly down the tracks, leaving the platform entirely in under a minute.
Dinner at home meant take-out for two over an aged oak table garnished with dusty, fake flowers at the center. Conversation usually consisted of stories of the day’s activities and a few jokes along the way; sometimes, they would turn on the TV in the den and listen to the news from the dining room.
“Honestly, I don’t understand what’s wrong with that boy. He’s always breaking bones and getting poisoned of all things.” She poured sake into her cup and continued, “You probably know him, Sakura. He says he goes to Kagawa University. I doubt somebody like him goes anywhere undetected.”
Mouth full, Sakura only made a noise of understanding as she focused on her meal.
“You would think he’s some sort of cat or cockroach after going in and out of the hospital so many times. Did you know he’s the first patient I’ve ever had who’s gotten hit by a car twice in one week? And in the same place?” There was a barking laugh as a hand reached forward to pour hot sake into a white cup. “I’m beginning to think yakuza are after this guy, you know?” She shook her head in dismay.
Sakura’s chopsticks froze in mid-air at that bit. The resolve to tell her about her decision to move out to the dorms was slowly starting to ebb away. She was unaware that her faced showed that she was feeling troubled, a mistake she wouldn’t have made if she wasn’t so tired from her commutes back and forth all day.
“Hahkura?” The woman Sakura was sharing her meal with swallowed the yakiniku in her mouth before trying again. “Sakura? Something wrong?”
“What?” Sakura’s head snapped up in surprise. A pair of amber eyes stared her down, daring her to try and say that nothing was wrong. “I… Well, there’s nothing wrong,” she began slowly, setting her chopsticks down and avoiding the woman’s gaze.
The woman snorted. “It sure looks like there’s something wrong,” she remarked, going back to her food.
Sakura tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Remember… when I told you that resident advisers are allowed to stay on campus for free? And that I was applying to be one?”
“And that you said you’d let me go ahead with it if I kept my grades up this year?”
At this, the woman looked up at her. “…Mmhmm.”
Sakura wrung her hands together underneath the table and heard herself speeding up when she spoke again. “Well, I was accepted by the board and I—”
“You must be crazy,” the woman interrupted with a laugh. “Here I am telling you about this guy who’s probably on somebody’s hit list, getting hit by cars and buses and getting poisoned, and you’re thinking about living on your own?” She swallowed her sake a little too quickly and she coughed, pounding her large bosom with a strong fist.
Sakura groaned in defeat, slumped forward onto the table. “But—”
“You know, the city looked to me when you needed a place to stay. You know why? Because nobody wants to mess with me.” The woman knocked back her shot of sake and filled up another one. “Nobody’s tried to do anything to you since I took you under my wing, ain’t that right?” The woman raised an eyebrow at Sakura, swirling the sake in her white cup above the table.
Sakura stared back resiliently, lips drawn in a tight line that told the woman sitting in front of her that she wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
Then, the woman scoffed. “Ch’.” She leaned back with her sake and waved her free hand in the air. “Do what you want. It’s not like you’re going all the way to Osaka or Tokyo where I can’t really keep an eye on you.”
Sakura’s face brightened up across the dinner table. “Thank you!” she cheered with a grin. “I’m going to start packing now,” she announced as she turned to head off to her room.
Sakura turned around again with a questioning look.
The woman’s amber eyes hovered over the table, a serious sort of look on her face. “Make sure you cover up. That tattoo of yours is going to cause problems if you aren’t careful.”
Instantly, her cheery mood was crushed. She had nearly forgotten. At her side, the fingers of her right hand twitched involuntarily, as if itching to reach back and try to see if the smooth ink surface was still there on her back.
“You know that Danzo doesn’t like anyone from yakuza families. He’s a large contributor to your university, so be careful.”
Sakura nodded slowly, paying attention to every word the blonde woman before her spoke.
Raising her third or fourth shot of sake to her lips, the woman slowly took it into her mouth and swallowed. “What dorm are you assigned to?”
Hesitantly, Sakura answered. “The Kazehito dormitory.” Before the woman could respond, she quickly spoke; “I know that the Kazehito family are good friends with Danzo, but I’ve been told that the family never come by to visit the campus and that the governor hardly―”
“I know I can’t stop you, Sakura. I just want you to be careful.”
An uneasy feeling settled in her stomach, weighing it down. Sakura lowered her gaze to her feet, the hands at her sides clasping together behind her back. “Yes. I know.”
They fell into a solemn silence. The stray cat padded into the kitchen to head out through the back, deciding to pay a visit to the house next door for dessert.
The blonde woman waved her off again as she knocked back her fifth cup of sake. “Go on. Pack up and go do whatever you need to do,” she called to her good-naturedly.
Sakura nodded and went off.
“Make sure you let me know how you’re doing from time to time.”
Sakura was standing just outside the doorway when the woman spoke and stopped. She peered back into the kitchen and looked at her guardian. She smiled then, and gave the woman a short bow. “Thank you, Tsunade-sama.”
She turned away and went up the stairs to her room to drag out her suitcase and go through her clothes. When she was finished, she got ready for bed and had a deep, dreamless sleep.
Her closet was bare and her bed was stripped naked in the morning, and Sakura closed the door behind her back before she left.