Author: Tintinnabula PM
A world weary Sakura has awoken Kakashi from a Sharingan induced coma, and to feelings that he's repressed for years. The copy ninja decides it's finally time for her to learn how he feels. Reviews are welcome!Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Adventure - Kakashi H. & Sakura H. - Chapters: 45 - Words: 222,433 - Reviews: 1,380 - Favs: 999 - Follows: 434 - Updated: 01-06-08 - Published: 12-04-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3273388
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Naruto and associated characters are property of Masashi Kishimoto. They are not my property!
Author's note: Well, this is it. Thanks to everyone who has read this story and thank you also to those who have taken the time to review! Your words of encouragement and advice mean the world to me.
Chapter 45: Tradition – Fourteenth Date (Conclusion)
A high pitched shriek rent the air as Kakashi and Sakura stepped through the opened gate and into the busy village of Konoha. A platinum blonde and navy blue blur lunged forward and grasped Sakura in a vigorous embrace, which left her gasping for air. As they disengaged, Sakura wondered fleetingly how the infant strapped to Ino's chest had not been suffocated in her mother's enthusiasm.
"Sakura! It's about time! I've been waiting since yesterday!" Ino tugged on her longtime rival's arm. "We have a lot to get done before tomorrow. Why are you wearing a kimono? Come on, let's get going."
Sakura turned to her new husband and raised her brow questioningly. To her surprise, Kakashi looked less confident than usual. "I probably should have mentioned this earlier," he said weakly. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" He glanced at Ino, seemingly for confirmation. Or perhaps, like so many others in the village, he was intimidated by the brash progenitor of the newly revived Uchiha clan-- it was hard to tell.
"Kakashi?! What the hell is going on?" After the events of the past twenty four hours, Sakura was in no mood to put up with her high maintenance friend. Marriage and motherhood had done their part to change Ino, but where these two major events might have tempered the personality of most women, they had barely melted the surface of the brassy kunoichi's. Sakura would need a full night's rest and at least an hour of meditation before she'd be ready to tolerate more than five minutes with the woman. Even though she was a long time friend, best friend at that, Sakura had found through experience that hurricane Ino was best taken in very small doses. Sakura glanced at Kakashi and a smile crept across her face. At least Ino wouldn't be able to rub Sasuke in her face anymore.
"Your wedding, forehead. Why didn't you tell me you had a thing for the Cyclops?"
"He's not a Cyclops, pig. His vision's binocular and it's better than yours."
Ino rolled her eyes at this evidence of her friend's overly literal nature. "Whatever. I'm just glad you're not going to be an old maid for much longer. Hmm. I wonder who won the pool?"
"Much longer? Pool? For your information—"
"Sakura may be a maid, but she's certainly not old. Not compared to me, anyway." Kakashi's eye crinkled in its trademark fashion as he smiled at Ino. "I consider myself very lucky to be her husband-to-be."
"To be?" Sakura turned to the Sharingan user in confusion.
"Only twenty four hours until you're mine. Hope I can wait that long." He gave Sakura a quick peck on the lips, winked (or blinked—again, it was hard to tell), then loped off in the general direction of his apartment, barely breaking his stride as he pulled a volume from his kunai pouch.
But he was gone.
"We really need to get going, Sakura. There are about a million things to do." Ino steered her still-confused friend in the direction of the commercial district, talking a mile a minute as the two maneuvered through the crowded streets. "I narrowed your kimono down to two choices. I assumed red, as it's your favorite color. And there's tradition to consider, after all. I think the purple and blue ones are a little… vulgar, you know? And definitely not gold. Kakashi may be wealthy, but that would be in bad taste."
"And the first uchikake you wear—the one for the actual ceremony-- it will be white, of course. I set aside the three nicest ones. There's one embroidered with phoenixes that is absolutely stunning. And I already hired a dresser. She also does makeup and hair, so I'm sure she'll be able to do something with that mop of yours. Did you cut it yourself again?"
Sakura had no time to answer, as a torrent of words continued to flow from Ino's smirking mouth.
"The menu's set, but I'll let you look it over. It was hard to find a place big enough—who knew Kakashi had so many friends? An old hentai like him-- oh, sorry. We'll be having the ceremony and reception in the tournament hall. We can stop by later to check it out—they should be setting up the tables around three o'clock or so. Oh! We're here."
Ino pushed open a door hung with silver bells (wedding bells, Sakura thought nauseatedly) and was immediately met by a woman who was obviously the store's owner. She fawned quite a bit more than the average shop girl, and it was easy to detect the glint of avarice in her eyes.
"Irasshaimase! Is this the bride?"
"Yes. This is Haruno Sakura, soon to be Hatake Sakura."
"What a lucky young lady you are, Miss Haruno. Let me show you what your friend has picked out for you. It's too bad there isn't time to design a custom garment for you—I have some beautiful silks that would set off your hair perfectly. Ah! Here we are. Look at these shiromuku." The woman carried three heavy, elaborately wrapped bundles to a table and carefully opened the first. A padded white kimono spilled out as she did so, its heavy fabric rippling in the light. Flying cranes and pine boughs were scattered randomly across the fabric, some of them detailed with silver thread that sparkled as Sakura ran her hand across the cloth.
"You have very good taste. That is one of our more expensive garments."
"Oh!" Sakura looked at Ino with concern. Her friend smiled gleefully.
"Tsunade gave me a letter of credit on Kakashi's behalf. Apparently he told her the sky was the limit."
"Really?" What had happened to the miser who almost never paid for the meals he ate, the man who shirked every opportunity to pay his share, no matter the situation?
"You really had no idea? He had to be doing something with the bounties he's picked up over the years. Do you have any idea how many class S missions he's done?"
"No. But how would you know?"
Ino snorted. The answer to that question should have been obvious. The Yamanakas were justly famous for their prowess in what they referred to as information gathering and dissemination. They were on an entirely different level than the average village gossip.
"Twenty five. And at least fifty class A. Apparently Gai has been keeping track all of these years. Did you know he has almost no tolerance for alcohol?"
Sakura rolled her eyes at the thought of Ino plying Konoha's green menace with the small amount of alcohol needed to break through his already paper-thin boundaries, then turned her attention back to the garments before her. The saleswoman had laid out the other two kimono, and Sakura compared the three garments. All were made of heavy jacquard, and all were exquisite. Ino's taste had evolved, it seemed. These were completely dissimilar from the elaborate and showily expensive garments she had chosen for her own wedding. The second garment Sakura examined was the one Ino had mentioned. A large phoenix occupied the bulk of each front panel, and the birds' feathers had been expertly outlined in an iridescent thread that shimmered gold, then silver, then red. The final garment was less showy. It was pure white on white, with no over-embroidery. Most of the garment was patterned with the stylized waves seen in ukiyo-e woodcuts. A scattering of plovers flew over certain waves. Sakura smiled.
"Chidori. Perfect." She looked up at the saleswoman, who seemed less pleased than she had been just moments earlier. "I'll take this one."
"Very well. You'll also need a kakeshita kimono and obi, in white of course. And a fan and hood. And hair ornaments--"
"Why don't you choose the ones that will go best with the shiromuku? I'm sure you'll make a better decision than I could."
The woman smiled, mollified by Sakura's suggestion. "Wonderful. Shall we look at uchikake?"
"Ino, you picked out several, didn't you?"
"Show her the one we talked about first."
It was a beautiful color, Sakura noted as the saleswoman hung the garment from a bamboo frame. The heavy crimson silk fabric was highlighted by touches of dense gold embroidery. Like the shiromuku, this kimono was thickly padded and weighted along its hem. It, too, was meant to be worn open over a simpler kakeshita kimono. It was embroidered all over with stylized images of noshi-awabe, bundles of dried abalone signifying abundance and prosperity.
"A beautiful kimono, don't you think? It's traditional, and elegant. Perfect, I think, for someone like you."
Sakura ignored the saleswoman's ingratiating words as she examined the garment. Its sleeves, which were held out to the side by the frame supporting the robe, nearly touched the ground, indicating the formality of the garment. She'd never worn anything so elegant, she realized, and then imagined tripping over its long train before a room crowded with friends and colleagues. She gasped, then blanched as she noticed the price tag.
"Ino? Could I talk to you for a minute?" She pulled her friend aside. "Don't you think this is a little much?"
Ino sniffed. "Sakura, this is nothing. Surely you haven't forgotten my wedding?"
"No. I haven't forgotten." No one in Konoha would forget that day—its display of excess had been unrivaled before or since. "Do you remember when we used to read bridal magazines and imagine our weddings?"
"Sure, forehead." Ino opened the large purse she used as diaper bag, and rummaged through it, then handed a folded, dog-eared piece of paper to her friend. "Do you remember this?" A genuine, open smile lit the Uchiha's face.
Sakura examined the yellowed, wrinkled page that had apparently been torn from a magazine. It was a quiz entitled, "What kind of bride are you?" In the margins next to the questions two columns had been drawn, one labeled with a sketch of a five-petaled blossom, and the other with a crudely drawn pig-face. Sakura giggled as she remembered the afternoon they'd taken this particular quiz, and how annoyed Ino had been when she'd seen her likeness. At the bottom of the page was scrawled, "Ino—showy, flamboyant; Sakura—quiet, down to earth."
"Did you read this? Exactly whose wedding are you planning?"
"But this isn't what I want. I've never wanted this type of wedding. Didn't you read this?" She waved the document in her friend's face.
Ino laughed uproariously, inadvertently waking up her daughter as she did so. She jiggled the now-fussy infant against her chest as she spoke, altering the timbre of her voice to the soothing tone used only with babies.
"You have a lot to learn about married life, Sakura. Consider this a crash course."
"You're telling me this is what Kakashi wants?"
"I am going to kill him."
"For wanting you to look like a princess? You're crazy, Sakura."
"Fine. I'm crazy. Let's just get this over with."
They returned to the table where the saleswoman stood patiently. "Nerves getting to you?" the woman asked with a sympathetic smile, and the slightly condescending air of a person of great experience. "They always, do you know, although in your situation…"
"Tradition dictates that a bride buy her uchikake three months before the wedding. I'm not surprised you're a bit stressed leaving things to the end like this."
"It's not that. I was just telling my friend that I'd like things to be a little more simple. This all seems excessive." The saleswoman frowned, and Sakura quickly added, "She's done her best to convince me otherwise, although I really don't understand why I need more than one wedding outfit."
Ino stifled a snort as the saleswoman quickly responded in a voice that was slightly patronizing, "It's customary to wear at least three different kimono over the course of the wedding and reception."
"Three?" As she'd never attended another wedding of such a grand scale, she'd thought the several kimono Ino had worn at her own wedding were just a manifestation of her friend's true, flamboyant nature. "Why?"
"Surely you learned this in school or from your mother?" Seeing Sakura's blank stare she continued. "Originally, weddings used to take several days. The bride would wear a different kimono each day. Of course, it also showed to the community the family's wealth. That aspect of the tradition is still with us."
"And why do I have to wear white? It's not exactly a flattering color for me."
"Again, it's traditional. There's a reason for every item you wear at the wedding. As for the color of the shiromoku, some say that it is a reminder that the bride is like a clean, white sheet of paper, ready to be written on, so to speak. And as the color for funerals is also white, others say it symbolizes that the bride is dead to her family."
"Well, I'm not a blank sheet of paper. I have a history I'm proud of. And as for me being dead to my family—that's not true, either. I have no family left. And neither does Kakashi."
"In some countries, white is a symbol of virginity," Ino chimed in.
Sakura ignored her friend's comment. She wouldn't hear the end of it if Ino were to find out she were no longer a virgin. Not that the woman hadn't been urging her to get laid for the past several years. But she'd make a big deal out of it, and pepper Sakura with a host of inappropriate questions as she did so.
"Good thing Kakashi's not supposed to wear white."
"You're not helping, you know." Sakura creased her brow in frustration. "I just don't understand what he's thinking. I mean, everyone knows he's a cheapskate. So why go crazy with a wedding?"
"There's no need to tantrum, Sakura. It's one day out of your life. Honestly, anyone else would be thrilled. And besides, you can use this as precedent."
"Haven't you thought about your day-to-day married life? How are you going to handle being married to a porn-reading tightwad? If he's spent this much on you already, he won't be able to tighten the purse strings later. Get it?"
Sakura sighed. "Let's see the second kimono."
The saleswoman quickly obliged, and Sakura's jaw dropped in awe. This one was perfect. It was of a deeper red than the previous garment, a color approaching cerise. Like the other kimono, it was made of thick silk, but it was not a jacquard like the previous ones. It was a simple satin, unadorned apart from the embroidery that began at the hem and bottom of each floor-length sleeve, and worked its way up the garment. Spare white sakura boughs were silhouetted against the garment, the outlines of their simple yet beautiful flowers captured in precise detail.
"That's the one I want. It's perfect." Sakura's face shone in pleasure as she looked at her friend, who was somewhat distracted by the fact that her young daughter wanted to nurse. Sakura turned instead to the saleswoman and spoke softly. "I'll let you pick out the obi and any accessories I need." She gathered her backpack and caught Ino's attention. "What else is left to do?"
"Oh, my. You're forgetting the third kimono." The saleswoman's look of terror was priceless, Sakura thought. She must have been already spent the presumed profits from this sale.
"No. This is enough for me. That second kimono is pretty enough to wear for the whole reception. Let's go, Ino." Sakura grinned. "You said we had a lot to do."
Kakashi assumed they'd find him eventually, though he didn't count on having the entire morning and most of the afternoon to himself. He'd hid, high up in one of the huge oaks that dotted the training grounds which were deserted today, possibly due to the threat of rain that lingered in the air. Such weather didn't bother him, though. The tree was fully leafed out and would provide adequate shelter from all but the most intense squalls. What's more, the green canopy made it all but impossible to view him from the ground. Of course, he'd blocked his chakra as an extra precaution.
And they did find him, or rather, Gai did, as afternoon was beginning to meld into an evening that still threatened rain. Kakashi was occupied, as he had been all day, with the white book he'd surreptitiously pocketed the prior afternoon. He'd been devastated when it dawned on him that his proof copy of Jiraiya's latest novel had been destroyed by fire. So, when they'd come across carton after carton in his publisher's warehouse, it was inevitable that Kakashi pick one up and slide it into his kunai pouch. He'd let Sakura know eventually, and he was sure, that in time, she'd come to appreciate its artwork, if not the plotline. Jiraiya really had surpassed himself, he thought as he turned the book sideways to get a better look at the incredibly precise details of a two page spread.
What a lucky man he was to have Sakura as his wife, he'd thought as Gai stealthily approached. Too bad he'd be apart from her tonight. Tradition dictated that the bride to be spend the night with her family. Although he had been sure Tsunade would want to give Sakura away, in his letter he'd suggested Ino as a suitable substitute for the other marriage-related duties. Tsunade apparently had agreed to this, and from her reaction this morning, Ino had been eager to play the part of bridesmaid/wedding planner. The blonde bombshell certainly was turning into a formidable young head of household. He'd been more eager to leave her presence than he'd expected.
The book would be a consolation, however, for Sakura's absence this evening. He planned to read it once more, cover to cover after a long, relaxing soak in the tub—
"My esteemed rival! Kakashi! Kakashi, I'm talking to you."
The man was in tears, actual tears, Kakashi noted as he looked up from his book and into the overly emotional face of the green spandex-clad man who had suddenly appeared next to him.
"Yo." Kakashi did his best to recapture a modicum of personal space as he shifted slightly toward the tree's trunk and lifted his novel back to his face.
"You've beaten me in the game of love, it seems."
As if Gai had any hope of marriage, unless Rock Lee had that experimental surgery he'd heard about recently. Or women developed a sudden liking for bowl haircuts and spandex costumes that left little to the imagination.
"I wasn't aware we were competing." Gai leaned into to him, thwarting the Sharingan user's attempt to put some space between him. "And such a blossom! My protégé was crushed, absolutely crushed at the news." He pulled the silver haired man toward him into a bone-cracking hug, and clapped him hard across the back. "She'll keep you in the flower of youth, that's for sure. Ah! Beauty and Youth! I—" Gai paused to wipe his eyes against his sleeve after searching unsuccessfully for a tissue. He sniffed resonantly and smiled once more.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then." Kakashi attempted to move past Konoha's acknowledged master of melodrama, but found his way blocked.
"As your true rival, and oldest, dearest friend, I was wondering…"
"Wondering?" He'd never seen Gai act embarrassed before.
"Could I take you to dinner?"
It was obvious that this was not his planned question—something else was on Gai's mind. They'd dined together countless times before, and were on too close terms for any embarrassment to be associated with doing so. Of course, each time they ate together Gai was stuck, willingly or otherwise, with the bill. Kakashi shrugged inwardly. Whatever Gai's unstated question, it was clear that more than dinner was involved this time, and equally obvious that Kakashi wouldn't be able to wriggle his way out of the invitation. Besides, compared to what Sakura would be enduring the next day, this was nothing. He might as well do his part.
He was correct, of course, about the invitation. Almost every Konoha ninja he'd interacted with over his career was crammed into the small bar and grill Gai led him to, and some were already in an advanced state of inebriation. He wondered idly when the party had begun, and smiled under his mask at his luck in avoiding at least part of it.
"Kakashi! You cradle drobber!" slurred a tanked Ebisu. This was a sight to see—he didn't know the tight-laced man ever drank.
"So he is into women!" That was definitely Tenzo's voice, damn him. Some kohai.
"Three-dimensional women!" And that was Naruto's, if he wasn't mistaken.
"I'd hardly call Sakura three-dimensional." Sasuke looked at Kakashi with a bemused grin. Apparently he still saw her as the fawning twelve-year old who'd once stalked his every move.
"What I want to know, Kakashi," the older man started at the deliberate omission of the honorific, "is how long this has been going on." Naruto poked him in the chest belligerently as he swayed slightly on his feet. "Are you really into little girls?"
Kakashi sighed. This wouldn't be the last time he'd be asked that particular question, he knew, but it was already tiresome.
"I'm not, and never have been. Sakura--"
"The thought of you wanting to grope the little girl sitting innocently on your back as you did pushups—" several heads turned as Naruto loudly conveyed information not all had been privy to.
"We only fell in love a couple of weeks ago," Kakashi responded equally loudly. That was true enough. True of Sakura, anyway. There was no need for the assembled crowd to know just how long he had been in love with the pink-haired kunoichi of whom they were so protective. Hopefully, Jiraiya wouldn't show up to spoil things.
"Well, aren't you rushing things, then?"
"He's not getting any younger, you know."
Kakashi cringed at Tenzo's attempt to defuse the situation. This wasn't a May-December romance after all, more like a May-August variety.
"Ah, sweet youth! She'll keep him young. Kakashi, when I think of you and that sweet flower, I just want to cry—" Someone was already wailing. The chidori creator scanned the room to locate the source. It was Rock Lee, unsurprisingly, as intoxicated as he'd ever seen him, although the drunken fist had not yet made an appearance.
"The next five rounds are on me," Kakashi announced, and as expected, the general mood of the room brightened appreciably. It was funny, he thought, how battlefield tactics translated almost perfectly to social situations. When under attack, he'd always found, it was best to do something completely unexpected. And who would have expected a cheapskate like him to run up a bar tab on his friends' and colleagues' behalf?
Kakashi smiled. Maybe the evening wouldn't be as bad as he'd expected.
"Why can't I stay at my own place?"
Ino sighed in frustration. "It's tradition that you stay with your family the night before your wedding. And we're your family, Sakura, aren't we?"
Sakura smiled as she looked across the dining room table at Ino and at the place vacated, minutes before, by Sasuke. They really were like family. They, Naruto and Tsunade had been there for her over the years, and although she'd been hurt—crushed, really—when Ino and Sasuke had gotten together, she had long since moved past it. They were good for each other, she'd realized long before. They'd each changed for the better under the other's influence, and both had matured into people she was proud to call friends.
"Besides," Ino said with a smirk, "Your true love is busy tonight."
Sakura decided she didn't want to know more, although she was sure Ino had all the sordid details available. Indeed, she'd probably had a hand in planning the event. "So," she asked instead, "tell me what's in store for tomorrow."
"Well, Tsunade will stand in for your mother and father, and I'll be your bridesmaid. It will be a traditional ceremony—the priest from the leaf shrine will officiate, and I think he's bringing three or four miko with him." She turned to her oldest daughter. "I wish Ume was old enough to be a shrine maiden, don't you? She'd look so cute in red and white."
"I didn't know you were religious." It was all Sakura could do not to roll her eyes.
Ino laughed. "I'm not, forehead! But don't you think she'd look sweet?"
"What about Kakashi?"
"What about him?"
"Who is standing up for him?"
"Oh." The look on Ino's face was definitely evasive, Sakura judged. "You'd have to ask him."
If Ino wasn't volunteering information it was pointless to ask, she knew. This wedding was shaping up to be the antithesis of everything she'd ever dreamed. Why was he putting them through this? Why hadn't he even shared the smallest details (or even that it was occurring) with her?
Baka. She was definitely going to kill him the next time she saw him. After berating him soundly, of course.
"So what's on the menu?" It was probably a twelve-course meal, knowing Ino—plate after plate of barely edible but amazingly expensive delicacies. Hadn't she served hummingbird tongues at her own wedding?
"Does it matter? It's not like you'll be eating anything."
"You won't have time. And the bride never eats, anyway. You'd ruin your kimono."
Sakura sighed. "So how long will this last?"
"Well, the ceremony is at noon, but I'd guess the reception will last until nine. Keiko?" A maid scurried in. "Could you clean this up? The girls will be here in just a few minutes—"
"You didn't think I'd let you get married without a bachelorette party, did you?"
"Oh, just a few close friends."
"No stripper, right?"
"Do you really think I'd subject you to that?" She giggled but just below the surface was that evasive look again.
By a few close friends, Sakura learned, Ino meant every female in the village, or at least every kunoichi. They came laden with bottles of alcohol and brightly wrapped presents. Sakura noticed the distinctive pink wrapping of the village's most notorious adult book and lingerie shop.
She blushed and swallowed hard. She was not looking forward to the next few hours.
I'd nearly forgotten!" Gai looked up from his fourth bottle of sake and chortled. "Because I lost my wager with you—"
"That I'd get married first."
"I never made a bet like that with you."
"No. I made the bet with myself." He began to strip down, causing a hush to fall over the room. It was broken, of course, by Naruto.
"You call that a stripper? We need a woman. Someone—"
"Someone with Tsunade's figure." The leer in Kotetsu's voice was unmistakable.
"Yeah. But not as scary," Izumo rejoined. A shiver rippled through the room at this.
"Gai? What exactly did this bet entail?" Iruka's voice showed his usual concern.
"Walking on my hands, naked, down the main street and back." He leaned over to stretch, and another shudder wracked the room.
"Count me in!" Rock Lee looked up from the table he'd just demolished and began to remove his jumpsuit.
Kakashi sighed as he picked up a nearby bottle. This would probably be a whole lot easier to tolerate drunk.
"Go ahead. Try it on." The mirth in Anko's voice was recognizable, but there was something more, Sakura thought, something harder to place. The slightest hint of sadism, perhaps? Why the hell was Anko at her party? The woman gave her the creeps.
"There is no way I'm trying this on in front of all of you." She gingerly returned the snakeskin garment to its lurid pink box. She had no idea exactly what kind of lingerie it was—it was more empty space than fabric, with cutouts in what appeared to be the most inappropriate places. It laced up in the solid areas of what were presumably the front, the sides and the back. In addition, it had lots and lots of boning.
"That doesn't matter, as long as you wear it for Kakashi." The assembled group laughed as Sakura turned the bright red they'd hoped for.
"I told you so," Anko smirked to Kurenai who was trying her utmost to put some distance between the snake user and herself.
"Told her what?" Ino, always eager for a new gossip source, intended to pump this particular well dry.
"That she's a virgin, of course."
"Oh! That's why I bought her this," the blonde responded. "Sakura, open mine next." Unlike most of the gifts surrounding her, this one was a book. Sakura blushed again as she read its title, 1001 Positions.
A series of whoops and catcalls erupted from those seated closest, followed by murmurs and additional giggles as the news rippled outward.
"I want you to be well-prepared," the blonde said by way of explanation. "Kakashi has a bit of a reputation with the ladies, I've heard." She did her best to maintain a straight face as she continued, "Do we need to have 'the talk'?"
Sakura reached for a package she hoped would be less racy—surely the sweet Hyuuga wouldn't disappoint. "Thank you, Hinata," she murmured as she moved aside tissue to uncover a beautiful silk peignoir. "This is absolutely beautiful."
"It's my p-p-pleasure," the raven haired beauty whispered in response. "After all, I owe you so much. Naruto—"
Sakura beamed at the shy woman. Apparently she'd won the bet she'd made with Kakashi. It would be delightful to rub his nose in it.
Tenten shoved aside Ayame and Shizune and dropped a small, tissue wrapped package into Sakura's lap.
"A kunai?" Sakura looked at the weapons master in confusion as she pulled the shiny tool from its coverings. It was a lovely tool, but still…
"It's—it's in case—" she broke out in giggles, "it's in case he ties you up too tight—"
"Oh." She unwrapped another. "Vitamins. Geriatric vitamins. For Kakashi, presumably. Thanks, Shizune-sempai." She sighed as she untied the furoshiki covering Ayame's gift. "An instant camera?" She blushed at the implications.
"Well, everyone wants to see just how handsome he is. No one believes me, and I figured you could help settle a few bets."
"I need a drink."
Ino laughed again as she handed her friend a half full bottle of sake. "You should chug it. The entertainment will be here any minute."
It was late, far too late. A steady rain was falling outside of the smoke filled bar and grill where he'd spent the evening, and Kakashi longed for the warmth of his own bed. Of course, a bed—any bed—containing Sakura would be better still, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. Things were finally quieting down. The twin strippers (personal friends of Genma, he'd learned) were packing up, and as the attention of most of the men in the room was on the still half-clad pair, now would be a good time to make his escape.
"Gai?" He had thought he was still passed out. "Ah. You're among the living again."
"I wanted to ask you… er…"
He looked almost sober, so focused was he on whatever question he was planning to ask.
"You have no family to stand up for you. As your oldest friend, I was wondering if you'd consider…"
This caught Kakashi off guard. He should have realized Gai would want to be his best man. If he had, he would have thought of something to avoid the current awkward moment. If nothing else, he would have high tailed it out of there while Gai was still unconscious. That moment was past, however, and Kakashi was as blunt as usual in addressing his so-called rival. Hopefully, Gai's drunken state would make the news a little easier to take. "Actually, Naruto will be doing the honors. As my sensei's son, he seemed the logical choice."
"You're right." Gai seemed sad, and uncharacteristically so. This was a true, unvarnished emotion. Apparently, the gesture would have really meant something to him, Kakashi realized. But Sakura would likely have a meltdown if a sobbing, overly emotional Gai was standing close by as their vows were recited. He hadn't actually asked his former student to do the honors, as currently Naruto was passed out under a table, but tactically, it was the right thing to do. It would presumably mitigate some of the possessiveness the Jinchuuriki felt toward Sakura after all these years. And as he grew more and more like his father, and less like the goofy, hyperactive boy of the past, Kakashi's respect for the young man had grown as well. Importantly, Sakura would be pleased by his choice of best man, more pleased than she would be when she found out who'd be representing his family.
"But I'm hoping you'll give the first toast."
A toothy smile threatened to envelop the Gai's face. "I'd be honored!" he bellowed in enthusiasm. "Now, how about we have that drinking contest you promised me a while back?"
"Five more minutes."
"Get up now, Sakura. I've given you five more minutes ten times, now."
"The sun's barely up. The wedding's not 'til twelve, right? Why can't you let me sleep just a little longer?"
The two bottles of sake Sakura had consumed had done their part to dehydrate the young kunoichi, and a pounding headache was the result. Sakura sat up and regarded the cheerful, impatient blonde standing in the doorway. Ino had drunk far more than she. How was it that she wasn't hung over?
"It's seven. Sunrise was at six. You need to get showered and dressed and eat something, as it's the only meal you'll have today."
Sakura groaned. Food was the last thing on her mind right now. She was sure that if she even smelled breakfast she'd throw up. "But the wedding's at twelve."
"Do you have any idea how long it's going to take to get you ready? Your dresser will be at the tournament hall at nine. You need to get moving. She quickly moved to the bed and stripped off its futon. If you don't get up now, you'll be sorry. I'll make you sorry."
An hour and a half later a thoroughly grumpy Sakura arrived at the hall, an exasperated Ino by her side. A short, elderly woman was waiting for them in one of the rooms overlooking the competition area. She seemed sweet at first sight, but Sakura quickly realized she'd misjudged the woman. When she spoke, her words were clipped and preemptory.
"You can get undressed over there. Strip completely, then put on this robe. And don't dawdle. We're a half-hour behind schedule."
"Yes, ma'am," Sakura said meekly. The tiny woman looked like she might bite her head off. She stripped and changed into the thin robe the dresser had provided.
"Your hair is wet. Haven't you heard of the humble invention known as the umbrella?" The dresser huffed in disdain, then pointed to the office chair next to her. "Let's start your makeup." She unscrewed tins of creamy pastes and emollients as Sakura climbed into the chair.
"Pull down your robe around your shoulders," she said as quickly scraped Sakura's hair into a rough ponytail, employing numerous clips and pins to hold back the numerous strands too short to otherwise secure. Next she poured a large amount of a creamy lotion into her palm and began rubbing it into Sakura's neck, back and shoulders. "You should take better care of your skin. It's too dry." She prodded Sakura's chin upwards, and massaged lotion into the front of her neck and décolletage, smoothing the moisturizer into her face as well. Seemingly satisfied, she grabbed the tin of pasty white cream and scooped out a generous dollop, then began massaging this into Sakura's skin as well.
"What are you doing?" Sakura frowned as she observed the dresser.
"Painting your skin." The dresser looked at her as though she were slightly brain damaged.
"Oh." She'd forgotten about the traditional makeup. She'd look like a maiko before the morning was through, she realized.
"Hold still while I do the back of your neck. Although how I'm going to put your hair up, I have no idea. It's too short. Good thing I brought the wigs."
"Wigs?" She heard Ino giggling behind her, and found her fist curling involuntarily.
"Many girls have hair too short for bunkin-takashimada. And if your hair's too short, you can't wear kanzashi, and then the wedding hood will look all wrong." The dresser fussed over her face as she smoothed the thick white makeup into place, then covered all with a fine coat of rice powder. Next she picked up a pot of rouge and sponge and mixed a tiny amount of red into another pot of creamy white. She applied this pale pink color to key areas of Sakura's face.
The kunoichi looked in the mirror. Already she didn't recognize herself. What was the point of all this, anyway? She'd stopped pretending to be someone she was not at the age of twelve. She felt her bad mood intensifying, and out of habit, scanned the room in search of something to smash.
"Now your hands. Raise your arms." Sakura did so, and the dresser deftly covered her exposed skin with a coating of white, then powdered them as well. She next picked up the rouge pot again, and a small brush, and after sternly warning Sakura to hold absolutely still, applied a thin streak of red to each of her upper eyelids. She then applied the same color to a portion of Sakura's lower lip, leaving the top white.
Finally she applied mascara to the kunoichi's eyelashes, and stood back to gaze critically at her work.
"We'll have to do something about the eyebrows," she muttered, as she left the room to wash up.
"What the hell is bunkin-takashimada?"
Ino laughed again. "That's the hairstyle brides wear. And the kanzashi are the gold combs. Want to see them?"
Sakura's eyes widened as she looked at the combs Ino produced from a nearby shopping bag. They were ornate, apparently of real tortoiseshell, and the flowers and dangling ornaments appeared to be made of real gold.
"I think these are the nicest ones in the shop." Ino smiled evilly. "But you did tell the storeowner she could pick out whatever she liked, didn't you?"
"You might as well stay standing," the dresser barked as she reentered the room. "Take the robe off, and we'll get started."
Sakura sighed as she let the robe drop to the floor. She didn't understand how people like Hinata were able to stand being dressed by another. She felt like a doll, or a piece of meat being weighed, then wrapped in butcher paper. It was not a pleasant feeling. She consoled herself with the fact that at least she knew what was coming next, having been through a kimono dressing once before.
The dresser produced the array of undergarments needed to bundle a body into a kimono, and Sakura stood patiently as garment after garment was layered onto her body. Once into the silk naga juban that served as the outermost layer of underclothing, the dresser spun her slowly to appraise her work.
"We'll work on your hair, now. You can kneel here." She pointed to the zabuton she'd placed next to the office chair, and Sakura lowered herself carefully onto the oversized pillow. The reason for the pillow became immediately obvious—she could no longer bend at the waist. She turned her entire body to follow the dresser's motions, and frowned as the dresser pulled several wigs out of large cardboard hat boxes.
"Of course they're black. Not too many Konoha women have pink hair."
"I can't wear that."
The dresser regarded her stonily. "And why not?"
"Because I already don't look like me. I don't see why I'm supposed to look like a hakata doll. I'm the one who's getting married. Me. Sakura with the weird hair color."
The dresser turned to Ino, an irritated look on her face. "We can't use the combs with her hair as it is. It's too short."
"What if I find a pink wig? Could you convert it into some kind of hairpiece?"
"Good luck. I've never seen a pink wig and I've been doing this for almost fifty years."
"I'll be back, Sakura." She turned to the dresser. "Can you work on her kakeshita and shiromoku while I'm gone?"
The dresser nearly growled. "That's not the order in which it's done."
"Please?" Ino smiled her brightest, most pleading smile, then headed out the door without waiting for an answer.
"Stand and hold your arms out." The dresser bustled over to one of several kimono stands and removed a pure white under-kimono. She carefully slipped the garment onto the kunoichi who was doing her utmost to hold perfectly still. It was rare to meet someone with a temper worse than her own, but Sakura was pretty sure the dresser qualified as such. In a half-hour's time Sakura was dressed in the kakeshita, and a pure white maru obi that interfered slightly with her ability to breathe.
"Your friend isn't back, and there's only an hour and a half until the wedding." The dresser looked at her watch as she clucked. "I'm going to get some coffee. I'll be back in ten minutes."
Sakura breathed a sigh of relief as the woman left the room, and walked slowly (long strides were impossible) across the room as she loosed her hair from its makeshift, annoyingly tight bun and fluffed it with her fingers. The dresser was certain to complain upon her return, but Sakura decided she no longer cared. It was obvious there was nothing she'd be able to do to please the woman. Sakura lifted a blind to a window overlooking the tournament hall and sighed again. The room below was decked out entirely in pink and silver. Glossy taffeta overskirts partially obscured the silver satin cloths which covered each table, and Ino's favorite flowers, roses, were the focus of each table's centerpiece.
Sakura laughed wryly. She was sure that in all their teenage wedding talks she'd told Ino about her dream of a black and white wedding. This was… saccharine. But so well-intentioned. And certainly it fit the pattern of the last twenty four hours. Nothing seemed to be going as she might have expected.
This must be a control room, she realized as she looked around for the first time. A large board, covered with switches and buttons dominated the far side of the room, as well as several wall mounted microphones. She half-toyed with the idea of turning them on and making an announcement:
I'm not coming down until that harridan has left and I've washed my face.
Let's have Korean barbecue instead. Last one to the restaurant buys!
Her mutinous thoughts were interrupted by an authoritative rap on the door.
"Ino? Come on in," she called, and the door opened immediately.
"I hardly recognize you, Sakura."
She wasn't sure if she should smile or throw a kunai across the room. It was Kakashi, not Ino, looking more handsome than she'd ever seen him, if that were possible. He wore formal hakama of grey-pinstriped black silk, along with a haori of pure black, except for the five white crests that adorned the shoulders and upper back of the garment. His mask was black, and his ever-present hitae ate had been replaced by a simple black silk band. The contrast between the dark of his clothes and the pale silver and alabaster of his skin and hair was arresting. He was soaked, though, she noticed as he shook himself, doglike, sending a shower of droplets in her direction. It must be pouring outside.
"You need to leave," she said, finally. "The dresser will kill you—me-- if she finds you in here—"
"That sweet old woman? I passed her in the hall." He set the garment bag he was carrying on an empty chair and crossed the room to stand before her.
"But it's supposed to be bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. She's a total hard-ass. Why did she let you come in?"
"We're already married. This can't be bad luck. Besides, you'd be surprised by the power of a good tip." She recognized the smirk below his mask and tried her hardest not to smile in return.
"I'm angry at you."
"Why?! You really have no idea? You can't possibly be that clueless, Hatake Kakashi."
"I know you're angry when you call me by my first and last name."
"Didn't I just say I was angry?"
"Well, yes, but you do tend to exaggerate."
"At least I tell the truth!"
"I haven't lied to you." He seemed perplexed, but Sakura knew this was probably an act. He was terribly skilled at feigning innocence.
"Didn't it cross your mind that I might like to know about this huge, out of control wedding ceremony? That I might want to have a hand in planning it?"
"About that. There really wasn't time."
"How could there not be time?" She did her best to control the tears that threatened to spill down her perfectly painted face.
Kakashi moved quickly to her and embraced her. "This was obviously an error in judgment on my part. Or just plain stupidity. But you should know it was with good intentions."
"You love this village, and so do I. I want them to accept us. If we came back after eloping, it might not be seen as legitimate—it would seem as though we were ashamed or had something to hide. Having a big showy wedding brings everything out into the open. It shows we're proud to be together—that there's nothing wrong with our union. And apart from that, there was the problem of the book. We were lucky to be able to nip it in the bud—but I put this in place as insurance, in case the book was released before we were able to take care of the publisher. There wasn't time for you to plan the wedding of your dreams. That would take months, wouldn't it?"
"So this was a tactical decision?" He could almost see steam issuing from her ears.
"Our first wedding—our real wedding—was the one that counted for me. I thought you felt the same way."
Sakura was silent for a minute. "It was. It's just that I feel completely left out of all this. Every girl dreams about her wedding. This is not what I wanted."
"What is so damn funny?"
"Weddings and funerals are the same, you know. They're not for the guest of honor. In fact, the guest of honor really doesn't even get to appreciate them—the bride and groom are too busy meeting and greeting the guests to enjoy the flowers or food, and as for a funeral, the guest of honor is – well, dead. These things are for the friends, the family, the community. That's what this wedding is all about—lavishing attention on them, getting them drunk, giving them a good feeling about us. It's all about them-- the other wedding was about us."
"That's an interesting way of thinking of things. But the booming wedding industry suggests otherwise." Sakura turned to the window and stared down at the busboys and servers who were setting dishes and glasses in place. This was all about control, she realized as she took a deep, calming breath. Ino was right. Anyone else would be thrilled to be treated like a princess. And how many brides had two weddings to the same man? Yet here she was on the verge of a tantrum.
"Promise me one thing." She smiled wanly as she turned back to her husband.
"You'll let me plan our tenth wedding anniversary party."
"Absolutely. You can even name our children." He pulled her to him again, and was surprised when she resisted his kiss.
"You have no idea how long it took for that woman to do my makeup. She'll kill me if you mess it up."
"But I want to make love to you."
Her look was incredulous. "You have got to be kidding."
"I'm not." He held his lips millimeters above the skin of her neck, and breathed gently. Sakura felt her pulse increase dramatically. "Who said I had to touch you?"
She shuddered as his breath caressed her lips, her cheeks and the nape of her neck.
"Do you remember that scroll Jiraiya gave me?"
"Hmm?" Sakura was already too intoxicated by his actions to respond coherently.
"The one that talked about advanced chakra control."
"Well, there were a couple of things I still haven't shared with you."
"You're going to--- with-- without touching me?"
"Not exactly. Did you know some women can climax without being touched below the waist? I'm betting you're one of them." He slid his hands so that they hovered just above her breasts and concentrated his chakra above them.
A moan escaped Sakura's lips immediately. She could feel the touch of his lips as they lightly caressed the sensitive skin of her breasts, gently tugging and sucking at her nipples, and opened her eyes in surprise. It was amazing that he could mold his chakra emanating from his fingertips that precisely. His lips were actually resting millimeters above her own, close enough for her to feel the warmth of his breath. Chakra flowed from them as well. Their caress was light but urgent, and she felt her breath growing fainter. Of course that might have something to do with the fabric wound tightly around her ribcage. This must be what it's like to wear a corset, she thought idly, and suddenly realized the purpose of the garment Anko had given her the night before.
"Kakashi, how long is she going to be gone?"
"Relax. She promised to wait downstairs."
Sakura felt her breath quicken as his ministrations intensified and quite soon she found herself on the very edge of total bliss.
"You're close, aren't you? Give in to it. I want to watch you come."
She stepped backward, eager to brace herself against a hard surface, and leaned against the control panel she'd been inspecting earlier.
"Careful. We don't want to put on a show for the people downstairs." He pulled her away from the console and pressed her hands against the window sill. "Better?"
She cried out in response, as she felt reality shatter around her for seconds that stretched on beyond expectation. She slowly opened her eyes to see Kakashi regarding her with a tender expression.
"I love you, Sakura."
"And you know I love you."
"Yes, but I think that's just because of the sex."
She punched him, gently, and rolled her eyes.
"I should be going. I'll see you downstairs in just a little while." The copy ninja headed to the door, then turned around suddenly, a sheepish look on his face. "I completely forgot. There's something else I need to tell you." Sakura looked at him quizzically. "I arranged for Tsunade to give you away—she'll be standing in for your parents."
Sakura smiled. "I already know. Ino told me all about the arrangements last night."
Kakashi immediately relaxed. "And you're okay with it? Wonderful! I knew you'd be okay with Naruto as best man, but I was sure the idea of Jiraiya—"
"Jiraiya???!!!" She grabbed the nearby microphone, and yanked it free from the wall. "I am going to kill you!" He dodged the makeshift missile, though his eyes widened as the heavy, metal object lodged deeply in the door behind him.
"Please. Let me explain."
"The man who was planning on sharing pornographic drawings of me with the entire continent is going to be standing in for your parents? And you think you can explain?" Her shriek was probably audible in every corner of the building, but she didn't care.
"Whom else do I have?"
Despite her fury, she heard something in his voice, a rawness she'd never witnessed before.
"When my parents died it was Sensei who took me in. He treated me like his son, and I heard over and over what a great man Jiraiya was. He'd been like a father to him. And believe it or not, it was Sensei who introduced me to Jiraiya's books."
Sakura raised an eyebrow.
"Though he didn't know it, of course. He thought they were well hidden."
"So, although I've never told him this, I think of Jiraiya as more than my idol. He was my sensei's sensei and a lot of what I am is due to his influence."
Sakura shook her head in disbelief. "But he spied on me, and drew pictures of me."
"For which we've amply repaid him, don't you think?"
The kunoichi smiled in spite of herself. Revenge really had been sweet. She'd flipped when she'd seen the first billboard, just south of Kakashi's home village. Her new husband had tried to divert her attention from the display, which featured a scantily clad pink-haired woman, who thankfully had her back to her viewers. After raging for a few minutes, Sakura had insisted they double their speed to Momijikawa Her anger had barely abated when they'd arrived hours later.
She'd wanted to burst through the wall and trash the place, machines and all, but Kakashi had eventually persuaded her of the logic in casing the place, then waiting until nightfall, when the plant would be deserted. He'd urged her to consider the innocent parties—the employees who might lose their jobs if the presses were destroyed, as well as the publisher who was guilty only of agreeing to produce the work. Besides, he'd argued, the best revenge would be subtle in form. It would be much more amusing for Jiraiya to be surprised personally, than for him to hear the news second hand. He'd urged her to apply her skills and knowledge to devise a plan that would take him by surprise and keep on giving.
She'd agreed and had spent several hours brainstorming the best form of revenge. Thankfully, the scheme she came up with did not take too long to implement. The printing plates were melted down courtesy of several well-placed fireballs, but they would definitely be reusable for other projects. The plant's sole computer was stripped of all related files, and with a jutsu he'd picked up from Sai, the small mountain of posters were modified subtly and rerolled to their original form. Workers entering the plant would not notice anything amiss, and this was critical to the plan's success.
It was the books, however, that were the most fun to alter. There had been several pallets of boxes. From the records Kakashi found on the computer, it was clear that printing had finished, but the books had yet to ship. Sakura had smiled at their good fortune—all the merchandise was in one location. They'd opened one box and noticed that the books were shrink-wrapped, which wasn't surprising given the adult nature of their content. Sakura had gathered her chakra and concentrated, then giggled as the book emitted an inky cloud. She'd then torn open the volume's wrapping and rippled through its pages. It was completely blank. It took minutes to empty the remaining boxes of their text. She'd giggled as she'd considered that it was thanks to the encouragement of Tsunade, Jiraiya's arch nemesis that she'd learned the medical jutsu she'd slightly modified for this new purpose.
"I guess you're right," she said now.
"Think of it as the final flourish to your revenge. He won't know about the books yet—they're not due to be delivered to Konoha until about noon, day after tomorrow."
It wasn't surprising, she realized, that Kakashi knew this. He probably had that information memorized down to the minute.
They were interrupted by a pounding on the partially mangled door. A breathless, dripping wet Ino entered, dresser in tow. Kakashi took this as his cue to exit, but not before Ino pulled out a pink wig with a cheery exclamation.
"Sakura-- it was the strangest thing. I looked all over the village for a place that might have a pink wig—I checked every hair dresser and couldn't find a thing. Then I remembered that store you like so much, Kakashi. I was really didn't want to go in, but then I figured, 'What the hell? Sakura's wedding will be ruined if I don't." So I pulled it together and went inside." She stopped to take a deep breath. "Wow. I was really glad none of the kids were with me." She gave Kakashi a sidelong glance before continuing. "Anyway, they had at least fifty pink wigs." She shook the hair she held in her hands for emphasis. "I couldn't figure out why for the life of me a porn shop would have pink wigs, but then the salesman came up to me and explained that Jiraiya's new book is coming out tomorrow, and that these were some kind of promotional tie ins."
"How strange. I wonder what the book's about? It was nice seeing you, Ino. I think I'll be on my way." Neither kunoichi had seen the man move so quickly outside of a mission.
It was possible to blush through a thick layer of pancake, Sakura realized as she did her best to remain calm. She hoped Ino wouldn't pick up on her embarrassment.
"Anyway, Ino saves the day!" She handed the wig to the dresser. "You look great, Sakura, by the way. But I'd better run or I'll be late. And that's Kakashi's role, isn't it?" She made a hurried exit as the dresser approached Sakura, wig and scissor in hand.
Sakura made it through the next hour of torture, which involved hot irons and copious amounts of sticky wax. She was pretty sure hot glue might be involved as well, though she couldn't be sure. She definitely smelled burning hair several times, however, and decided to close her eyes early on in an effort to shield herself from a sight that would probably induce shock.
She was surprised, then, by the sight that greeted her when she opened her eyes. She did look like a geisha-in-training, but a recognizable, pink-haired one. Her hair curved into the recognizable coiffure of the bride-to-be, and the kanzashi were placed asymmetrically to frame her face.
"You'll be done in just a moment," said the dresser, who smiled for the first time that day. "We just need to arrange your tsuno kakushi, and you'll be ready to go. And not a moment too soon—in fact, we're fifteen minutes behind schedule." She draped the white silk hood over the elaborate coiffure, then surprised Sakura again. "You look lovely, dear, and I'm sure you'll be a beautiful bride. Good luck to you."
"This isn't so bad," Sakura thought to herself from her position on the dais that had been set up in front of the large stone arms that dominated the tournament hall. "Actually, I don't think I've ever been the center of attention before." She looked over at Kakashi and smiled.
"I've hardly seen you this afternoon, apart from the photographs. And every time I do see you, you're wearing something new."
"You didn't know about the kimono?" Sakura blushed crimson. Had Ino been mistaken about the Kakashi's direction that the "sky was the limit"?
"Just kidding. You're worth every sen, you know. Am I allowed to kiss you yet? That's the last kimono, isn't it? I recognize it."
"It was your mother's, wasn't it?" Sakura smoothed the fabric of the tomesode kimono she wore, its black color and patterning more reserved than the other two garments she'd worn today, but also more suitable, she thought. Apart from the chidori-inspired crests indicating its formality, a small flock of plovers dotted the waves and shoreline that undulated across the hem of the garment. The fact that its design was similar to the shiromoku she'd chosen pleased her greatly.
"I never saw her wear it, but I found it among her things after she died. It was one of the few things I kept."
"I'm honored to wear it, Kakashi."
"It suits you, love."
The afternoon had passed quicker than she'd thought it would, and although she hadn't had even a moment of free time to consider snacking on any of the courses of sea-bream, konbu, lobster, abalone, or the unusual red soup that Naruto had complained wasn't ramen, she had found the time to consume a fair amount of sake. As a result, the room and its occupants appeared a bit fuzzy to her.
"Are you drunk?"
"Never, husband. Never."
"Don't get too drunk. I want you to be able to remember tonight."
"Why?" It was worth asking that to see the wolfish expression that flitted briefly across the exposed portion of his face. She was getting better and better at reading him, she realized.
A din of chiming glasses interrupted their conversation, as a swaying Gai stood up to deliver the first of many toasts. Sadly, it was only half-intelligible, as his speech was badly slurred and interrupted, at intervals, by the moans and laments of his prize student.
"Naruto's is next."
"As best man, shouldn't he have gone first?"
"I needed to give something to Gai. He was pretty crushed that I didn't ask him."
"Oh. So where is he? I haven't seen him around, have you?"
"No. And for that matter, I haven't seen Hinata, either."
Sakura scanned the room. It would be easy to miss Naruto, as he, like the other male guests was clad in black, but Hinata was wearing an uncharacteristically showy (and beautiful) lavender kimono that should be easy to spot in a crowd. Yet Sakura saw no sign of her. She did see Neji, however, and her younger sister. They and Hinata were the only Hyuuga who'd made it the wedding. That was fine with her—the senior Hyuuga rubbed her the wrong way.
"Well, maybe Tsunade will take his turn." Ino, she saw, was already approaching the older woman, who looked regal in the state finery she so rarely wore. Tsunade stumbled to the mic and seemed perplexed when it failed to amplify her voice. A crackling, clicking sound emanated from the room's many speakers instead.
Tsunade didn't need the microphone however, and though drunk, gave a moving speech which brought Sakura to the verge of tears. She knew the hokage cared for her, but this was the first time she'd referred to her as a daughter. All of the indignity of the day was worth it, Sakura realized, to hear how her shishou really felt.
Jiraiya spoke next, and although he had kind words for the couple, and several reminiscences of Kakashi's teenage antics, he spent most of the time promoting his new book. The crowd buzzed when he mentioned that the couple were the inspiration for his newest novel, and the noise increased in intensity when he beckoned to a waiter at the back of the hall, who quickly pushed in a dolly loaded with cartons of books. He passed out the shrink-wrapped copies to the crowd, and Sakura held her breath as plastic was peeled off and virgin pages turned.
The noise of the crowd increased until someone shouted out, "Mine is blank!"
"Hey, mine, too. Is this some kind of joke?"
Jiraiya's befuddled expression was priceless. He blinked several times and turned to Kakashi in confusion.
"You didn't really think we'd let you get away with it, did you?"
"You're lucky to be alive, you know. Sakura could easily give you a beating worse than the one Tsunade gave you years ago."
Jiraiya paled as he regarded the woman kneeling close by.
"We want the original and any galleys that exist. That book is not going to press again."
"Shit. It's my best work, you know. Can't I at least keep one copy?
They were interrupted by another electronic malfunction. The reader board that Sakura remembered from the first chunin exam was acting bizarrely, its louvered doors sliding open and shut repeatedly. The horrible squealing noise of electronic feedback resonated through the room next, and the board seemed to explode with a random sequence of lights, as though, perhaps, a monkey were operating it.
An amplified voice pulsed through the room next. Although the voice was loud, its speaker was apparently whispering, and its sweetness made it easy to identify.
"Oh. That f-feels—"
Sakura could imagine the blush currently radiating across Hinata's face. Of course, once she realized her conversation was being broadcast to most of Konoha, she would probably faint.
"I've been wanting to do that for a very long time." The husky, overly loud voice they heard next could only be that of Naruto.
A chair scraped, and as if on cue, Neji rose to his feet. Hanabi giggled but remained seated. Kakashi, she realized was giggling, too. But silently.
"Maybe this is his speech," Sakura suggested. This caused her new husband to laugh even harder.
"W- w-when I'm with you, I feel things I've never felt before."
Neji, Sakura noticed, was turning an alarming shade of purple.
"I'm only getting started."
The sound of kissing—vigorous, sloppy kissing—ensued, and Sakura noticed the crowd's attention was engaged completely, more than it would have been for any wedding toast.
"I have something I've been wanting to show you."
A rustling noise emanated from the speakers, and Sakura noticed that Neji looked apoplectic.
"Naruto! It's so b-b-big! I'll never be able to—"
"Sure you will. It'll be a perfect fit. Here, let me show you."
There was a crash and a blur of black as Neji sprinted across the room and up the stairs to salvage his cousin's virtue. The room erupted into a cacophony of speculation and gossip.
"I guess this means I won our little bet." Sakura smiled smugly at her husband.
"How do you figure?"
"Well, if they're doing what I think they're doing, they must have kissed passionately well before now."
"The bet stipulated that he kiss her within a week of meeting her again. It's been far longer than that. And just what do you think they're doing, my sweet little pervert?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
Kakashi laughed unrestrainedly. "He's proposing to her."
Sakura blinked. "What? How do you know?" The wheels spun rapidly within her brain. "You suggested that room to him, didn't you? And you figured he'd accidentally turn on the sound equipment?"
"Shinobi rule number thirty-one: 'Use your environment to your advantage.' Now that they're distracted, we can get the hell out of here."
"Ready to start our new life together?" He wrapped his arms around her possessively as she pulled down his mask to kiss him.
"I've never been more ready."
The puff of smoke that took their place was barely noticed in the chaos of Neji dragging his future brother-in -law down steep stone stairs, and their absence was ignored in the pandemonium that followed the Byakugan-user's delivery of his 8 trigrams 64 palms technique to a thoroughly terrified Naruto. Although the day would not be remembered as Konoha's most expensive wedding, it certainly would be remembered as the most entertaining.