i'm making eyes at you (that's all i ever do)
'Hey, excuse me.'
Sakura blinked away from her phone to where somebody’s muted voice was coming through her closed window, and saw a neighbour waving at her.
She frowned in confusion, felt mildly bombarded by the intrusion because she had been sitting there for almost an hour now, scrolling mindlessly. She considered pleading ignorance and closing her curtains until she recognised who this strange, scruffy looking guy currently half hanging out of his window in a bid for her attention was. She barely recognised him, pretty sure she saw a guy with his hair when she was taking out the trash, usually at five in the morning looking like he was on his way home from work.
He motioned for her to lift the latch on her window when she hesitated too long.
Slowly, thinking critically on the over-courteous side of her, she unlocked it and slid it open, and the sounds of the city hit her like a brick wall. Peak-traffic engines and honking, what sounded like a dozen dogs barking, the smell of it all clashing with the lavender on her sill. His building was a few solid feet away, his window just below hers. Between them hung long lines of their neighbours washing, blowing in the light breeze.
'Can I help you with something?' she asked, sticking her head out. With a bit of height she realised he had at least five dogs shuffling around the kitchen behind him, some if them barking in excitement.
'This is going to sound weird. You wouldn't happen to have any eggs, would you?' Eggs. Yes that was pretty fucking random and weird. At her silence, he impatiently rapped his palms against the side of the building and tried again. 'I'm in a bit of a spot. It's my turn to cook the - you probably don’t want to hear the whole story, actually. Point is a hoard of hungry people are going to walk through my door any time now.’
‘What are you making?’ she asked. He looked at her like she was joking, or taking the piss, until he realised she wasn't.
‘Do you have sugar? My mom always forgot when she was out of sugar.’
‘Fine for sugar.’
‘What about sake?’
‘Shit,’ he said, with a bland sort of panic behind it. This guy exuded it - initially she'd thought he was just a weirdo - but anxiety over being completely unprepared? Not to mention he looked like he hadn't slept in twenty-four hours. She could totally relate to that. It was probably her most recurring nightmare.
She went to rummage through the limited food in her fridge, and found the dozen eggs she bought yesterday. Her staple breakfast. She swiped the bottle of sake on top of the fridge and shook it - half empty, but should be plenty. She went back to the window and showed him the goods.
'Great,’ he said, relieved. 'You're really saving my ass. I'll pay you back.'
She was more worried about the forty-something foot drop into the alleyway between their buildings that he had no qualms dangling over, and so were his dogs. She supposed it wasn't the weirdest thing she'd ever seen - she grew up with Naruto and Sasuke after all.
‘How do I get them to… I mean you’re already practically falling out the window.’
‘It’s cool. Just toss it here.’
'You want me to toss eggs at you,' she clarified.
'About five will do.' He held his hands out.
This was going to be a disaster. Still, she shrugged and figured if he ended up covered in egg it was his own fault. So she gave five delicate, precise underarm throws and he caught each one neatly against his chest and set it down in the counter next to him, no splatter. He caught the sake just as smoothly.
He wriggled back into his window and shut it before she could get all the words out, and the dogs started scrambling, jumping all over him.
Absolutely no goodbye given after his gratitude, and she watched him eventually calm them down and then bounce around his kitchen in a mad rush. He didn't look her way again.
Shrugging it off, she settled back on her couch and became sidetracked by her phone once more.
Ino talked away over speakerphone as she searched around her feet for the abandoned box cutter. ‘So? How's it going, what's the news, what's been happening?'
'What do you expect? It's been a month and I'm only just now unpacking the last of my boxes. Work has been kicking my ass.'
'Boss still a hard ass?'
'I mean, yes? One moment I think she hates me and the next - like the other day this jerk in urology took some equipment without logging it and she overheard him refuse to give it back to me. The guy was almost sobbing by the time she was done with him. And then she's back to glaring every time I open my mouth.'
‘Why are you so determined to make her like you?’
'Because it's Senju Tsunade? I want this residency to go well.’
'And I'm sure you have a comprehensive two year plan to make that happen.'
'Keep my head down, take the shifts nobody else wants, night shifts work for me, anyway. And stay in her good books.'
'So you plan on never seeing daylight again, huh? Does that mean you've bought a car?’
‘Like I could afford one. I’m a five minute walk from the station.’
‘You work the graveyard shift. I was reading a statistic the other day that said murder numbers rose in the city by forty-five percent from last year alone and-’
'You do realise that Iwa has a population of over two million, babe, there's automatically going to be more crime here.'
'It can be a dangerous city sometimes.'
'So can Konoha. Gods, you're starting to sound like my mother.
Ino was quiet for a moment. ‘Has she called you yet?’
Sakura had to angle the phone away so that Ino didn't get an earful of her deep sigh. 'Dad’s trying to mediate. I sent her a text last week but she didn't respond.’
‘I'm sorry. I'm sure she'll get over it eventually.’
‘Yeah, well. Maybe I won't.’
‘They'll realise how ridiculous they're being, I’m sure of it. Hey, don’t even worry. I’m proud of you! And that's all that matters, right?'
'So tell me everything! I’m living vicariously through you now. I miss living in a city.'
Sakura smiled. 'Maybe in a year or two?'
'Yes. I will be there.'
'Your dad doing better?'
'Yeah, uh… some days are worse than others.'
Ino sounded so tired. Desperate for a distraction.
So Sakura tried to talk about anything other than the mental gymnastics she was playing with a boss she idolized career-wise. The few amazing restaurants with great takeout menus. Her apartment was in a great location, lots of parks. She left out the part where it had so far felt like a tiring, occasionally lonely life here.
Maybe it was just because she was younger, but juggling full time study and a job and letting Ino drag her out for fun had seemed easy. She missed it, after living with Ino for six years - they'd had a townhouse, plants in every spot of light, her hundreds of books and Ino's hundreds of CDs, and shoes, and fancy coats. The memories, photos. She had left so much behind - most of it was old, useless junk and trinkets she’d been holding onto since she was a teenager, all piled away in her parent’s garage and waiting for her to take it. This was still a new city - a city she didn't have a favourite cafe in yet, or restaurant, or gym. Well, besides the neighbour.
Sakura sighed. Had a feeling she would regret this. ‘I've met a neighbour.’
'A guy, interesting.'
'Well, he's a bit strange.'
'He lives in the building next to me. Yelled through our windows and asked me for eggs.’
‘Is that some kind of… fucked up pick-up line?’
‘The kind you cook with, Ino. He took some sake, too.’
‘Oh, so he cooks, that’s a good sign.’
‘Ino, I know you. You would take one of your up-and-down look and hear a sentence and think he's kind of a nightmare. He has like five dogs. Pretty sure he has no sense of self preservation, he was dangling out his window. And he's kind of awkward.'
And she'd admit that she'd developed a habit of glancing out her window to see if he was there. Once or twice she found him bent over his kitchen sink or preparing food, but she tried not to make a habit of snooping. Or befriending strange men that very badly needed haircuts.
‘Sounds like you're interested in him.'
'Don't think I've forgotten how dorky you got over Sasuke before you finally realised you liked him.'
'It's not like I'm twelve anymore. I think a good decade and a half has better prepared me to read signals.'
'Is this guy cute to look at though?’
‘...Yeah. He’s cute. Anyway, I need to unpack these boxes.'
‘Fine, fine. We all miss you! Naruto is an absolute mess without you.’
‘I miss you guys, too.’
‘Just do me a favour and at least try to balance your work and social life. You know how badly you burn yourself out.’
Ino needn't have worried. Tsunade invited her out for drinks on a whim one night, catching Sakura on the tail end of her shift, and completely by surprise.
‘Non-negotiable when you're working for me, Haruno,’ Tsunade had said by way of invitation. 'Call it team-building, whatever. Point is I'm buying.'
And even though she'd already been on her feet for seven hours, one didn’t turn down an offer for free booze, especially from your boss. This was her chance to schmooze a little bit, after all.
So she went home and got all dolled up for the first time in months. She was shy and felt like a country bumpkin walking through the city hub, and was embarrassed about that fact, but nobody seemed to judge her for it. She knew she’d curb her nerves after a few drinks. And it was true, a couple of Yuzu cocktails later and she loosened right up. Didn't help that Tsunade seemed genuinely interested.
'It's been a long time since I've been back in Konoha. Doubt it's changed much.'
'Yeah, it hasn't. I mean the city hub has changed. The schools are better. Clubs are better. That's about it.'
'Tell me about your family.'
So she did - about her life in quiet, mildly derelict rural Konoha, her families shop, her long term, on-and-off with her ex, her friends that couldn't wait to get to the "big city" - and Konoha's big city paled in comparison to Iwa by far. Even still she remembered being so nervous when she left her parent's home. But she'd had dozens of friends, a family just a train ride away.
Moving here, by herself, was a whole other ball game.
‘I think it’s quite brave,’ Shizune said.
Tsunade just snorted. ‘Actually, you would have been an absolute fool to pass up the opportunity to work for me.’
Shizune rolled her eyes. ‘All it comes with is a guarantee you’ll turn grey early. I’d quit while you’re ahead.’
Sakura smiled. ‘Maybe I’m starting to like it here.’
‘Good. And we like you here. You’re good at your job,’ Tsunade said, brash and blunt like she said everything else. But it was the first sign Sakura had gotten that her diligence and dedication to patients and work hours was noticed. First one on one with Tsunade, as well. She was less… immediately intimidating five shots in.
'Thank you, I appreciate you say-'
'But you're a bit of a kissass, though. What do you think, Shizune?'
'I think whatever veil of a filter you have becomes nonexistent after a few beers,' Shizune responded mildly, and took another sip from her wine glass.
Tsunade dismissed her with a wave. 'All I'm saying is that she doesn't have to try so hard.'
'Please. Once upon a time you were an eager twenty-something.'
'Exactly, which is why you should listen to my advice, kid,' Tsunade said, turning back to Sakura, who felt entirely jarred by this conversation. 'How old are you again?'
'You kinda strike me as someone who had the first draft of their life plan done by the time they were twelve. Or maybe mommy and daddy wrote it for you. I see you jumping at every chance to prove yourself and - hey, I'm not complaining, but how long have you been doing this, huh? You're smart. You probably coasted school with top grades, graduated with honours, knew you wanted to go into the medical field and kissed every professor's ass along the way to sweeten your chances?'
'You kept your head down for seven years, never even left your home city. And you, what? Plan to work like a fuckin' dog for another three for a bastard like me?'
'Your point?' she asked - and regretted the tone, but Tsunade seemed to invite the testiness because she smirked at Sakura with a twinkle in her eye.
'You're gonna tell me you've given up relationships and weekend trips and time with your family just because you wanna help people that bad?'
Sakura laughed at the absurdity. 'Yeah, it's a real flaw of mine.'
'I forgot how much you like the sound of your own voice when you're drunk,' Shizune muttered.
'I didn't mean it in a bad way,' Tsunade said, waving her hand at Sakura dramatically. 'All I'm saying is that she's smart and young and gorgeous and the world has enough snot nosed academic brats in it. It needs people that have seen the world, experienced shit. You get what I'm trying to tell you?'
Sakura nodded slowly. 'Enjoy the little moments. Um, yes ma'am.'
Tsunade nodded back. 'Drop the ma'am bullshit, but sure. And enjoying the little moments means having a shot with me and forgetting that I'm your boss for five minutes. Haruno, this job will eat you alive if you let it - one day, when shit hits the fan and you realise it's all you got - I don't know, maybe you'll have a few regrets.'
She'd heard a similar spiel from Ino since the woman could form sentences. Maybe to others it looked like she had given up on a lot of experiences in her life to get where she was - maybe she was twenty-six and the biggest thing she'd ever done was move to another city by herself - but it was still in the name of a job she’d been working towards since she was a teen.
Shizune put a gentle hand on her arm after she'd been silent for some time.
'Hey, don't put too much mustard on this drunk idiot's advice. But, and it pains me to say it, she's often right. She wouldn't be running her mouth if she didn't like you.'
Well. That was something.
A few shots later and she called it quits. And Shizune saw it as an opportunity to get them all home - Tsunade could handle a hangover like no other but she still had a seven am shift to contend with. They were all standing out on the wet curb after much cajoling and another round of shots to seal the deal - a tradition, apparently. Rain drizzled down.
Tsunade smiled, drunk but happy and hunched into her coat. She bumped Sakura's hip with her own.
'Listen, Sakura. Shizune is right, I do talk a lot of shit. Do you know how much work I did and how much ass I've had to kiss to get where I am? I'm like you but didn't indulge when I should have and now I'm a… fifty-something borderline alcoholic.'
'Ma'am, you're great at pep talks. And god damn it, you don't like a day over thirty-five.'
'I'll be honest, I'm convinced all of the party drugs I took in '95 froze me in place. And also I try to eat a lot of spinach.'
Sakura smiled at her candor. 'I've lived my life, you know.'
'Yes, I can already see you know how to hold your liquor. Good for you. Here, you take this cab. Get home safe. Don't be late tomorrow!'
Tsunade's words played over and over in her head on the short drive home. It was just after three when she walked through the door. Good effort, really.
The heels were the first thing to go. She practically flung them off her feet and they clattered across her creaky floorboards. She tossed her bag and keys on the couch and, with a painfully empty stomach only now just hitting her, put a leftover meal in the microwave to reheat. She stood hunched over her counter waiting, swaying this away and that, and couldn't wait to get the makeup off.
Speaking of. She should probably take a photo. Ino had been very vocal lately about her lack of a personal life and work addiction. Maybe it would get her off her back if she had proof that she’d met some kind of social quota. She went back to her bag, and as she searched she instinctively looked up and out her window.
He stood at his kitchen sink, showering attention over a pug in his arms. It wriggled in delight as it was raised into the air. A very cute pug. The cutest fucking pug she’d ever seen.
She climbed over the couch and opened the window, and didn’t even think twice. Liquid courage and all that. ‘Who's this little guy?’ she called out.
His eyes whipped over to her, alert. And then he smiled, and hitched the dog into the curve of his arm.
‘His name’s Pakkun.’
‘He's really cute. Where are the others? I saw at least five.’
He whistled and eight other separate, resounding barks returned the call. They all trotted into the room, a mixed bag of mutts and breeds. Their tails wagged as they circled him for attention.
‘That's a lot of dogs.’
‘Most of them don't have anywhere else to be.’
‘Mmhm. You looking for a pet?’
And her heart immediately squealed a resounding “yes”, and then doubled back when reality settled in. Getting a dog here would be a rather permanent move, wouldn’t it?
'Mm, maybe for Pakkun.'
'People always say that,' he said, sounding surprised but obviously just being obnoxious, because he smiled about it after.
'Well, he's cute.'
'Yeah, that's why he stays.'
‘Totally fair. Anyway, I don’t have much room in this shoebox. And I work horrendous hours. I couldn’t do that to a pet.'
‘Yeah, you are home earlier than usual,' he said, like he was agreeing.
'Do you often watch for when I get home?' she asked, frowning at him. ‘You're not some kind of creep, are you?’
‘You're very direct,' he said, laughing about it. 'But no, I'm not a creep. I'm just always in my kitchen, and I'm a night owl. So are you, it seems.’
'I worked the day. My coworkers took me out tonight. My boss, actually.'
'Interesting, get a chance to schmooze?'
'Honestly? I tried. Didn't go so well. She ended up getting me drunk and giving me a pep talk I probably won't ever forget. And now she knows too much about me, you know? She has dirt.' Sakura smiled at him. 'How did you know I would try to schmooze.'
'You work a lot, I guess? You obviously care about your job. Schmoozing the people that get told to breathe down our necks all day is just like, self preservation.'
'She's a hardass but, she was actually nice. Like, stern. Brutally honest. And a very entertaining drunk. Been working for her for about a month, maybe. I'm, um, still new in town.'
‘Yeah, I saw the boxes when you moved in.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘I’m not a creep.’
‘People who have to say that usually are, at least a little,’ she teased.
‘It's kind of hard not to look, alright? Your apartment is right there. Would a creep rescue eight cute dogs out of the goodness of his own heart?’
‘Probably, as a cover. And they'd make up some story just for some sake and eggs.’
‘I was desperate for them. My dinner was a hit, by the way. A lot of satisfied assholes.'
She smiled and held in a laugh. 'I'm glad to hear.’
An awkward beat followed. She bared it, because the city was… a tad quieter than usual, and the air didn’t seem so stagnant and it felt good on her skin. And now that he had nothing to say he squirmed and it was rather amusing. Endearing.
She hadn't thought about much after their first ten-second interaction, but she got a better look at him this time, and the street lamps and neons of the busy epicentre played on an unshaved face and caught deeply in his eyes. Interesting scar and haze on the left one. Thirty-something, maybe. Had zero sense of self-care but still got away with it. Handsome? Yeah, she supposed he was handsome. In that bug-eyed, sleepy kind of way. And that mouth of his was so-
The sound of her microwave beeping saved them both. Saved her, at least.
'Anyway, I have to get to work.’
‘And what do you do for work this late?’
A lazy smile spread across his face. ‘If I told you I'd have to kill you.’
‘...Weirdo.’ She rolled her eyes and closed her window on him.
He waved goodbye and walked way, his dogs trotting after him.