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She Notices

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It's on twenty-ninth June that she notices the first one.

This one is the smallest; it's the first one. It's nothing at all, yet it sends Karin's nostrils flaring.

When Karin enters the small war-medic tent, Suigetsu, Jugo, lazy boy Shikamaru, the blonde girl Ino, socially inept Sai, and her distant cousin, Naruto all glance up at her. Kakashi's eyes, however, are glued to his errotic novel. (The very novel Captain Yamato furtively leans over to catch a glimpse of.)

And the rest utter some hi's and hello's. Sai, instead, greets her with her nickname, "Good morning, Red."

At least he didn't call me Hoe, Karin thinks, recalling their first encounter. But his nicknames still suck.

She turns to Sasuke, drinking in the sight of his milky pale skin, midnight dark bangs and dark, mysterious eyes—which, unfortunately, are not on her. He doesn't give a hello, not even a nod to greet her.

He must be shy, Karin deduces. She walks over to meet him, when someone else enters the tent.

It's the pink-haired girl, Sakura.

"Hey, Sakura-chan!" Naruto hollers.

Sai smiles, "Ugly," earning a glare from Sakura.

"Billboard Brows!" Ino exclaimes, shooting to her feet to embrace her friend.

Kakashi meets Sakura's eyes and Yamato gives her a hasty smile, then they both quickly return to their book.

The fact they wanted to see her more than they wanted to see Karin didn't bother her.

But when Karin looked back down at Sasuke, her eyes widened to see his face tilted upwards, looking at Sakura.

Looking at her.

Looking. At. Her.

Now, the fact that he of all people wanted to see her made her want to pull her hair out.

She notices that the charcoal of his usually stoic eyes were glinting in ambient light, as if he were—she daresay—anticipating the doctor's arrival. His eyes were usually devoid of all emotion; something like that should be impossible.

And she should've appreciated the way he was looking when he was gazing up at Sakura. The way the angle of his face made light accent his sharp cheekbones, the slant of his long lashes of the Uchiha, his stagnant lips, how she could she his well-defined Adam's apple clearly, how a shadow was cast over the nape of his neck and how his unkempt hair shifted as he moved.

But in that moment, she hates the way Sasuke looks.

Because the reason why he had looked so perfect and unattainable was because of that girl.

That wretched girl.

It's on the seventh of July that she notices the second one.

Team Hebi and several Konoha shinobi are seated on the cherry-red barstools of a club, several shots down, cheeks flushed and speech sluggish. (Lee wasn't invited because of the last incident at the bar.)

Karin takes this as an opportunity to woo the Uchiha, and excuses herself to go to the restroom. She re-applies her matte red lipstick, elongates her lashes with mascara, and re-dusts her eyelids with gold. She tugs at the plunging neckline of her short, blood-red cocktail dress, and finger-combs her hair—which she had curled the previous night—and straightens her gold necklace. She glances down at her legs—waxed this morning—and at her stilettos. She prepares to take off her glasses as soon as she goes back inside.

She turns to leave (not before checking her reflection one last time), and sees Sakura swing open the bathroom door. Though her footsteps are sluggish, she looks gorgeous—much to Karin's chagrin. She's dressed in a quarter-sleeved, modest, black bouffant—with shimmering grey finishes—that falls to her knees, and silver gladiators which are intertwined around her legs, making them seem impossibly long. Her rose-pink hair is tied up in an intricate bun, and a few spiralled strands frame her face. Her eyes were smoked, and lips shaded with maroon. She doesn't show much of her skin, yet she manages to outshine several girls.

But not Karin. Not today. Not in the dress she was wearing.

"Y'know," Sakura says, leaning over to look at Karin through the mirror. "If I were gay, I'd love to go home with you."

Karin laughs. No matter how much she tries to hate Sakura, she can't. She makes everyone feel better—and not just because she is a medic. She brightens up a room just as she enters it. Her smile is warm and genuine. She has sly, dirty jokes that often take a second to decode before you laugh.

"No, seriously," Sakura insists. "You look glamorous, Karin. G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S."

Karin smirks. "Thanks," And she struggles to add, "You look great, too."

"Thank you." Sakura grins. "If you need someone to hold back your hair tomorrow morning, then I'm there for you."

"Ditto." Karin returns.

"Unless," Sakura winks at her, "You're at someone else's house next morning."

"You never know!" Karin says, hoping that she wakes up to the ceiling of the Uchiha Manor.

Ino staggers into the bathroom at that moment, followed by Temari and Hinata.

Ino is adorned in a floor-length, grape-purple sheathe with a slit running down the side of her legs. Temari, on the other hand, sports a graceful, snake green empire, with a nude sweetheart neckline.

Hinata is clad in a floor-length ball-gown, which ballooned-out into a princess type ending—trying to show as less skin as possible—but the swell of her double-D size bust underneath the dress speaks for itself.

"I better be going back to our table," Karin says. "If we leave those dudes alone, you don't know what they'll do."

"She's right," Sakura agrees. "I'll go with her."

Ino is already hurling into the sink, and Temari struggles to pull back all of her blonde actresses. "Yeah, whatever." She says.

Hinata nods and smiles at them, while she tries to soothe Ino by rubbing her back.

"What a lightweight," Sakura mutters, as she steps outside.

They walk up to the table, to see Kiba and Naruto's hands clasped in front of them, either one struggling to push the other down. Their hands vibrated due to the strain, but was otherwise still.

Sakura sighs. "Both of you are equally weak."

"Suddap, Sakura!" Kiba barks, a vein on his forehead pulsing with urgency.

Naruto grits his teeth, thrusting force upon Kiba's palm. The air around him fizzles with slightly golden fumes, as if he were about to go into Kurama Chakra Mode. Soon, with aching finalty, Naruto manages to inch Kiba's hands to one side.

"Dammit!" Kiba exclaims, as Naruto slams Kiba's hand into the table.

Naruto shoots to his feet, hooting. "Boo-yah! Another win to the future Hokage! Now you gotta take a shot, sucker."

Kiba mutters unprintable words and gulps down some booze.

"Next match is Sasuke versus Sakura," Naruto declares. "Winner gets to choose the next match, remember?"

"I'm not playing," Sasuke states.

"Oh, really?" Sakura asks, in a drawling voice. She takes Kiba's seat, and leans forward on the table, with the support of her hands. The stray strands of hair cover one of her eyes. She pouts at him. "Scared?"

"No." Sasuke replies, eyes flashing haughtily.

Ooh, the famous Uchiha Pride looks so cute on Sasuke! Karin thinks, admiring him.

"I'm ready to kick some Uchiha ass," Sakura says, planting her elbow on to the table. "No matter how low it might be riding."

The boys chortle and jeer at this, and Karin guffaws.

Sasuke wordlessly grasps her hands.

Karin feels a wave of jealousy hit her. It's just a game, she reminds herself, as she crosses her arms. I can play with Sasuke next, and hold his hand.

Before she's even through with half of that thought, Karin hears a CRASH!

Kain gasps at the now-splintered table, shocked to see Sasuke's hands twisted over, Sakura's dominating his.

The pinkette beams like a Cheshire Cat. "Who's your daddy?"

Everyone errupts into cheers, shouting cat-calls and whooping wolf-whistles.

Karin sees Sasuke's ears go pink under his hair, as he gets up to dust himself off.

Her jaw slackens, and she clenches her fists with imminent envy.

She doesn't wake up in the Uchiha Manor the next morning.

It's on the eighteenth of July that she notices the third one.

They're slurping on Ichiraku Ramen, when Ino asks Sakura, "Hey—could I borrow your bike?" She gestures to the pink motorcycle that looks intimmidating despite its color.

"Mine?" Sakura inquires. "Sure, Ino. Ever since I've met you I've wanted you to get on top of something pink and ride it."

Karin chokes on her soup, Naruto spits out the ramen he was about to swallow, and everyone chortles obnoxiously.

Ino glares at her friend, but her eyes betray her.

Karin is startled—to say in the least—when she sees Sasuke's reaction. His lips quirk at their corners, and eyes shine slightly, with mirth.( That's is the last word Karin would use to describe Sasuke's eyes—right after ugly.) As per Sasuke's emotional range, he might as well have been laughing out loud.

The usual jealousy she had experienced whenever she noticed one of these moments, surprisingly, doesn't surface. She simply bewildered.

She spends the next ten seconds with her mouth agape, and the rest of the day conjuring the image of Sasuke almost-smiling at Sakura.

It's on the thirtieth of July that she notices the fourth one.

"Hey, Pinkie!" Suigetsu calls. Sakura turns at her nickname, an eyebrow raised.

"We're going off to train," he says, "And since I'm a generous young man, I'm offering you the divine opportunity to come and join us."

"You're not a generous man," Karin hisses. "You're just flirting with her." She, out of the corner of her eyes, notices Sasuke stiffen up.

"Well, can you blame me?" Suigetsu asks, giving Sakura a fanged smirk.

"I can't," Sakura agrees, stepping towards them. "And I wouldn't like to decline such a divine opportunity, so I'd love to join you." Sakura links her arm with Suigetsu's as if they were a couple.

Karin glances at Sasuke, and sees his sharingan and rinnegan whirr to life. One eye is an elaborate pinwheel bathed in crimson, while the other is concentric circles emblazoned upon lilac.

Karin's eyebrow skyrockets, skeptically.

If anyone wonders why Karin's clingy demeanor towards Sasuke had deteriorated after the thirtieth of July, it's because in that moment, Karin realizes one thing:

If anybody makes Sasuke acknowledge their presence; makes Sasuke anticipate their arrival; makes Sasuke's ear go pink; make Sasuke almost smile; and even make Sasuke unsheathe his visual prowess out of jealousy—Karin couldn't call that anything else but love.

If anyone wonders why she wasn't jealous on the thirtieth of July, Karin is afraid that even she can't answer that.

It's on the second of August that Karin notices the fifth one.

They're waiting for Kakashi sensei to join them before they can leave for their road trip.

Sakura has her legs on either side of a park railing, while Ino leans on it next to her. Hinata and Temari stand idly, along with Karin. They watch the boys—excluding Sasuke, Juugo and Sai—scamper about the park like a bunch of drunks, sniggering and tackling each other randomly.

"These dudes are one of my favourite sources of entertainment." Sakura says, watching them with an amused expression.

"And your other source of entertainment?" Temari asks, risquély, with a fist on her hips.

"Right above this rod." She returns, pointing at the railing she's sitting on.

Wait a second... Karin thinks. Right above that rod is—

"My vagina." Sakura finishes.

Temari and Karin chuckle, Juugo stays passive, and Sai seems genuinely curious. ("How often do you utilize that source of entertainment?" "I've always wondered how that works." "Could I watch next time you do it? Kakashi wants to continue the Icha Icha novels as ghost writer, and he's hiring me as artist. He insists that I do some research, first.")

Two people's faces, however, are flushed: Hinata is embarrassed, cheeks reddening as she twiddles her fingers, and Sasuke is...

Karin doesn't know what Sasuke is, but his cheeks are dusted with the slightest shade of baby pink—you wouldn't have seen it unless you were looking for it.

But she does know he stays like that till Kakashi arrives with a half-baked excuse on his lips.

It's on the third of August—during the road trip—that she notices the sixth one.

They are sitting in the bus, driven by Lady Tsunade, and Suigetsu's up to his old flirting, again.

"Hey, Pinkie!" he begins with a sing-song voice, and Karin rolls her eyes.

"Hi, Suigestu!" Sakura returns, with the same voice.

Karin, as per drill, glances at Sasuke for his reaction. His eyes are stuck to Sakura and Suigetsu, glinting with malice—and she knows he's on the verge of unsheathing his cursed eyes.

"Would you like to go to that cable car place? It takes you to the top of this mountain that overlooks the sea. I've heard two people get to sit in one car… Would you care to come with me?"

Sakura raises an eyebrow at Suigetsu. "A cable car? Seriously? You're going cheap on me! And here I thought you loved me." She crosses her arms.

Suigetsu frowns, "I was thinking dinner at the fancy italian restaurant at the top of the hill…"

Sasuke's eyebrow twitches.

"Really?" Sakura's eyes shine with faux-awe.

"Kakashi and Gai sensei already told us about the whole cable car and restaurant thing, and they asked us to get our own money." Karin cutts in. "And since you're broke, I lent you my money."

"Not your money," Suigetsu replies. "Sakura's money."

"No," Karin scowls. "My money. I work at the hospital, and I get a salary. So it's my money. You'd know how that works, if you had a job."

"Whatever," Suigetsu says. "I'm still going in the cable car with Sakura."

"You're not." Sakura intones. "I'm going with Ino."

"Ha!" Karin shouts, and Suigetsu grumbles to himself.

"Sakura…" Ino begins.

"What is it?"

"I kinda promised Sai I'd go with him."

"Oh my God!" Sakura cries. "Did he ask you? Or did you beg him like you normally do?"

"He asked me." Ino says, flipping her glossy locks. "And we're going to the other place next to that restaurant, without any of you douchebags."

"Don't worry, I'm not crashing that party." Sakura promises. "I'm just so happy for you."

"So am I." Karin adds, giving Ino a wink.

"But the question remains, who's going with Sakura?"

"I am."

Karin turns so fast, she thinks she gets whiplash. That voice is unmistakably of—

"Sasuke?" Ino demands, incredulously. "Aren't you going in the car with Naruto?"

"He's going with Hinata." Sasuke says, dismissively.

Ino and Sakura let out a high-pitched shout, and run to Hinata—who was sitting at the front of the bus—in a whirlwind of "oh my gosh" "I can't believe it" "who would've thought that Naruto could ask out a girl" "Hinata must be so—oh my goodness" "I'm just so—I can't even—I mean" "gurl, go get some!"

Karin follows, but her mind is stuck to the fact that—

Sasuke, the stoic asshole, actually asked out Sakura! If you could call a simple cable car ride for five minutes asking out. But As per Sasuke's standards, it might be as good as asking her to be his wife!

Karin tries to focus on Hinata, and the fact that Naruto was going to take her to a separate place, too, but she's inwardly too excited about Sakura and Sasuke that…

I've been turned into a fangirl, Karin realizes.

This time, it doesn't pain her to see Sasuke with Sakura, but because she couldn't see more of what happened.

It's on the seventh of August that Karin notices the seventh one.

It's one that she had, on purpose, looked out for.

It's—unfortunately—not always that she's with Sasuke and Sakura, and so she has to peek from behind a building (cloaking her self with her chakra) or under the cover of a bush.

This time, she's watching from the trees, using the leaves as a disguise of shamrock.

They—Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke and Sai—are training. They are having an ongoing tournament—Sai lost to Sasuke, and now Sasuke was up against Sakura.

Sakura tugs on her gloves and pushes her hair back into a perky ponytail.

Sasuke pulls his katana out of his scabbard, and redies his stance.

Sakura squares herself up and rolls her shoulders.

Their eyes are icily transfixed.

Naruto chucks a rock into the sky. The instant it hits the ground with a muffled thud, Sasuke yells, "Fire Style—Fireball Jutsu!" and blows an inferno through his lips.

Sakura places her two palms on the ground, and retorts, "Earth Style—Mud Wall!" The earth rises up at her command, formulating a makeshift shield that begins to crumble due to the immense heat. Sakura jumps as the last tuffs of fire ar blown, fist shrouded in blue, thrumming with chakra.

As her knuckles graze Sasuke's chest—(rock-hard, Karin knows from all that clinging she's done)—the chakra is released with a blast, and Sasuke disappears in a whiff of smoke, as an unfortunate log takes his place.

Sakura turns around, to see Sasuke materialize before her with a cackling Chidori in hand, bolts of lightning in his palm.

The diamond on her forehead shines, before it elongates into indigo ribbons that stretch across her body, disappearing under her clothes.

She catches Sasuke's forearm by the wrist, forcing his jutsu to dissipate. Sasuke uses his longsword to slash at Sakura, and she steps backward.

Her skin is spared, but her red blouse is not.

It is shredded by his blade, and falls to the ground, revealing a black sports bra underneath. The lines of the Mitotic Regeneration seal decorate her torso. Grid-like muscles define her abdomen, and cords of muscles run to-and-fro her body. Scars gash her skin, eternal reminders of the plight of a shinobi.

She still looks beautiful.

Sasuke's eyes widen.

Sakura pays her torn shirt no mind, and pulls and elbow back to square him in the stomach—thinking he would block it with the flat of his sword.

But in that moment, he's too busy shamelessly ogling her to block her blow.

He doubles over, wheezing and spluttering.

"I win!" Sakura satiates. "Person with the first hit goes to the next round, right?"

Sasuke is reduced to a heaving pile on the grass.

He's so damned in love with her and he doesn't know it, Karin thinks, shaking her head.

It's on the fifth of September that she notices the eighth one.

Karin is watching from a bush.

They're both sitting on a bench, under the half-bitten moon and watching the shimmering stars of Konoha.

Karin can only see their backs, but she can hear them clearly.

"You know," Sakura says. "You've really changed."

Sasuke, cautiously, says; "So have you."

Karin imagines that Sakura must've smiled.

"It's been a long journey since we were kids, and…" Sakura cogitates. "I've learnt to like the few things that you say—when you were not blinded."

"As in?"

"Like right now, saying So have you." She points out. "And that night, several years ago… when you said Thank you."

Karin sees Sasuke's back tense up.

"It's something that made me believe in you," she says.

Karin sees her hand—which was on the bench—inch towards Sasuke.

"And when you said Sorry." She says, voice blissfully quiet, yet speaking volumes. "It made me think that it was right about believing in you."

This time, it's Sasuke that moves. He, tentatively, brings his slender fingers to touch Sakura's cheek.

Karin catches her breath.

Sakura turns, baffled. She meets his solemn eyes, and catches her breath, too.

They both move, slowly—so slow that Karin's chest aches—and finally their noses brush against each other.

Sakura fits hers next to Sasuke's.

Their lips meet.

Karin bites her lips from screeching.

Sakura pulls away, after a moment, and keeps her forehead resting against his. She takes a shaky breath.

Karin swears she can see tears slip out of Sakura's eyes.

She can't believe that someone as badass as Sakura can be so delicate at the same time.

"Thank you." She says, silently.

Karin can't help it; she squeals as loud as she can, and when the couple turns around, she flash-stepps away immediately.