Chapter 14 – Dinner Lineup, Take 2
“You again?” Sakura deadpanned. “Don’t you ever get tired?”
“Never! The springtime of youth burns brightly within me.”
“Ugh. Come another foot closer and I’ll punch you into the Hokage Mountain.”
“Ahh, such youthful declarations so early in the morning.”
Sakura twitched. This creep was seriously getting on her nerves.
“Allow me to train with you!”
“You aspire to be a ninja, do you not? I am a genin. I can help you train.”
“Why would I want to-”
An explosion of smoke went off next to Lee and an older copy of Lee emerged from the smoke. “What a splendid idea, my pupil. Training with an Academy student will teach you restraint.”
Sakura twitched. Adult creeper was the sensei of mini-creeper?
“Fine!” Sakura snapped. She cracked her knuckles. “I’ll show you restraint.” She was peeved. How dare they underestimate her? Was it because she wasn’t a ninja yet? Was it because she was a girl? Was it because she was a civilian? She’s been working her butt off. There’s no way she’ll go down that easily.
Or so Sakura thought.
She got her butt handed to her soundly. In three- no, not even, two point twenty-five seconds flat.
She stared up at the lightening sky in disbelief. Then she pushed herself up with a growl. “Again.”
Three seconds later she was admiring the clouds again.
She sat up slower this time.
Lee worried his bottom lip. Did he overdo it? He already held back a lot. Sasuke told him if the girl he liked was as determined as she sounded then he should take her down quickly to attack her pride. Doing so will light a fire of competition in her. But if the girl was just playing at ninja or had low self-esteem, then doing so will destroy her spirit and subsequently any chances he had with her. Lee was certain that the girl of his dreams was of the former variety. But…
She looked up at him and glared.
There was fire in her eyes.
“My name is Haruno Sakura. Someday I will become the strongest kunoichi in Konoha!”
“Sakura-san!” Lee blushed. She looked like a livid tiger. Absolutely lethal and absolutely beautiful.
“Just you watch. I will hand your butt to you on a silver platter one of these days.”
“I look forward to that day!”
And that’s how Haruno Sakura came to train under Rock Lee, and by extension, Maito Gai. But that’s a whole other world of freaky.
“What is this for?” Sasuke was afraid to ask. As soon as he opened the front door he was met with a face full of lotus flowers.
“It worked, Sasuke-sensei!” Lee enthused.
“What? Oh. I’m glad,” Sasuke said offhandedly, if not a bit surprised at the unexpected results.
He didn’t really think his advice would work out for Lee, especially not when it came to prepubescent girls. He had only been trying to offer a word of comfort to appease the then hysterical boy and his overdramatic sensei. Mostly, he was trying not to end the team dinner on an explosive note.
“This is for you to thank you for your love advice!”
“You’re not supposed to give flowers to me, you’re supposed to give them to the girl you like.”
“Oh, you’re right. Very well, I shall take these to her right now!”
“Hold it.” Sasuke snagged Lee by the collar. “Remember I said to take it slow. You only just became training partners with her. If you give her flowers all of a sudden you’ll just scare her off again.”
“Don’t tell me, you already gave her flowers.”
Lee nodded. “A dozen red roses to celebrate our one week anniversary of meeting.”
“So before she agreed to train with you then.” Sasuke sighed. “Then this might still be salvageable. Listen, no flowers or other gifts unless there’s an occasion, like her birthday or something. Instead, um, why don’t you take her to a teahouse, treat her to food after your training sessions. That would be a reasonable approach.”
Lee’s eyes sparkled. “Such wise advice. As expected of my sensei in love.”
“I’m really not-” Sasuke sighed, giving up the argument as a lost cause. He clapped a hand onto Lee’s shoulder. “Lee-san.”
Sasuke held back a twitch at the form of address and went on, “Just, um, don’t be too disheartened if things don’t work out in the end, okay? Interest is not something you can force upon another.”
“Sensei…” Lee’s enthusiasm dropped a few notches as he pondered Sasuke’s words, but Sasuke had a feeling that the genin wasn’t really processing the full meaning yet.
Ranmaru chose that moment to join in. “Good morning, Lee-san.” Ranmaru greeted as he pattered up to the entryway.
Lee perked up again. “Good morning, Ranmaru-kun!”
Ranmaru pointedly looked at Sasuke’s hand on Lee’s shoulder. “Are those flowers for onii-sama?”
Sasuke sweatdropped and quickly retracted his hand. Lee stuttered. They were, but since Sasuke said they weren’t appropriate, he didn’t know what to do now.
Ranmaru, you little rascal, Sasuke thought fondly.
“The rice should be done now, why don’t you go check on it.”
Sasuke turned to Lee once Ranmaru was out of sight, but Sasuke knew Ranmaru would still be able to hear what was being said due to his Kekkei Genkai, and he would probably have a laugh with this. Sasuke fought to keep his face straight as he said, “Lee-san.”
“Do you like Naruto-san? I mean as a friend.”
“Of course! Naruto-kun is a most youth-”
“Okay, that’s good. Why don’t you give these flowers to Naruto-san and tell him they’re for him because you like him?”
“Ahh, to strengthen the bonds of friendship. I understand, Sasuke-sensei. I shall deliver these flowers to Naruto in ten minutes, if I don’t do so in the allotted time then I shall run five laps around Konoha.”
“You go do that, Lee-san.”
“Sasuke! Heeeeelp me!”
“Naruto-san. Why are you panicking so much?”
“Fuzzy Eyebrows gave me flowers this morning and said that he liked me! I thought he already had a crush on some girl, why is he saying he likes me?”
Sasuke blinked at Naruto innocently. “I’m not sure, Naruto-san. Maybe Lee-san is bisexual. The girl he likes is the one he trains with, and maybe the boy he likes is you.”
“What? What?! That’s impossible! How can you like two people at once? Aren’t you supposed to dedicate yourself solely to one person?”
“My, my, Naruto-san. I never pegged you for a romantic.”
“Sasuke,” Naruto whined.
“Well, you’re correct, the majority of the population is monogamous, but there are people who believe in polyamory too.”
“Look it up, Naruto-san.”
“It doesn’t make sense!” Naruto said, pulling at his hair. “I mean- I mean, if Lee has to like a guy then why can’t it be Neji? Neji is kind of on the pretty side, and they’re on the same team!”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Heck, you’re ten times prettier than Neji. If Lee is going to fall for a guy then it should be you! Not to mention you’re much nicer than Neji. That guy has a stick up his ass the size of the Hokage Tower! Erm, not that I want Lee to like you, because I li- I mean, not that you’re not likeable, just that-”
“All right. I get it. I think… Honestly, I don’t know what to do with you sometimes.”
“Do you want to come over for dinner this weekend?”
Sasuke chuckled. “Yes, free food.”
“All right. I’m totally coming –ttebayo!”
“Good. I’m counting on you.”
“Counting on me?”
After the little debacle with Team Gai, Sasuke really was not looking forward to Juugo and Kimimaro’s team, but they had already secured a free day for their entire team to come over for dinner so it was too late to cancel.
Having Naruto over for dinner last time turned out to be surprisingly helpful, so he invited Naruto again. Karin decided to go out for dinner so that she wouldn’t have to deal with the crazy of Kimimaro and Juugo’s team. After some prompting, Karin agreed to eat dinner with her team at a restaurant. Whether she’ll uphold that promise or not was another matter.
Right on time, the door opened. “We’re home.”
Ranmaru bounded to the front door. “Welcome home!”
Sasuke followed at a more sedate pace. Naruto was in the dining room setting the table. “Welcome home.” He smiled at Kimimaro and Juugo. They both smiled back as they said their greetings.
“Aww, isn’t this the cutest thing ever. They’re actually smiling.”
Sasuke turned to the woman who made that comment. She looked to be in her mid-twenties with teal eyes and long dark hair woven into a thin braid down her back. She wore a more form-fitting version of the jonin uniform, and in place of the usual flank jacket was a sleeveless indigo tunic tied together with a bolt of pink fabric.
“Welcome. You must be their jonin-sensei.”
“Makimachi Misao at your service. This is Tenten.”
As Sasuke caught sight of the third teammate, his lips twitched, as if in amusement.
“Uchiha Sasuke. This is my adopted brother, Ranmaru. Thank you for always looking after my kinsmen, Juugo and Kimimaro.”
“So you’re the famous Uchiha Sasuke, huh? Kimimaro and Juugo are absolutely fanatic about you, though they try not to let it show.” Misao smirked and leaned into Sasuke’s personal space. She studied him, nodded, and grinned. “You’re cute.”
Pink bloomed on Sasuke’s cheeks and he turned away. “Please come inside.”
Tenten giggled behind her hand. She was inclined to agree with her sensei. Not only was Sasuke pleasant to look at, but also his mannerism was polite and cute.
“Please excuse us for intruding,” Tenten said as she changed into house slippers and entered.
Team Misao was led to the dining room where the table was already set and plated with steaming hot food. Naruto sat with his legs swinging impatiently for dinner to start.
“Yo, my name is Uzumaki Naruto! I’m Sasuke’s friend.” He said by way of introduction.
Misao paused in the doorway and blinked at Naruto.
“Is something the matter?” Sasuke asked. The blush was gone and there was a steel of challenge in his eyes.
Misao got the feeling that she was just beginning to scrap the surface of the enigma known as Sasuke. She thought she might be starting to understand Juugo and Kimimaro’s devotion to the Last Uchiha.
She smiled. “Everything is perfectly fine.” Misao stepped into the dining room. “I’m Makimachi Misao, sensei to these emo-brats and this delightful young kunoichi.” She went to ruffle Kimimaro and Juugo’s hair as she said this. Juugo endured it with a blush, but Kimimaro slipped away from Misao and took a seat. Tenten giggled like it was a common occurrence.
Soon they were all seated and making small talk as they ate. Thankfully Team Misao was a lot calmer than Team Gai. As Sasuke observed the interactions between his adopted family and their team he began to see the underlying dynamics.
Misao was cheerful, and in comparison to her team, loud. She was like Naruto in some ways. Just like how Kimimaro and Juugo did not know how to handle Naruto’s exuberance, they did not know how to communicate with their sensei. Defensively, they drew up a wall between them and Misao. Misao noticed this and did her best to rectify the situation, but her method was by forcefully dragging Juugo and Kimimaro into the fun. It certainly wasn’t the best way to approach them. The two adopted Uchiha preferred more subtlety and restrain.
Tenten, in contrast, was more opened to adventure and more likely to go along with whatever Misao cooked up, thus making it appear as if they were closer to each other. The way Tenten interacted with Juugo and Kimimaro was the way a newcomer might act when trying to fit into an already formed group. She pushed as much as she dared, but backed up often to give the boys breathing room, in case she chased them off.
Kimimaro and Juugo were making an effort to connect with their team after Sasuke’s little pep talk, but their discomfort was so evident that it was hilarious.
All in all, Sasuke deduced that he didn’t have to worry too much about Team Misao. He didn’t know about Misao’s skills, but she had to have made jonin for a reason. Tenten was a serious and competent kunoichi. In terms of capability, Sasuke had no compunctions about this team and he had a feeling that their team dynamics would level out somehow.
It was Team Gai that he was worried about. Originally, Tenten served as a buffer and mediator in Team Gai, but now she has been switched over to Team Misao. Karin worked with the rest of Team Gai as well as oil did with fire. Which was to say her personality fitted in perfectly with all the crazy to explosive results, and that probably wasn’t a healthy outcome. At least every member of Team Gai was a skilled ninja so he wouldn’t have to worry about Karin’s safety.
After dinner, Naruto stayed behind to help with the dishes.
“That worked out well,” Naruto laughed.
“Yeah,” Sasuke huffed with relief.
Now he just had to worry about his future team. He honestly had no idea how he was going to handle the misfits of Team Seven or even if his new team would parallel the original. Anything was possible after seeing Team Gai and Team Misao.
In all honesty, Sasuke hadn’t wanted to get involve in any of this ninja fiasco. He was just running through some cathartic exercises, a memory from his old life, when those damn missing-nin had saw fit to try and kidnap a Uchiha for experimenting. News of the Uchiha Massacre had yet to spread then, so the missing-nin had no idea that they had gotten the Last Uchiha.
Perhaps if Sasuke had stayed within the Compound or had gone to the Academy like the original Sasuke probably had, then he wouldn’t be in this mess right now.
Sometimes, jerking awake after a particularly gruesome nightmare, Sasuke would wonder what his life would’ve been like if he had ran away from Konoha and became a farmer instead. Then he’d remember the bloody eyes he inherited and knew he would not be safe on his own for long. The last thing he wanted was to be caught and experimented on. Even dying a second death was preferable to that.
He sighed. No use pondering on what-ifs anymore. The ripples began when he saw a little blond boy being chased away from a store with a broomstick, or perhaps it was even before that. Either way it was too late to take back that pebble.
A/N: To the reviewer who was concerned with the wording of Sasuke’s advice from the previous chapter… I am in agreement that just because you’re nice to somebody it doesn’t mean that person is obligated to like you back, which is why near the end of the last chapter I had Sasuke add, “There is no guarantee…” but perhaps that didn’t convey my intentions clear enough, so I added a bit more dialogue to this chapter. Hopefully that’ll soothe your concerns somewhat. Thank you for reading and leaving a review. You took the time to write a review because it matters to you and I appreciate it.
To all readers, the characters’ thoughts and actions are not a reflection of the writer’s personal opinion. Characters can do the most heroic or despicable things. That’s what makes them interesting and complex, and adds to the drama of a story. Feel free to discuss and dissect the characters’ actions. I encourage positive and critical discourse.