Chapter 12 – Budding Lines
The next morning, Sakura woke up well before the start of classes. She ate a healthy, balanced breakfast and then whipped up two bento lunches. Due to a rumor she heard, she packed extra tomatoes in one of the boxes. Then she went for a morning jog to train her stamina before heading off to the Academy.
All throughout morning classes, Sakura was nervous and distracted. She was also a little lethargic because she wasn’t used to working out in the mornings. She was thankful for her breakfast; otherwise she definitely would’ve dozed off due to lack of energy.
She managed to pay enough attention so that Iruka-sensei wouldn’t catch her blindsided. Just because she was the reigning top kunoichi in academic marks didn’t mean that she could afford to slack off. One slip and Ino would overtake her.
Finally lunchtime rolled around. She took a deep breath and gave herself a pep talk inside her head. An encouraging voice echoed her sentiments back at her, and with that little push, she pulled out the lunches that she prepared and approached Sasuke.
The new student in their class, Uzumaki Naruto, was sitting next to Sasuke and talking a mile a minute. Sakura felt a twinge of envy as she watched Sasuke nodding indulgently, although it looked like he only heard about one-fourth of the one-sided conversation. She wondered how they became friends so quickly. Naruto only joined their class two days ago. What did he do to capture Sasuke’s attention? Or did they know each other before hand and just never had any classes together?
As it became evident that Sakura was making a beeline towards Sasuke, hostile glares turned towards her. A shiver ran down her spine but she forged on.
He looked up at her as she placed a packed lunch before him. Naruto stopped chattering to look at her too. Her face was burning hot.
“Um, urm, this- this is for you. Mina-sensei told me you carried me to the hospital when I fainted yesterday, so, um, thank you!”
Sasuke muttered under his breath. It sounded like, “I told her not to tell.” Then he sighed and smiled haltingly at her. Her heart fluttered like a hummingbird. “It is only natural to help a fellow classmate in need. There is no need for thanks.”
“Oh…” Sakura said, disheartened.
“But you’re welcome anyways. And thank you for the thought, but I already brought a lunch.” He took out his bento as proof.
Her shoulders sagged even more.
“Hey, hey. It’s free food!” Naruto protested. “How can you turn away free food?”
Sasuke flinched as if just realizing something. A contrite look flashed across his features briefly. Huh? What was that about? she wondered.
“Ah, Haruno-san,” he started, but paused as he looked above her shoulder. The feeling of daggers stabbing at her back disappeared for a second. “Do you mind if I share your bento with Naruto-san? He forgot his lunch today.”
“Heh? Is that really okay? But it’s for you!” Naruto protested. Then he turned to her with pleading eyes, “Is it really okay?”
Sakura was speechless for a moment. She did not plan for this outcome. She had anticipated Sasuke to reject her bento, but to have to give it away to a stranger was a bit much. To be fair, she probably couldn’t finish both lunches, but she made the lunch with Sasuke in mind, to give it to someone else was…
“Would you like to sit with us for lunch today?” Sasuke’s voice cut through the gloominess of her thoughts.
Sakura brightened. “Yes, please!”
She retrieved her lunch and joined Sasuke and Naruto. The daggers that the girls in class sent her way rebuffed off of her shield of happiness. She hummed as she unpacked her lunch and began to eat.
“I’m Uzumaki Naruto!” Naruto introduced himself. Sakura already knew that from roll call but she humored him anyways.
“I’m going to become the Hokage! Dattebayo!”
Sakura blinked at the rather sudden and bold proclamation. Her first instincts was: “Ha ha, you? No way. If anyone were going to make a good Hokage then it would have to be Sasuke-kun.” But she held her tongue because she had a feeling that Sasuke-kun would not appreciate her ridiculing Naruto.
“That’s nice…” She smiled obligingly.
Sasuke snorted. Sakura blushed. Was that no good?
Naruto laughed. “That’s what Sasuke said too.”
“Oh,” Sakura perked up at this. Gaining confidence she plowed on with the most generic yet nice answer she could come up with, “Well, I’m sure you’ll have a shot if you work hard for it.”
Naruto beamed at her and she was momentarily blinded by his smile. “Oh my god, you think so, too? Yeah! I’m totally gonna work hard and become the Hokage. Just you watch. Dattebayo!” He then dug into Sakura’s homemade lunch. “This is delicious! You’re really good at cooking, Sakura-chan.” Naruto praised her.
“Oh, well…” She blushed. “It’s only rice balls. Anyone can make rice balls.”
“You’re being too modest, Sakura-chan!” Rice flew everywhere as Naruto talked with his mouth full.
Sakura laughed politely and discreetly flicked the rice off her face. From afar she didn’t realize how boisterous Naruto was. In contrast, Sasuke was calm and collected. How did Sasuke stand being around all that… energy? Sakura peeked at Sasuke from under her lashes. He didn’t seem to be annoyed by Naruto’s motor mouth and boundless energy. If Sakura were in his place she would’ve been worn down within the first five minutes. That, or she’d get annoyed and just punch Naruto to next Sunday to shut him up. A voice in the back of her mind agreed. But Naruto seemed to be Sasuke’s friend, so she’d put up with him for now.
Sakura smiled when she saw Sasuke pick out a cherry tomato from the lunch she packed for him.
“Hey, that was supposed to be mine!” Naruto whined.
Sasuke flicked Naruto on the nose and deliberately popped the tomato into his mouth.
“I heard you like tomatoes, Sasuke-kun.” She blushed when he looked at her.
“I like them now,” he admitted. “I also have a fondness for clams.”
“Clams?!” Naruto exclaimed and choked on a rice ball.
“Honestly, Naruto-san. Chew your food and don’t speak with your mouth full,” Sasuke reprimanded.
“Clams?” Sakura wondered.
“Well, I’ve always liked shellfish. More so now that it’s rare to find in Konoha.” Sasuke plucked a tomato right out of Naruto’s fingers, much to the blond’s annoyance.
Sasuke’s throat bobbed as he swallowed the tomato. Naruto gulped in mimicry of the action and looked away, his face ruddy and presumably annoyed.
Sakura ran the words through her head. Something about Sasuke’s statement sounded off. What did he mean by he like shellfish more now if he had always liked them?
“You were spacing out –ttebayo.”
“Oh, sorry. Just thinking.” She did the laughing politely thing that she always saw her mother do and returned to her lunch. Sasuke and Naruto just looked at her with curious expressions. Maybe that was the wrong response, but too late for that now. A sigh echoed in the back of her mind and she continued to eat her food.
Sakura gripped her hands into fists. She knew this would happen. If it were Ino who had approached Sasuke with lunch, the girls might glare a little bit with envy, but they wouldn’t give the Yamanaka heir any sass about it, and they definitely would not corner her after school like this.
Ino had offered to walk her home today, but Sakura had declined. Ino’s dad had came to pick her up, and Sakura knew that putting off this confrontation wouldn’t do any good.
“What do you guys want?” Sakura gritted out as she turned around to face four girls from her class.
“Just what do you think you are? Ugly.”
Sakura twitched. Out of all the insults, the last one stung the most. Tears pricked at her eyes as she stared down her nose at the bullies. Yeah, she knew she came from a civilian background. She knew these people all had parents or relatives who were ninjas. She knew she was born at a disadvantage, that her chakra pool was smaller, that she entered the Academy clueless about their world. She knew all that. But she never stopped trying. She didn’t drop out when three-fourths of the civilian children who enrolled at the same time as her did.
That had to mean something. Sakura had to convince herself of that; otherwise she wouldn’t be able to keep pushing on.
“And you’re all a bunch of shallow cowards!” She spat at them.
“What did you say?!”
“You heard me. You’re all too afraid of approaching Sasuke-kun so you take it out on me when I had the courage to. And none of you even like Sasuke-kun. You all think he’s so cool because of his tragic past, and because he’s a loner, but none of you understand him at all.”
“Oh, and you think that you understand him?”
“…No, I don’t. But I’m definitely closer to understanding him than you pigs are!”
“I think it’s time we teach this little loud mouth a lesson.”
“Ino-chan is not here you know.”
“Can’t hide behind her back now, can you? Forehead.”
“Civilian.” Ooh, that one was more perceptive. She saw that the noun bothered Sakura more than any degrading adjective could.
Before they could gang up and dog pile her, Sakura threw the first punch, right into the nose of the one who called her “civilian.” There was a satisfying crack and Sakura started to smile, but then a fist sailed into her jaw, unsettling her.
Despite Sakura’s resolve to get stronger in taijutsu, she hadn’t practice enough to make much of a difference. Soon the difference in numbers saw her at a disadvantage and she was on the ground curled up in a ball. She gritted her teeth. Even if she lost this fight, she would never let them see her cry or hear her scream.
“What are you guys doing? Stop that!”
Sakura recognized Naruto’s voice. The kicks didn’t stop.
Naruto leaped into the fray and started pulling and tearing the girls off her. “I said stop –ttebayo!”
Two of the girls turned their fists on Naruto, who luckily had no aversion to fighting against girls.
Sakura lashed out. She grabbed onto a leg and bit into the ankle. The girl screamed and started stepping on her. Sakura pulled on the leg and the girl dropped to her butt. She rolled out of the range of the other girl and got back up on her feet. Then she lunged, a fist raised to hit the girl in the face. The girl raised her arms to block and Sakura kicked her in the gut instead. She doubled over and Sakura elbowed her bowed back, letting gravity add to her attack. The other girl was still crying over her ankle, which was bleeding.
Naruto was scratched and bitten and tufts of his hair was pulled, but he managed to come out on top of the other two bullies.
“We’ll remember this.” The group spat at them and limped away.
“And don’t you forget it!” Naruto shouted after them. One of them flipped him the bird and he blew a raspberry at them. “Sakura-chan! Are you okay?”
Sakura spit out a glob of blood and saliva. “I’m fine.”
Naruto fretted a bit more but was unsure about touching her, so he just flittered around her with his hands in his hair.
She chuckled and then grimaced, “I’m really fine.” She straightened up as best as she could. “Actually, better than fine! I won. I mean, we won.” She was in disbelief.
“Yeah, you were so cool, Sakura-chan. You totally whooped their butts.”
“Well, you helped, so thanks.”
“No problem. That’s what friends do, right?”
“Um, yeah, I guess.”
Naruto grinned, and Sakura realized that he took it to mean that they were friends when she only meant it as an agreement to the statement. She was about to correct him but his eyes were shining. She snapped her mouth shut. Aw, what the hell. At least he’s friendly with Sasuke. That had to count for something.
“I can’t go home looking beat up like this. I’m going to visit the hospital. Do you need to go, too?”
“No!” Naruto blushed, “I mean, no, I’m fine. I don’t visit the hospital any- urm, that is, I heal fast. Like really fast. Like super fast. So I’m totally fine, dattebayo!”
Sakura gave him a wry smile. “If you say so. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Do you need me to walk you?”
That was actually kind of sweet. Too bad he wasn’t Sasuke. “No, I’m good.”
“Oh, okay.” Naruto scratched the back of his head. “See you tomorrow.” He grinned.
She smiled back.