The three men entering the casualty department’s waiting room had immediately caught Sakura’s attention. At first her head had snapped up because they’d been so loud, and while Sakura’s job wasn’t precisely to keep people from talking, she’d have thought it’d be common decency to adopt an indoors tone of voice.
“—your fault, anyway, so don’t go blaming it on me, okay?”
The one who was shouting – a spiky-haired blond – was helping a dark-haired man move around the place, though the other obviously didn’t care for the attention; the loud blond carried two bags slung over his chest. The shoulder straps were running parallel to one another, and the two bags hung on his jean-clad left hip, barely slowing him down as he navigated so as to always stand on his friend’s left.
The black-haired man was – Sakura had stared.
She had felt herself staring and it was all she could do to keep her jaw from hanging open. Only a medical student’s nerves saved her the embarrassment of checking whether she wasn’t drooling.
The black-haired man was really, really hot. ...Really, really pretty, actually, which Sakura usually wasn’t too fond of, but on him it looked good. Maybe because his expression countered the apparent fragility of his fine features; he was looking ahead without blinking, his jaw in a hard clench.
He was cradling his left wrist, Sakura had noticed.
The third man walked a step behind, and if not for the fact that the three had arrived exactly at the same moment, Sakura would have wondered if they were really together. He had long dark hair pulled in a ponytail, and that was about all Sakura bothered to note before the first two arrived at her desk.
She’d smiled as she’d greeted them. Slightly less perfunctorily than usual, maybe, because the pretty one really was that pretty up close, but mostly because they were looking at one hour of waiting at least before they even met a doctor for their first examination. None of them looked like he was going to bleed their life out on the linoleum, after all, and there were half a dozen persons already waiting for their turn.
But that had been, like she’d foreseen, over forty minutes ago. Since then, they’d settled in three of the hard wooden chairs of the waiting room.
She’d had to greet and take the names of a five-year-old who was bleeding profusely from the chin – she’d apparently thought trying rope-jumping with her rollerblades would be a challenge –, a fifty-three year old man who’d fallen from a ladder as he was fighting with his daughter while he was changing the bulb of the ceiling light, a dynamic forty-something man who claimed he had ‘pulled something’ while he was on his bicycle (after checking, it’d been the first time in fifteen years he’d touched one), a teenage boy whose hand had broken through his window as he tried to get it to unstuck, and a young woman who had sprained her ankle in the subway’s stairs.
All but the last were accompanied by one or more member of their family – thankfully no-one under seventeen, which guaranteed at least some pseudo-quiet.
All in all, Sakura had decided it was a quiet day.
When she wasn’t busy with one or the other of the would-be patients – getting colour pencils for the little girl, assuring the dynamic businessman that no, it really couldn’t go any faster, indicating the older man that he couldn’t smoke inside, printing the files, hurriedly calling the last hospital they’d claimed to have visited to ask why the patient was registered as having been born in, Sakura read aloud, 1793, reminding one of her coworkers that the X-ray equipment of room 2 were kaput, and seeing off the patients who’d finally been treated – her gaze sometimes wandered over to the three men.
In her defence, it wasn’t entirely her fault, and no-one could blame her for wanting to do her job well.
After all, if the pretty-boy time-bomb suddenly snapped, someone would have to restrain him before he could strangle his companion. And, well, the blond obviously was at ease with his body, but she wasn’t all that sure he knew how to defend himself efficiently from a friend turned homicidal.
The pretty boy, Sakura had learned when she filled the medical card, was called Uchiha Sasuke; he was her age, twenty-three. He held himself with the sort of lean control Sakura had come to expect from a martial artist, which was the excuse she was using to cast occasional looks their way. She had to watch over them, she justified.
The other reason was that the blond one – whom she’d gathered from Sasuke’s threats was named Naruto – ran an almost constant commentary on just about everything, from what Sakura could observe. It drove Sasuke close to crazy.
J-pop pretty, but terminally touchy, Sakura diagnosed as Sasuke’s jaw ground and he clamped down on his damaged wrist. To be fair, it couldn’t be pleasant to be suffering martyrdom from a broken wrist or something, and she supposed that in Sasuke’s place she’d have found Naruto’s incessant blabber terribly annoying as well, so, intellectually, she sympathised.
From where she stood, however, Naruto was an amusing addition to a boring routine. The three of them were sitting at the only chairs close to her counter, so it wasn’t even as if Sakura had any scruple about letting him shoot his mouth off – he wasn’t even getting on the nerves of anyone else, was he?
At first, Sakura hadn’t understood why Naruto had chosen these seats (he’d been the one setting the bags down there), but then she’d quickly caught on. His attempts at flirtation weren’t... particularly discreet. To say the least.
Even as she thought he added some fun, she thought he was loud, spazzy, and obnoxious. Just because she could enjoy said obnoxiousness didn’t mean she didn’t know enough to realise it’d drive her mad if it wasn’t counterbalanced by some quiet.
But Naruto was a change from her usual. Sakura’s usual, by this point, was composed of ninety percent of celibacy. The remaining ten percent was taken by dealing with Lee’s restless pursuit.
Like everytime she thought about him, Sakura stifled a sigh.
Lee was nice.
He really was, he just... had a hard time accepting Sakura wasn’t interested in him like that.
Which was all her fault; she should’ve known better than to agree to date someone whose very eyebrows physically put her off. Yeah, yeah, shallow and all. She’d got that talk from her father, not before she’d told it to herself. It still didn’t change anything. The eyebrows were just the fastest way to put it.
She hadn’t felt at ease dating Lee. Before him, she’d never believed the ‘I’d rather we stay just friends’ was anything more than an excuse thought up by uninspired, uninterested bitches/bastards. She’d had it thrown it her way enough during her high school years to know how that side felt. But her feelings for Lee fit the bill exactly.
So she’d confessed before it became too much of an issue – Lee might be a gentleman, the sweetest boy she’d ever dated, even if he’d never pressure her into anything (the idea was so far-fetched Sakura wanted to laugh), it would have felt like leading him on. And making herself unnecessarily unhappy.
She’d only needed minimum prodding from Ino to reach that decision. Which, really, was the only proof you needed to know Sakura’s relationship with Lee had been a debacle all alone.
But he still sent her poems.
Sakura shivered. Not that Lee’s poems were bad – even she could tell. But she wanted him to understand that while she valued him as a friend, she didn’t like him that way.
And Naruto wasn’t talking of love.
He was talking about the shit spread in the three-months old trash papers that littered the small table in front of their chairs, about how the dynamic businessman needed to chill out, about how Sasuke’s face was going to get stuck that way if there was a draught. He thoroughly violated Sasuke’s personal space, throwing his arm around the other boy’s shoulders, and sputtered loudly when Sasuke elbowed him in the plexus, with gritted words about how Naruto’d better mind Sasuke’s wrist.
Sometimes he flashed a huge grin that made Sakura want to giggle or laugh.
She still hadn’t managed to understand what to make out of the relationship between them and the third man when it was finally the pretty boy’s turn to have the X-ray done.
He stayed in his seat while Naruto and Sasuke followed Sakura’s colleague.
“Keep our bags, ‘kay?” Naruto asked before hurrying after his friend, who hadn’t waited for him. Sasuke dodged the tap Naruto tried to slam down on his shoulder when he caught up with them, then they turned at the corner of the corridor, and Sakura couldn’t see them any more.
She turned her attention the third man’s way.
Maybe she was more curious about their story than about anyone else’s, but she’d never seen people accompanying people they obviously didn’t know to the hospital when there was already a friend or a relative to do the job – she’d seen good Samaritans give someone who needed it a drive to the hospital, and even help them fill in the paperwork, but those left after making sure the person was being taken care of.
A glance around the room told her no-one required her urgent attention. She leaned a bit over the counter; the long-haired man was flipping through a cinema magazine – not a particularly good one, Sakura recognised as she saw the title; it was the new issue. He must have brought it with him.
“Excuse me,” she called in a low voice. “How do you know them?”
The man looked up, and Sakura couldn’t help by being caught off guard.
His eyes were white. Or almost, maybe the lightest shade of grey or some other off colour, but with the peculiar lighting in the waiting room, it looked like almost pure white.
Sakura blinked rapidly, not sure how she could have missed that before. ...Maybe she’d been more fixated on his companions than what she’d originally thought. In her defence, he had spent most of his waiting time reading newspapers or with his eyes closed as the two others were bickering, so it wasn’t as if she’d had many opportunities to examine his eye colour.
White eyes. Had she crossed him in the street, she’d have thought he was blind, but she’d had ample proof that he wasn’t. It was, she judged, slightly – she searched for a less offensive word than ‘freaky’, and gave up when she found none.
Thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice. Or, more likely, he did, but he chose to ignore it. Sakura felt a wave of gratefulness for upper classes politeness; it was so obvious he had to come from a traditionally wealthy background.
“I opened the car’s door too fast,” he said coolly. There might have been the slightest hint of a shadow of a smile involved.
Sakura’s eyebrows rose.
“The – two of them were riding on a scooter by the sidewalk, and they might have been not paying as much to their surroundings as they should have.”
Sakura reflected that she had no trouble believing that, once she’d stopped trying to reconcile the idea of uptight pretty boy Sasuke on top of something as undignified as a scooter; then she remembered Naruto, and suddenly the thought seemed a lot more likely.
She had an image of Sasuke scowling as he had to grip Naruto’s waist while the blond happily drove his scooter, and probably didn’t stop blabbering for a moment, never mind that Sasuke wouldn’t hear even a word of it – or maybe retorting something anyway, and then – a car’s door in front of them, and –
“They fell over,” Sakura guessed.
The man solemnly nodded.
It was all Sakura could do not to crack up. No wonder Sasuke looked so put out.
“The scooter didn’t have anything, but since I was the one responsible for the incident and Sasuke-” his lips curled faintly “-refused to let Naruto drive him here on the ground that it was how he’d injured himself in the first place, I offered to drive them.”
“Oh.” Sakura pondered. It made sense. “But then, why are you still here?” she logically asked.
“Well, I am the one responsible for the incident,” he remarked at the same time as the two other men walked back into the waiting room. “But don’t tell Sasuke I’ve said that.”
He and Sakura exchanged a look of understanding, full of dry humour.
Then a group of orderlies rushed into the waiting room with a stretcher on which an unmoving form was laid and the doctor dashed for Sakura’s desk and she had to drop pretty much everything else to take care of the heart attack, which included more or less kicking a little old woman out of the way of the reanimation room at one point and repressing the urge to yell at the doctor that he was supposed to call beforehand so she’d have everything ready, and kept her brain-hoggingly busy for the following fifteen minutes.
At last the matter was taken out of her hands when the man was put under the appropriate care and Sakura was done sending the message to Doctor Tsunade, who was going to love that doctor’s incompetency. Too bad Sakura couldn’t bring herself to sympathise.
She heaved a sigh as she finally saw aforementioned little old lady off.
She knew little old ladies were generally rumoured to be scary agents of doom and destruction armed with tapestry handbags that came straight out of the mafia, but frankly the way everyone else treated her bordered on the ridiculous. The woman didn’t even have a tapestry bag, for crying out loud.
She deserved a coffee, she decided.
And she was taking one right now.
After all, the nurse room was right behind the counter; what could possibly go wrong in the two minutes it’d take the (abominable see-through ignominious) liquid to get sprouted by the god-gift of a coffee machine?
The answer, Sakura knew (she’d watched enough horror movies to be able to draw general rules of what sort of consequences this type of ingenuous question led to), was ‘too many things to count’, but screw that noise.
Nothing would go wrong while Sakura took her first coffee since lunch break if they knew what was good for them.
If something did, she would break it, she told herself as she pushed the button. Eight years doing thai boxing. That didn’t come handy just when she envisaged subduing patients gone mad.
She was just coming back into the waiting room when the long-haired man – whose name she still hadn’t caught and thus suspected the other two still didn’t know either – pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open.
Sakura debated, took a sip of her coffee, and decided to wait a moment before coming down on him like a frozen incarnation of the rulebook with the intimation that phone calls were strictly forbidden inside the hospital. After all, he was being very quiet; the words only carried to her because his chair was very close and turned toward the counter.
“Hello, Yuuki-chan. How was school today?”
Two goddamn minutes without having to play camp counselor hyphen smiling goddamn receptionist. Was that too much to ask? Honestly, Sakura loved her studies, but sometimes she couldn’t wait getting her diploma.
The long-haired man listened to the answer; out of the phone, Sakura could recognise the accents of the voice of a little girl.
She stifled a sigh and lowered her paper cup. No, really, was the regulation too hard to follow? The ‘no cell phone’ sticker was right there on the counter. And on the entrance door’s glass panes. And on the wall next to the fire extinguisher.
“Can you put your mother on?”
Sakura’s eyebrows shot up, cutting short her gesture to attract his gaze and point him to said sticker.
Next to the man, Naruto was gaping, and Sasuke stared. Naruto caught Sakura’s eyes, and mouthed ‘mother??’ at her, followed by an emphasised ‘Yuuki-chan???’
The possibility that the man might be a father hadn’t crossed any of their minds – especially the father of someone who was old enough to go to school, Sakura admitted, because though he looked to be more or less their age, he might easily be twenty-seven or twenty-eight.
Or he might be a very young thirty-five. A family man.
While she struggled with the idea, the man was fiddling with the hem of his sleeve as he waited. His expression shifted when the woman, presumably, took the phone.
“Hinata? It’s Neji.”
As he spoke, the man – Neji – glanced around and either he noticed the sticker either he noticed that three persons were mute and obviously fixated on his conversation, as he stood up and started walking swiftly toward the door.
“Yes. I might be back late. I am sorry, Hinata.”
The last sentence carried over, reverberating with a strange, unexpected echo as the automatic doors slid open and the man stepped outside, and the next words were lost in the cold air sweeping inside.
Sakura blinked rapidly, then looked back at the two others.
Naruto wore a pensive expression.
“Yeah, he’s not the only one who’s going to be late. Or, well, I guess we’ve good and missed that appointment now...”
“As of the last twenty minutes,” Sasuke muttered. “You’re only thinking about it now, moron?”
Something about their subdued air encouraged her to take a part in their conversation. Missing appointments... That had always been one of her not-so-secret fears. When she was in school, she used to have nightmares about oversleeping and missing a test. Nowadays she was into the habit of counting half an hour more in public transportation than she needed to to make it on time.
“Was it job-related?” she sympathised.
Naruto smiled ruefully. “Heh. Might’ve been. The guy wasn’t exactly forthcoming – he wouldn’t even give us his phone number. Or his name. So we haven’t even been able to call back to warn we wouldn’t be on time, so, yeah. But look at it this way; either it’s something serious and he’ll call back or it was just a joke and he won’t bother. It’s a win-win situation.”
“Except if he’s eccentric and he wanted to see how motivated we were,” Sasuke shot back. “In which case I doubt he’ll be calling us back any time soon.”
Naruto only rolled his eyes.
“Yeaaah,” he drawled, “but would you really be willing to work with someone that batshit for an undetermined number of months, even if he was, say, Tarantino? ...Wait, I take that back. Tarantino is God.”
“All big names are mad in this job. And besides, I’m used to batshit; I already work with you, don’t I?”
“You work in cinema?” Sakura ventured.
She wouldn’t have imagined Sasuke in that kind of surroundings, and as for Naruto – well, it struck her as less unexpected, but at the same time it took her by surprise. She’d imagined both of them were students as well, she realised.
It made her slightly uneasy that she was still a student, technically for a number of years more, while many of her age group, she figured, were already working. Ino had a job. It wasn’t her fault; it was the way studying medicine went, but at the same time... Well. It made her feel like she was falling behind.
Which was stupid; she was studying to become a doctor, of course the studies were long, and at the same time she was working at a hospital.
She knew that; but she’d been wary of falling behind for a number of years now.
Not when she was in school, she was easily one of the best students – she’d been a candidate at three national competitive examinations, and she’d snagged that fifth national place in maths, all of which ample proof that she might just be one of the best students in the country – but university was a different world than that to which she’d been used to.
She was indeed one year behind, now – one year spent in a preparatory school for exams to engineering she'd never been interested in. Not that it’d been a waste of her time, but...
If she hadn’t met Doctor Tsunade, chances were she’d be very unhappy right now.
Thus vocations were born.
Meanwhile, Naruto was quasi beaming.
“Yup. I’m in lights,” he grinned as if it was the best job ever, “and the bastard’s a sound engineer.” He pulled a face. “Or, well, actually that’s the diploma he’s got. He’s an assistant so far.”
He glanced Sasuke’s way and looked like he wanted to add something – his lips even curled as if he was about to start snickering, but Sasuke imperturbably punched him in the arm.
“And jobless in a month. I’d rather not spend any more time unemployed than we absolutely have to, moron.”
“That’s how you met?” Sakura questioned. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw one of her coworkers go up to the dynamic businessman and usher him in the corridor without interrupting her.
Naruto stretched his arms smoothly – his back arched, and Sakura’s eyes were momentarily drawn to the hem of his sweater, which rode up and revealed a bright orange shirt, and underneath, just a flashing slip of— she tore her gaze away at the same moment that Naruto settled back confortably into his chair and sprawled. Looking up, Sasuke sent him a pointed look as he scooted away so that Naruto’s thigh and arm wouldn’t be touching him. His right fingers twitched on his damaged wrist.
“Nah, we’ve known each other for waaaay longer than that. Kindergarten.”
He looked incredibly proud of himself. A faint flush coloured Sasuke’s cheeks, and he scowled, again.
Sakura felt a wide grin of her own pull at her lips.
“I’ve known my best friend since elementary school. We had a fall-out at one point, but... It wasn’t as important as our friendship.”
Sasuke sent her a surprised look. He probably hadn’t imagined she knew about life-long friendships – they were kind of rare, after all. From her personal experience, most people tended to react with exclamations of awe and disbelieving enthusiasm. He must have been expecting that as well.
She felt something like a thrill of victory that she’d managed to shake his shell of complacency, but she didn’t pay all her attention to it, because Naruto was looking at her with an air that said he knew exactly what she was talking about.
They shared a glint of understanding, then Naruto’s eyes crinkled and he nodded.
“Yeah, Sasuke and I did that whole estrangement thing too. But in the end I was too annoying for him to ignore. So we went back to being BFF!”
Sasuke’s teeth audibly gritted. “You—cretin, we didn’t ‘return’ to anything because we’d spent the better part of a decade not standing one another.”
He was pretty hot when he was pissed, his eyes flashing with anger, Sakura thought. Naruto’s smile was showing a sliver of steel now.
“You just didn’t want to acknowledge that we’re—”
The sound of the entrance door sliding open made Sakura look up. It was Neji, having finished his phone call.
“—brothers in everything that counts,” Naruto said, then went on as Neji came closer, as if he didn’t notice the way Sasuke had tensed at his words, “so you’re done with the call? It was your girlfriend?”
“Wife,” Sasuke muttered.
“—Wife, whatever, what I mean is, you’ve got a kid?”
Sakura thought that just because his girlfriend was a mother didn’t mean he had to be the father – plenty of people got divorced – but Naruto seemed to be doing a fine job embarrassing himself and she had no intention of joining him.
And, well, given Sasuke’s reaction to the implication that unmarried people could have kids, it was a good thing he wasn’t intervening more either.
“Man, I thought you were our age,” Naruto complained, who apparently lacked the brains to be properly horrified by the things coming out of his mouth, and whose expression brightened as if he’d found the infallible way of solving the Rubikub, “or she’s older? I me—”
He’d been looking like he wouldn’t stop talking any time soon, and Sakura had been mortified for him, so she sent Sasuke a grateful look. Naruto obviously didn’t recognise true friendship when it kicked him in the shin, and thus glowered at Sasuke, who’d done just that, with great efficiency, and who was now looking merely somber.
A tiny smile quirked at Neji’s lips, but it vanished quickly. The man looked even stonier than Sasuke, Sakura decided. At least he had expressions, even if so far they mostly consistent on variations of a scowl.
“Hinata is my cousin,” he informed them. “Not my girlfriend.”
He smirked slightly at their slack jaws – well, Naruto’s slack jaw and the expression of Sasuke that translated to the same. Sakura refused to think she might be giving herself away in that fashion.
“We’re flatmates,” he added. As if it was any kind of explanation – which it was, when one thought of the sky-rocketing rents – though not any kind that might prove enough for Naruto.
“Oh, that’s why you said you’d be late – you have dinner together usually?”
The man sent Naruto a wry, ‘nice to know I can have private conversations’ look. Sakura refrained the strong urge to slap her hand against her forehead. Sasuke, for a change, slumped slightly in his chair.
Naruto, at long last, seemed to realise what was wrong with his insistence. He smiled sheepishly. “Heh. Sorry. It’s just that I love kids, and my acquaintances are worth jack shit in that respect so far.”
“That may be because we’re twenty-three.”
Sakura’s mind underlined this comment and went back to the last few sentences and her own surprise that Neji could be a father when he looked to be about their age, and a sense of foreboding settled in her bones. She had realised that Naruto’s social skills required a bit of polishing – something like politeness norms which he was lacking – but compared to Sasuke, she was slowly coming to realise Naruto was actually the lesser of two catastrophes. After all, he, at least, had social skills.
“Hinata is twenty-three,” Neji levelly commented.
Sakura started. She couldn’t help but start.
As soon as she did, she had to fight a blush. Honestly, it wasn’t as if it was anything shameful. They were talking about a child. Not syphilis. And she’d been criticising Naruto and Sasuke’s civility. She was a fine one to talk.
She shifted, uncomfortably aware both of the social norms that had been ingrained in her and how obviously they showed.
The fact that Sasuke looked as thrown as she did, though less embarrassed, didn’t do anything to make her feel better.
She barely had the time to wonder whether the situation was going to dissolve into one of these horribly awkward moments where no-one knew what to say and people looked everywhere except at one another, but for the person who’d thrown them into it to begin with. Neji, from what she could see out of the corner of her eye – she just couldn’t bring herself to look at him in the eye, and that did nothing to make her blushing problem go away – seemed to be far from sharing Sasuke and her’s feelings.
But then, she guessed, he must be used to it. Maybe it even amused him.
In a small corner of her mind, the logical part of herself wondered at the fact that his cousin had been a teenage mother – and there’d been quite a telling lack of mention of the child’s father, so she didn’t think he’d stuck around – given their sort of social background. Statistics did say that most teenage mothers were lower-class, she’d swear up and down she hadn’t imagined those.
But then she was jostled out of her rapid spiralling into mortification.
“My foster father was twenty when he took me in.” Naruto’s grin was shining with calm confidence. Neji’s lips curved into a smile. A Moment was shared.
“Then again,” Sasuke coolly cut in, “some twenty-three years old are true children.”
He wasn’t looking at either Naruto nor Neji, but the insinuation was about as subtle as a brick.
Naruto pursed his lips.
“You talkin’ about Sai? Mr Can’t Speak A Sentence Without Peniiiis?”
Sasuke opened his mouth as if he had a reply planned.
“Wait, you know Sai?” she blurted out.
Naruto and Sasuke broke eye contact.
“Er, you know Sai?” Naruto echoed. Then he chuckled nervously, scratching the back of his head. “Wait, you already said. Er. We’re speaking about the same Sai here? Photographer, sees Freudian symbolism everywhere?”
“Who wears tank tops three sizes too small,” Sakura finished with a smile.
“Yeah, that’s him!” Naruto laughed. “So, how d’you know him? He and us, we’re sort of working in the same world, but you’re not...”
He made an expressive grimace, while Sasuke glanced heavenward. The gesture was too discreet to be caught by Naruto, but Sakura did, and flashed Sasuke a quick smile. The dark-haired boy answered with a sardonic smirk that shot straight through every one of Sakura’s synapses.
She swallowed. Then she tried to convince herself that she wasn’t getting dizzy over a smirk. Even if it was the first time Sasuke acted as though her presence was worth something more than a headache and they could share amusement at Naruto’s expense. Not that she’d been counting.
“My best friend’s a journalist, she introduced us,” Sakura explained, redirecting her gaze toward the blond. “Since then, I don’t know how, but I’ve never quite managed to get rid of him...”
“That sounds like Sai all right! Every time I see him, he goes on and on about my dick,” Naruto said confidentially. “I’m still not sure if he’s insulting my masculinity or hitting on me.”
An incredulous giggle choked its way out of Sakura’s lips. Sasuke snorted.
In a flash, Naruto had his arm around his shoulders.
“Aw, don’t be jealous, Sasuke baby, you know you’ll always be first in my heart, but can I help it if I’m a real stud?” he asked at Neji.
Then he made to wink salaciously at Sakura, but his dawning leer was cut off by a horrified expression, his eyes rolling violently. Sasuke had sunk his elbow in Naruto’s stomach, then, while Naruto was still working his mouth wordlessly to get his breath back, elbowed him again for good measure.
And then once more when Naruto looked like he was going to start breathing normally again.
“’hhrh,” Naruto articulated. Though he was folded in two due to the pain, one of his arms wrapped around his middle, and a couple of tears squeezed out of his tightly crunched eyes, he managed to convey his meaning quite clearly through the finger of his other hand, brandished haphazardly in Sasuke’s direction.
“I told you to mind my wrist, idiot,” Sasuke dropped coolly, not even deigning to take offense.
“’re such a bastard, Sasuke,” Naruto wheezed. “Bastard.”
“Well, his wrist is injured,” Neji remarked. Sasuke shot him a look that was decidedly unfriendly, which Neji ignored.
On Sakura’s desk, one of the red lights started flashing, signalling her that one of the patients would be out of the examination room shortly. ...She hadn’t printed the form, had she. She had been too caught up in the conversation.
Admittedly, it wasn’t everyday that she met people who’d met Sai and had apparently got on with him sufficiently well to see him again after that.
Her own first contact with the man had been extremely... chaotic. It had involved the smashing of one particularly expensive camera and one of Ino’s numerous attempts to set Sakura up.
Sakura had a suspicion that the only reason she’d bothered to nuance her second opinion of the man (the first had been, ‘I’ll need to remind Ino I like my men more masculine. ...oh. Abs.’; the second had been most eloquently evinced through the smashing of the camera, as the closest thing to Sakura that belonged to Sai) was that he’d failed to threaten her to make her pay for the thing.
It may have been aided by the fact that on the day after what ranked as Sakura’s Most Spectular First Date Gone Wrong, she’d received a socially unacceptable thank-you note from Sai.
Sakura kept it on top of the pile of unpaid bills for days when she needed something to cheer her up.
It also wasn’t everyday such eye candy stumbled into Sakura’s life. Dear Lord, she hoped she wasn’t getting a crush. It’d be embarrassing. She’d only known him for – she twisted a glance at her watch – one hour and forty minutes. Not to mention hopeless. He was acting so far from interested he might as well be gay. He just might, with Sakura’s luck. Naruto certainly teased him as if he was.
Then again, Naruto had been flirting nonstop since they’d come in.
“I don’t care, he’s a bastard,” Naruto repeated.
His voice carried enough that Sakura, bent behind her desk as she ruffled through the bottom drawer in order to find the new stack of paper for the printer, could hear without straining.
Standing up again, the first thing she noticed after Sasuke’s hint of a self-satisfied smirk was the second light flickering on her desk. A quick glance around the room told her that it meant it’d be Sasuke’s turn. Another glance at the papers spread on her desk in an attempt to make it easier for Sakura to snatch the correct one at the moment it was required of her told her that she hadn’t printed that form either.
Thankfully the medical cards were with the doctors who were seeing the patients, because otherwise Sakura would have been close to panicking that she couldn’t find them anym— a random search through the papers left her staring at the medical card of a woman who’d been discharged in the morning. Not during Sakura’s shift.
What it was doing among the unsorted papers, Sakura really wondered, and why no-one had thought of taking care of it. She feared she knew the answer to that one; let the obsessive-compulsive intern deal with it, right?...
She started to quickly sort out the other papers, partly because it might be possible her coworker had left her a note explaining why part of the woman’s file was here, partly to make sure there weren’t any more nasty surprises waiting for her. (Also, why hadn’t she noticed something was messy before?)
The first patient who’d been treated came into the waiting room at the same moment Sakura caught the form from the printer between her thumb and forefinger, and set it down on her desk with a flourish.
She was starting to think she’d be able to go back to the conversation – she hadn’t listened to their few past sentences, but she had the inkling Naruto’d make her feel right at home again – when, right on cue, the entrance door opened to reveal a woman carrying a small boy in her arms. She rushed toward Sakura’s desk, her eyes flashing and her scarf askew.
The boy emitted a strange wheezing kind of sound that alarmed Sakura even before his mother was done swooping down onto the desk.
“My son is breathing oddly,” the woman said in a tone that broke no argument.
The following wheeze filled the waiting room; a couple of patients looked up from their newspapers.
Sakura nodded. “Come with me.”
There was no time to waste. Since she’d started working, Sakura had come to be able to differentiate between minor injuries that could bear stewing for a while before being looked at, and inner ailments that required to be identified as soon as possible. The man waiting to sign his leaving form would just have to keep on waiting until she could get her hands on the doctor he’d just left.
Luckily, she found him three steps into the corridor; she’d already been rattling off, in her mind, how she could send for someone to take her place at the desk while she handled the child.
He caught on within the ten seconds it took for Sakura to call his name and gesture for the woman to follow her. It was one of the things Sakura loved with this job, she thought once she hurried back to her desk; that everyone was always on the go, ready for anything. Even the most boring of routines could come out onto situations where you had to think fast, act fast, and rely on your coworkers.
What she loved most, though, was the other half of these situations, the half to which she was effectively banned from on nights where, like tonight, she was playing the part of a glorified receptionist; the actual doctoring part, which was longer and harder and more intense, and required more focus than anything else Sakura had ever experienced.
Though desk duty did come with unexpected advantages, she reflected as she handed their leaving forms to the two patients now standing at the desk. Like meeting new people.
When the doctor who’d finally take charge of Sasuke’s wrist arrived at her desk, nodding at her and already looking around for the next patient, Sakura quickly tore the corner of a blank page.
“Mr Uchiha, it’s your turn,” she said with barely a glance up as she reached for the pen that was left for the patients to use when something needed signing.
She heard the sound of fabric rustling as he stood up and Naruto mumble something, rising as well. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sasuke stand still for a moment, presumably to glare at Naruto or something similar, she guessed when, after a pause, Naruto heaved a sigh and bent to grab both bags from the ground.
“There, ready to go. Happy now?”
Sasuke didn’t dignify this with an answer.
“Wait,” Sakura called, lifting the hand she wasn’t scribbling with – someday she was going to remember her new phone number.
She set the pen down, and held the scrap of paper out. Toward Naruto, as it happened, who’d been taking a step in her direction.
“Hey, cool,” he said as he took it from Sakura’s fingers. “Bastard, you should get your wrist broken more often, if that gets me cute girls giving me their phone numbers.”
Oh no, wrong overture. She opted for a smile which she hoped was disarming. Sai had told her it read as fake, but frankly he had no room whatsoever to talk. The cheesiest smiles this side of Swiss.
“Well, we have a friend in common – or an acquaintance we’re liable to go to jail for murdering someday. Maybe the three of us could hang out?” she suggested.
Naruto pouted; Sakura realised he’d only been joking before.
“Aw, damn. It’s all your fault,” he told Sasuke, while he read Sakura’s note – probably making sure every figure was legible, for which Sakura couldn’t blame him, “your scary face scares them all away.”
“And a good thing too. I’m saving them time for when they realise what they’ve got into and run away from you screaming.”
The tone was a bored deadpan, and he wasn’t even looking at either of them, but Sakura giggled all the same. She wouldn’t have minded if he’d checked if she did or not, but she could take what she got. An injured man willing to toss a few verbal barbs when he could be getting healed already wasn’t bad, at all.
“Yes, well, Sakura’s not running, is she?” Naruto finally looked up from the note, grinning victoriously. That’s right, she remembered. She hadn’t told them her name before.
“Hn,” Sasuke acknowledged with a nod her way. Damn, but he was hot. Why did he have to be so stoic. Then he turned and marched off toward the corridor as if even that manifestation of pseudo-interest had been an intolerable breach of his personal aloofness. Sakura was starting to get an inkling why Naruto was constantly pushing him.
The doctor raised an eyebrow at Sakura, but otherwise didn’t comment as she made to follow her patient. He wasn’t walking as fast as he made it look her was, Sakura realised.
Naruto let out a small ‘eh’ sound.
“In bastardese, that means he likes you,” he informed her as he hauled the straps back across his shoulder. He winked, and walked past her.
Neji was smirking at her.
Sakura weighed her luck. In the end, she selected the passive-aggressive, I-know-your-own-business approach.
“Don’t you have a cousin to go back to?” she challenged him. She was aware of how unprofessional she’d been. No need for some upper-class asshole to point it out on top of it.
A faint smile floated on Neji’s lips. “I do.”
“Well?” she called from behind her desk, where she’d just realised that, remember that sheet you tore the corner, the one you thought was blank? It actually isn’t. “Weren’t you going to be late?”
Oh no, and now it sounded the five-year-old girl was bored with the colouring...
“I won’t be,” he said calmly.
He was out before Sakura started asking the little girl if she wanted something else to amuse herself with.