I sighed quietly against the window of the passenger seat on Naruto's truck, Naruto himself calmly and, out of character for him, quietly driving through Tokyo's suburbs in the dying twilight as we headed for the nearest flower shop. My breath fogged up the slightly tinted glass, and I absentmindedly drew doodles on it with my nail, thinking about the occurrences that had taken place back at the studio not a quarter of an hour earlier.
It was a bit odd, to say the least, but I'm slowly learning that with Team 7 and Akatsuki, there is no such thing as normalcy, at least to a normal, sane person like me. So of course, add both bands together and you have quite a party. Take into account the fact that both groups are composed of solely males, young too to boot, and you have those stubborn, annoying male attributes pop up. And to finish the recipe, the icing on the cake, so to speak, is that both groups are rivals and they both seem to like me a bit too much for knowing them as little as I did.
Which wasn't much. Well, except for Naruto, but out of thirteen males (fourteen, if you count Kakashi), he was the only one I knew for more than two hours. That is the issue.
So all in all, I got a killer headache just being surrounded by them. Stupid, testosterone-crazed, competitive male musicians, I tiredly thought to myself as I remembered the events that led me to head to a flower shop with Naruto, at 7:30 pm, and with what I'm pretty sure are the rest of said pack of males following us quietly in a parade of fancy motorcycles, sports cars, and trucks.
I growled in annoyance, loudly enough to startle the two bands who broke their glaring match to look at me in surprise.
"Will you all stop it!" I snapped at them, pinning them down with a deadly glare. I could feel a vein in my head throb as my face flushed in anger, and I probably looked ready to murder them which wasn't all that far from the truth. This was the second time in less than twenty minutes that they had given me a major headache; plus they all suddenly went testosterone-crazed males on me which I never appreciate. "Stop making decisions for me! I can make them myself, thank you very much."
"B-but Sakura-chan," Naruto stammered out, but I cut him off with one venomous look.
"Naruto, I know you mean well and all, but this competitiveness is really pissing me off," I said. I heard a quiet moan from the Akatsuki's side, and I immediately focused my glare on Hidan, who abruptly shut his mouth with an audible clack.
There was a tense silence as I captured the eyes of everyone in the room; all the Akatsuki as well as the Team 7 members, including Kakashi. True, he wasn't part of the "Give-Sakura-A-Major-Headache" club, but he hadn't done anything to help either. After letting the silence stretch for a few seconds longer, I slowly started to force myself to calm down, taking deep breaths and making my muscles relax into a less aggressive stance. The tension in the room began to evaporate along with my own tension, but still no one (wisely) said anything.
I took a deep breath and massaged my temples, shutting my eyes firmly as I focused on calming down enough to get the damnable headache to ease up, which it did little by little. Once it was dull enough that I could easily ignore it, I opened my eyes and looked at the group of males before me tiredly. They were all looking at me with unidentifiable expressions, or maybe I was just too exhausted to even try to decipher them.
My eyes glanced towards Naruto, who was looking every inch the kicked puppy; with his head bowed, his loud, cheerful smile turned upside down with his lips firmly pressed together to keep from saying anything, and his big, blue eyes looking infinitely sad and the slightest bit watery. I sighed, taking three steps to stand before him and silently wrapping my arms around chest, letting my forehead rest on the space between his neck and his shoulder.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you, Naruto," I murmured into his shirt. "I'm just so tired, and you're all just fighting about such trifles…"
I felt his arms, which were before behind his back, wrap gently around my shoulders as he softly swayed us from side to side just like he used to do for me when we were kids, and I immediately felt the remaining tension in my body dissipate. "That's okay, Sakura-chan," he sighed into my hair, resting his cheek on the crown of my head. "I understand. I'm sorry I was being such a pest to begin with. You know I'm just trying to look out for you."
"Yeah. I know." I gave him a squeeze then let him go, looking into his beautiful blue eyes and gave him a small smile. "Alright, now go clean up. There are a couple things I want to do before calling it a day, and I need my chauffeur to not let what's left of the day pass." He gave me his foxy grin, all signs of sadness gone, before turning around and returning into the instrument room. Shaking my head, feeling much like a young mother, I turned towards the others, who were murmuring quietly amongst themselves when I implied Naruto would be the one taking me back to the hotel. I ignored them.
"What are you guys waiting for? Go help Naruto," I told the remaining members of Team 7, and after a hesitant pause, they did what I said without a word as I shooed them away. I gave a small smile at their backs when I noticed something.
"Kakashi? Aren't you going to help?" I asked the silver-haired manager.
He shrugged, leaning back on his chair and placing his arms behind his head; he was the picture of perfect contentment… or laziness. "I'm just the manager," he replied breezily, "and the recording guy. I don't have to clean up." I raised one pink eyebrow at him, in an ORLY fashion. He blinked owlishly at me with his one eye.
"You can't honestly tell me that this," – I gestured towards the recording part of the studio we were in – "is clean. I mean, look at this! There are like a dozen coffee mugs all over the place! And half of them have some liquid in them too. I don't even want to know what's in there and for how long. And are those pizza boxes? Eugh! Plus you're part of Team 7, so as a team member, you gotta help out. Now, hop to it, come on." I'm actually surprised I didn't notice any of this earlier. It was quite palpable, and I'll admit, I'm a bit of a neat freak. I blame the dazzle of stardom the place held.
Kakashi gave me a surprised look, his one visible eye widening before he sighed in defeat, reluctantly getting to his feet and starting to pick up the mugs. I crossed my arms smugly and moved outside into the rest of the apartment, the Akatsuki trailing behind me with awed expressions on their faces. I turned towards them.
"We can't believe you got the Kakashi Hatake to clean up," said the blue man, Kisame. I frowned.
"Explain," I demanded.
"He's a fucking great manager, and a goddamn great musician too, but he's fucking lazy as shit, seriously," Hidan answered.
"Thank you, Hoshigaki-san," I said, giving the silver-haired sailor mouth a pointed look. "That clears it up." He scowled at me, before crossing his arms and giving me his back with a huff. I shrugged. Works for me.
"So I just have a couple questions for you guys," I said to the others. "You don't have to answer, I'm just curious." The group seemed to cheer up at the prospect of me finally wanting to know more about them.
"Oh, my love!" Madara exclaimed as he threw himself at my feet and threw his arms around my waist, pressing his forehead against my stomach. "My sweet! I knew it was just an act, that coldness, that indifference you showed – oh! I understand! You were shy, weren't you? That's why you acted like you did! Oh, my angel…!" and on and on he went, until I raised my arm and elbowed him on the head, knocking him out cold without so much as batting an eye.
I sighed, looking at the infamous playboy as he slowly let out a creepy, somewhat perverted grin mould his face and start to drool. I shuddered. I so did not want to know what was going on in his head, especially when he was unconscious. When I voiced my thoughts, the rest of the group nodded sadly.
"Trust us, yeah," Deidara muttered as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Neither do we."
"Forgetting about the little inconvenience," Sasori inputted, "I believe you said you had some questions for us?"
My eyes trailed up to meet his lazy hazel ones. "Yeah. How come you are calling me 'doll-face'?"
"You don't like it?"
"It's a bit odd that I'm getting nicknames from people I've known for less than a day. Plus it's a bit of a mouthful for a nickname anyway."
"Ah, I see your point. Well, I can shorten it to 'Doll,' if you prefer." I sweat-dropped. That was not the issue… "'Doll'… hm. That does have a nicer ring to it…"
I headed over to the living room and sat on a reclining chair, avoiding the couches and love seats so none of the Akatsuki could sit by me. They all obediently sat in a circle around me as I waited for Sasori to finish his explanation.
"Anyhow, I chose that particular nickname because you, my dear, are as beautiful as a doll," the red-head smirked at me, completely ignoring the barrier I had set up by choosing an isolated seat by casually seating on the armrest of my seat and trailing his fingers down my cheek. I stiffened. Didn't he hear what I told Deidara earlier when we were talking about chi? Didn't he see what I almost did to Madara for getting too close to me? Didn't he care?
"Your skin is so pale, firm and smooth, free of any blemishes that the rest of the world are hindered with…"
"Thank you," I bit out as I jerked my head away from his touch. "I owe it all to good genes, a good diet, and Neutrogena." He seemed unfazed by my action as he moved his hand to play with my hair.
"Your hair… Well, I'm certain I'm not the only one to say that I've never seen pink hair before. It is so soft and silky; perfect for brushing and styling."
"Thank you. It's natural," I swatted his hand away and gave him a warning glare.
He chuckled. "I believe you." He leaned closer, and I leaned away, but I was trapped thanks to the other stupid armrest that was pressing against my lower back. I was about to bolt when Sasori reached across me with his left arm and placed his hand on the armrest at my back, effectively trapping me between him and the seat while also supporting himself so he could lean in as much as he wanted. I cursed. Why had I forsaken the couches again?
"Hey now…" I growled, but he paid me no more heed than he would a piece of wood.
"And finally," he breathed, his face slowly inching closer. I felt my face heat up, but I refused to lean back any more. I was going to stand my ground, no matter how close he got. "Your eyes. I have never seen eyes with the same amazing green coloring as yours; that sparkle like yours, that are as big and innocent as yours. I swear that they put the best polished emeralds to shame." He leaned back, and I let out a relieved breath. He smirked at me. "To put it simply, you are absolutely adorable, just like a doll. You are, in three words, true living art."
Before I could retort with a saucy and very rude comeback, I heard someone scoff to my right. I turned my head to find Deidara, who was glaring not-so-subtly at Sasori. "Yeah, right," the blonde said. "He only says that because he's sucking up to you, yeah. He thinks that true art is eternal, yeah. Never changing, never leaving. To him, a doll represents those things, yeah. So he's only calling you 'Doll' because those are the representations of what he thinks 'true art'" –he lifted his fingers to air quote the word –" is, yeah. In my opinion," the rest of the Akatsuki groaned at this but he ignored them and continued anyway, "true art is a fleeting moment – a bang, so to speak, yeah."
When he saw my face, which was scrunched up at him, he hurriedly amended, "Not that what he said isn't true, yeah. You are absolutely gorgeous, yeah!"
It was my turn to scoff now, but I couldn't turn my face away fast enough to hide my blush. I saw Sasori smirk out of the corner of my eye, and so I did the only thing that came to mind: I pushed him off of me and off the seat. He must have seen it coming because he didn't look the slightest bit surprised when I did, and he landed safely and gracefully on his feet; unlike me who'd probably have fallen on my butt. He gave me a cheeky wink before sitting down beside my chair. I glowered at him, my face still red from what he and Deidara had said.
"Aw! Sakura-chan is blushing!" Tobi cooed, bouncing over to my seat and kneeling beside me across from the infuriating red-head. "Sakura-chan is sooo cute when she blushes!"
"Tobi, hush!" I hissed at him, my face heating up even more.
"You blush now that we compliment you?" Itachi's deep mysterious voice floated over to me. I glanced up at him only to find that he was right across from me and watching me intently. I held my breath. The way his entire focus was on me wasn't disturbing, but it was… how can I say it? When infinity stares you right in the eyes; when you feel like there is no one else in the whole universe? Because that's exactly how I felt, being watched by his deep, deep smouldering black eyes.
I blinked, inwardly shaking off the feeling. I needed to focus. "I'm sorry, what?" I asked.
"I said, 'why do you blush now that we compliment you?'"
I narrowed my eyes at him a fraction of a centimetre, trying to find any indication on his features that he had an ulterior meaning he was asking with that question. He remained perfectly impassive as I scrutinized him, but I could not detect any other feeling coming from him that wasn't genuine, simple curiosity. Seeing no harm in it, I decided to answer.
"Who's asking the questions here, buddy?"
Not the answer you imagined, huh?
His lips quirked up in the corners in a tiny smirk, but that was just enough to let me know he found my response amusing. Cha, that's right! He closed his eyes (holy molly, those are some wicked eyelashes!), and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and intertwining his fingers by his mouth. He opened his eyes again, and I fought off the urge to become hypnotized by them.
"You are an interesting girl, Haruno-san."
"I try to be; like that one quote says. And thank you for addressing me in the proper manner, Uchiha-san."
He inclined his head. "What quote would that be?"
"'You were born an original; don't die a copy.' I forgot who said it."
"Ah. Wise words."
"Indeed; which is why I remember them."
"You are an intellectual person, then, I presume."
"I like to think I am, seeing that I was accepted into university with a scholarship." Their eyes widened at this.
"Ah, so you are not just any dancing bimbo, then," Kakuzu commented. "Which university?"
I scowled at him. What is it with him and Hidan? Granted, Hidan swears more than anything, but he doesn't really does it to insult people (well, unless he's annoyed at them, like when he called Deidara a pansy back at the hotel) while Kakuzu really does seem to actually target people. "If you must know," I snapped at him, "it's Harvard." His eyes widened greatly, and he turned his body towards me, showing interest.
"Harvard? That is the world's top university for accounting and financing, is it not?"
Obviously, that's why he suddenly became interested. "Yes, as well as many other careers," I said.
"Are you studying anything money-related?"
Seriously? Is money everything he ever thinks about? Don't answer that. "Everything is somehow money-related, Oomori-san," I said while I rolled my eyes at him. When I looked back, there was a crooked smirk and… oh my holy goose, was that a dimple? That greedy bastard actually has a nice smile, er, smirk?
The world must be going crazy.
"I'm glad someone has the same views as me," he said, and his tone became more pleasant as he said this. Boy, he sure is a piece of work. "So you know the value of money then. That's good."
"Yes, I know its value, but I value other things more."
He seemed to deflate slightly at this, but that didn't seem to deter him. "Oh? Like what?"
"Family," I immediately answered, and I saw Itachi smile in pleasure at me from the corner of my eye. "Friends. Solidarity. Knowledge. Faith. Hope. Art. Soul. Health. And the Will of Fire."
At the mention of the Will of Fire, everyone in the room seemed to fall silent, even Tobi who up until now was playing with some silly putty he pulled out of nowhere by my feet. I gave them all a quizzical look. What's with the sudden change in demeanour?
"You know about the Will of Fire?" Zetsu asked.
I raised an eyebrow at his surprised tone. "Yes, I do. My mother taught it to me. She's Japanese; how else do you think I know how to speak the language so fluently?"
"Forgive us, Haruno-san," Pein, who had been quiet up till now, said. Everyone's eyes snapped towards him. "It is just that many people, even here in Japan, have forgotten about the Will of Fire. Indeed, many don't even know what it is and die without even hearing its name. It is simply surprising to hear someone mention it; that is all."
"Ah," I nodded my head. My mother had mentioned something like that once or twice, but I didn't pay much attention to it since it was common knowledge in my household. Like, my father, who was English, seemed to know all about it despite only being to Japan a few times."I see. Well, my mother held her knowledge very close to her heart, particularly the Japanese pieces. She was amiable enough to pass those on to me."
"Then you are very lucky, Haruno-san," Zetsu spoke again. I allowed myself to smile widely at this, feeling my eyes soften at the memory of my mother.
"I know," I simply said.
Just then, Naruto popped from around the corner, grinning widely in that foxy way I so loved. "Hey, Sakura-chan, sorry for the wait. Who knew Kakashi-sensei was such a slob?" I chuckled, standing up, ruffling Tobi's hair as he pouted at my movement.
"Don't ask me, I only met him today," I said as I walked up to my blonde friend. "So are we ready to hit the road?"
I laughed at this, and we started to head towards the elevator where Sai, Sasuke and Kakashi were already waiting for us when I suddenly remembered something I wanted to ask, and stopped. I turned slightly so the left side of my body was facing the Akatsuki.
"Hey, Nagato-san?" I called out to the orange-haired leader with a curious tilt of my head. He tilted his head to the side in a mirror image of me, silently telling me that he was listening.
"How in the seven hells did you know I was a dancer?" I demanded, placing my hands on my hips.
His lips twitched as he fought off a smirk (I swear it's always a smirk with the silent ones like him!) and his grey ringed eyes shined with amusement. "The lady clerks were very informative, and very eager to help," was all he said. I scoffed. Yeah, 'very eager to help' my foot. He, and the rest of his band for that matter, probably seduced the poor girls just by looking at them. Tssk.
My thoughts must have showed on my face because next thing I know, every single member of Akatsuki, even Itachi, Sasori and Kakuzu, were sending very smug smirks my way. I narrowed my eyes at them suspiciously as they suddenly began to act very innocently. Even Tobi's grin looked like a smirk, and a not-so-innocent one either, which was just plain weird since it was so out of place. I made a mental note to keep my eye on them while simultaneously steering clear of their way before turning back towards Team 7 and boarding the elevator.
"Pein-san, please leave our floor as soon as the elevator is free," Kakashi called out. "And don't forget to bring the pervert with you." I snickered as he pointed at a still unconscious Madara. What was even better was that Kisame, Deidara, Tobi, and Hidan chuckled at that, while the others simply smirked. I guess it's not every day that Madara gets called a pervert continuously throughout a day.
"So where do you want to go, Sakura-chan?" Naruto, who was standing beside me, asked.
I didn't answer right away, letting my mind drift momentarily down my Memory Lane. So many good times… but also so many sad ones. I lifted my gaze to meet Naruto's soft one, and said, "I'd like to visit Mom."
His eyes softened at the mention of my mother as he gave me a gentle smile. "Sure, Sakura-chan. Do you want to stop for some flowers?" I nodded just as the elevator doors started to close, the Akatsuki giving me mildly surprised looks. Right before the door closed completely, my eyes met Pein's knowing ones, and I got this weird feeling in my chest; almost sad but warm. Like he somehow knew and shared my feelings. It was oddly comforting, even if it did give me goosebumps.
Then the elevator doors closed, cutting off the weird connection between the Akatsuki leader and me.
When we arrived at the main floor, Naruto waved off his band mates, telling them that he was going to help me do some errands before taking me back to the hotel, so that they should take their own transportation. They gave me a curious look before accepting the reason; then we parted ways.
Naruto opened the passenger's door for me like he did earlier that day, and I silently thanked him. As he made his way towards the driver's seat, I saw the Akatsuki step out of the elevator through the building's giant windows. They looked around for a bit before settling their gazes on me, or what I thought was me because Naruto's windows were tinted.
Once Naruto got in, he started the engine wordlessly and he pulled out of the driveway, leaving the Akatsuki looking after us. Huh. Déjà vu, much?
"Ne, Sakura-chan, how did you like my band?" Naruto asked.
"It was really amazing, Naruto. Fantastic, in fact. I'm so happy for you; that you made it this far!"
"I know – it's cool, isn't it?"
"Very." He gave me one of his famous foxy grins, although this one was more calm and tender than the other ones. I gave him a small smile and faced out the window, my mind starting to drift off into the past.
That is, until I noticed that we were being followed by a fancy electric blue Mercedes Benz with silver lining, driven by none other than Kakashi with Sai on the passenger's seat and Sasuke's head peering out from between them, his body on the back seat. And behind them, I noticed as we turned a corner, was a very fancy motorcycle driven by someone with the exact same clothes as Deidara, and behind him, I saw a car which seemed way too fancy to belong to a common middle-class Tokyo resident.
What. The. Flamingo?
I shrugged, choosing to ignore them. Maybe they were just heading our way; after all, there were only to ways you could have gone from the Ninja Records building before the roads split into more roads and streets.
That was such wishful thinking.
It had been fifteen minutes since then, and the whole lot of them were still following us. I growled in annoyance. Couldn't they let me reminiscence in my own quiet nostalgia? It was quite distracting having such an eye-catching parade follow you around, let me tell you. Why were they even following me anyway? If this is the normal behaviour for a Japanese boy (which is extremely, heavily, positively, ultimately doubtful), then Ino and Tsunade can forget about their fantasies about me getting a boyfriend here. This is just ridiculous.
By now we were on the outskirts of downtown, and Naruto steered his truck into a parking space of a small, quaint flower shop which looked like it had been there forever; it fit so perfectly in the area. We got out and surprise, surprise, the Parade of Fancy Vehicles parked around us. I was really starting to lose my patience by this point.
The motorcycle, which was obviously driven by none other than long-haired blonde Deidara, parked next to us. I marched up to him as he removed his helmet, and skewered him with my gaze.
"What. Are. You. Doing. Here?"
He smiled nervously at me. "Eheh... I wanted some flowers to decorate my room, yeah," he said, sounding slightly like he was asking a question more than giving an answer. I raised an eyebrow at him, not believing him one bit.
"I don't think you can do that, Iwa-san. Hotels don't allow that in case a guest is allergic. Unless the flowers were sent by someone, then the staff have no choice but to bring them in since they can't well leave them outside to get damaged or stolen." He became even more nervous as he started to wreck his brain for an excuse.
"Ah, well, yeah… I didn't know, yeah," he said lamely. I gave him a look which clearly said I didn't believe him.
"That's hard to believe, seeing that as a celebrity you've done a lot of traveling and therefore had quite a bit of experience in hotels, nearly all of which have pretty much the same basic rules."
He really seemed lost on what to do next, but before I could shoot him a victorious smile and send him away, the most unlikely person stepped in just then.
"Aw, just leave `em, Sakura-chan," Naruto shrugged as he slung one arm across my shoulders and guided me into the little shop. "They're just curious about you; let them have at least that."
I shot him an incredulous look. "Naruto said what? This coming from the one who all but got into a fight with them when he found out we were staying in the same hotel?" I ducked out from underneath his arm and stepped right in front of him, my hands on my hips as I gave him my most concerned/suspicious look. "Who are you and what have you done with Naruto?"
I saw the Akatsuki, who were already out of their vehicles or I the process of doing so, smirk and even laugh our way, but I ignored them as I heard Naruto's cheerful giggle.
"Come on, you know it's me. Sakura-chan! I'm just thinkin` that if you let `em come with us up to here they'll leave you alone for awhile." He opened the shop's door for me and sent me a wink as I walked past him. "Besides, you know I'd murder any guy who tried to get close to you. No one messes with my best friend, believe it!"
I felt the corner of my lips twitch up into a crooked smile just as an older lady's voice called out a welcome, then I turned my attention towards the delicate, sweet scent of the flowers which pulled all of my attention towards them. I vaguely heard the others come in behind me, but I was too focused on finding the perfect flowers for my mother. It had been so long since I had gotten her any, or seen her, that these had to be perfect.
I didn't want to get just any nice-looking bouquet. After knowing Ino, who lived in a flower shop, for as long as I did, I knew each flower held a deep meaning in itself, and I wanted to create a bouquet just for my mom based on the flower's meanings. Now, I'm no artist, but as long as the flowers don't clash and even look nice, if a bit odd, I'll be happy. Luckily Ino had drilled into me the most common meanings, so I had an idea right off the bat of what I was searching for.
Taking my time, I skimmed the walls, which were covered from floor to ceiling in pre-arranged bouquets and single flowers with the prices written by hand underneath them, looking for any flowers that held the meanings I was looking for, or as close as they could get anyway. I could hear the soft sound of footsteps and the hushed flutters of clothing moving around as the band members who had followed me in looked around; even felt their curious gazes on me as I moved, but I was on a girl on a mission and easily tuned them out as I hunted for what I ndeeded.
In the end, I bought a small bouquet made up of single flowers I had hand picked. The center, which stood high above the other flowers, consisted of five tea roses, with white petals which turned slightly pastel yellow before a deep reddish-pink color exploded around the edges. I chose these flowers as the center of my bouquet because out of all the meanings, this one was the strongest one, not to mention the flower was just beautiful.
Below those, I placed a single row of white zinnias, with their numerous long and rectangular-shaped petals finding peaceful harmony between the roses and the three pink carnations, separated by a small ball of the blue forget-me-nots below them. Finally, at the bottom, I placed golden pansies, covering about my hand's width in thickness of the layer. It wasn't, by far, the most attractive arrangement, but it fit decently, and like I said before, what counts is the meaning this time around.
Just as the elderly lady, who had come out of the back of the shop to help me gather the flowers, tied a sparkly purple bow on the bottom of a bouquet, on impulse my hand reached for a flower before I even knew what it was. When I looked down, I was surprised I had taken a small piece of lavender.
Nostalgia hit me hard, like a slap to the face when it's sweet, gentle smell wafted up to my nose, somehow pushing all the other smells away. This was my mother's favourite flower, and though I didn't understand at first why that was since there were prettier flowers out there, I understood now. I've understood for the past eight years ever since I gave her that last bouquet.
Fighting back the urge to let my eyes so much as water, I silently handed the elderly lady the small bunch of lavender. She looked at me, then at the flowers, and shook her head.
"It's important to you, deary; I can see that. Take it, it's free." I shook my head in protest, but before I could open my mouth she spoke again. "Don't worry about it, little one. I insist. In fact, why don't you take a bigger plant? That one is still growing." I blinked, looking at it. It was true.
The lady gave me such a motherly look that I my chest constricted at the familiar but sadly unfelt feeling and I had to fight tears once again. With a single nod, I switched plants for a bigger one and handed it to her. She tenderly took it in her wrinkled hands, and I watched as she carefully wrapped up.
Once she was done, she placed the two bouquets on the wooden table by the cash register. After punching in some numbers, she said in a kindly voice, "Your total for your bouquet is ¥5754." I nodded, calling Naruto over. I hadn't brought my wallet, but Naruto had put the money we had made in the park in his, so that's what I would use to pay.
Just as Naruto pulled out his wallet and started counting the bills, Kakuzu appeared beside me, frowning at the price that appeared on the register's little screen.
"That's very expensive for just some flowers," he grunted. I shrugged.
"It's worth it." I made a mental calculation and in US dollars, it was about $73. A little expensive, yes, but I didn't mind.
He frowned at me. "Worth it because you're not the one paying."
"Wrong, Stitches," Naruto answered amiably beside me as he handed the bills over to the lady. "This is Sakura-chan's money. She's very independent and will rarely let anyone pay for her, especially when it's something as important as this."
Kakuzu didn't stop looking at me as Naruto spoke, and when he finally dragged his eyes away from me to look at him, he asked, "Then why do you have her money?"
"Hey, I'm standing right here and I can answer for myself, thank you very much," I cut in. I hated it when people spoke about me like I wasn't there. Kakuzu snorted but returned his gaze towards me, giving me a look that clearly said to speak up and stop wasting his time. Why, that little… He was the one who followed us here!
I let out a very unlady-like snort and stared him down, even though I had to crane my neck to do so since he was very tall; almost as tall as Kisame, I'd imagine. "Naruto invited me out today so I left my wallet back at the hotel. In the end, we had some fun at the park for awhile and people thought we were performers and so gave us money."
His face didn't change. "Unless you were 'performing' for a few hours, there's almost no chance of you getting that much money with pocket change."
"Oh, quit harassing her, Stitches!" Naruto rolled his eyes at him. "And for your information, people didn't give us pocket change, we only performed for one song, and we actually made over ¥11881! So there!" It was true, we had counted the money before we left the park. That was worth about $150 US dollars. Not bad, huh?
Kakuzu's shocked face revealed his amazement. When he wasn't glowering or scowling, he wasn't bad-looking. Although I had to say, I was surprised to find he had a scar across his nose. One would think that an idol wouldn't have scars, especially on his face, but I guess that's part of what made him unique.
Without a word, he walked past us and out the door, leaving a very smug Naruto and me behind. That would teach him to underestimate me.
I picked up the two bouquets and thanked the store owner with a small bow, then headed outside to see the Akatsuki and Team 7 lounging around, leaning against their vehicles and looking every inch the idols they were despite doing absolutely nothing. I'm going to have to get Naruto to teach me how to do that trick.
I shooed away everyone, telling them that I was going to visit my mother and that that was a private affair, so they couldn't follow us. Some of the childish ones whined about not spending enough time with me, but with a look they quieted down and accepted my words. When I entered Naruto's truck, right before my blonde friend could close my door, all the males lined up by him, looking at me. I gave them a puzzled look. What was going on now?
"Haruno-san, do you like flowers?" Itachi asked.
"Yes, I do. Why do you ask?" He merely gave me a slight smirk before turning on his heal and walking towards a black, sleek car that faintly reminded me of the Batmobile, Sasuke quietly following him. I looked at the others. "Was that what you all were going to ask?"
Tobi jumped up beside me. "Tobi just wanted to give Sakura-chan her good-bye hug!" I smiled at him and placed the bouquets on my lap, opening my arms for him. He gleefully jumped at the opportunity, throwing his arms around me and swaying me excitedly. "Bye-bye, pretty girl!"
"Bye-bye, Tobi." When he let me go, he gave me a big, cheesy grin before skipping away. It was quite amusing to see the other members shoot him less than friendly looks at his back while he remained completely oblivious to it all.
The others just said their farewells with simple bows, or at least the more respectful ones bowed. The others just gave me saucy winks and/or smirks(plus Hidan, who just had to thrown in a couple rude remarks I don't care to repeat) before leaving . What an odd bunch.
When they finally left, Naruto closed the door and hopped in beside me. Without a word, he held my left hand as he drove to the cemetery.
The cemetery, as one can imagine, was quiet and empty, with only the gravestones decorated with charms, incense sticks and flowers. However, unlike many cemeteries, this one was serene, a sense of calm and acceptance being oddly comforting for such a sad place.
Naruto and I quietly made our way to the top of the only hill around, where two cherry blossom trees stood in all their flowering glory; the fading sunset adding a mystique glow to the scenery. At the top of the hill, overlooking a small lake, was a single gravestone flanked by the two sakura trees. It wasn't very tall, or overly fancy, but to me it was the most beautiful and meaningful gravestone in the whole cemetery.
It was my mother's resting place.
Hand in hand, Naruto and I walked up to the gravestone and kneeled before it, silently thinking the same thoughts, relieving the same memories of when she was alive. I gently placed down the big bouquet before the grave, noticing that it was well kept and had traces of recent visitors still lingering. I knew that Naruto and his family had made good on their promise to keep my mother company while I was away.
"Hey, Mom," I murmured. "I'm home." Those last two words resounded deep within me. I'm home. How true that was. "I see Naruto and his parents have been keeping you company. That's very nice of them, wouldn't you say? I know you know that; they are awesome people," I smiled, lifting my right hand and lightly tracing the markings on the cold, white stone. I felt Naruto give my hand a squeeze before he quietly stood up and left me in private with my mother.
"I'm sorry I left you for so long, but you know I always think of you, every day. We talk sometimes, too. I tell you all about my life, so I think you understand why I couldn't visit you before. But see, you raised me good, mom. I kept my promise and that's why I can finally visit you." I gulped, emotion swelling in my chest. "It took awhile, but I made it, mom. I got into Harvard to study medicine. And with a scholarship too! But most importantly, I'm a dancer, Mom… just like you." I closed my eyes, seeing the images clearly in my head.
I looked up to my mother in awe as she gracefully swayed to a song in the radio while she stirred some muffin batter with a whisk for our breakfast. It was banana-blueberry, my father's favourite. Even such simple movement seemed so graceful, so confident that it was as if she was floating across the floor.
I was three years old.
"Mama, how d'you move like that?" I asked her from my seat on of the high stools around the kitchen bar. She turned towards me, her wide, dazzling smile showing me all her love. Her pink hair, just like mine, was tied in a simple, messy bun on the nape of her neck, and still I swore there was no woman more beautiful than her.
"Why, Sakura," she said, her voice soft but so joyful. "It's dancing."
"But you do it sooo good, Mama!" She chuckled, setting down the bowl she was holding.
"It's because I do it so often, sweetie. And because I love doing it so much."
"Do you think I can someday dance as good as you?"
She smiled at me and picked me up, twirling us around the modest kitchen. "Sweetheart, you can do anything you want as long as you're devoted to doing it. Maybe someday you'll dance better than me!"
I laughed, shaking my head. "Nu-uh! Mama is the bestest dancer in the world!" She kissed my cheek, resting her forehead against mine, her gorgeous big brown eyes looking lovingly into my green ones. She placed a finger on my nose tenderly.
"But Sakura is Mama's baby, and Mama says Sakura can be even better."
Even though I had danced with my mother since before I was born, it was at that moment that I had decided to become a dancer like her. She would teach me simple little moves and I would copy her, eventually adding my own little twists on them. She seemed delighted that I loved dancing as much as her, and that only made me love dancing all the more.
My father, a man with black messy hair he had long given up on taming would sit beside my mother, his arm around her shoulders while she rested her head on his, and his tired green eyes would light up with love and pride just like my mother's whenever I put on a little dancing show for them. They were so patient with me, and I loved them for it.
We were the picture of a perfect family; yet unlike many, we actually were a perfect family, at least in my eyes we were.
"I'm keeping your memory alive, Mom. Your legacy is still going on strong. I've been to a lot of countries, expanding on my knowledge of dances. They are all so wonderful, Mom, so wonderful. Every time I see someone perform a new dance, I always try to imagine how you would look doing it. And you always do it better than them, Mom. You were always the better dancer, even if the dance was new to you." A drop of water fell on the flowers, and I looked up, thinking it was going to rain.
It took me a second to realize that I was crying. It wasn't because I was sad, though. I was happy, happy to see my mother after all this time. I wiped my eyes, smiling at the grave. "Speaking of dance, tomorrow I'm going to go to a dance studio here in Japan to dance some Japanese dances. The studio is owned by the Hyuga family, which I hear are one of the best families in traditional arts. So rest assured that I'll learn from proper teachers. I'll make you proud of me, for keeping our heritage alive."
I heard someone walk up behind me and turned to see Naruto carrying his guitar on his back. He placed his hand on my shoulder. "Ne, Sakura-chan," he said, "why don't you show your mother just how good a dancer you've become?" I smiled at him, nodding. That sounded like a wonderful idea.
I stood up and backed up a few paces as Naruto opened his guitar case and leaned against one of the cherry blossom trees. "What song would you like?" he asked. I thought for a moment.
"Do you know Mama by Il Divo?"
"Yup. Although you'll sing it this time, right?" He begun strumming his guitar with a gentle, slightly bitter-sweet melody, knowing the answer to his question already. Even though the song was classical and therefore used piano and violins and instruments of the like, he did a very good job of keeping the emotion real with just his guitar. I got into position; my feet together and my arms slightly curled towards my body down by my hips. I took in a deep breath.
Tara-ra-ra-ra-raaa…La-la-la-la-laaa… Tada-la, la, la, la, laaaaa…
Mama, thank you for who I am…
Thank you for all the things I'm not.
Forgive me for the words unsaid,
And for the times… I forgot.
I raised to my toes, lifting my arms over my head as I slightly leaned back, my head tilting back. I lowered my arms in an twin arches by my sides, my head slowly rolling over my left shoulder as I lifted my right leg in front of me and slowly, still raised on my toes, brought it around my body so it was sticking out behind me. Then, I brought that leg down and snapped my left leg back, doing a slow triple pirouette.
Naruto hummed the harmony to the song, dropping it so he could sing the next lines with me with practiced ease, our voices lingering in the warm air.
Mama, remember all my life…
You showed me love, you sacrificed.
Think all those young and early days,
How I've changed
Along the way,
Along the way.
I stretched my arms to my sides as I jumped, stretching my legs in a split in mid-air. I landed on one foot, the grass soft against my bare feet, and gently brought in my back leg and lowering my body by bending my knees as I brought in my arms to hug myself. After a pause, suddenly I snapped out my left arm at an angle above my head, my head snapping in the same direction, my right arm uncurling itself to extend to my right just above my waist as I slowly raised myself to my full height, placing all of my weight on my left foot, allowing my right leg to curve slightly.
And I know you believed,
And I know you had dreams,
And I'm sorry it took all this time to see
That I am where I am,
Because of your truth.
And I miss you…
I miss you.
I lowered my arm and brought it down to my hip; tracing a half-circle on the grass with the toes of my right foot as it brought it in front of me. I did a light hop and stepped back, sliding my right foot back before making a half turn. I raised my arms into jack-knife position, which meant my fists were together by my neck as my arms extended straight to the sides. Then, I gently unfolded my arms and brought my hands down, only make a small loop with them to bring them up again just behind me, like wings.
Mama, forgive the times you cried…
Forgive me for not making right.
All of the storms I may have caused,
And I've been wrong
Dry your eyes...
Dry your eyes.
I arched my back backwards, raising once more to my toes. I opened my eyes and looked at the early night sky, feeling my mother's sweet eyes watching me along with all the stars.
I re-closed my eyes, and continued to dance. I kicked back my right leg at the same time that I hopped high in the air, forming a cradle with my arms the instant I landed, and I chassed once before spinning again, my right leg slowly trailing down my left as I slowed down until eventually it touched the ground. My body was now slightly twisted, as my right leg rested behind me and my torso was turned left with my arms up high.
Then, I lifted my right leg, allowing my upper body to lower itself to the ground.
Because I know you believed,
And I know you had dreams,
And I'm sorry that it took all this time to see
That I am where I am
Because of your truth
And I miss you…
I miss you.
I jumped up, my upper body snapping up so the heel of my back leg, which was still raised, brushed my hair before I quickly brought my leg down and I allowed my legs to take over, letting them carry my all across the little imaginary stage on the grass. I stepped sideways and jumped, doing a half-turn only to repeat the process going the other way.
All the while I was thinking, Do you see this, Mom? This is for you. Only for you.
Naruto went back to humming as he let me take over the next verse.
Mama, I hope this makes you smile,
I hope you're happy with my life
At peace with every choice I made,
How I've changed
Along the way…
Along the way
I popped my hips to the sides, taking wide strides as I made my way down the hill, then I abruptly turned and ran back up, only to jump as high as I could to do a split in midair, my hands high behind me once again. I felt like I was flying, a feeling only dance could give me. I felt a cool breeze blow around me, engulfing me in its gentleness, and I could imagine my mother wrapping her arms around me.
I landed only a few feet from the gravestone, breathing deeply. Slowly crouching down, I read the letters on the grave.
BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
BORN 1971, DIED 2003
HER KIND SOUL WILL BE FOREVER DANCING IN THE HEAVENS, WATCHING OVER ALL HER LOVED ONES
I smiled. How true those words were.
Naruto slowed down his tune to give me time to myself. Then, when he saw I was ready, he sang along with me.
`Cause I know you believed
In all of my dreams
And I owe it all to you…
I bowed my head, placing the small batch of lavender, which stood for "devotion," on top of the stone and clasping my hands in prayer. Then, Naruto quit strumming and he let me sing the last word of the song by myself.
Silence took over then, but it was a good silence. I knew, in the depths of my soul, that my mother had watched me, and that she was happy. And nothing could be better than that.
Naruto and I stayed there for a few more minutes in blissful silence, watching the last traces of the sunset disappear in the horizon. It was a beautiful day, and ended in a beautiful note.
While Naruto packed his guitar, I traced the carvings on my mother's gravestone one last time. It had been nine years since I had visited the site, and coming back felt so liberating. It was like I had never stopped coming. And I guess in a way I didn't. Not as long as I still hold my mother in memory.
"I'll be back to visit you again soon," I whispered. "I'll see you then, Mom. Take care." I bowed towards the grave, giving it one last lingering look before I took Naruto's offered hand and descended the hill with him.
A soft breeze picked up again, playing with the ends of my hair, and I swore I heard my mother's voice whisper in the same caring, loving tone:
Take care, sweetheart…
"Ne, Sakura-chan, how was it?" Naruto asked as he drove me back to the hotel. It was nearly nine, and I was more than ready to go to bed.
"It was… liberating, actually. I was happy," I answered. "Thank you for taking me, Naruto. You don't know how much it means for me to visit her after all this time."
He grinned. "Aw, it's no problem, Sakura-chan! You know Emiko-san was like my second mother; of course I'd take her only daughter and my practically-sister to visit!"
I laughed. "I know, I know. But still, that doesn't change the fact that it means a whole lot to me. Thank you, seriously." I leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek, making him blush.
"Yeah, yeah, no problem, no problem," he waved me off. Then his face changed into an excited one. "Ne, Sakura-chan, I heard you mention that tomorrow you're going to a dance place owned by the Hyugas?"
"That's right. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I just know someone there, that's all. She's a bit shy, but she's a wonderful person! Although every time I come near her she blushes like crazy; sometimes even faints. I don't know why, though, I never do anything besides speak to her. Anyway, at what time do you have to be there?"
I chuckled inwardly at my friend's plight. He may be the sweetest guy I know, but he was also the most clueless. "I have to be there at eight in the morning," I answered. He pouted.
"Aw, I'm busy at that time. Band stuff, you know. Sorry, Sakura-chan, I can't take you there. But I know where it is, so I can give you a map. It's not that far from your hotel, actually; it takes about fifteen minutes by car or half an hour by foot. I know you like walking, so I can draw you the walking route if you want."
I beamed at him. "That would be great, Naruto!"
We had arrived at the hotel by now, and Naruto parked his truck by the front entrance. He took out a napkin from his pocket and with a pen he pulled out of his seat's pocket, he proceeded to scribble down the instructions to the Hyuga dancing grounds. He quickly finished and neatly folded it in two before handing it to me.
"Sorry it's on a napkin, but I don't have any paper."
"That's fine, don't worry about it. Thank you for doing this for me, Naruto."
"Anything for you, Sakura-chan! Hey, maybe I can pop by later tomorrow. The Hyugas know me, and I would love to see you dance again."
I smiled. "That would be great, Naruto. Good night."
"Good night, Sakura-chan. Sweet dreams!"
I nodded and hopped out of his truck, closing the door and waving as he took off. Once he was out of sight, I let out a long breath and pushed open the doors to the hotel. It had been quite the eventful day and I was ready for some shut-eye. However, God seemed to have one last surprise for me.
"Miss Haruno?" the lady receptionist at the entrance called out to me. I turned towards her. "Some flowers arrived for you earlier this evening. I had them placed in your room."
I nodded my thanks. "Thank you; that's fine. Have a good night."
"And you, Haruno-san," she bowed.
As I made my way to my room, I wondered who could have sent me flowers before inwardly rolling my eyes. Duh, who else could it be? A member of the Akatsuki, no doubt.
But when I opened my door, that idea flew out the window. There wasn't a single bouquet, but fifteen! All were scattered around my room, leaving minimal room to move through. And the most amazing thing is, they were all big enough to reach my waist. There was probably a $1000 worth of flowers here, maybe more!
I reached for the card of the nearest, and also one of the most grandeur arrangements, and read it, hopping to find a clue as to why I had half a flower shop in my room. The card was from none other than Madara.
This is but a token of my devotion towards you. I saw how carefully you looked at the flowers, and I could tell you enjoy Nature's beauty. I hope you accept this humble gift, and though it may be beautiful, know that you are a million times more so.
I'll be dreaming of you tonight.
Madara (aka, your future husband)
Notice how my flowers are so much more finer than the others. Those other fools in my band decided to gift you with flowers as well, even those meddlesome members from Team 7 decided to get you something, so I chose the best flowers to show you that I love you the most. I hope you favour them over the others. That would show the imbeciles that you like me best :D
So all these flowers weren't from one guy. They were from the entire Akatsuki and Team 7.
I felt my eye twitch violently. Then I exploded.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!"
"Hey, Itachi, did ya hear that?"
"Hear what, Kisame?"
"I don't know what it was, but it sounded frustrated."
"Hn. It was probably just your imagination."
"Then my imagination must be getting pretty good, `cause that sure sounded realistic."
"You and your damn monosyllabic answer… Anyway, I'm going to hit the sack. Good night, Itachi."
"Good night, Kisame."
"You sure you didn't hear nothing?"
"I said 'good night,' Kisame."
"Geez, what a grouch."