Chapter 13 – Dinner Lineup
Sakura had taken to waking up before the sun rises to train her stamina, endurance, and hand-to-hand combat. Doing so ensured that her bullies wouldn’t be awake to bother her, and there were lesser people to laugh at her if she messed up.
It was during one of her morning practices when she ran into Konoha’s Green Beast. The junior version. Literally.
It was a head on collision when they both turned from different sides of the same corner during their morning run. Rock Lee saw stars when he looked up to see the most beautiful vision he had bumped into.
The girl had the most unique pink hair and green eyes. She was dressed in forest green training sweats that brought out her eyes, and sweating like a pig with her hair messy and plastered to her face. Dirt from the fall smudged her clothing. She stood up and brushed herself off. The sun was just beginning to rise, casting an orange backdrop behind her.
“You all right?” She extended a hand to him.
He got onto his knees and clasped her hand with both of his. “My name is Rock Lee! Please go out with me! I’ll protect you until the day I die!”
The mildly concerned look on her face fell and she gave him a dead-eyed stare. “No.” She pulled her hand back and continued on her run.
Lee cried manly tears of heartbreak.
The next morning, he ran all over Konoha until he bumped into her again. Not as literally this time. He then professed his undying love for her youthful spirit and beauty only to have her shoot him down again. The third time he did it, she punched him into a tree.
“Ugh, my teammate is such a freak. It’s even worse now that he apparently found the love of his life. All he ever does during training is gush about her, and our sensei just encourages him. It’s sickening.” Karin complained at the dinner table.
Even though Karin and Juugo lived in different houses, they barely used their kitchens. They always came over to Sasuke’s house for dinner and the five inhabitants of the Uchiha Compound would take turns cooking dinner. Even Ranmaru cooked from time to time. Due to his size he wasn’t as adept in the kitchen as the others, but his curry dish was quite good. Sometimes Naruto would come over for dinner, too. But after his first attempt at cooking for them, all the Uchiha plus Karin banned him from the stove until he learned better.
“You always complain about them, but we’ve never actually learned anything about your team from your rants. Are you even trying to get along with them?” Sasuke quipped with a wry smile.
“I don’t want to get along with freaks like them. They creep me out. Ugh, just talking about them gives me goosebumps. These past two months have been a nightmare with them.” Karin jabbed her chopsticks against the table to emphasis her point.
“How about you two? Juugo. Kimimaro. How are you getting along with your team?” Sasuke asked.
Kimimaro and Juugo exchanged looks. “We complete our missions without problems,” Kimimaro said.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow.
“Our sensei seems to favor our other teammate,” Juugo supplied.
“It’s fine, though. Juugo and I work well together.”
Sasuke frowned. He mulled on what his friends had told him as he ate his dinner. “Unlike Karin, the two of you don’t openly complain about your team, but from your previous comments it sounds like you are dissatisfied with the way your sensei singles out your third teammate. Have you considered the fact that because the two of you are so compatible, that you may have unconsciously segregated your last teammate? Your sensei might be trying to rectify the situation by paying more attention to her.”
“I did not say as such.”
“No, but I can read between the lines.”
Kimimaro blinked. He really wasn’t jealous of their third teammate, as Sasuke seemed to be implying. The only one he respected with all his heart and cared to follow to the death was Sasuke. It didn’t matter if their new sensei wasn’t someone worth following.
He was merely concerned with the competence of their sensei to be team leader if she played favoritism so blatantly. But it’s also true that in his “objective” statements about his new sensei and teammate that there was an underlying dissatisfaction at the way they conducted themselves.
“I think I’d like to meet your teams,” Sasuke said.
“What?! I can’t expose my precious Sasuke to that filth!” Karin protested.
“That would not be necessary, Sasuke-sama,” Kimimaro hastened to reassure Sasuke.
Sasuke’s smile was half amused, half worried. “I am your clan head,” he said to Juugo and Kimimaro. “And as a friend,” this he said to Karin, “it is only right that I keep your best interests in mind. Based on your… comments, I worry whether your current teams are dependable or not and would like to meet them in person to ascertain their capabilities with my own eyes.”
“Please bring them over for dinner. I also think it would be beneficial to you to bond with your teams outside of training.”
“But, but, but!”
“Please coordinate with your teammates and see when they are all free.”
“…Understood.” Kimimaro nodded.
“But…! Aw, fine!” Karin huffed.
Juugo just nodded in acknowledgement to the request. When Sasuke pulled rank on them it was hard to refuse him. Sasuke would only pull that card if he truly thought that what he was doing was for their best interest, and Juugo could never begrudge Sasuke for caring. In fact, his cheeks warmed slightly at the sentiment.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, Sasuke decided it was better to work with one team at a time. Karin’s team was the first to come over for dinner. Naruto had wanted to come for dinner again, and after some deliberation Sasuke relented. It might be helpful to have Naruto as a mood maker and to divert some of the tension. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
Sasuke could not for the life of him understand what went wrong between Karin and Naruto. He thought the two Uzumaki members would be thrilled to meet each other, and they seemed to be on the road to becoming friends when they first met, but when Naruto came back to the Uchiha Compound the second time, which was two weeks after the first time, Karin was spitting fire as soon as she laid eyes on the blond.
Naruto was understandably nervous around Karin. He wasn’t hostile to Karin like the redhead was to him, but he also didn’t make as much of an effort as Sasuke thought he would in patching up their relationship. Naruto was always thickheaded and resilient. If someone didn’t want to be his friend, he would pester that person until he or she gave in. If someone were mean to him, he’d give as good as he got. But to Karin, it was like he had metaphorically rolled over and accepted that she just wasn’t going to like him and he wasn’t going to retaliate or do anything about it. Sasuke had tried to question him on it, but Naruto just stammered and blushed, and then he ran away. It was very uncharacteristic of the loud blond.
Nevertheless, Naruto was there on the day that Karin’s team was scheduled to arrive. As Naruto bounced around the house, excited to meet an actual genin team, Sasuke, not for the first time, wondered if it was a good idea that he let slip about the team dinner and then actually allowed Naruto to come.
Kimimaro and Juugo were away with their team on their first C-rank. It was so convenient that Sasuke thought the fates must have planned it.
“I’m home.” Karin announced listlessly.
“You live next door.” Naruto corrected her.
“You!” She hissed. “What are you doing here?”
“I invited him,” Sasuke stepped in before a hissing match could break out. “Welcome.” He smiled apologetically at Karin and she caved.
She sighed and stepped off to one side so that her team can enter. “This is Creepy, Freaky, and Shitty.”
“Are those really their names?” Naruto wondered.
Karin wanted to hit him.
Sasuke’s eyes widened at the sight of her team. She gave him a look that said: “I told you so. They’re freaks.” Then he composed himself and bowed, “Welcome.” He gave her team a dazzling smile that had her melting in her boots. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. Thank you for always looking after my friend, Karin.”
“Thank you for inviting us into your home, most youthful friend of my student!” Karin was amazed by Sasuke’s composure. He kept a pleasant look on his face and didn’t even twitch. “My name is Maito Gai. These are my students, Rock Lee and Hyuuga Neji.” Gai placed a hand on each boy’s shoulder as he introduced him.
“Osu!” Rock Lee greeted.
Neji nodded his head in greeting.
“So you are the famed Uchiha Sasuke-kun,” Lee said. “I have heard much about you.”
Sasuke glanced at Karin out of the corner of his eye. She did not even have the decency to look embarrassed.
“You took on the burdens of a clan head at such a young age. All for the sake of your friends! I am deeply moved by your story!” Lee enthused.
“The Council won’t officially recognize him as clan head until he’s at least jonin rank,” Neji said.
“Ah, but for all intents and purposes, Sasuke is now the Uchiha Head. We should pay him due respect,” Gai said.
“Don’t stand on formalities. Please come in.” Sasuke gestured for them to go in. Neji and Lee toed off their sandals and changed into slippers.
“Ha ha ha.” Gai boomed with laughter. “Such a delightfully polite Uchiha.” He reached forward a hand to clap Sasuke on the shoulder. Sasuke flinched away, a momentary look of horror on his face. Gai took note. So as to not draw attention to the Uchiha’s flinch, he continued reaching forward, a little slower, and patted Sasuke quickly on the shoulder.
At the same time Naruto bellowed his introduction, drawing Team Gai’s attention onto him.
Sasuke held himself still. It wasn’t disgust that made the Uchiha flinch. Having received constant weird out and disgusted looks for his eccentricities, Gai could read the look of disgust even with his back turned. He filed the information away.
Once his team was done changing footwear and moved into the house, Gai quickly changed shoes and followed.
In the dining room, a young boy of seven years was setting the table. Sasuke introduced the boy as his adopted brother, Ranmaru. The boy was polite. He bobbed his head cutely and made his introductions.
“Naruto-san, will you help me bring out the dishes?” Sasuke requested of the blond.
Gai, his team, and Ranmaru took seats at the table as Sasuke and Naruto went into the kitchen to get the food.
Once they were out of earshot, Naruto whispered to Sasuke, “Hey, Sasuke. Did you know Big Fuzzy Eyebrows from before or something?”
“Fuzzy…” Sasuke shook his head and abandoned that line of thought. “No, I don’t.”
“Let’s hurry up, Naruto-san. The food will get cold.”
Naruto understood a dismissal when he heard one, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. He pouted and quickly brought the food to the dining room.
After a round of “itadakimasu” everyone dug in.
“This food is scrumptious. Did Karin-san prepare it?” Lee asked.
“As if I would ever cook anything for you, Freak!”
“Ah ha ha ha, Karin-san is as youthful as ever, right Gai-sensei?”
“You’re absolutely right, Lee!”
A vein popped in Karin’s temple.
“Onii-sama made everything,” Ranmaru chimed in.
“Ooh?” Gai sounded delighted at the prospect. Sasuke sweat dropped.
“If you have the time to perfect your cooking skills, then you should be training.” Neji said.
Karin blew a fuse, “Unlike you haughty Hyuuga, we don’t have servants scuttling around to do the menial chores for us. You should be honored to be eating food made by Sasuke-kun!”
The chopsticks in Neji’s hand snapped.
“Naruto!” Sasuke shouted.
Everyone else quieted as Naruto jumped in his seat. “What!” He didn’t even do anything. Yet.
“Could you get a new pair of chopsticks for Neji-san, please?”
“I’ll get it,” Ranmaru volunteered.
Awkward silence descended in the room. Sasuke held back a sigh and refrained from massaging his nose bridge. He was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.
Ranmaru returned with the chopsticks and Sasuke petted him on the head. Ranmaru smiled and leaned into his touch.
“Sasuke-kun,” Lee spoke up. “I heard that you were popular with the ladies, perhaps you can give me some advice. I fell in love with a girl, but she keeps rejecting me, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
“Huh?” Sasuke was completely blindsided by the change in topic. “Ah, well, I’m not- uh…” he sighed. At least this was a fairly safe and normal topic. “Why don’t you tell us how you two met and we’ll go from there?”
So Lee regaled them with the story of how he met his fated angel. Karin and Neji had heard the story so many times that they were sick of it. Gai was beaming at his student and going on and on about the springtime of youth.
When Lee finished his story, Naruto was the one to point out, “So you don’t even know her name yet?”
“She refuses to tell me.”
“Well, if she won’t even tell you her name, how do you expect her to agree to go out with you?” Naruto asked. Karin was surprised by his insight. Of course she would never admit as such.
“Then how should I find out her name?”
“Hmm…” Naruto rubbed his chin. “Maybe you can follow her around and wait for someone to say her name.”
“That’s a fabulous idea, Naruto-kun.”
Karin sighed at their stupidity. Forget insightful, Naruto was complete and utter nonsense.
“No.” Sasuke opposed the suggestion. “That is nothing but stalking. Your relationship will not be pure if you do something like that.” Sasuke almost cringed at his own words, but it was the best way to get through to someone as straightforward, youthful, and ingenuous as Lee.
Lee cried rivers of tears. “Then what should I dooooo?”
Sasuke twitched. “Please stop crying, Lee-san.”
Naruto handed Lee a napkin. Lee blew his nose.
“To begin with, I think you’re approaching her too forcefully. You have to admit, Lee-san, you’re a bit… eccentric, and this may be off putting to some, well, most girls. You need to slow down and establish a friendship with her first.”
“I see, I see.” Lee nodded. Then his shoulders slumped. “But how do I go about being her friend if she pushes me away every time she sees me?”
“If she’s a year younger than you, trains in the morning, and doesn’t wear a forehead protector, then she’s probably a student at the Academy aiming to become a ninja. She sounds pretty dedicated. Perhaps you could offer to train her. Be her sparring partner.”
“You’re so smart, Sasuke-kun.” Karin cooed as she latched onto Sasuke’s left arm and nuzzled into his neck. From across the table Naruto shifted uncomfortably as he watched the contact between Sasuke and Karin.
Sasuke was just about to put down his chopsticks and push Karin off him when Lee stood up, startling everyone except Gai. “Such a youthful idea!” He bowed. “Thank you for your advice, Sasuke-sensei!”
“You are my sensei in love,” Lee declared.
Sasuke opened his mouth to protest. Ranmaru giggled. Due to Ranmaru’s Kekkei Genkai he could read people’s chakra, and in a way, read their thoughts and moods. Straightforward people like Naruto and now Lee seemed to be Ranmaru’s favorite type to read, because the candidness was soothing and at times like this, entertaining.
Sasuke sighed in defeat. He had a premonition that Lee might become a stable in the Uchiha household if this keeps up. At least Ranmaru would be pleased. “Just don’t come to me over every little problem, and I’ll try to give you what advice I can.”
“Thank you, Sasuke-sensei.”
Sasuke twitched. “I’m seriously not a love expert. There is no guarantee that she’ll agree to train with you.”
“But it’s worth a shot.”
After that, dinner went a little smoother.