Chapter 8 – Plucking at the Heart Line
Although it was never confirmed, whispers spread through the Academy like wildfire at the long absence of the Uchiha Sasuke. The children were never explicitly informed – they were told that Sasuke-kun had some family problems, which was putting it very mildly considering that did nothing to cover the scope of the problems, not to mention there was the hushed up kidnapping incident – but overhearing gossip from their parents, they knew vaguely of the Uchiha Massacre.
Story by Vanilla Muse
After months, the sole Uchiha survivor finally returned to school. But in the place of the once happy and energetic yet snooty and arrogant boy was a child with a delicate air about him. Gone was the enthusiasm to best his brother, and in its place was a quiet demeanor and faraway eyes.
In the months that the Uchiha was absent, his hair had grown out and gravity tamed the tufts of hair that used to stick out in the back. The longer hair was now pulled into a ponytail at the nape of the neck. One had to wonder if he was trying to emulate his brother a bit. He had also switched out his usual black outfit for an all white one, which was perplexing, since black was the color of mourning in Konoha. Perhaps it was the Uchiha’s way of saying, “I am done mourning.”
The fangirls could care less about the meaning behind his wardrobe change though. They were more mesmerized by the ethereal effect that the white had on their Sasuke-kun, coupled with the longer hair and subdued attitude, the new Uchiha Sasuke was a nosebleed trigger and just begging to be coddled.
“I heard about your family,” Ami approached Sasuke just before the start of class. “I’m sorry.”
Sasuke tilted his head, his dark eyes scrutinizing the young girl. Ami fidgeted. Sasuke nodded at her condolences. She flushed and hurried away. The girls tittered and push at each other to approach Sasuke. The Uchiha huffed an imperceptible sigh and looked out the window. Just as another girl worked up the courage to approach him, Mizuki walked in and class began.
During recess, Shikamaru lazed under the shade of a tree with his best friend Chouji snacking by his side. He took note of, but didn’t pay much attention when Sasuke leaned against the other side of the tree and cracked open a tome. As long as Sasuke was quiet and didn’t disturb his peace, he was fine with the boy being there.
For most of recess the area under their tree remained undisturbed. The other children played ninja games and chattered with each other, all activities that took way too much effort in Shikamaru’s opinion.
Nearing the end of recess Kiba bounded up to Sasuke. “Hey, hey. I heard your family all died and that you fought off the killer. That’s how you got the scar. Is that true?”
Shikamaru sighed at Kiba’s lack of tact. He was not looking forward to the fall out from that blunt statement. He prepared himself to roll away from the conflict, but Sasuke surprised him with his answer.
“I have family.” Sasuke closed his book. “I didn’t get this scar from… the killer. It was my carelessness.” He stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, recess is about to end.”
“Huh? What? I didn’t understand that at all. So is your family dead or alive?” Kiba shouted after Sasuke. Shikamaru wanted to tell him to shut up, but it was too troublesome.
“Kiba, put a sock in it,” Chouji said. Shikamaru looked over at Chouji and his friend took it as a sign of thanks. Chouji shrugged in response. “Didn’t do much good,” he noted.
Kiba was running after Sasuke and peppering him with questions until an instructor heard him and roughly pulled him aside.
By the end of the day there were various stories behind Sasuke’s new facial scar. It ranged from Sasuke getting cut while avenging his family honor to falling into a ditch by accident. The girls beat up the last person that suggested the ditch theory.
The laziest Academy student in Konoha sighed and dropped his head into his arms. He didn’t have the energy to deal with all the drama.
Things were a lot less troublesome before Sasuke came back.
It was the spring before Haruno Sakura’s fourth year at the Ninja Academy. She had turned ten not too long ago. Right now the Academy students were on a three-week long break, as the instructors got ready for the transition into a new school year.
Seeing that Sakura was on break, her mother decided to bring Sakura along to the marketplace to show her off to the uncles and aunties while they did their weekly grocery shopping. Sakura hated it when her mother got it into her head to show off the Haruno family’s budding ninja. The limelight made her feel uncomfortable and despite Ino’s reassurances that she looked cute with the red ribbon, Sakura still couldn’t help feeling insecure about her large forehead from time to time.
But as it was break time, Sakura did not have an excuse to refuse her mother. Plus, she was promised anmitsu on the way home to sweeten the deal, so Sakura grudgingly agreed to tag along.
Sakura smiled nervously as another auntie patted her on the head and called her “precocious” and “cute.” As soon as the auntie turned away, Sakura tugged on her mother’s shirt hem, eager to be home, away from all the attention. That was when a ripple of angry whispers went through the crowd. Sakura looked around perplexed by the change in atmosphere. Then she spotted a little blond hair boy standing in the middle of the street with a glower on his face.
The boy wore a tattered cream-colored shirt with a red spiral on it and navy shorts. There were dirt stains and scuffmarks all along his arms and legs. The adults were all looking down their noses at the boy and talking behind their hands. Sakura did not understand. Did the boy do something bad?
Her mother took her hand and pulled her away to the next street over. Sakura’s legs followed, but she couldn’t help looking over her shoulder at the boy. She has never seen a child her age look so angry and… sad before.
As her mother continued to converse with the local tenders, Sakura could not help thinking back on that boy. She tugged at her mother’s hem for attention.
“Mom, I’m going to go check on something,” she murmured.
“Aw sweetie, just wait a little bit longer.”
“Mom,” Sakura whined.
Her mother sighed, “Oh all right, don’t go far, I’ll meet you at the park once I’m done here.”
“Okay!” And then she was off.
By the time she retraced her steps to that spot, the boy was already gone. She fidgeted before mustering up enough courage to ask one of the shopkeepers where did the boy go.
“Oh dear, you don’t want to get involve with that boy, nasty little demon.”
Sakura was taken aback by that answer. She murmured something incomprehensible and jogged away. It took all her courage to approach an adult for help, and to be given that kind of response… Sakura found herself shrinking away from the adults. Why were people so scary and mean? Only Ino-chan was nice.
Giving up hope, Sakura decided to head to the meeting place to wait for her mother. The sakura trees were in full bloom at this time of the year, so the trail through the park should be beautifully littered with the light pink blossoms.
Sakura was ambling leisurely to the meeting point, which was the center of the park, when she heard a little chirp. She followed the chirps to a find a featherless baby bird stranded on the ground.
“How did you get down here?” She wondered as she cradled the bird in her tiny hands. She looked up to see a bird nest nestled high in the branches of an old sakura tree. She swallowed. It was so high.
Sakura shook her head at herself and drew her lips into a determined line. She was a ninja (in training)! She can take on that tree! And so, with the baby bird in one hand, Sakura began to scale the thick tree. In her devotion to not jostle the baby bird, Sakura misjudged her next foothold and slipped. She held the bird close and screamed as she fell.
The sound of wire being pulled reached her ears and next thing she knew, she was caught in a slow descent. Sakura blinked in surprised. All she could see was white. Her savior set her gently on her feet. She took a step back to take in her savior. A boy her age, dark hair, fair skin, a thin scar along the jaw, and dressed in white.
“Sa- Sa- Sa- Sasuke-kun?” Sakura exclaimed.
The corner of Sasuke’s lip twitched. “Why were you climbing the tree?”
Dumbstruck, Sakura stuttered and could only hold up her hand as explanation. The bird chirped at Sasuke.
He quirked an eyebrow at the animal and then looked up to the bird nest. “I see.” He held out his hand. “Allow me?”
Sakura nodded and transferred the bird gently onto Sasuke’s palm. Their hands touched. Sasuke’s hand was warm. Sakura blushed and snatched her hand back. Sasuke snuggled the bird into the high collar of his shirt to free up his hands. By swinging back and forth between two trees with the help of ninja wire, Sasuke easily made his way up to the nest. He carefully returned the bird to its nest. After making sure the bird was okay, he looked down to her and smiled, as if to say, “mission accomplished.”
Crouching on a dark branch of the sakura tree amidst pale pink blossoms, with his hair and clothes ruffling gently in the breeze, and a gentle smile on his handsome face, Uchiha Sasuke was a vision. Sakura stumbled a few steps back. Upon realizing what her body just did, she burned bright red. She did not just swoon.
From his vantage point, Sasuke admired the blossoms. It was like sitting in the middle of a bouquet. “The blossoms in this park have the most beautiful color,” he remarked casually. He caressed a pink petal. “Like your hair,” he added as an afterthought.
Okay, she just swooned.
Before the… tragic Uchiha incident, Sakura had always thought Sasuke was cute. He wasn’t gross and unrefined like the other Academy boys. Coupled with that was the fact that he was the top student in their class. Sakura appreciated brains and talent. She could understand why the girls in class went ga-ga over him. Then after the incident, Sasuke returned a changed person. He had a mature yet sad air about him, like a rare ephemeral blossom that grabbed your attention and had you fretting over how to preserve the beauty and life of such a fragile existence. It made one’s heart clench and roused maternal instincts.
Despite all that, Sakura always held herself back. Someone like her would never be able to have someone like Uchiha Sasuke. He was like a god on a pedestal, way too good for her. He also had a huge fan base, with his number one fan being none other than the number one kunoichi in their class, Ino, her best friend. Sakura had convinced herself that she would be satisfied to nurse her baby crush on Sasuke from afar and maybe see him get together with Ino-chan in the future. Sakura didn’t know about Sasuke, but at least Ino would be happy. And if her best friend were happy then that would make her happy, too.
Now, however, gazing upon that smile, remembering his warmth as he held her and saved her from a nasty fall, seeing his gentleness with the baby bird, and hearing that compliment, Sakura could not contain the feelings that burst within her chest. Her hair was the second feature that she was most insecure about, following her forehead. Her bullies used to taunt her about it being a weird color and that it was unsuitable for a ninja to have such unsightly hair. But Sasuke said he liked that color. The way that he said it, so flippantly, the sky was blue, the grass was green, her hair was pink, and it was a beautiful color. Like it was a matter of fact. It filled her with pride and made her chest swell with unbridled joy. He was the second person to give her confidence in her appearance – Ino being the first, and her parents’ opinions didn’t count.
In that moment, Sakura felt a connection with Sasuke. At the Academy, he was an untouchable being – never mind the fact that his fangirls would step all over her if she tried to get close to Sasuke – but here, he was close. Close enough to touch, and they did touch. Twice. Uchiha Sasuke used to be just someone to admire from afar, but here and now, Sakura thought she played witness to the human side of that untouchable god, something softer, and she liked what she saw.
She liked it a lot.
“Sakura! Where are you?” Her mother called.
“Coming!” Sakura replied. There was a snap of wire, and when she turned back to the tree, Sasuke was gone. On the ground by her feet there was a sprig of cherry blossoms.
Sakura took the sprig home and pressed it into a bookmark to commemorate the date that she confirmed her feelings and set her heart on one Uchiha Sasuke. Even if she was not yet worthy, he was someone worth fighting for. She was sure of it. A voice in the back of her mind bellowed its agreement.
Author’s Note: I have no idea how the Academy curriculum works. I assume that it’s year round. Since they’re ninjas in training, I doubt they would get as much breaks as civilian students would. So I’m going to say the Academy runs year round with weekends off and a three-week break in between school years, and that break time is somewhere around springtime.